Lost in the madness of Kris Bryant’s monster game and Jesus Castillo’s 11 K’s for Eugene Monday night, Erling Moreno quietly pitched 6 innings in the Arizona Rookie League. Along the way he struck out six, walked two, and allowed no runs on three hits. A very good start, but why is this something to be celebrated?
Moreno, for better or worse, is basically the Cubs’ international version of Dylan Cease. I am not talking about the velo on the fastball (low to mid 90’s), either. I am talking about the road back from Tommy John surgery. It’s been a long one for Moreno, just as it has been for Cease.
Moreno was signed back in 2013 at the age of 16, which put him in the vaunted class with Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Wladimir Galindo, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Jeferson Mejia. A 6-3, 180 pound kid from Colombia, Baseball America had good things to say about the high-profile right-hander before the signing period even began.
Moreno doesn’t have a plus fastball yet, working anywhere from 87-90 mph, but he has plenty of room to add weight and velocity so he could throw in the mid-90s eventually. He gets good angle on his fastball and works down in the strike zone. He keeps hitters off his fastball with a solid changeup, a pitch that some scouts think is ahead of his breaking ball. Other scouts prefer his breaking ball and think it’s a projectable pitch.
Moreno began his career in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2014. He made one three-inning appearance in which he struck out three and did not allow a run. He was then transferred to the Dominican Summer League team, where he accumulated 8.1 innings in four short starts. He struck out six and allowed a single run in that time, but the elbow blew and Moreno underwent UCL reconstruction and missed the rest of the year.
He came back in 2015, went through extended spring training, and was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League. He was used a reliever and saw action in three games before being shut down. His work was good: 4.2 innings, 2 K’s, and 1 run. But the elbow was not ready yet, not strong enough.
Sometimes it takes a while to come back. Not everyone is Dylan Cease and throwing triple digits a year after the surgery. Moreno has taken a while longer to come around, but he is still only 19 years old. That’s far too young to give up on a kid.
Deemed ready to go to open the 2016 season, he got 17.2 innings of work in six extended spring training games. The stats were not spectacular, but he had not broken down either. Despite a 5+ ERA, he struck out 13 and walked seven. When the regular season began for Arizona two weeks ago, however, Moreno shifted into another gear.
His first appearance lasted 5 innings, over which he scattered six hits and allowed two runs while striking out three. The start didn’t drop jaws, but Moreno kept his velocity throughout and showed the workings of a plus curve. The most recent start was even better: 6 IP, to me, is quite an achievement for a 19-year-old player two years removed from TJS. So far, a stat line of 11 innings, two earned runs, nine strikeouts to only two walks, and a WHIP of 1.00 is a good foundation to build on.
I was a bit surprised the Cubs would let him go 5 innings in first appearance, especially after Aaron Crow’s one-inning start earlier. Then again, I was even more surprised they let Moreno go six in his next start. Normally at the lowest levels of the minors, 4-5 inning starts are commonplace. That said, I am positive the Cubs have pitch or inning limits on him this year.
I think Moreno’s season bears watching as he makes a full return. The kid has some good stuff, and with him still being so young, there’s plenty of time to bring that arm along at a measured pace and develop those pitches.