MLB First-Year Players Draft, 7 p.m., MLB Network

UNC’s Moran set to join uncle and brother as first round draft pick

acarter@newsobserver.comJune 5, 2013 

  • First-round factory

    From 2006-2012, UNC produced more first-round picks* than any program in the country. Colin Moran, a projected top-10 pick, is expected to add to the list.

    School 1R picks Highest No. Year
    UNC6Dustin Ackley22009
    Stanford5Mark Appel82012
    Vanderbilt5David Price1 2007
    Clemson4Daniel Moskos42007
    Miami4Yonder Alonso72008
    Arizona State4Mike Leake82009

     NOTE: * Does not include supplemental first-round; Appel returned this year for his senior season.

— Colin Moran remembers his first trip to Yankee Stadium.

It was during the late 1990s. He remembers the traffic, where he sat. The first time he went was with his brother and grandmother and one of her friends. They were all there to see the Yankees play the Orioles. B.J. Surhoff, Moran’s uncle, played for them at the time.

“It was definitely a huge source of pride,” Moran, North Carolina’s junior third baseman, said earlier this week. “When you’re going to school, and kind of known as B.J. Surhoff’s nephew – it was kind of awesome, to be honest with you. Just knowing that you’ve got a family member who’s so successful, and a guy you can look to.”

Before he began a 19-year career in the Major Leagues, Surhoff was an All-American for the Tar Heels. He was picked first overall in the 1985 Major League Baseball draft. If you walk around UNC’s Boshamer Stadium, there are slight reminders of Surhoff’s legacy: plaques, pictures.

In his own way, Moran is a reminder of that legacy too. He bears a physical resemblance to his uncle.

And when the MLB draft begins Thursday night, Moran will have something else in common with Surhoff. Moran will be a first-round pick. And like Surhoff was, Moran is expected to be the first player chosen from the state.

Surhoff was the second UNC player – behind Dave Lemonds in 1968 – to be selected No. 1 overall in the draft. Moran isn’t projected to go that high, but Baseball America considers him the seventh-best draft-eligible prospect.

It would be easy to assume Moran simply followed his bloodlines to arrive at this point. Surhoff was the first member of his family to play at UNC, and then Moran’s brother, Brian, came along and was picked in the seventh round of the draft in 2009. Yet Moran’s genes are but one factor in his evolution into one of the top prospects in the country.

“He’s definitely had to work through some stuff,” said Brian Moran, a pitcher with Tacoma Rainiers, the Class AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. “He wasn’t highly-recruited out of high school. I don’t think too much has been handed to him because of anything.”

Neither Brian nor Colin Moran were drafted out of high school. Colin Moran wasn’t even heavily recruited. He was the final player that UNC signed as part of its 2010 recruiting class, and his spot only came open because of attrition.

“Even with a big-league uncle, even with a brother that was having college success, even with the bloodlines, he didn’t attract a lot of scouting attention out of high school,” John Manuel, the editor of Baseball America, said of Moran. “So I think there’s the perception that he just has good genes, he’s got these big-league bloodlines. ... And that’s part of it.

“But that kind of sells his work ethic and the work that he’s put in a little short.”

Both Moran brothers were standout high school players at Iona Prep School in New Rochelle, N.Y. Yet professional scouts rarely saw them play.

They were young for their graduating classes, and less physically developed than other prospects. And New York isn’t known as a fertile ground for high school baseball players.

“I talked to some teams, maybe like one or two,” Colin Moran said. “But I guess coming from New York – the place where I’m from is not exactly a hotbed for prospects. So I don’t know – I didn’t really have much interest out of high school.”

UNC knew about Moran because of the connection to his brother, and to Surhoff. But a lot of programs didn’t bother to recruit him.

Moran generated serious interest only after he played in a showcase event in Jupiter, Fla. After that, Florida Atlantic, the team that UNC recently defeated in 13 innings to advance to a Super Regional, offered Moran a scholarship. He considered playing there, and also considered Elon and Virginia Tech.

Yet Moran always knew that if he had a chance to play at UNC, he would go. Both Moran brothers were fans of the Tar Heels growing up, regardless of the sport. It also helped that their uncle had no shortage of success there.

By the time Colin Moran arrived at UNC in 2010, his brother was already gone. Brian Moran at times worried. He knew his younger brother had lofty dreams, but also knew he could face a difficult road to reaching them at UNC, which, under coach Mike Fox, hasn’t had difficulty attracting high school talent.

“I was excited for him when he decided that he wanted to go to UNC,” Brian Moran said. “But I was a little nervous too. But he went to school and fit right in.”

Colin Moran was better than people thought, sooner than they thought he would be. After a successful first fall and winter, he started at third base as a freshman and led UNC with a .335 batting average and 71 RBIs.

Manuel said Moran is a prized commodity to scouts for numerous reasons: His ability to hit to all portions of the field, his potential to hit for power and his improvement as a defensive player.

“I do like his chances of going in the first 10 picks, and I think the fact that he has a long track record of hitting at a high level ... that will get him consistently high on all teams’ draft boards,” Manuel said. “And then he has improved that defense to the point that he’s seen as a third baseman.

“Not as a third baseman you have to move to first.”

Moran, whose 86 RBIs are a single-season school record, has struggled of late.

Overall Moran’s production has slipped during the past few weeks, but Manuel doesn’t anticipate that affecting his draft position.

“We definitely thought, should we drop him?” Manuel said. “Is he too high on our board? I think more to it is just hitting .400 like he was coming into May – that’s just unsustainable. Nobody does that in college baseball at a high level of competition anymore, not with these bats.”

Moran is close with his uncle, who has provided guidance when Moran has sought it, but he’s much closer with his older brother. Brian Moran now plays on the same minor league team as Dustin Ackley, the former Tar Heels’ All-American who was picked second overall in the draft in 2009. Moran is expected to become the fourth UNC player since 2009 to be selected in the first round.

It was only four years ago when Brian Moran was in his younger brother’s shoes, waiting to be drafted. The elder Moran has offered his insight into what to expect during the draft process, and what life in the minor leagues might be like.

“Whether he sees it through his uncle or me, I think he has a pretty good idea of what to expect,” Brian Moran said.

A few years ago Colin Moran might not have expected this. As an undrafted player out of high school, and the final member of a recruiting class that featured players who arrived in college with greater reputations, Moran dreamed about becoming one of best players in the nation.

It might have seemed like a long shot then but here he is – on the cusp of becoming the second member of his family to become a first-round selection in the Major League draft.

“It’s hard to describe,” he said. “It’s crazy to think three years ago I had a dream to get drafted. And I didn’t really set a round or anything like that. But I was hoping hard work would pay off and now I have a chance to continue my dream of going to the big leagues.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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