Moran hitting stride at Astros instructional league

Prospect acquired in trade impressing at Houston's instructs

Moran hitting stride at Astros instructional league

Before the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Astros' shortlist for the top overall selection included North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran. The Astros scouts had evaluated Moran as one of the best college hitters in the country after he hit .345/.470/.544 with 13 home runs in 71 games for the Tar Heels.

The Astros ultimately took right-hander Mark Appel with the first pick and Moran went sixth overall to the Marlins.

Houston didn't forget about Moran, however, and a little more than a year later they were able to acquire him as a part of their Trade Deadline deal that sent right-hander Jarred Cosart to Miami.

Now that Moran is in the organization, the Astros player development staff has been able to work with its latest pupil, beginning with the final month of the regular season and now instructional league. Director of player development Quinton McCracken said Moran has lived up to the scouting reports.

"He's an extraordinary hitter," McCracken said. "He has a beautiful left-handed stroke."

Moran showed off that swing when the Astros promoted him to Double-A after the trade, a move that united him with Appel. In 28 games with Corpus Christi, Moran hit .304/.350/.411. Those numbers were in line with his career slash line of .297/.346/.408 in 159 games as a professional.

Moran's advanced skill set, especially offensively, helped him reach Double-A in his first full professional season. But he still has room for improvement and just celebrated his 22nd birthday last Wednesday. McCracken said the Astros are working with him to improve his agility and range at third base and to polish his approach at the plate.

"He's working on agility some, to improve range, lateral movement," McCracken said. "Continue to develop that stroke at the plate. He's a gifted hitter. We want to see him continue on path he's currently on."

• Joining Moran in instructional league are outfielder Derek Fisher, first baseman A.J. Reed and third baseman J.D. Davis, the top three members of the Astros' 2014 Draft class. The trio all came from the college ranks and were selected among the first 75 picks in the Draft.

The Astros picked Fisher 37th overall in June, but his professional debut was delayed as he helped Virginia to a runner-up finish in the College World Series. After signing, he spent most of his summer with short-season Tri-City, where he hit .303/.378/.408 with 17 stolen bases and two home runs in 41 games.

McCracken said the Astros believe Fisher was one of the most athletic players in the Draft.

"He's one of the best athletes we have in the system," McCracken said. "We're fortunate to have him in our ranks and we look forward to letting him play ball. He can beat you with long ball and he can beat you with small ball."

Reed and Davis signed early and were promoted to Class A Quad Cities in July, little more than a month after they were drafted. After leading the NCAA Division I ranks with 23 home runs this spring at Kentucky, Reed hit 12 home runs in 68 games between Tri-City and Quad Cities. Davis hit .303/.363/.516 with eight home runs in 43 games for Quad Cities.

"They're very advanced college players," McCracken said. "That's why they were able to get some time in low A and both fared well."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.