Can Gabriel Moreno become the best catcher in the National League in 2024?

Arizona Diamondbacks' catcher Gabriel Moreno had a quality 2023 season, and an even better second half. But can he rise to become the best catcher in the National League in 2024?

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three
Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Three / Elsa/GettyImages

One trade that could go down as the best in history for the Arizona Diamondbacks is when they traded Daulton Varsho to the Toronto Blue Jays for left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and then catching prospect Gabriel Moreno. Moreno ranked as highly as one of the ten best prospects in the league by some outlets, namely FanGraphs, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline. Last year, Moreno had a great year in his first extended look in MLB. But just how good can Moreno be in 2024? Can he become the best catcher in the National League next year?

Moreno was a solid hitter in 2023, slashing .283/.339/.408 with a .325 wOBA and 103 wRC+. While he only hit seven home runs and had a .123 isolated slugging, Moreno had a 7.6% walk rate and 19.7% strikeout rate. He was outstanding defensively with +20 defensive runs saved, led the league in caught stealing rate at 39%, and ranked top ten in both blocking runs (+10) and poptime (1.9 seconds). While his framing was mediocre at -3.9 runs, he did everything else very well behind the dish.

Moreno picked it up in the second half of the year, batting .322/.399/.507 with a 407 wOBA and 146 wRC+ from June 29th (which happened to be exactly the D-Backs’ 81st game of the year) through the end of the season. Moreno cut his already above-average K% down even further to 17.3% while upping his walk rate to 10.1%. Plus, he hit for more pop with a .185 isolated slugging percentage and five homers in 168 plate appearances. But how sustainable is this stretch?

One important thing to note is Moreno started hitting the ball harder. His exit velocity in the second half of the season was 90.3 MPH compared to 89.5 MPH in the first half of the year. He also upped his hard-hit rate from 39.6% to 44.5%. But the most crucial aspect to his second half is that he started to lift the ball more frequently. His launch angle went from 3.5 degrees to 5.2 degrees. Although that is still low, it led to his line drive rate jumping from 18.8% to 29.4%.

During the second half of the season, Moreno had a batting average on balls in play of .368. But he was a high BABIP guy in the minor leagues. From his first full minor league campaign in 2019 through 2023, his minor league BABIP was about .340. High line drive guys also typically have a high BABIP. Since 2010, there have been 11 instances of a player having an LD% of 29% or higher since 2010. The average BABIP between those 11 players was .350. After all, the league average batting average on line drives in that time has never dipped below .680.

I think the Moreno we saw in the second half of the year is more indicative of what we could see from Moreno in 2024 and beyond. These numbers are very in line with what he hit in the minor leagues. Since 2019, he has hit .312/.377/.489 with a .390 wOBA and 140 wRC+. Those numbers, especially his wOBA and wRC+, are eerily similar to his second-half numbers last season. I think he’ll continue to improve his ability to lift the ball as well.

If he hits anything like that, I could definitely see him becoming the best National League catcher. Moreno had an OPS over .900 in the second half of the season with a batting average above .300. Here are the five most recent seasons of a primary catcher having a BA over .300 and an OPS over .900 in at least 400 plate appearances: Carlos Ruiz (2012), Buster Posey (also 2012), Mike Napoli (2011), Joe Mauer (2009), and Jorge Posada (2007).

Now, of course, it’s a tall task for any player to bat .300+ with an OPS over .900. But even if Moreno hits like .285 with a .850 OPS, that will still at least put him in the conversation of being the best NL catcher, especially once you factor in his defense. Moreno was only 23 last season and turned 24 in February. I think he’s going to be in for one big 2024 campaign.