It would be premature to count Adam Moore as a bust and presume his time has come and gone.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Being anointed the Mariners’ “catcher of the future” has proved to be as much of an occupational hazard as being their catcher of the present.
Since Dan Wilson’s reign as the regular catcher ended in 2004, the M’s have searched far and wide for someone to establish himself at that vital position.
Miguel Olivo, version 1.0, wasn’t the answer after coming to Seattle as the centerpiece of the Freddy Garcia trade near the 2004 deadline. Kenji Johjima, signed out of Japan before the 2006 season, looked like the answer after a rookie season in which he hit .291 with 18 homers and 76 runs batted in — Benchesque numbers compared to Seattle’s more recent output from the position.
Johjima’s Seattle stint lasted through four seasons of ever-diminishing production and playing time before he opted out of his contract after the 2009 season, amid constant talk that M’s pitchers didn’t like throwing to him.
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Jeff Clement, the No. 3 overall pick in the talent-laden 2005 draft (taken in lieu of Troy Tulowitzki, their expected choice), flamed out on the way to his expected inheritance of the job. For the past two years, the M’s have employed a hodgepodge of young and old catchers, none seizing the position.
Which brings us to Adam Moore, who succeeded Clement in the “heir apparent” role. But last season, instead of cementing Moore as the regular, turned out to be a year of struggles and frustration that has left his future, like so many of his predecessors, in doubt.
“It just flat-out wasn’t the year I wanted,” said Moore.
And now Moore is at Mariners camp trying to re-establish himself as a catching contender. But the circumstances have changed dramatically, with the Mariners opting in early January to give Olivo a two-year, $7-million contract for a second stint in Seattle. There’s no question that Olivo, currently sidelined with a strained groin, is the team’s No. 1 catcher.
It would be premature, however, to count Moore as a bust and presume his time has come and gone. For one thing, Moore has played just 66 games in the majors, not nearly enough to close the book on him, despite his .197 career average (compared to a .303 average, with 58 homers, in 448 minor-league games).
Mariners catching instructor Roger Hansen calls Moore “a young 26″ and added, “He’s going to be fine. No matter what happens to Adam this year, I know down the road, he’s going to be fine.”
Moore believes that the lessons learned through last year’s struggles will serve him well. For one thing, he said, an offensive flurry at the end of the season (10-for-25 from Sept. 21 on) helped him regain his confidence.
“I started off the season, shoot, 0-for-21,” he said with a grimace. “No one wants to do that. Especially your first opening-day roster, starting off like that, having the opportunity to become that guy (the regular catcher). I didn’t get it done. Yeah, it messed with my confidence a little bit. But as the season went on, after I got hurt, everything started building.”
And he believes it came to fruition after the injury to his left fibula and a stint in Tacoma. It’s early, but Moore has looked good at the plate so far this spring and has four hits in eight at-bats.
“I feel great at the plate,” he said. “I understand what my approach is now. Last year, I learned. The last 2 ½, 3 weeks, that’s who I am. That’s driving the ball to right center, left center, and understanding what I do best, and sticking with it. Not chasing those pitches low and away, or chasing the sinkers low and in.”
Moore, however, is realistic about his place in the Mariner hierarchy. He is one of four catchers in camp besides Olivo, three of whom have a realistic chance of being Olivo’s backup: Moore, Josh Bard and Chris Gimenez (the fourth catcher is 20-year-old Steven Baron).
The M’s might decide that playing every day in the minors is more beneficial to Moore’s development.
“I’m definitely fighting for a job with the big league team,” Moore said. “It’s not changing anything for me. I’m not going out there nervous and panicking. I’m out there having fun, competing.”
Olivo’s injury could result in him starting the season on the disabled list, which would change the dynamics of the competition. But Moore has quickly forged a strong relationship with Olivo and is genuinely empathetic to his plight.
“You never want to see that, and you never want to hope for that,” Moore said. “Miguel’s a great guy. Him and I have been communicating, and he’s helped me out a lot. We have to pick it up here with him out and four of us in camp. We’re definitely going to get a lot more opportunities now in spring training. We all know he’s the starting catcher. I’m just going out there to earn a spot on this team.”
It’s a bit of a transformation from being catcher of the future. Moore, however, doesn’t believe the weight of that tag proved to be too big a burden.
“I don’t see it as pressure,” he said. “There’s no excuse for what I did last year. I just didn’t get it done. I had the opportunity to get it done and earn that job, but there have been plenty of guys that have been in my shoes at a young age and didn’t get the job done.
“At the same time, I got a lot of good out of it, just learning from the good and bad days and understanding what it takes day in and day out at the big league level. The confidence is the biggest key for me. I learned from that and I’m just going to build on it.”
Call Moore a work in progress, but don’t slam the door on him quite yet.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org