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40 in 40: Dylan Moore

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Shall I compare thee to a winter’s day? The forecast for Dylan Moore is as straight forward as the forecast for snow.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

There are two elements you need for snow: freezing temperatures and precipitation.

It seems pretty simple on the surface. Cold + wet = snow. However, a menagerie of meteorological events can put a halt to our dreams of snowflakes that stay on our nose and eyelashes.

The outlook for Dylan Moore has been as difficult to pin down as an accurate prediction for snow in Seattle. Among his forecasts:

  • Career minor league journeyman
  • Just a guy on a major league team
  • Notorious error-committer
  • Super utility player
  • Starting second baseman on a major league team

His baseball forecasts have had to change as he has traveled through the minor leagues and into the major leagues. He has become a fantasy baseball darling. He’s suddenly a fan-favorite in Seattle. He is a genuinely likeable player who has everyone rooting for him.

His journey began in June 2015 when he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 7th round out of the University of Central Florida. The 7th round saw most of the draftees securing signing bonuses in the six-figures. Moore signed for $10,000. By the end of last season, he was one of only 5 players from that round to play even a single game in the major leagues, and his 1.8 fWAR leads them all.

Before he could show up the rest of his draft round, Texas sent him to Atlanta for essentially nothing in exchange. After a single season minor league season with the Atlanta organization, he signed with Milwaukee. After his year in the Brewers’ system was up, he signed with the Mariners prior to the 2019 season. Bouncing around to several organizations, he had the makings of a career minor leaguer, despite putting up decent numbers.

Initially, he was just a guy on the team. I don’t remember thinking much of him when he made his major league debut with the Mariners in Japan two years ago. For one, it was easy to lose him in the sea of Mariners that would debut early in 2019. For another, there wasn’t anything about him that stood out. He was just a guy on the team.

Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

That all changed when he made his first start. On March 30th, 2019 with 2 on, 2 out, and the Mariners up by 4 runs, Moore committed 3 consecutive errors that allowed 3 runs to score. It was the sort of inning that haunts the worst nightmares of infielders. Early in his major league career, it could have the sort of inning that defined his career. Standing on the eve of the 2021 season, it seems that instead, it’s an inning that will fade into a trivia question people will marvel over in a few years. (And maybe this will be the last year you have to read about it in his 40 in 40.)

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle Mariners
The Mariners won Moore’s 3-error game. During the post-win handshakes, Scott Servais gives Moore a pep talk.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For the rest of 2019, he wasn’t able to put a stop to the questions about his defense, not a great forecast for a utility player, committing 6 more errors. Near the end of the season Félix Hernández made his last appearance as a Mariner. On an incredibly emotional night, Félix neared the end of his time on the mound. Again, with 2 outs, this time with the bases loaded, a ball was hit to Moore. The ball carried Félix’s final start and the feelings of everyone in the stands that night.

Moore took a creative route to the ball, leaving us all watching in horror. But this guy who was just a guy on the team with a huge defensive question over him, wasn’t about to let his chance at redemption bounce into the left field corner. In hindsight, there’s no way he should have been able to make that catch. But he wildly reached out his glove and found the ball.

He’d been tinkering with his swing and his approach at the plate, making small changes that many of us didn’t pay much attention to. After all, he was just a guy on the team. His forecast wasn’t for snow, it was for an unremarkable day in the middle of winter. Then, on a night when 15 years of expectations converged in honor of the pitcher who carried them, Moore showed up with a magical snow shower.

In 2020, he continued his quest to become a player the Mariners could count on. He ran into some early road bumps. First, coming into summer camp, he missed nearly all the workouts and intrasquad games because of a positive COVID-19 test. Then, he spent time on the injured list in August with a sprained wrist.

He only played in 38 games in 2020, but over those games he showed an astounding leap forward. Over the short season he slashed .255/.358/.496 for wRC+ of 138. His K% dropped 6 points between 2019 and 2020, from 33% to 27%. He also showed a fun leap in the counting stats:

Three true outcomes? How about, the two funnest outcomes: home runs and steals.

His speed on the bases was allowed to shine in 2020. As you can see above, he exceeded his stolen base totals from 2019. It’s also noteworthy that in 2019 he was caught stealing 9 times and 5 times in 2020. If the Mariners continue to give him the greenlight, it’s not out of the question that he could steal 20 bases in 2021. As a fan of stealing bases, I’d certainly like to see him run wild out there. But, he needs to improve his success rate to keep the light green on the bases.

Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Moore made some changes to his swing last year, something Mikey Ajeto outlines well here. Mikey suggests pitchers could adjust to his changes by throwing fewer fastballs. Last year, however, pitchers adjusted by throwing at him. After being hit by a pitch 9 times in 2019, he found himself on the receiving end of errant horsehide 8 times last season (no actual horses were harmed in the harming of Dylan Moore).

September was a particularly brutal month. Moore was hit twice by San Francisco’s Logan Webb in his first two plate appearances on September 8th. His next victimizer was A’s hurler Jesus Luzardo on September 14th. On September 16th, Sam Coonrod of the Giants struck him in the head. The final blow came on September 21st when he was again hit in the head, this time by the Astro’s Brandon Bielak. (I’m naming names here, so we can extract vengeance by vigorously booing these pitchers through our televisions this season.) Despite staying in the game, Moore was placed on the concussion list and his season ended.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners
Rude.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Now, going into 2021 Moore will brush off those blows and compete for a starting job. Shed Long hasn’t shown what the Mariners were hoping at the major league level and the two will face off in spring training to earn the job. Although Moore has done well moving around the diamond—he has played every position except catcher—a steady assignment will allow him to devote more time to polishing his defensive craft at one spot. He’ll get more plate appearances and we’ll get a better idea of the major league player he is.

Last season he made more appearances in the outfield (27) than he did in the infield (18, with 10 of those at second), but he was drafted as a shortstop and most of his minor league experience came in the middle infield, so it stands to reason that he’ll settle in nicely there defensively.

There are only two things the Mariners need from their starting second baseman in 2021: Decent defense and a serviceable bat.

It’s simple enough on the surface, but any number of baseball influences can throw a player off course.

In 2021, should everything go according to plan, Moore will have more at bats and more playing time. He’ll have the space to showcase his hitting approach. He’ll get to settle in and, free from the rollercoaster of being a utility player, have the opportunity to thrive at one position.

Of course the forecast for him isn’t at all certain, and questions remain. Will he be able to bring his strikeout rate down further? Will he be able to continue driving the ball like he was last season when pitchers adjust to him? Can he be the player he showed in a short 2020 season?

Los Angeles Dodgers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

By the time you read this, it may be snowing in the Puget Sound area. Or, it may be another winter day with cold rain. While I always hope for snow, I’ve learned to never trust a forecast for snow until I see it sticking on the pavement. When it comes to baseball, I generally lean into unwarranted optimism about the potential for a player to improve and grow. Moore has me hoping he can bring a snowstorm to Seattle, but like snow, I’ll have to see it before I believe it.

If nothing else, this is the year the forecast for Dylan Moore will become more clear.

San Francisco Giants v Seattle Mariners
Moore, looking forward to showing what he can do in 2021.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images