I wanted to share my colleague Josh Thomson’s story on Iona Prep grad Colin Moran. If you haven’t heard of Moran, you will soon, as he looks like a first-round lock in the upcoming MLB Draft.
Before his trip this weekend to Raleigh, N.C., B.J. Surhoff had not watched his nephew play college baseball outside of a few snippets on television. With four kids and a busy life, the longtime major leaguer hadn’t had the benefit of time. His close-up of Colin Moran’s swing and footwork — his peek at how the spindly third baseman filled out the same Carolina Blue uniform Surhoff last wore 28 years ago — was put on hold.
In truth, Surhoff never needed a personal evaluation to know just how good his sister’s kid has become. The Rye High School legend had been privy to the Moran chatter these last three years, from scouts to general managers to team personnel with one of his past and present employers.
“Any time I see somebody with the Orioles’ front office or anybody I see or I know around baseball, they always make a comment of some sort or the other,” said Surhoff, who lives in Maryland and has served as a spring training instructor with the Orioles. “I just file it away until we wait and see what happens.”
After 19 years in the majors, Surhoff, the national player of the year and No. 1 overall pick in 1985, respects the often cruel unpredictability of baseball’s amateur draft, but Moran appears almost invulnerable to its whims. Like his uncle all those years ago, the 2010 Iona Prep graduate is unanimously considered a first-round lock. Baseball America dubbed him “perhaps the best pure hitter in college baseball.”
Through three seasons in Chapel Hill, Moran has meshed that purity of talent with consistent production, anchoring the Tar Heels’ lineup from the start. He earned Baseball America’s national Freshman of the Year honors after leading the ACC with 71 RBI en route to the College World Series. North Carolina appears Omaha-bound again. After smacking a three-run home run in his first at-bat Friday (and in front of Surhoff) against No. 6 North Carolina State, Moran entered Saturday leading Division I with 70 RBI and 59 runs scored while playing for the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
“It’s not very much pressure, to be honest,” said the easy-going Moran, who also leads the Tar Heels in home runs and walks and has struck out just eight times in 172 at-bats. “We have a ton of good players on the team. I know if I struggle a little bit that other guys will get the job done. It’s been easy to deal with.”
Even Moran’s rare misstep failed to dim his rise to stardom. He missed 21 games last season after he punched a bathroom door out of frustration and broke his right hand. He played just 41 games, but still led the team in batting. He then strengthened his draft stock on Cape Cod, leading the league with 42 RBI while proving he could hit with a wood bat.
“You could see his progression this year. You can see him maturing,” said Moran’s older brother, Brian, a Triple-A reliever in the Mariners’ system. “I can just tell when I talk to him on the phone.”
Personal and physical growth were both integral in the development of the Moran boys. Both boys were 17 when they went to college and arrived as unheralded recruits. Brian walked on with the Tar Heels and became an All-American reliever. He was a 2009 seventh-round pick, netting him a high six-figure signing bonus, and his high strikeout and low walk rate have him on the cusp of the big leagues.
In every regard so far, Colin has edged his brother. He earned the minimum scholarship (25 percent) and appears on the brink of a seven-figure payday. Multiple scouting services rank him as a Top 10 or 20 pick. “And if he were a plus runner he’d be talked about in the Top 5,” Surhoff said.
“It’s very exciting and it’s surreal,” said Moran’s mother, Diane, who, along with her husband Bill, has logged 198,000 miles on a 2008 car watching their boys play. “My husband and I saw someone talking about him the other day. His name was on their board and we said, ‘Wow. We know him.’ ”
Although his nephews’ success at one of Division I’s top programs has been unexpected, Surhoff insists he played no active role in landing his nephews at North Carolina. (“I never made a phone call one time,” he said.)
The Tar Heels unearthed a gem in Brian, who had always hoped to play there and passed on scholarship offers from other schools. His leap of faith was rewarded. According to several advanced metrics, his per-inning value was second only to Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg among Division I pitchers when they were both juniors in 2009.
The coaching staff first began to covet Colin that October at a showcase in Jupiter, Fla., and invited him for a visit. Ultimately, North Carolina was the only ACC or SEC school outside of Maryland to offer Moran a scholarship, joining mid-majors like Elon and Florida Atlantic.
“I think it’d be hard for it not to drive you,” he said. “It’s easy to get motivated when not much is expected of you being one of the lower guys in terms of recruitment. Definitely during my freshman year, each team I played I tried to make pay for not recruiting me.”
Ever since, the lefty-swinging Moran has sprouted to 6-foot-4 and gained 20 to 25 pounds. He has worked to improve his defense at third base where his bat will be more valuable at the pro level.
“I’ve been trying to work hard at third and do everything I can to stick there,” he said.
North Carolina’s recent draft history would suggest a bright future for Moran. Five players from the 2009 team have already reached the majors, including Mets phenom Matt Harvey. Brian Moran could be No. 6 and would join his uncles B.J. and Rich. Rich Surhoff pitched nine games for the Phillies and Rangers in 1985.
The younger Moran has appeared unaffected by the pressure of joining his fellow Tar Heels, including his brother or an uncle who found himself so coveted 28 years ago.
“I don’t think about it much at all to be honest,” Moran said. “It might sound funny, but once you’re getting close, you’re just realizing that the hard work has paid off and whatever happens happens.”
Even for a player who started so far off the board he wasn’t on it.
“You have to look under the rock sometimes,” Surhoff said. “You have to get to know the kids and learn who’s going to do the work and get better. Those two have worked really hard to get where they are. Colin’s progression has been really good.”
North Carolina’s Colin Moran is one of the top hitters in the country. Here’s where his numbers stacked up nationally entering play Saturday:
Average: .390 (33rd)
Home runs: 11 (T-10th)
RBI: 70 (1st) Runs: 59 (1st)
Hits: 67 (T-6th)
Walks: 39 (T-7th)
Total bases: 110 (15th)
Slugging %: .640 (35th)
On-base %: .507 (8th)
Photo by UNC Athletic Communications