It was a trade that would ultimately send a promising young player to the World Series in his first full season in the big leagues, but it was also a jarring move that Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno didn’t see coming.
In fact, when the former Blue Jays top prospect’s phone rang this past Dec. 23 and general manager Ross Atkins was on the other end, he expected a conversation that was much more merry.
“I was at home in Venezuela,” Moreno said on Monday in Arizona at a pre-game press conference prior to Game 3 of the Fall Classic. “I thought I was going to receive a phone call wishing me happy holidays. But it was news of the trade.
“It kind of took a week or so to let it sink in, knowing that I had been traded. In the offseason, I focused on the physical side, developing my physical side.”
That development is clearly coming to fruition in a rather spectacular way during the postseason where Moreno has been a defensive dynamo behind the plate and an offensive force on the cusp of MLB postseason history.
Moreno’s star is certainly burning brightest now in the World Series spotlight. In Saturday’s 9-1 blowout win over the Rangers in Texas to even the best-of-seven series at a win apiece, the budding young star belted his fourth homer this postseason. That blast put him within one of the postseason record set by Cleveland’s Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1997.
While Jays fans lament the one that got away via a deal that sent Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the desert for outfielder and defensive ace Daulton Varsho, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo has been blown away by the maturity Moreno has shown in just his second year in the big leagues at age 23.
Recommended from Editorial
‘UNDENIABLE’: Body of work of Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins will be put to test this winter
SIMMONS SAYS: Where would the Blue Jays be today had they hired Bruce Bochy as manager?
“His heartbeat, his ability to stay at one level despite any circumstance,” Lovullo said during his media availability on Monday when asked about what has impressed him the most about Moreno. “The common denominator for what you guys watching the game and what I get to see from watching the game is that he’s a really good baseball player.
“He knows what he’s trying to do every single pitch when he’s at the plate and he knows what he’s trying to get to with his pitchers every single pitch. To me, that’s maturity.”
While the Diamondbacks had a good idea what they were getting in Moreno, he didn’t arrive ready made, either. There was still some development to take place.
“It took him a little while to get our concepts down,” Lovullo said. “But since midseason things started to really come into place for him. Things that stand out for me is more his emotional stability every single night.”
Those qualities have been duly noted by Moreno’s teammates as well, as Saturday’s starter Merrill Kelly shared following his stellar seven-inning effort to help his team square the series.
“The strides I’ve seen Gabby have from the beginning of the season to where we are now is incredible,” Kelly told reporters in Texas following Game 2. “I’ve said it multiple times in the last couple of weeks and the last couple of days, but I can’t wait until I’m 50 years old and I’m watching Gabby Moreno still playing in the big leagues. I think he’s that type of talent, that type of mentality.
“For as young as he is, he’s not scared of the moment. He’s not scared of anything that I’ve really seen.”
The Jays saw many of those qualities, of course, from signing him, to developing him, to ushering him to his big league debut in 2022.
It’s a fact not lost on the youngster, either. Once he got over the shock of the trade — he was well aware of his prospect status, after all — he maintained fond memories of the team that developed him.
“Toronto was a team that signed me. I still have a very close relationship with the players, with the coaches,” Moreno said during his podium appearance at Chase Field. “My development there was key. I put in the effort. I put in the work. And (I’m) very grateful for all the coaches and teammates that I’m close to still that helped me out along the way.”