Former UNC baseball star Colin Moran shows he’s worth the hype

cwright@newsobserver.comMay 16, 2014 

— Brian Schneider played with nine-time All-Star outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. He was part of a Phillies infield that included All-Stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

He caught Cy Young Award winners Bartolo Colon and Roy Halladay. He homered off Barry Zito and World Series MVPs Josh Beckett and Cole Hamels.

Point being, Brian Schneider has done and seen some things as a major league baseball player, and he already likes a lot of what he’s seen from Colin Moran, who is trying to become one.

Schneider, just two years removed from his final game, is in his first year as manager of the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Miami Marlins’ high Class A affiliate.

Moran, less than a year removed from leading North Carolina to the College World Series, is the Hammerheads’ starting third baseman. He is much more than that, though you’d never know it by the way he carries himself. Moran leads the team in potential and fewest words spoken. He is much more likely to win the game than the postgame news conference.

Managers who played and have seen as much as Schneider appreciate such characteristics, particularly from prized prospects. No surprise, then, when the conversation turned to Moran, who is hitting .294 in his first full season after being taken No. 6 overall in June’s draft, Schneider smiled.

“You see glimpses every day,” Schneider said. “You see a diving play in the hole where he gets up and turns a double play. You see a ball hit in the gap, or the way he works the count against a lefty and takes a walk. There’s little things he does every day.

“There’s a lot of hype on him, being the (sixth) pick, so there’s a lot of pressure on the kid, but he’s been dealing with it pretty good. It’s not about being there for one or two days and being gone for three or four. You don’t want those peaks and valleys. You want that flat road.”

Cornerstone of rebuilding

The goal, obviously, is for that road to end in Miami, where the Marlins envision Moran as a middle-of-the-order cornerstone of their rebuilding effort. The Marlins also have the No. 2 overall pick in next month’s draft, where N.C. State ace and Miami native Carlos Rodon could be available, so it’s not out of the question to see a late 2016 lineup that featured Moran and Rodon.

“That would be cool,” said Moran, who seemed more at ease discussing his college rival than himself. “I got to play against him a bunch. He’s got really good stuff and is a great competitor. Mix those two, and he’s pretty dangerous. It would be nice having him as a teammate.”

Moran, just 21, refuses to place a time table on his big league arrival, but there’s nobody ahead of him in the system impeding his progress.

Baseball America ranked him the No. 2 prospect in the organization (No. 61 in the minors overall), and the only other infielder listed was Avery Romero, a second baseman with low Class A Greensboro.

“I have no timetable, first of all,” Moran said. “Have a good game tonight. That’s all I think about, honestly.”

Moran is focused

Schneider appreciates Moran’s single-minded approach. The best way to impress a baseball man like Schneider is to prepare like one. For Moran, that meant arriving early to spring training to work on his glove, which some questioned coming out of Chapel Hill.

“Something paid off right there,” Schneider said. “He’s been playing real well and he’s getting better, and that’s all we can ask for. You’re going to man the hot corner, the defense has to be there.

“I just hope he doesn’t get down on himself when things aren’t going good because it’s a game of ups and downs and you really learn a lot about a kid when things aren’t going well, how he handles that.

“He’s got that family pedigree. He’s been around baseball his whole life with his uncle (B.J. Surhoff), so he knows this game very well.”

A few rough edges

There still are rough edges that need smoothing. The Marlins want to see more power from Moran – he hit just four home runs in 42 games with Greensboro last summer and has yet to hit one for Jupiter – but Schneider isn’t concerned. There’s so much else to like about his offense, he said.

“He has a real good idea of plate discipline,” he said. “He knows the strike zone and he works counts real well. We definitely noticed that about him right away. We want to see him up some power numbers, hit some more balls in the gap, hit some more home runs. That’s easy to say right now, but that will come with more at-bats.”

Schneider looked toward a group of players huddled along the left field line, waiting their turn in the batting cage. In the middle stood Moran, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound bonus baby blending seamlessly with teammates, even though his talent will take him places they’ll likely never go.

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