Spencer Moran was an 11th round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014. An intriguing pitcher given the fact he had already hit 93 MPH with his fastball and sat at a lean 6'6'', 180 lbs, Moran could have easily gone in the top five rounds, but signability issues caused him to slip to the 11th round, where the team was able to ink him nonetheless.
Moran made his debut for the GCL Rays in 2014, throwing 17.0 innings of 4.24 ERA ball with a 5.29 K/9 and 2.12 BB/9. He was bumped up a level in 2015, moving to Advanced-Rookie Princeton and impressing. Over 52.0 innings, he posted a solid 3.12 ERA while increasing his strikeout rate to 8.12 K/9 and retaining a plenty respectable 2.42 BB/9.
Moran is one of many intriguing arms that the Rays posses in the low-minors. Last week, Moran sat down with DRaysBay to give some more insight into his career thus far.
Drew Jenkins: You were obviously a talented player entering the draft and could have gone in the top few rounds, but draft signing rules can sometimes cause high school players to slip. What was it like waiting for your name to come around?
Spencer Moran: It is something that we had talked about, that teams would want to wait [to pick me] due to signability. I used college as a big bargaining chip. I did get a few calls in the 5th round and didn’t get the number I was looking for. Thankfully I said no to them and ended up getting picked by the Rays, and that was something I thought might happen. I think that God worked it out the way it was supposed to be.
DJ: You were an 11th round pick, which can be a tricky round given new draft signing rules. What went into your decision to sign, and what made you end up signing with the Rays rather than honoring your commitment to Utah? Did the fact that the Rays are an organization known for developing pitching have anything to do with your decision?
SM: The Rays reputation was definitely one of the biggest things that pushed me to sign. I'm not going to lie, the financials were part of it, but I really think the opportunity out of high school to start a pro career is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I’ve heard stories of guys getting drafted out of high school, not signing, and later getting injured and never ending up with a chance to have a pro career. This was a perfect opportunity for me.
DJ: Give us a scouting report on yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
SM: I’ve got a lot of height and projectability to throw a lot of innings and be a workhorse. I’ve been in the weight room five days a week this off-season trying to fill out and get a strong foundation. I feel like I’ll end up putting a lot more velocity on my ball. In terms of stuff, I throw a fastball, a good changeup, a slider and a curve.
DJ: To you, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being labeled as a projectable pitcher?
SM: Getting drafted, I was 6’6’’, 180 pounds. Whether I liked it or not that was always something I’ve been given; as much as I’d like to be throwing 98 and weigh 250. It is something I’ve embraced and it shows there is more to come.
DJ: What do you feel the Rays organization as a whole, and specifically the Princeton coaching staff last season, has emphasized in your development?
SM: I love the organization. Coming in, I didn’t really know how it would be but now I’ve experienced their reputation [for developing pitchers] first hand. The whole staff has put me in a good position to succeed. [Princeton pitching coach] Jose Gonzales taught me some good stuff and we worked hard to help me clean up my mechanics to help me keep the ball low. I loved the Princeton staff and everyone in the organization.
DJ: You had a decent debut in 2014 but really turned things on last season, what adjustments did you make to find this success?
SM: It’s just learning your body and learning how to prepare. I started to feel what felt natural to me with my mechanics. I had been real rigid and doing what I thought everyone else wanted me to do, and about halfway through the season Gonzales and I sat down and worked for a few bullpens. He said, "I want you to do what works for you. Just for this bullpen do what feels right and not what anyone else wants you to do." I started to go back to old mechanics, picked something from here and picked something from there. I started to find mechanics that helped me get my fastball low in the zone, make my changeup look like my fastball out of my hand, and get good depth on curve and slider. It’s about learning your body and what works for you day in and day out.
DJ: You participated in the Rays' instructional league in 2014. How important would you say this experience was to your development?
SM: It was a great opportunity to get in front of all the coordinators and coaches. It is a valuable opportunity to pick the brain of everyone there. I was trying to be all ears and ask as many questions as possible. It’s similar to spring training; there are a lot of meetings, PFP, fielding and simply learning. It was a great opportunity to work on my weaknesses.
DJ: A professional season is much longer and more gruesome than a high school season. What preparations do you make and what have you learned in regards to keeping yourself healthy over a full season, especially in an era where injuries to pitchers are common?
SM: It was a learning curve being drafted and going straight into pro season. It was a long year. The biggest adjustment was learning to throw every day and knowing my arm and what I need. I used to ice after I threw -- that was a big thing I believed in -- and in pro ball I have learned my arm heals better without ice. That’s an example of one of the things I’ve learned in pro ball. It is a grind. Day in and day out you’re at the field. You have to make sure you eat right and drink a lot of water. You only get a handful of off days.
The real work starts in the off-season with a strong foundation, strong legs and a strong core. You have to make sure all your mechanics are strong. A good offseason leads to a good season. I think having a good season this year pushed me to work harder in the offseason so I can continue to grow.
DJ: Your team got to the Appalachian League finals this year and you were the winning pitcher in Game 1. What did this experience mean to you?
SM: I can’t explain what it means. It was heartbreaking to be one strike away from winning a championship, but it gives me drive. It was something I learned from and an invaluable experience. It was indescribable being on the mound in a championship series.
DJ: Who was the goofiest person in the Princeton clubhouse?
SM: I may be biased, but I have to say my roommate Zac Law. He definitely is not the loudest in the clubhouse. I’d say he’s the quietest, but we meshed together because we both have a real dry sense of humor.
DJ: One thing people often overlook with high school draft picks is that not only is it their first time facing pro competition, but for most, it is their first time living on their own. How have you adjusted to that and made sure that those off-the-field adjustments have not affect your on-field performance?
SM: I feel like I do a good job of separating the two. In my free time, I try to talk to my family and girlfriend. When I’m on the field, I think about nothing else. Obviously there are times you want mom’s cooking, but I’ve never had a big issue being away from home. It was tough for the first week or so but you get over it and realize you have a great opportunity and can’t let anything distract you.
DJ: Are there any particular big league pitchers that you like to watch or try to model your game after?
SM: I try to watch them all. I try to take a little something from any guy I watch in the big leagues. I don’t try to imitate one specific guy because they are all doing something different. I try to be my own pitcher and have my own mechanics.
Heading into next season, Moran will likely be fighting for a place between Short Season-A Hudson Valley and Low-A Bowling Green during spring training. While he remains raw, you have to love the projection and his 2015 success. He is certainly a player to keep an eye on for the future.
Big thanks to Spencer for taking the time to talk with us!