Breakout candidate 2012: Tampa Bay Rays’ Matt Moore

The Tampa Bay Rays seem to always have standout talent stashed away in the minors just waiting for an opportunity to shine. After just two starts in the big leagues last season, Matt Moore showed he is next on the list. His first start came against the New York Yankees, in which the Rays were fighting for their playoff lives. In just five innings, Moore struck out 11 batters while allowing just four hits and walking one. How can you top that? How about winning game one of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers? Moore allowed two hits in seven innings while striking out six in the 9-0 victory.

As a lefty, Moore features a fastball that is consistently in the upper 90s as well as an above-average curve and change. If his brief stint in the majors last season wasn’t impressive enough, look at his minor league numbers. In 155.0 innings between double-A and triple-A last season, Moore went 12-3 with a 1.93 ERA and 210 strikeouts. Opponents only hit .184 against him. All of that made it a no-brainer for the Rays to lock up the 22-year-old lefty through 2019. Last month, Moore received a eight-year contract extension that guarantees the first five years and contains club options for the last three. The contract should top out at $39.75 million.

With a rotation that already features James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and Jeff Neiman (one of the last two are likely to be traded), there is no pressure on Moore. The fact he is going to be the fourth of fifth starter has him in a great position to succeed. That means he will be going against other back-of-the-rotation pitchers who likely won’t be able to match his performances. And with the likes of Shields, Price and Hellickson, who can pitch deep into games, the bullpen will be well rested and ready to go so Moore doesn’t run the risk of being overused and worn down by the end of the season.

What will help Moore most of all is the defense. The Rays were number one in the AL in fielding percentage (.988) and fewest amount of errors (73). As of right now, it is unclear whether Casey Kotchman will be resigned to play first base, but Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Sam Fuld all return to lead this defense and aid Moore and the pitching staff. Not much should change here.

My only worry for Moore is run support. The Rays don’t possess much on offense so it might stop him from picking up a few wins. In this lineup, only Longoria’s production is a sure thing. Ben Zobrist has shown big things at the plate in the past and Matt Joyce was a big surprise during the first half of the season. I expect an ERA in the low threes, a ton of strikeouts and about 13 wins give or take. This upcoming season should be the start of a long, successful career in the majors for the young southpaw.

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