Moss' confidence returns with hitting stroke
Outfielder has resurrected career after Minor League demotion
PITTSBURGH -- Out on McKechnie Field, the Pirates were in the early innings of what would become a fleeting, 13-1 win over the Astros. Inside the clubhouse, Brandon Moss sat across from general manager Neal Huntington.
Moss knew why he had been summoned in for the discussion. The pressure had been building with each hitless at-bat, and by this point, Moss was a dismal 3-for-37 in Spring Training. As a reasonable self-evaluator, the outfielder saw no reason why he belonged on a big league roster.
This is why Moss felt relieved -- yes, relieved -- when Huntington informed him that he had been designated for assignment.
"You probably won't believe this, but I really do hope I clear [waivers]," Moss recalls telling Huntington that afternoon. "I think the best thing for me would be to go down and get everyday at-bats and figure out what the heck is wrong, because I know something is."
Moss got his wish, as none of the other 29 teams saw him as a worthy waiver pickup. That allowed the Pirates to assign the 26-year-old outfielder to Triple-A. Now, five months after that day in Bradenton, Fla., Moss couldn't feel more at peace with where he is and what he's endured to get here.
Moss is plenty convincing when he starts off a recent conversation proclaiming that he's doing great. This time, you believe him. The enthusiasm that had been a staple in his voice -- that same enthusiasm that evaporated last year, when baseball was no longer fun -- is back. So, too, is Moss' humor, his drive, his belief in himself.
It wasn't easy to get back here, Moss admits. But he'll tell you -- again, quite convincingly -- that the end absolutely justified the means.
Moss doesn't need long to determine the turning point. It came about two months into the Triple-A season, when his results were very much mirroring the ones from a year ago. Moss wasn't looking good. He certainly didn't feel good. The swing mechanics that had become so flawed weren't being remedied. The confidence wasn't coming back, not with an average that hovered close to the Mendoza Line.
The hope that Moss might someday be able to live up to being a part of the Jason Bay trade waned even more.
But then Triple-A hitting coach Jeff Branson got his hands on a video. On it he saw Moss, five years prior, playing in a Double-A All-Star game. And what Branson saw perplexed him. There was Moss employing a much more open batting stance than he had ever used in Pittsburgh.
"Why are you so open in that video," Moss recalled Branson asking him. "And why did you stop?"
To that Moss explained how the Red Sox -- upon summoning him to the big leagues in 2008 -- had altered his stance in an effort to help him adapt to a bench role. The thought was that Moss' timing would suffer with an open stance and so few regular at-bats.
Once the change was made, Moss never went back. And as everything plummeted in '09, he never suspected that his stance could be the culprit.
Branson offered a suggestion.
"Hey, it can't get any worse," he told Moss. "Why don't you just try it again? At least if you don't figure it out, you'll know that we did everything we could. Just try it."
Moss agreed. And by the end of that night, he felt progress for the first time in over a year.
The Triple-A season is now nearing its conclusion, as is Moss' year -- if he is not among the players promoted in September. However, what the shift in his stance did three months ago has Moss believing that his career once again has promise.
"It's fun to come down and have success and get that feeling back about what it was like to be a good player again," he said. "Last year I took such a beating. It was one of those things where you know you're not even capable of performing at your best.
"Now, my average may not be where I want it to be, but I've gotten confidence in myself and proven to myself that I could play. After what I went through last year, it was tough."
Moss will take a .260 batting average into Indianapolis' game on Thursday. He has scored 66 runs, collected 119 hits -- including 28 doubles and 20 home runs -- and driven in 84 runs in 124 games. His home run total ranks sixth in the International League. He is second in the league in RBIs.
Moss' batting average continues to be affected by his slow start. The outfielder hit just .240 through April and May before batting .260 in June and taking off in July, a month during which he batted .315. He's hitting only .214 this month, though Moss said he still feels encouraged by the process.
"He's gone down there with the right mindset," Huntington said. "He's worked hard. He's been willing to make some adjustments. And he's done a terrific job with it all.
"When we outrighted him, our hope was that we could help reach that potential that was in there," Huntington continued. "We're still a ways away from feeling like we've completely done that, but he's certainly taken steps in the right direction. A lot of that started with his mindset when he went down and how hard he has worked. It's translated into on-field results."
Moss knows that there will be plenty of skeptics. Those who say his ability to be productive in 2010 is only because he is hitting off Triple-A pitching. Those who say that if Moss were to come back to the big leagues, the pressure to succeed would sink him. Those who say that the Pirates don't need Moss anyways, not with the other bevy of young outfielders in the system.
To that, Moss has his response.
"I will believe what I've always believed about myself, and that's that I can play at the Major League level," he said. "I believe that one day I'll get that opportunity again, and hopefully I'll make the most of it."
The outfielder's dismal 2009 season -- one that started off with ownership of the starting right-field job and ended with Moss having lost all confidence in his abilities -- is still never far from Moss' mind. And that's how he likes it.
He doesn't want to forget the failure, the feeling of being lost, the feeling that the answer is nowhere in sight. He doesn't want to forget what it was like to show up at the ballpark, dreading to see his name in the lineup because he knew he wouldn't produce. He wants to remember the lowest of the low points.
That's because without that perspective, Moss explains, the journey back can't be entirely appreciated.
"I'm a firm believer that God has a plan for everything," Moss said. "There are few guys that come up to the Major League level and excel right away. There are a lot of guys that have done the exact same thing I have done and go on to have very productive Major League careers.
"When you struggle like that, your confidence is going to take a hit. But when you fight your way back and you get up after being knocked down, that's a good feeling, too."
Moss is unsure of whether the Pirates plan to offer him an invitation once rosters expand in September. To do so, Pittsburgh would have to clear a space on the 40-man roster. And even if it does, there is not a lot of playing time to be had in an already crowded outfield that is expected to also include John Bowker in the mix next month.
That's OK, Moss said.
What keeps him going now is the confidence that at least he feels like he'll get another chance -- somewhere, sometime -- to prove that he belongs.
"Whether I get another opportunity next year if something happens -- you never know," Moss said. "I'd still love the opportunity to prove good on that trade, to show that I am the player that they believed I'd be. Hopefully, I get that opportunity again. If not, no hard feelings. I know that I had a really good opportunity there and didn't make the most of it."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.