Colin Moran has had an interesting trip through the minor leagues. From a potentially rumored #1 overall pick, to being traded to another organization only a year later, he has seen his fair share of ups and downs. This season in AAA, he seems to be making big improvements that are paying off.
Moran attended the University of North Carolina where he hit .345 with 13 HR, 91 RBI and 63 BB/25 K in 71 games. A phenomenal junior season set him up well for the 2013 MLB draft. He was rumored as a possible selection for the Astros at 1.1 but the Astros took Mark Appel and Colin Moran was scooped up by the Marlins with the 6th pick. Moran was seen as probably the best bat in the draft and a guy who could move quickly through a system.
Moran started the season in High-A hitting .294 with a .342 OBP in 89 games before being traded to the Astros as part of the Jarred Cosart deal. The Astros assigned Moran to Double-A where he finished out the season hitting .304 in 23 games. To this point, Moran showed his ability to hit for average but the power wasn't there. Moran would put together a great 2015 season though playing in 96 games in Double-A. He finished the season hitting .306 with 25 2B, 9 HR, 67 RBI. .153 ISO, 136 wRC+.
He stock was on the rise and he started the 2016 season out in AAA with Fresno. This season didn't go as expected as he hit just .259 with 10 HR, 88 wRC+ in AAA. Even with the struggles, he was eventually called up to the Astros. He only played in 9 games going 3-for-23 with 2 RBI. Many wrote him off, though forgetting that Alex Bregman started his career 1-for-32.
Moran put together a very nice Spring Training this year hitting .389 with 2 HR, 10 RBI in 36 at-bats. Colin had a solid start to the 2017 season hitting .250 with 3 HR, 16 RBI and an impressive 12 BB/12 K ratio. Moran went on the DL and missed about two weeks but has came back with a vengeance. In the 9 games since returning from the DL he is hitting .364 with 4 HR, 9 RBI good for a 218 wRC+. So for the season he is slashing .283/.372/.540 with a 135 wRC+. What has changed?
One of the most notables changes from 2016 to 2017 has been his walk and strikeout rates. He has improved his walk rate from 9.2% in 2016 to 12.4% in 2017 and decreased his strikeout rate from 24.3% in 2016 to 14.0% in 2017. He has seen a big jump in ISO (.109 to .257) all while having a lower BABIP.
Many MLB hitters have talked about elevating the ball (specifically Josh Donaldson) and how that had lead to success. Well looking at Moran's batted ball profile, he appears to be doing the same. His FB% is up from 29.7% in 2016 to 37.2% in 2017. The 37.2% is his highest career mark since his first season in the minors. Not only is he hitting more flyballs, he is hitting more line drives too, seeing his LD rate go from 23.1% to 27.7%. He is also hitting the ball to the pull side and center field more than he has in his career.
One of the commenters here on The Crawfish Boxes (I can't remember who exactly) mentioned a change in Moran's batting stance this season, so I decided to take a look. I pulled an image from Moran this season and compared it to Moran in early 2016.
Not the best of images but the differences are clear. The left side is 2017, the right side is 2016. This season, it appears Moran got rid of his open stance and is keeping his hands higher when he begins his load. You know who also keeps his hands high near his head and back shoulder? Josh Donaldson. I'm not saying the two guys are even close to the same player, but interesting to see the changes in his stance and how it has possibly led to more flyballs. Here is a good article from Fangraphs talking about the benefit of hitting flyballs.
His groundball rate this season is 35.1% which is easily the lowest of his career. This season, Moran already has 15 XBH in just 113 at-bats. That means 13.2% of his at-bats have ended in extra base hits. Last season he had just 29 XBH in 459 at-bats, meaning only 6.3% of his at-bats ended in extra base hits in 2016.
Now, these are all just numbers. The product on the field is the most important and, so far, Moran has shown great improvements this season in some very important categories (walks, strikeouts, power). In normal circumstances, he might see himself getting the call back to Houston but the current Astros infield is loaded with talent, though I do think he will get a chance again at some point this season. Moran took a huge fall in the prospect rankings but it is nice to see him make improvements and turn it around.