The “Under the Radar” series focuses on players who stand to make an impact with their team in 2014 but aren’t considered top prospects for one reason or other. For the Toronto Blue Jays, this player is likely to be Moises Sierra. While he doesn’t technically have his rookie eligibility anymore, he only has about a half-season’s worth of major league plate appearances (279) over the past two seasons and he is still only 25 years old.
The young Dominican was signed by the Blue Jays in December of 2005 and has been working his way up to the major league club since then. Known for his hitting ability and his cannon of an arm, the right fielder had a good season in 2006 with the Jays’ Dominican Summer League team but struggled in 2007 when he came to the US and played in the Gulf Coast League. Sierra was promoted very aggressively the following season to Class-A Lansing and he showed some improvement but still posted only a .661 OPS. In 2009, Sierra broke out just a wee bit, earning his first All-Star honor for the Florida State League, cutting his (previously high) strikeout rate by almost 10% and increasing his walk rate by just over 2%.
Sierra had a big set back in 2010 when a cluster of injuries only permitted him to get on the field for 20 games but 2011 had Sierra really start to put things together in his Age-22 season. Sierra earned an Eastern League mid-season All-Star honor and finally started showing the power that he had only been teasing up to that point. His strikeout rate remained better than average (16.9%) and his walk rate wasn’t horribly low at 7.1%. He also doubled his single-season career high for home runs with 18, hitting .277 for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. He also threw out 11 runners on the bases, showing off his fearsome arm.
In 2012, Sierra was named an organizational All-Star by MiLB.com and earned a Pacific Coast League Player of the Week award, playing for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate. His numbers received the “PCL bump” in his 100 games there and Sierra earned a call up to the Blue Jays. Hitting .224/.274/.374 in 157 plate appearances, Sierra seemed to regress to his low-walk, high-strikeout days. He was returned to Triple-A in 2013 and didn’t walk much (only at a 3.9% rate) and put up only mediocre numbers in the tougher International League with Buffalo. While he had been injured after getting hit by a pitch in 2013, Sierra also didn’t show the power that he had hinted at over the past two seasons, made lots of mistakes in the outfield and on the bases and generally brought up some causes for worry while playing for the Buffalo Bisons.
With injuries to all three starting outfielders in Toronto, Sierra was recalled and pressed into action at the big league level. Reunited with his hitting coach from Las Vegas in 2012, Chad Mottola, something changed in Sierra and he began to hit much better. Finishing the season in Toronto strongly, Sierra still struck out at a 23.8% rate but his walk rate rocketed upward to a career-high (at any level) 11.5%. Sierra also hit the ball with authority, hitting 13 doubles, a triple and a home run in 127 plate appearances, logging a .290/.369/.458 slash line.
Looking at the batted ball data between his two major league seasons, the one major difference between his 2012 and 2013 numbers is a decrease in ground balls and increase in line drives in 2013 as well as a drastic drop in HR/FB% which sat at only 4% (league average is around 10%).
The main reason that Sierra may very well contribute a great deal to the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays is the fact that he’s out of options now. The Blue Jays can’t send him back to the minors without exposing him to waivers. With that in mind, the Blue Jays are likely unwilling to lose Sierra for nothing and they will have two choices in how they deal with him: keep him on the big league team or trade him. If they keep him, he will likely be a fourth outfielder but also took ground balls at first base in the Dominican Winter League and the Blue Jays may consider him a possible right-handed platoon option for Adam Lind as the DH (and as an emergency first baseman). The biggest problem with Sierra as a platoon player is that he’s not a prototypical lefty-mashing right-handed hitter. While his career splits in the major leagues have him hitting lefties better, he actually hit lefties much worse at all levels in 2013 (although he slugged much better against lefties).
Whether a team will be willing to trade for an out-of-options outfielder with plenty of tools but several major question marks (too many strikeouts, questionable defensive play, too many mental errors) is a big question for the Toronto Blue Jays as spring training begins. If he remains with the Blue Jays in 2014, Moises Sierra will likely end up playing a fairly significant role especially if he can continue the success he had last year.