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Astros' Moran just misses MLB Top 10 3B list

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Moran missed the Top 10 best 3B prospects list, but he probably shouldn't have.

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Just the facts, Jack

Today, MLB.com unveiled their Top 10 rankings for 3B prospects.  Astros prospect Colin Moran features in the "next up" section, implying that he would rank #11 or #12 on this list.

Moran, 23, was drafted by the Miami Marlins with the sixth pick of the 2013 draft out of the University of North Carolina.  Prior to the draft, he was rumored to be a candidate for the Astros' number 1 overall pick--the pick that ultimately went to Stanford pitcher Mark Appel.

Moran's calling card was and is his hit tool.  During three seasons in NCAA, Moran batted .346/.452/.531 and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award given to the top college player in America.

During and after the draft, Moran was perceived to have a top-knotch hit tool, but many wondered if his home run power would translate to the professional game.  He appeared to substantiate that thought when he managed only 5 home runs and an .100 Isolated Power score in 89 games in the Florida State League in 2014.

Mid-season in 2014, Moran was acquired by the Astros as a key player in the trade that sent starting pitcher Jarred Cosart to Miami (seriously, how great was that trade for the Astros?).  In 2015, Moran batted .306/.381/.459, for a 136 wRC+ at AA Corpus Christi.

Editorialize!

Not that the Astros should expect to have a Top 10 prospect at every position, but there is a strong argument that Moran is quite undervalued by this prospect list.  Conceivably, he could be ranked as high as fourth, ahead of the DIamondbacks' Brandon Drury (more on him in a second).

The case against Moran is based on his power output:

Colin Moran -- the No. 6 overall Draft pick in 2013 -- is a pure hitter with good on-base skills but has never hit more than nine home runs in a single season and has just 20 in 255 Minor League games.

The statement is accurate, but seems to place too much importance on his power tool, which is average to a tick above average for the position, not below average or poor, as seems to be implied.  Never mind that of all of the Third Basemen ahead of him, he may hit for the highest Batting Average in the majors.  Never mind that a decent walk rate could have him sustain an OBP in the majors better than .340.  Never mind that after posting a .153 ISO in the pitching-friendly Texas League last season, he actually does decent home run projection, even if it's not "Plus".  Never mind that his nine home runs were accompanied by 25 doubles, 10th in the Texas League among players younger than 25.  Never mind that he grades as adequate at defense (something many guys ranked above him cannot claim).  Never mind that he strikes out less than half as often as the guy at the top of the list, Joey Gallo.

Ignored is the fact that the Florida State League is the most offense-suppressing league in baseball, and that in 2014, Moran's five home runs in 392 plate appearances ranked 9th in that league among 3B, and that he was younger than all of the guys who hit more than him, and that he played 10-15 games fewer than most of them.  Not a lot of power. But he has some, enough to show up and make an impact in the majors, and more than several of the guys ranked ahead of him.

Moran was a polarizing prospect even coming out of the draft.  Some people said he was terrific at defense.  Some said he would move to 1B.  Some people said he had no power projection.  Some said he would grow into double-digit HR pop.  Everybody agreed on the hit tool, though.  Never mind that it seems the most rare of all of the tools these days.

Nobody should argue that Moran belongs ahead of Gallo, Rafael Devers, or Ryan McMahon on this list.  All three of those guys have decently high floors and sky-high ceilings.  But what about number four on the list?  How about comparing skills, just based on the scouting reports available and their respective performances in the minor leagues?

Compared with Drury, Moran is:

  • Younger
  • Projects for higher batting average
  • Projects for higher walk rate
  • Projects for a similar home run rate (Drury hit a total of 7 in 2015, compared to Moran's 9, and Drury's "big power" season came in the offensively-boosted CAL)
  • Similarly evaluated at defense (using Fangraphs' 20/80 grades as a comparo)
  • Was drafted 398 picks higher. (This shouldn't matter much, but it actually does when discussing prospect success and failure rates)
Further, in 2015, Moran showed clear signs of drastic improvement.  Though he had an overall nice slash line at AA, he missed four weeks in May with a jaw injury from an errant throw and started the season very slowly.  From April 9 to June 28, Moran hit .261/.323/.348 with zero homers in 155 plate appearance.  But once the calendar flipped to July, he went bonkers.  From July 2 onward, Moran hit .327/.404/.518 (.922 OPS, again, in a pitching-friendly league) with all nine of his home runs in 280 plate appearances.  Though accompanied with a high BABIP, if these improved results are the result of prospect growth (a not unreasonable assumption until proved otherwise), then Moran could easily live up to his Top 10 pick drafting rank and become an impact starter on a major league playoff team, like a James Loney at the Hot Corner.

In my opinion, due to his high MLB floor, consistently improving play, favorable comparison to those ranked above him, and general underratedness due to his power-suppressed stint in the FSL, Moran should definitely be ranked among the Top 10 best 3B prospects in the minors, and perhaps even in the Top 5.