PEORIA, Ariz. - When he was drafted in 2006, Adam Moore was the future catcher of the Seattle Mariners .
He could hit. He could throw. He was a natural leader.
Five years later, Moore is 26 and has never caught as many as seven consecutive big-league games. Despite a .303 career batting average in the minor leagues, Moore has hit .197 in 228 at-bats for Seattle.
This winter, the future changed for Moore and the Mariners. On Jan. 3, general manager Jack Zduriencik signed veteran catcher Miguel Olivo.
Olivo was given a two-year contract with a team option for a third year, and was told he was the starting catcher.
Moore blames no one but himself.
“As a group, the catchers didn’t get it done last season. I didn’t get it done,” Moore said Wednesday. “This is a business, and I understood and respected what they did.
“I wanted the starting catching job, yes – who wouldn’t? I didn’t perform last year, I didn’t do what I know I’m capable of doing. The team did what it thought it had to do.”
Now a single father of a 14-month-old daughter, Moore has gone from a prospect who once batted .307 with 22 home runs and 102 RBI in a 115-game season (with Single-A High Desert in 2007) to a man fighting for the job of backup catcher.
“Adam’s done everything we asked, and his batting practices are improving,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s got one hell of an arm. He’s impressed me.”
Those aren’t the words that describe a can’t-miss player.
Olivo is a 32-year-old veteran in his second go-round in Seattle, is a .246 career hitter who has played for six big-league teams in nine seasons. Defense is not his specialty, but he is a strong team player and clubhouse voice.
“Miguel is a great guy. When we met, he said, ‘I’m here to help you, too – any questions you have, I’ll try to answer,’” Moore said.
Last spring at this time, Moore was pulling past the since-traded Rob Johnson and looking as if 2010 might be his breakout season. Moore thought so, which made what followed all the more painful.
“I wasn’t myself at the plate most of last season. I’d get it going but couldn’t sustain it,” Moore said. “The last couple of weeks, that was me. It just wasn’t nearly enough to salvage a bad year for us or for me.
“I’m working on my approach, on staying upright at the plate, handling the inside pitch. I’m working on relationships with pitchers, on catching. If I’m the backup catcher, fine, that’s the job I’ll do the best I can.
“Whatever helps this team put more wins up, that’s what I’ll work for – whatever my role.”
How tough was Moore’s season? On May 14 in Tampa, Fla., he hit the first home run of his major league career. Two days later, Moore injured his left leg and was placed on the disabled list.
He didn’t suit up for the Mariners again until Aug. 3.
“I wanted to get to the big leagues, and I did. I didn’t put up the numbers, and that’s on me. Now, I’ve got to be prepared for whatever job I have, I have to do my part,” Moore said.
“Am I satisfied? No, but again, that’s on me. My goal is to improve each year.”
Like many teammates, Moore has been impressed with Wedge.
“He has come in and gotten our attention, our respect. He doesn’t accept losing, and he got us fired up,” he said. “You could see it in the eyes of the guys after he talked to us. You’d better believe in him, because he’s not going to change – the team will.
“Our pitching will still be the strength of this team. You start with and look at what Jason Vargas and Doug Fister are capable of. Erik Bedard is healthy again, and his confidence is growing. Then you’ve got Michael Piñeda, Luke French, David Pauley
“Seattle is known for pitching, but we added some offensive players, too. We believe we can turn it around,” Moore said.
Asked if he thinks last year was his one, best shot to grab a regular catching job, Moore shakes his head. Moore got 205 at-bats last season, most of them after Aug. 1, and batted .195 with four home runs and 15 RBI.
When the Mariners went looking for offensive help, they signed Jack Cust and made him their regular designated hitter, signed Olivo and acquired infielder Brendan Ryan.
Moore isn’t assured a bench job this spring – he’ll have to beat veteran teammate Josh Bard for the backup role.
“My goal in 2011 is simple. Win a job, then get a chance to get out there and play, in whatever role,” Moore said. “I take pride in this uniform, in playing for the Mariners. Our fans were there with us all last season, despite the 101 losses.
“I want to produce when I get the opportunity, and see what happens. I had the chance last year, I didn’t produce. I have to earn a second chance.”
When the Mariners play their intrasquad game Friday, the starting pitchers will be Piñeda and Blake Beavan, followed by Dan Cortes, Josh Lueke, Fabio Castro, Edward Paredes, Chaz Roe, Yoervis Medina, Jose Flores and Tom Wilhelmsen. And the lineups? “We’re going to try to get everyone in,” Wedge said. If so, he’ll be busy – there are 29 position players in camp. Closer David Aardsma walked without crutches for the first time since December hip surgery, carrying them instead of leaning on them.