Tigers have a homegrown star in the making in Moya

Steven Moya played 11 games at the tail end of the 2014 season for the Detroit Tigers.

Outfielder Steven Moya played 11 games at the tail end of the 2014 season for the Detroit Tigers.

In the last 40 years the Detroit Tigers have had only two homegrown outfielders who became All-Stars.*

The once fruitful Detroit farm system has grown as dry as a desert. Instead of developing talent at the minor league level and cultivating them, the Tigers have been swiping good players away from other teams or bringing them in via free agency. As a result, the team has produced few “of their own” to cheer for, especially in the case of fly chasers.

But Steven Moya could change that. He could signal a change in the fortunes of the Detroit farm system. He may not be in a Detroit uniform when the team heads north to start the 2015 season, but he will be very soon and every Tiger fan will know who he is.

Steven Moya was born in Río Piedras in Puerto Rico, but his family moved to the Dominican Republic when he was young. It was there, in one of the greatest baseball incubators in the world, that Moya learned to play the game. It was there that he grew eight inches in one summer. As a teenager he was slender and awkward looking, but he could hit. He had a phenomenal swing that drew comparisons to Darryl Strawberry. When he was 17 the Tigers liked him so much that they outbid several other teams to get Moya’s signature on a contract. Just like Al Kaline had done when he was a teenager way back in 1953, Moya etched his name on a Tigers’ contract while sitting at the table in his parents’ kitchen. Later that day he hit a home run and a triple in a high school game.

That was nearly seven years ago and a lot has happened to Moya. He’s filled out. He’s now 230 pounds of lean muscle and stands 6 feet 6 inches. He’s seen a lot of the United States, playing in the Gulf Coast League, the Florida State League, the Midwest League in Grand Rapids, and last year in the Eastern League in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was there that Moya hit 35 home runs and 33 doubles and drove in 105 runs in 133 games. With those long legs he also stole 16 bases. A right fielder, he doesn’t remind anyone of Kaline, but he does the job. He was so good at Erie that he was summoned to Motown for a taste of the big leagues. He got his first hit and played in 11 games down the stretch. Always happy to play baseball, Moya agreed to go to the Arizona Fall League after the regular season. he hit five homers and drove in 19 runs in 20 games. He had such a great time he decided not to go home to the Dominican over the winter. Instead he went to Florida and stayed focused on baseball. He reported early to spring training camp this year aimed at getting even better.

Moya is 23 years old now and he’s got all the tools to be a big star in the major leagues. There’s a wide open path for him to become a regular for the Tigers. While J.D. Martinez will be in right this season, Yoenis Cespedes might be a one-year rental for the Bengals. And center field is being filled by a lackluster platoon of Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis, who don’t have half the power between them to match that of Moya.

But Moya won’t be in Detroit in 2015, at least not at first. A young player like him needs to play a lot, not sit on the bench at the major leagues.

“When he’s ready, believe me, he’ll come up and will be an everyday player at that point,” says assistant GM Alex Avila, “You will have a superstar waiting in the wings.”

When Moya gets to Detroit he’ll show fans just how good he is. It’ll be a rare sight, though. Detroit hasn’t produced many outfielders of note in the last 40 years. In the 1950s there was Kaline, an icon. In the 1960s they brought up Willie Horton and Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley, a great time for Detroit outfielders. In the ’70s the ripe farm system churned out good players, including outfielders Ben Oglivie, Ron LeFlore, Steve Kemp, and Kirk Gibson. But after top notch prospect Glenn Wilson was traded away, the Tigers didn’t bring up another decent outfielder until Bobby Higginson in 1995. And Curtis Granderson didn’t come along until a decade later. The cupboard has frequently been all too bare.

Moya is a left-handed bat with that beautiful swing, a fluid leg kick, and quick wrists. Like many left-handed hitters he loves the low fastball. He runs really well and he can hit the ball in the gaps. He has long strides in the outfield and makes all of the routine plays supported by a strong arm. He’s rated as one of the top 50 prospects in the minor leagues and he’s the top prospect in the Detroit organization. He also has a willingness to learn. Last season in his few weeks in Detroit, Moya attached himself to veteran Victor Martinez and soaked up everything he could.

“He showed me so much about being patient at the plate,” Moya told the Detroit Free Press last month. He couldn’t have a better mentor.

“When he’s ready, he’s going to play,” Dave Dombrowski says. “This guy has a chance to be a superstar.”

He wears #33. You may not care about that right now, but more than likely you or someone you know will own his jersey someday. He’s going to be very good and he’s going to have a lot of fans in this city in the future. Here’s hoping the future starts soon.

– – – – – – – – –

*Ron LeFlore in 1976 and Curtis Granderson in 2008.