UNC's Moran exceeding sky-high expectations
Baseball America's Golden Spikes Spotlight
Colin Moran entered his junior season saddled with the weight of a skyscraper of expectations resting on his broad shoulders. The 2011 national Freshman of the Year ranked as the top college hitting prospect for the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, and he was expected to anchor the offense for preseason No. 1 North Carolina.
Not only have the Tar Heels handled the burden of lofty expectations with incredible aplomb -- going 34-2 through nine weeks of play -- but Moran has lived up to his billing as one of the nation's premier players. In just 35 games, he has already matched his 2011 home run total (nine, in 67 games), and he's hitting .406/.522/.659 with 55 RBIs. In short, Moran is having his best season to date, even when the attention of the college baseball world is focused on him.
"All these kids that are hyped so much, everybody wants to talk to them and talk about the draft -- all these [pro] teams are in to see them," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "Not just Colin, but some of these other college players, it puts a lot of pressure on them.
"I'm proud of the way Colin's handled it. He really just wants to win. We've always thought that about Colin: He wants to win. He gets upset when we don't -- more than he does when he doesn't perform to his level. I think that says more about him than anything."
Moran has always been a patient hitter -- he drew 47 walks and struck out just 33 times as a freshman -- but he is getting pitched more carefully than ever as the focal point of UNC's offense this spring, and he has remained disciplined. He has an incredible 34-to-8 walk-to-strikeout mark.
"I think that's been the most important thing he's done so far this season," Fox said. "He got into a situation there for a while, not very long because he coaches himself so well, but he was a little antsy I think, jumping at some pitches. He hasn't done that the last couple weeks; he's just taking his walks, working the count. He doesn't swing at a lot of first-pitch strikes. Occasionally he will. He's uniquely comfortable with two strikes."
Fox said Moran really started getting locked in about seven or eight games ago, and since then he has been on a tear. In five games last week, he went 12-for-24 with 11 runs and 16 RBIs.
He was a wrecking ball in North Carolina's road sweep at Virginia Tech this past weekend, going 3-for-5 with three runs and four RBIs in Friday's blowout, then going 3-for-4 with five runs, four RBIs and a home run Saturday. He drew a leadoff walk in the 10th inning Saturday and wound up scoring the winning run on a wild pitch. On Sunday, he extended a 2-0 lead with an RBI single in the seventh.
In the final two games of the series, he continued to lead the offense even without cleanup man Skye Bolt, who broke a bone in his foot Friday, hitting behind him.
"If he gets a pitch he likes, he's just been squaring it up, hitting it hard to all fields, which he can do," Fox said. "He can hit a home run down the left-field line, then turn around and hit one down the right-field line. He's just that kind of hitter. He's hit the ball for some power recently; he's bigger and stronger than he's ever been."
Scouts were hoping Moran's power numbers would spike this year, and he has delivered. They also wanted to see him continue to progress as a defender at third base, and he has done that as well.
After Moran shined defensively in last weekend's sweep of Maryland, Terrapins coach John Szefc said: "That's how third basemen look in the big leagues. He makes every play and has easy arm strength."
Moran has committed just four errors on the season and is fielding .953.
"I think he's a terrific defender at third; he's made some sensational plays for us," Fox said. "I think he's a lot better than people give him credit for. And he's getting better and better there, too. To me, his arm has always been good. He throws the ball across the field with ease and is very, very accurate.
"The thing about Colin is, if he gets his glove on the ball, the guy's usually out. He usually makes the play. I just think his instincts are a little better. I think Colin's a confident defender; he wants the ball hit to him, he wants to make plays for us. He's saved us more than a couple times this season."
Read more from Aaron Fitt's weekly Three Strikes column.