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What the history of elite young catchers tells us about Jays prospect Gabriel Moreno

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The Gabriel Moreno hype train was doing just fine before the 21-year-old catcher first suited up for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League in October — but after he hit .329/.415/.494 in a league with some of baseball’s top prospects, it reached a new gear.

Moreno’s fall league production, paired with a couple of appearances at third base hinting at the Toronto Blue Jays’ desire to find additional ways to get him into their lineup, has fans wondering about what kind of contribution he could make at the MLB level in 2022.

Although Moreno has limited triple-A experience, and his remarkable run at double-A in 2021 came in just 32 games, he’s not far from having an impact at the highest level. It’s reasonable to think he’ll factor into the Blue Jays’ plans next season, which begs the question of what he might produce as a rookie.

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That’s tough to answer because historical comps for catchers with his prospect pedigree are few and far between. Baseball America listed Moreno as its 8th-ranked prospect in September, and his stock certainly hasn’t fallen since, making him one of the few backstops to earn top-10 prospect status with the organization that has the longest track record of prospect ranking.

Baseball America has been releasing top 100 prospect lists since 1990, and only 13 catchers other than Moreno have made the top 10. One of them, Adley Rutschman of the Baltimore Orioles, has yet to make his MLB debut. Another, Blue Jays star Carlos Delgado, only caught two games at the highest level.

That leaves only 11 backstops at Moreno’s prospect level that we have MLB numbers for. That’s a small, but instructive, sample. Below is their combined performance as rookies in just under 5,000 plate appearances:

Those numbers aren’t reminding anyone of prime Mike Piazza, but that’s pretty strong production for any rookies, especially catchers — who play a position where the league average slash line was .229/.305/.391 in 2021. There’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges issue as the top prospects’ numbers come from a variety of different offensive environments. However, nine of the 11 had a wRC+ above 95, a number that the average MLB catcher hasn’t cracked in the 20 years that FanGraphs has compiled precise position-by-position hitting splits.

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One of the two rookies unable to top that mark was a 19-year-old Iván Rodríguez, who couldn’t have fairly been expected to hit the best pitching in the world as a teenager — especially after posting a sub-.700 OPS at every stop of his truncated minor-league career. Only 1995 second-overall pick Ben Davis was a significant minus with the bat at a similar age to Moreno (22).

Things are a little more ambiguous on the defensive side of the ball. Concerns about a rookie catcher’s ability to handle the nuances of the position is warranted, and historical performance is tough to quantify.

Even so, this cohort of top prospect rookies (with the notable exception of defensive train wreck Jesús Montero) seemed to perform well. Two members of the group (Charles Johnson and Sandy Alomar Jr.) won Gold Gloves as rookies, an impressive feat considering the role track record and reputation tends to play in defensive award voting. Two more of the backstops (Matt Wieters and Rodríguez) won within their first three years, making it unlikely they weren’t at least passable out of the gate.

Although most of the catchers’ debuts predate metrics such as DRS and FRM, it’s notable that they held their own in the running game combining for a 30.8 percent caught steal rate — despite awful efforts from Montero and Todd Zeile, who were ultimately moved off the position.

Considering Moreno’s limited upper-minors experience, it seems odd to compare him directly to a group of players that include all-time greats at his position such as Rodríguez, Buster Posey and Joe Mauer. The fact those players are his most obvious peers just shows how promising his minor-league career has been to this point. It’s extremely difficult to make the major leagues as a catcher, let alone be recognized as one of baseball’s elite prospects.

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That doesn’t mean it’s impossible Moreno totally busts like Montero did (although his higher defensive floor makes it unlikely). He could also go on to a relatively anonymous career like Davis, or longtime Montreal Expos starter Michael Barrett. Those don’t seem to be the most likely outcomes, though. If the last 30 years of top-prospect catchers are anything to go by, he’s got a solid chance to make a significant impact from the moment he arrives in the majors.



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Jacobs, defence lead Raiders to first win of season over Broncos

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Just when it looked as if the Las Vegas Raiders might blow another fourth-quarter lead, they put the ball in the hands of Josh Jacobs and the running game to finish off the Denver Broncos.

The emphatic game-sealing drive gave Josh McDaniels his first win as a head coach since being fired by Denver in 2010 and backed up the message he gave his players all week.

“He said it to the offense and defense: You should want the burden to finish the game, not hoping that someone else does their thing or they they fix the problem,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Whatever the game asked for, it’s our turn to do our job.”

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The Raiders did just that. Jacobs ran for a career-high 144 yards and two touchdowns, Amik Robertson returned a fumble 68 yards for a score and the Raiders beat the Broncos 32-23 on Sunday.

After opening their first season under McDaniels by losing three straight one-score games, including a blown 20-point lead to Arizona in Week 2, the Raiders (1-3) managed to do enough on the ground and on defense to hold off Russell Wilson and the Broncos (2-2).

“We kind of had the mindset we wanted this to be a physical game and leaned on Josh and the running game a little bit more than what we have and really established that,” McDaniels said. “Our goal was to try to make it that kind of game and make it a fourth-quarter game.”

Maxx Crosby had two of Las Vegas’ three sacks, and Robertson had the game-changing play late in the first half as Denver repeatedly failed to take advantage of good field position.

After getting a 5-yard TD pass from Wilson to Courtland Sutton to cap a 34-yard drive in the first quarter, the Broncos turned three other chances with prime field position into one field goal and the fumble by Melvin Gordon III that Robertson returned for the touchdown.

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Wilson had his most efficient game of his short tenure in Denver, completing 17 of 25 passes for 237 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a 3-yard TD that cut the Raiders’ lead to 25-23 after completing a 55-yard pass to KJ Hamler.

But Denver scored only once on six drives in the second half.

“We have to get better,” first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “Across the board as an offense, I think we will.”

Jacobs put it away with a 7-yard TD run with 2:01 to play. He became the first Raiders player to rush for at least 130 yards and two TDs in a game since Darren McFadden did it in 2011 against the Jets.

“We had to go down there and call game,” Crosby said. “Josh Jacobs is a damn baller. That’s been my brother since day one. I’m so happy for him. He went down there and closed the game.”

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Carr didn’t have to do much for the Raiders, completing 21 of 34 passes for 188 yards as Las Vegas got the running game going for the first time this season. Davante Adams had nine catches for 101 yards.

Jacobs scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter and set up a field goal in the third with a 42-yard run that was his longest since his rookie season in 2019.

The Raiders finished with 212 yards rushing for their most in a game since getting 218 against the Broncos in 2016.

“He’s one of the best runners that I’ve ever been around,” McDaniels said about Jacobs. “I’ve been around some good ones. He has a great ability to make yards after contact. He has a great ability to make yards even if there’s not a whole lot there right away.”

SURPRISE SCORE

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The Raiders’ defense got into the scoring mode for a change when Duron Harmon forced Gordon’s fumble and Robertson took it to the end zone.

It was the first TD by the Raiders’ defense or special teams since Erik Harris had a pick-6 against the Chargers on Nov. 7, 2019. The 43 regular season games without one was the second longest of the Super Bowl era, trailing only a 49-game streak by the Browns from 1979-82.

The play came shortly after Broncos receiver Jerry Jeudy motioned at the 5-foot-8 Robertson that he was too short to cover him.

“Once he started talking, it kind of elevated my play,” Robertson said.

NOT SO SPECIAL

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Both teams had their issues on special teams with Tyron Johnson botching a punt return that backed the Raiders up near their goal line in the first quarter.

Las Vegas also set up Denver with good field position when a surprise onside kick failed.

Both teams also missed extra points in the second quarter with Daniel Carlson missing his first kick of any kind this season for the Raiders and Denver’s Brandon McManus missing his second in the past two seasons.

INJURIES

Broncos: RB Javonte Williams and edge rusher Randy Gregory both left the game with knee injuries in the second half and will have MRIs to determine the severity. … S P.J. Locke and LB Aaron Patrick left the game with concussions.

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Raiders: LB Denzel Perryman left with a concussion in the first half.

UP NEXT

Broncos: Host Indianapolis on Thursday night.

Raiders: Visit Kansas City on Monday, Oct. 10.

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FOX Bet Super 6: Three contestants win Terry Bradshaw's $1,000,000 prize

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Three contestants won a piece of Terry Bradshaw’s $1,000,000 jackpot in the FOX Bet Super 6 NFL Sunday Challenge. Find out how they won!



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Packers beat Patriots in overtime, but Aaron Rodgers' trust issues remain

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Aaron Rodgers struggled in the first half and doesn’t feel comfortable throwing to his young receivers. But the Packers persevered.



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