Mashing Moya continues to mature

Outfield prospect slugs 4th spring homer but likely to open season in Minors

Mashing Moya continues to mature

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Don't look now, but Steven Moya tops the Majors in home runs, his fourth of the spring coming in Sunday's 9-5 loss to the Pirates at McKechnie Field.

"Not enough," he said.

That can be taken in several ways.

If the Tigers hadn't signed Justin Upton, this start might be enough to make team officials ponder their plan to return Moya to Triple-A Toledo for more seasoning. As it is, whatever Moya does in this camp, it's probably not going to be enough for him to make the Opening Day roster.

No, Moya said, that's not what he meant.

"It's not enough for me, something personal," Moya said. "I have to go for more. Each at-bat counts. You can't just throw at-bats away. My goal is to take each at-bat like it's the last one I'll get."

He means consistency. In that sense, his struggle might have more to do with Miguel Cabrera than Upton.

Early in Cabrera's Tigers tenure, then-manager Jim Leyland challenged him to not give away at-bats. Try it for a stretch, he suggested, and see how it works. If Cabrera could concentrate every at-bat, each pitch, the thought process went, he could make the leap to one of the game's best hitters. He became a Triple Crown winner and four-time batting champion.

Nobody's suggesting those expectations for Moya, but a consistent approach could do a lot for the Tigers' No. 10 prospect.

"I just want to go up every single at-bat, don't miss in any one, be focused on each one, keep working hard," he said.

Moya's four homers have him tied with San Francisco's Mac Williamson and Philadelphia's Maikel Franco, who homered twice against the Tigers last Thursday. Moya's latest was impressive, a line drive that barely cleared the right-field fence but might have traveled much farther if not for a higher fence at the back of the right-field bullpen. He turned on a slider from lefty reliever Tony Watson and pulled it hard enough that the gusty winds blowing out had no impact.

"I thought it hit the fence, the inside fence, so I started running like crazy," he said. "But then I realized it hit the fence behind it."

Moya's eighth RBI of the spring, though, might have been more impressive in his maturation as a hitter. It was a two-out single off righty reliever Rob Scahill, but it was an opposite-field line drive, and an example of Moya going with a pitch.

"Fastball outside, it was a good pitch," Moya said. "I just got the barrel on the ball and got a good line drive."

With that, Moya improved to 8-for-18 (.444) on the spring. He has more than twice as many hits as strikeouts (three). It's a small sample size, but the fact that he's getting results against established pitchers as well as youngsters is encouraging.

"He looks more this spring like he did in 2014," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He looks a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident. He's had good at-bats. He really has."

It won't be enough to break camp with the big league club. It could be enough to open eyes toward an eventual return if and when the Tigers need help.

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.