San Francisco Giants: What to Expect from Pitcher Reyes Moronta

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 24: A general view of the San Francisco Giants playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 24: A general view of the San Francisco Giants playing against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT /

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants made their next wave of minor league call-ups for roster expansion. Included in the group was right-handed reliever Reyes Moronta, an exciting prospect on a team with not many exciting prospects to bring up.

Moronta was with the big league club earlier in the season, wearing a uniform for one day but not getting into a game in May while the team was in New York. In his second call-up, the San Francisco Giants wasted no time getting him into a ballgame. He made his major league debut on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies, wearing a number that fans are used to seeing come out of the bullpen.

Moronta wore number 54, but he couldn’t be any more different than the man who wore the number before him. Sergio Romo was the last 54 for the Giants, donning the number his entire nine years with the big league club. Beyond that, there aren’t many similarities between the two right-handers.

Romo is listed at 185 pounds, and though his profiles will say that Moronta is 175 pounds, he’s clearly much larger than the weight at which he’s listed. Romo never averaged 90 miles per hour or more with his fastball over a full season, while Moronta made 90 look like child’s play in his debut. They both throw sliders, but as Romo’s has more lateral movement at a lower speed, Moronta’s features a heavy vertical drop in the mid-80s.

Moronta hit 96.1 on the radar gun on his first major league pitch, and that’s what he does. He’s a big man with a big heater, and that heater made him one of the Giants’ best relief pitcher prospects. 2016 was his breakout season. Spending the entire year with the Advanced-A San Jose Giants, Moronta posted a 2.59 ERA and 1.068 WHIP in 60 games, while recording 14 saves. The number that stood out were the strikeouts. In 59 innings, Moronta threw strike three 93 times. His 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings was the second-best in the California League among pitchers that at least 20 innings.

The Giants added him to the 40-man roster after the season, and he continued to impress in his first big league Spring Training. Moronta made four appearances (3.1 innings), recorded a pair of saves, and allowed two singles and a walk while striking out four. He was assigned to the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels to start the season, and was promoted to Triple-A in late July.

The 24-year-old pitched to a 4.00 ERA in 19 games with Richmond (26 strikeouts and 12 walks in 18 innings) before an injury sidelined him for most of June and the beginning of July. After a brief rehab stint with the Rookie League Giants (four strikeouts in two perfect innings), Moronta was moved to Triple-A for the first time.

In Sacramento, Moronta was right back on track in 13 appearances. He struck out 17 in 17 innings while allowing 21 baserunners, posting a 2.12 ERA in the process. The strong finish to the year earned him the promotion back to the major leagues, and he showed why on Tuesday.

With a delivery that begins rather easily but quickly turns violent, Moronta threw gas to the Rockies. He wasn’t given an easy task in his debut, drawing the top of Colorado’s order, which features three of the top hitters in the big leagues. His first pitch, the aforementioned 96.1 mph fastball, was out of the strike zone to Charlie Blackmon. He backed that up with a 95.6 mph fastball for a called strike.

On the next pitch, Moronta debuted his slider, the quick piece with sharp downward bite at 85 that Blackmon fought off on his hands. The fourth pitch of the at-bat was the most impressive offering Moronta had in his first game. Catcher Buster Posey set up on the outside corner, and Moronta painted the black. Though Blackmon turned and told home plate umpire Andy Fletcher that it wasn’t a strike, there was no denying that the 97.5 mph fastball at the knees was called correctly for strike three.

Moronta kept pouring in strikes against DJ LeMahieu, throwing 96.6 and 96.1 mph fastball for a quick 0-2 count. He broke out another slider, keeping it below the zone so that all LeMahieu could do was chop a groundball for another quick out. To start off Nolan Arenado‘s at-bat, Moronta threw another 97 mph fastball on the outside black, forcing Arenado to take a half-hearted swing through it.

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The rookie got into some trouble, with Arenado and Mark Reynolds both reaching on singles. Neither guy squared up the ball. Arenado chopped a ball to second base and just beat out the infield hit, and Reynolds’ bat shattered into a dozen pieces as it dropped a bloop single into right field. Moronta wouldn’t go any further, and one of those runners scored off the next pitcher.

Overall, the stat line isn’t overly impressive. In .2 innings, Moronta gave up two hits, a run, and struck one out. Beyond the stat line, Moronta was fantastic. Facing four very dangerous hitters, he he made a perfect pitch for strike three and forced three weakly hit balls to follow. Reynolds’ ruined bat is a testament to how good Moronta’s fastball was on Tuesday. He averaged 95.8 on his heater, which would be the best on the team if he continues that average.

Moronta is a pitcher that can really help a Giants’ bullpen that is still sorting out roles for the future. His lively fastball, which can look even harder because of a herky-jerk motion, is a deadly weapon when he spots it as well as he did against the Rockies. His slider didn’t look incredible on Tuesday, but it’s difficult to judge it based on one game in Coors Field, a place where breaking balls are never at their best. When it is at its best, it is a legitimate swing-and-miss offering.

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His debut was impressive, and every outing from here on out will be imperative for the young hurler. He has a real chance to fortify the bullpen, combining with more experienced pitchers to turn the team’s bullpen back into a strength. Adding in young power pitchers like Moronta and Kyle Crick to mix with Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, and Will Smith makes the outlook a little bit better.