Colin Moran looks skeptical.
I stroll to his locker Thursday morning before the Pirates' 6-5, extra-innings loss to the Mariners and ask for a second of his time.
"Uhhh..." his low, slow drawl begins, "about what?"
I know what he means. We've spoken before — several times, in fact. He knows my face, and he knows the drill inside the clubhouse before the game. He just doesn't want to talk about that.
Which is fine, because I'm kinda over that this week too, Mr. Moran.
"Just about you, man. This season for you, your growth."
He sits silently for a moment.
"Doesn't even have to be on video if you don't want. Audio only."
That did it.
I offered the audio-only route so Moran didn't have to stand up. He could just stay in his seat, we'd talk, and that'd be that. But he stood anyway, because that's what Moran does this season. He surprises you. He's quiet and unassuming, never taking the spotlight and probably running away if it did find him.
His disposition reminds me of Bryan Reynolds' in that way, only when Moran speaks, he can really get on a roll. And he did today. Moran began the year looking like the Riddler — red hair, question marks all over him — with none greater than this: "Can Colin Moran become an everyday starting third baseman at this level?"
Heading into 2019, Moran was locked in a battle with Jung Ho Kang for that third-base spot, but by midseason the answer was clear, and Kang was out of town by August.
But don't tell Moran he's done anything notable yet.
"I'm not quite there yet, but I feel like I made some good strides, made improvements from Year 1 to Year 2," Moran was telling me. "I still think I have a lot I need to work on, but I'm happy with taking the step forward. I think there's a lot of other things that I need to kind of improve, but I'm definitely happy. I just feel like I got better from Year 1 to Year 2."
His .280/.325/.436 slash line supports that, and his 79 RBIs — compared to 58 last year — seal it. There's no doubt Moran's been better this year than last, but, by his own admission, there's plenty to improve upon as we roll toward 2020.
So I threw it back to him. What's at the top of your priority list this offseason?
"I'm still trying to get better defensively," he said. "I think there was kind of some one-step-forward, two-steps-back stuff over there. I'm trying to put in the work, but I think defensively, base-running I can get better [too] — things that show up in wins every night, like defense, base-running, stuff that you can help a team even when you're not hitting. I definitely want to be well-rounded, so stuff like that. Stuff like driving the ball even better.
"I took a step forward with, like, maybe getting some more doubles this year. But I'm working on how I can blend just being a good hitter with power. It's still kind of a work in progress."
Within that progression is Moran's success with runners in scoring position. Give him something to work with, and Moran locks in, batting .331 this season in such a situation, good for 12th in the National League. Only Josh Bell (.336) has been better for the Pirates this year in that category.
"I don't know, to be honest," Moran responded when I asked what about that situation causes him to kick it up a notch. "If I could figure that out, I'd be better without 'em too ... In college, I was fortunate to have a lot of those situations. I hit in the middle of the lineup at North Carolina, and we were always a high on-base-percentage team. So I almost always had guys on base or in scoring position, so if we were going to win, I had to drive them in.
"There definitely is a cat-and-mouse game when there are guys on base. If you ask a pitcher, they're not trying to just make a mistake in the middle of the plate with a fastball or any off-speed that they think you can hit. So they're probably going to go to their strength or your weakness a little more often. At times I can stay ahead of it and maybe think along with the pitcher pretty well."
Moran was then quick to do that thing I said earlier, with the spotlight. He's always ready to redirect the shine, which he accomplished today by mentioning how Kevin Newman, Reynolds, Adam Frazier and Bell have contributed greatly on this front. To hit well and to drive in runs with runners in scoring position ... you gotta have runners in scoring position. That fact wasn't lost on him, but it's still up to him to deliver once the stage is set.
"I've always taken pride in it," Moran finished.
In tossing the credit to his teammates, Moran also raised another point I wanted to discuss. Yeah, this season's been bad. Terrible, even. On many fronts. But you see guys like Newman, Reynolds and Bell. Cole Tucker, Kevin Kramer and Jose Osuna continue to make their presence felt here in September as well.
Moran, at 26 years old and in his second year with the club, is definitely a part of that young core, too. Ke'Bryan Hayes is the heir apparent at third, but the team didn't call him up this September, and Pirates brass seems more than willing to take things as slowly as possible there. That leaves Moran more time to develop, to make the strides he mentioned and to establish himself as an asset for this team moving forward.
And that future thrills him.
"I think it's really exciting," Moran said, maybe even raising his voice a semitone. "I think in a season like this, people can kind of get caught up in the bad things that have happened — 'cuz there's been, you know, a fair share of bad things. Any time you're however many games under .500, you can focus on some negatives for sure.
"But I think if you look at all the really good teams that are out there in the league, they all probably went through some pretty bad seasons ... You're seeing a Reynolds and a Newman emerge as not just good players, but really, really great players ... Newman, I was telling him yesterday, I like to give him crap a lot, but it's hard not to be impressed with what he's done this year. If you look all over, there's been a lot of success stories here, and I think next year and the years moving on, we definitely have potential to be a really good team."
I thanked Moran for his time, shook his hand, and bounced over to Tucker, another member of that core — and one who could not be more opposite of Moran. This wasn't going to be a full-scale interview. I just had one question for him: How excited are you for 2020, man?
"Freaking pumped, dude," Tucker replied. "Freaking pumppppeeedd."
That's the mentality of all involved inside this clubhouse. But it's not the mentality of the fans just yet.
It'll take some winning for that.
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