NEW YORK -- The Marlins got more than college baseball’s top run producer when they used their first-round pick Thursday on University of North Carolina All-American third baseman Colin Moran.
They also reeled in a feisty, competitive leader, someone with rich bloodlines who plays the game with his emotions and isn’t afraid to show them.
“I like for them to have a little fire in their belly and this guy does,” said Marlins vice president of scouting Stan Meek, who was sitting behind home plate last summer in the Cape Cod League when Moran turned around to argue a called third strike that Meek said was “down and away and four to six inches off the plate.”
“I’d rather have a guy like that than a guy you have to push out of the dugout every inning,” Meek said.
Of course, there have been times when Moran has let his emotions get the best of him. After a 3-1 loss to rival N.C. State during his sophomore season in Chapel Hill, the 6-4, 205-pounder punched a bathroom door in a burst of fury. He missed the next 21 games. His team went 13-8 without him. In his first game back, though, Moran drove in both runs in a 2-0 win over Winthrop.
“We said from the very beginning, it’s his best trait and then it his worst trait,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox told the Raleigh News & Observer. “There’s an edge there I think all really competitive athletes have. There’s that edge. And when they’re right to that edge, it makes them really, really good. But when you cross over that edge, you know, sometimes bad things happen.”
Said Moran: “I’ve always been hard on myself. … It’s just [about] toning it down. I don’t think that will be an issue either, anymore. Just because obviously I learned the hard way.”
The Marlins believe they have a pretty good grasp on Moran. North Carolina-area scout Joel Matthews of the Marlins has been “on this kid forever,” Meek said.
“He’s learned to control his emotions,” said Matthews, who has followed Moran since he arrived at UNC in 2011. “He used to be a little more outwardly and fiery, but he’s learned to control it a little bit more. You can tell by his body language when he’s upset.
“He’s definitely the leader, though, one who leads more by what he does on the field. He’s not a yelling, screaming do-it-because-I-say-it guy. It’s more let me show you how to do it. [Giancarlo] Stanton is one of those guys. You watch what he does and he leads you by what he does.”
The Tar Heels, the No.1 seed in the NCAA’s 64-team postseason tournament, have enjoyed following Moran’s lead.
A left-handed hitter from Rye, N.Y., with an eye for the strike zone, according to Meek, Moran led the Tar Heels to the College World Series as a freshman and was named Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year in 2011, when hit .335 with nine homers and 71 RBI. In 2012, he hit .365 with six homers and 35 RBI for the Tar Heels despite missing 21 games.
This season, he has driven in a nation-best 86 runs while hitting .348 with 13 homers. This weekend, he can help UNC punch a return ticket to the CWS with a win over South Carolina in the Super Regionals. Moran is also one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to the sport’s top player.
“When you think of college guys, they come in more polished, ahead of the curve in terms of development,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “Any time you get a guy at a premium position like third base, that’s exciting. Hopefully, he’ll go through the process.”
Moran’s bloodlines are also rich with history.
His uncle, B.J. Surhoff, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 draft. His older brother Brian, a seventh-round pick of the Mariners in 2009, is pitching at Triple A Tacoma (Wash.). Uncle Rich Surhoff spent eight years in the minors and briefly pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Texas Rangers. Dick Surhoff, his late grandfather, played basketball for the Knicks and Hawks and was a standout pitcher on the U.S. fast-pitch softball team.
“Bloodlines are big for us,” Meek said. “For him to have those bloodlines and those skills, we just thought it was great for us.
“He’s one of the premier college bats in the country and we really thought he would go in front of us. We’re obviously thrilled he got down to us. Fits a need, but also fits us from an ability standpoint. A lot of history of success with the bat, able to play third, fits a great spot for us. So we really feel it was a perfect storm.”