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Tigers' Steven Moya facing make-or-break season in 2016

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Still considered one of the Tigers' top prospects, Moya will have to earn his keep in 2016.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

When we started this venture to identify and profile the most interesting prospects in the Detroit Tigers' farm system, I debated even writing about Steven Moya. Even casual Tigers fans are well aware of both he and shortstop Dixon Machado by now, top prospects from the previous regime now overshadowed by newer talents and still blocked at the major league level.

On the other hand, Moya is still very interesting. Standing 6'7 with elite raw power, Moya offers tantalizing upside, but his long swing and abysmal pitch recognition skills leave many wondering whether he can survive at the major league level, let alone approach his full potential.

Moya did his best to silence doubters with a monster season in 2014, hitting .276/.306/.555 with 35 home runs at Double-A Erie. He followed that up with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, but fell flat in spring training the next year. After a short rehab stint at Advanced-A Lakeland to open the 2015 season, Moya hit just .240/.283/.420 in 535 plate appearances for Triple-A Toledo. The downturn in production didn't hurt Moya's prospect status, however, as he earned top-10 consideration at multiple sites.

Prospect rankings
Baseball Prospectus Baseball America MLB.com TigsTown FanGraphs Minor League Ball
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Team: #2
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Strengths

Strength is the name of Moya's game. Standing 6'7 and weighing 260 pounds, Moya is a massive individual with legitimate 80-grade raw power. MLB.com notes that Moya "has about as much raw power as any prospect in the game, the kind of hitter veterans will stop what they are doing to watch him take batting practice," and the other scouting reports are just as glowing. All of that juice hasn't yet translated to in-game results, but he still tags the ball a long way when he does get a hold of it. Many sources still credit him with 60 (plus) in-game power, with potential for more.

With everyone so focused on his bat, the other aspects of Moya's game are often overlooked. He is a surprisingly good athlete for his size, with fringe-average foot speed and average defensive projection. Both MLB.com and FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworth gave Moya's throwing arm a plus grade, which is even more impressive considering he had Tommy John surgery in 2012. He occasionally has trouble with balls hit into the gap, but would be fine in either corner outfield spot.

Moya's game still needs improvement, but those familiar with him are quick to note that he is a hard worker who is doing everything he can to address his deficiencies. TigsTown's Paul Wezner echoed these sentiments last season, even noting that Moya "looks defeated walking to/from the plate" and appeared to be overthinking his at-bats.

Weaknesses

The only reason why Moya is not currently a major leaguer -- and may never reach that level consistently -- is because of a lackluster hit tool. His long swing is a natural deficiency for someone his size, but he compounds this weakness with poor pitch recognition skills. "There’s no chance he’ll hit for average," writes Chris Crawford of Baseball Prospectus, while another BP scout gave it a 20 grade, the lowest possible score on the 20-80 scouting scale. TigsTown's Mark Anderson was slightly kinder, labeling Moya's hit tool a 30 grade.

Even if Moya doesn't hit for average, his lackluster walk rate may be his real undoing. Moya walked in just five percent of his plate appearances at Triple-A Toledo last season, which was an improvement from his paltry 4.2 percent walk rate in 2014. His "swing now, swing again later" mentality has also resulted in a 30 percent strikeout rate over the past two seasons, which is actually an improvement over his early years in the system. If Moya can lay off more breaking balls and force pitchers to throw strikes, he could take a major step forward as a prospect.

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Evaluation: Dan Farnsworth, FanGraphs

I am conflicted about [Moya's] future hitting prospects. His immense size plays a part in the optimism I have for his development. Large-frame hitters tend to take a few years to really figure out how to control their bodies and improve the finer qualities of their games...On the other hand, I can’t help shake the feeling it’s a pitch-recognition and flight-tracking issue for Moya, which isn’t something you can grow into. Bottom line, I feel like Moya will be a streaky bat with huge power numbers, but will also provide enough value in the field to be at least a fringe-average regular. With even a modest improvement in his patience, he’s an All-Star.

Projected team: Triple-A Toledo

Thanks to the Tigers' packed outfield, Moya will get a second crack at conquering the Triple-A level. Whether it's a bump in walk rate, a few more homers, or a modified approach against lefthanders, any improvement in Moya's offensive game will be a welcome sight for a club facing a big decision next spring when he is out of options. He currently seems a long way off from handling major league pitching, but 80-grade raw power is tough to ignore.

★★★

Note: We're changing up our prospect coverage a bit this year. Instead of an "official" ranking of the best prospects in the system, we're going to profile those that are most interesting to us (and you too, hopefully). Don't worry, no one has been fired, and daily recaps will still happen during the season. We appreciate any constructive feedback you offer, and we'll take your prospect suggestions into account as well.