Moya returns to camp with smarter approach

Enlightened by winter ball, Tigers youngster's new look at plate not only his new hairdo

Moya returns to camp with smarter approach

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Steven Moya looked like he grew as a person, though it's an illusion. He hasn't had a haircut since last September, resulting in long locks that puff up and out from his head, making his 6-foot-7 frame look more like 6-foot-9.

It looks cool, but for baseball purposes, it's meaningless. While his hair was growing this winter, so was his hitting acumen.

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As the Tigers debated this winter whether to add an impact hitter for left field, eventually signing Justin Upton, Moya made his impact in the Dominican Winter League. After batting .240 with 162 strikeouts in 126 games at Triple-A Toledo last year, the 24-year-old slugger hit .298 (39-for-131) with four homers and 27 RBIs for Toros del Este, nearly doubling the run production of anybody else on the team. Just as important, he had more hits than strikeouts (34).

It's a small sample size at a different level of play, but it was about the process. He made some mechanical adjustments, but it was the approach that made a difference.

Steven Moya watches batting practice.MLB.com

"I could recognize more pitches," he said. "That's pretty much it, recognizing pitches in the strike zone. I faced a lot of lefties, so that gave me the opportunity to see the ball better. If I can hit the lefties, [hitting] righties is kind of easier. ...

"Everything I did down there, it was preparing myself for Spring Training and this new season. And I think everything I learned down there, I think I can bring it all here and do a lot better."

It'll be an interesting spring in that regard. But then, spring is always interesting with Moya.

Two years ago, his 7-for-21 performance in early Grapefruit League action raised hopes for his potential. He went 4-for-32 with 12 strikeouts last spring coming off his Eastern League MVP performance at Double-A Erie, but he crushed a home run.

Moya's solo homer

Upton's arrival all but eliminated whatever chance Moya had to break camp, but it also erased whatever pressure he might have felt to make an impression. Asked what he hoped to show Tigers officials this spring, he smiled.

"Nothing," he said politely. "I just want to play."

Between split-squad games and long road trips, he'll get that chance. In the process, he'll have his opportunity to put 2015 behind him.

He doesn't consider it a step-back season so much as a learning experience, facing more experienced pitchers, better scouting reports and more video. Winter ball was his chance to catch up. Barring something crazy, he'll return to Toledo this year with a more experienced approach.

"Depending on the pitcher, I think I have a better idea what they're trying to do," he said. "That's one of the things I learned down there, the situations. I got in a lot of really good situations that teach me what the pitchers want to do in each situation of the game. ... I just had the chance to think more when I'm going to the plate, the tactics of that, how the pitcher's going to try to get you out."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.