Steven Moya could be next big thing

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- One day, Steven Moya saw a guy hitting lefty.

"He was hitting the ball like, really hard," Moya said.

He was a 15-year-old string bean back then. He stood 6-feet-4, weighed 130 pounds and had been playing baseball for only about a year after having given it up for a few years to practice karate in his native Dominican Republic.

"Everybody was like, yeah, you hit the ball hard," he recalled.

But not as hard as this guy.

"And I said, I can hit the ball lefty harder than him."

No, you can't, they said. Yes, I can, he said.

He was a righty. He threw right and he hit right.

"Wow, you can really do it," they said.

And thus began the story of Steven Moya, he of the "classic left-handed swing," as Tigers' manager Brad Ausmus calls it. He of the light-tower power as baseball people call it, he who was the biggest surprise in Lakeland this spring.

Moya didn't make the team. He was optioned to Double-A Erie on Friday. But if this spring's performance is any indication, and if the Tigers' praise for the youngster rings true, he's going to make the team someday. And that day might be coming sooner rather than later.

"You could make the argument that he was the MVP of the camp," Ausmus said. "We certainly think the ceiling is high for him."

So high that the Tigers even considered the lefty as a possibility when Andy Dirks was lost for 12 weeks because of back surgery.

But Moya is young. And he's raw. And because of a couple of freak injuries, including Tommy John surgery, he has never played more than 93 games in a season and never above High-A.

And he hasn't even been playing baseball his whole life.

He played Little League in the Dominican but, "I didn't even know how to catch a ball," he said. "I was really bad."

He took a few years to practice karate -- "I know most of the moves" -- until a few years later, he saw an outfielder make a catch on television and said ... 'I want to do that. I want to learn how to do that."

The outfielder was Torii Hunter. And he just spent the better part of three weeks picking his brain.

"That day I saw him making that play and wow, now I'm with him playing on the same team," he said. "That's exciting."

And his .333 average in a small sample size of 21 at-bats and his can't-teach power has the Tigers excited.

But it's something else that you can't teach, hitting coach Wally Joyner said, that makes Moya special.

"He's got size you can't teach," Joyner said. "He's got a lot of leverage and gets to that position very consistently, which is going to result in some powerful results."

Moya is 6-feet-7 now. He weighs 230 pounds. He has huge hands, he swings a 34-inch bat, and sometimes when he gets that bat in front of the ball, like he did in West Michigan two years ago, the ball will go far. Like out-of-the-stadium far.

"My power comes from God," he said humbly. "I can't do anything without it. He's my biggest strength."

And after that, it comes from working out. Lower body especially, but upper body, too, and arms and hands. "I like to work out," he said.

Now, the Tigers want him to work on his contact and work the counts and work through a full season in the minor leagues.

"I like watching him play, I like watching him hit," Ausmus said, "But he still needs some time in the oven."

And when he comes out, he could be the Tigers' next great power hitter.

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