It’s pretty rare when a future first-round pick in baseball gets the chance to face a future Heisman Trophy winner.
But Marlins third-base prospect Colin Moran was part of one of those special moments last May. In his last regular-season game in a North Carolina Tar Heels uniform, Moran led off the eighth inning with Florida State’s Jameis Winston on the mound.
“I remember talking with the third-base coach and he said, ‘You should see this guy throw a football.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I could imagine. He’s throwing a baseball pretty good,’ ” Moran said before playing in his first spring training game for the Marlins on Wednesday.
“I grounded out to [second] against him, but my freshman roommate [Brian Holberton] ended up having the game-winning hit off him. So every time Jameis was on TV during the football season my roommate would always bring that up.”
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Winston, who went on to win the Heisman and lead the Seminoles to the national title, spent Tuesday afternoon signing autographs and snapping pictures with the Yankees before an exhibition game in Tampa.
The Marlins are hoping that Moran — taken with the sixth overall pick in last June’s draft — can eventually make a similar rise to stardom. On Wednesday, the 6-4, 190-pound left-handed hitter from Rye, N.Y., stroked a sharp single to left in his first at-bat of the spring against University of Miami starter Javi Salas, a familiar face from his days in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Moran later walked and scored, and then drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to left. He capped Wednesday’s 5-2 victory over the Hurricanes by making an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow left field with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth.
“It was good getting the nerves out,” Moran said of his first exhibition game with the big-league team.
Although the Marlins are loaded with young, talented arms in the minors (six of their top eight prospects, according to Baseball America, are pitchers), they are a bit thin on big bats. Moran — ranked the second-best prospect in the organization behind left-hander Andrew Heaney — is one of the few.
After hitting .299 with four homers and 23 RBI in 42 games for low-A Greensboro (N.C.), Moran struggled in the Arizona Fall League this winter, batting .230 with 10 RBI and 18 strikeouts in 22 games. Marlins officials say Moran is expected to open the season in high-A Jupiter.
In the meantime, he is trying to soak up as much knowledge as he can from the veteran big-leaguers in the clubhouse.
“He’s definitely a very talented player who is going to hit at this level,” said utilityman Ty Wigginton, who said he has spent a lot of time with Moran this spring.
Moran can’t remember the first time someone in his family put a bat in his hands. He just knows he’s been around the game since about the time he was born.
His uncle, B.J. Surhoff, spent 18 years in the majors. Moran’s older brother Brian, 25, is a left-handed pitcher with the Angels. The two grew up playing wiffle ball in the backyard together and taking pointers from their uncle, now a special assignments coach in the Orioles’ farm system. Moran said he spent time with Surhoff working on hitting in the offseason.
The Marlins drafted Moran and signed him for $3.5 million because he is a gap hitter who can hit for average. Infield coach Perry Hill is working on making him a better fielder, trying to tighten up his footwork because “there are too many moving parts at the moment.”
“He needs to shy away from his backhand and quicken his feet. There’s a lot there,” Hill said. “We’re not finished by any means, but we’ve already made leaps and bounds from where we were. He has a good attitude. You have to chase him off the field. Those are the good kind.”
Manager Mike Redmond said he has been looking forward to getting an extended look at Moran this spring, and he plans to get Moran as many at-bats as he can.
“I got to see him a little bit in the fall league, and to get to see him now that he’s fresh and had some rest will be fun,” Redmond said. “He did a nice job [Wednesday]. He had a great game and made a big play at the end really to save the game.”