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Moore Is Minor Phenomenon

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Former Moriarty pitcher Moore is on the fast track to a major league call-up

Minor league baseball prospects don’t get any hotter than Matt Moore.

A hard-throwing left-hander in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, Moore is ranked as Baseball America’s No. 1 pitching prospect. ESPN and MLB.com have him as baseball’s No. 3 prospect regardless of position.

Moore certainly appears on a fast track to the majors. The Rays recently promoted the 22-year-old from Double-A Montgomery to Triple-A Durham. All he’s done since is go 2-0 with a 0.50 earned-run average in three starts, striking out 29 batters in 18 innings of work.

There’s considerable buzz that Moore may be in line for a September call-up.

Not bad for a once-stocky kid who was pitching for Moriarty High School as recently as 2007.

“It does seem like things have been happening fast,” Moore said in a phone interview Friday from Durham, N.C. “It’s been really exciting, but I’m just trying to keep my head down and keep working. I try not to pay much attention to what people are saying.”

Nonetheless, Moore is giving Rays fans and baseball people in general plenty to talk about. In July he pitched an inning at the XM Futures Game in Phoenix, needing just 11 pitches to retire the three batters he faced. His fastball was clocked at 100 mph in the nationally televised game.

“He’s pretty special,” said Albuquerque Isotopes manager Lorenzo Bundy, who served as a coach at the Futures Game. “We saw a lot of great arms at that game. Moore’s stood out.”

Waiting his turn

Bundy was slightly surprised to be asked about Moore, unaware of his New Mexico roots. Such is understandable; Moore’s path to Moriarty High School was far lengthier than his track through the minor leagues has been.

Moore was born in Florida and ultimately spent several years in Okinawa, Japan, where his father, Marty, was stationed in the Air Force. The family moved to Edgewood in 2000 when Moore’s older brother, Bobby, was ready to start high school. Both Moore boys were left-handed pitchers, but it wasn’t Matt that captured the initial spotlight.

“Bobby was kind of the star growing up,” Marty said. “Matt was more of a late-developer waiting on his turn. I tease him that he was my short, fat kid, but he always had an arm.”

The Moores played a significant role in helping Moriarty High become state contenders in baseball. Marty was an assistant coach under Michael Chavez and had both sons on the varsity roster for a season. Bobby went on to play at the University of New Mexico, while Matt continued at MHS and helped the Pintos to a state runner-up finish in 2007.

Matt began to escape his brother’s shadow between his sophomore and junior years, when a growth spurt allowed the rest of his body to catch up with his strong left arm. That’s when Matt began to attract the attention of college recruiters and professional scouts. Moore was named Gatorade Player of the Year after his senior season at Moriarty High.

“We were part of building a good tradition in that program,” Matt said. “But the main thing I’ll always remember about Moriarty was the wind. Sometimes it was in your face, sometimes at your back, but there were a lot of windy days. I’ve never pitched in wind like that since Moriarty.”

Meteoric climb

Moore considered rejoining his older brother, committing to play college baseball at UNM. But when Tampa Bay made him an eighth-round draft pick in June of 2007, Marty knew his younger son would sign.

“He really wanted to play pro ball,” Marty said.

Matt didn’t take long to establish himself, becoming a Baseball America Rookie All-Star in his first full season (2008). He was promoted to Single-A Bowling Green in 2009 and to Double-A Charlotte in 2010 – leading the minor leagues in strikeouts both seasons. His 208 strikeouts in 2010 were the most by a minor leaguer since 2005.

Bobby was not surprised.

“I did see it coming,” Bobby said. “Once Matt matured physically, he had the same kind of skills and ability as the major league guys you watch on TV.”

One thing Matt did not do well as a pro was pitch well with family members in attendance. In fact, he asked Marty not to attend his first game with Double-A Montgomery this spring.

“My dad came anyway and didn’t tell me,” Matt said. “I didn’t know he was there and I ended up pitching a pretty good game.”

With that mental hurdle behind him, Moore gave his family a day to remember on June 16. Marty, his wife Dolores, and Bobby were among several relatives in the stands as Matt twirled a no-hitter with 11 strikeouts at Mobile. The gem came on Bobby’s birthday.

“Pitching a no-hitter is one in a million,” Marty said. “For him to do it when we were all there, that’s one in a hundred million. That was a day none of us will forget.”

Matt was equally delighted to deliver a birthday present to Bobby, whom he credits for teaching him the grip on his changeup, a pitch that’s helped spur his climb through the minors.

Marty admits he’s hoping for another long-shot gift this season, provided Matt stays with Durham long enough. Should the division-leading Bulls go on to win an International League title, they would play in the Triple-A championship game – Sept. 20 at Isotopes Park.

“That would be amazing, wouldn’t it?” Matt asked. “My main goals are just to be healthy and ready to do whatever the organization needs. But I have to admit, I’d love to pitch in Albuquerque. The way this season’s gone, who knows?”

What they say about Matt Moore

“We used to argue about who had better stuff. I guess he won that argument, but I don’t feel bad because almost no one can hit his stuff now.”
Bobby Moore,
Ex-UNM pitcher and Matt’s older brother

“My editor is going to have to keep me from writing 5,000 words about Matt Moore – with a lot of exclamation points …”
ESPN.com’s Jason Grey after watching Moore pitch at the XM Futures Game

“Matt Moore is going to be the next big thing in Tampa.”
Robbie Knopf, ISportweb.com after watching Moore pitch a June 16 no-hitter for Double-A Montgomery

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