It sounds more like a firing range than a high school baseball workout.
As Alex Moore laces up cleats and prepares for a session with Midwest Nationals coaches Mike Eck and Jake Featheringill, Strafford standout Blake Lutgen rattles off a series of cuts in the cage with each connection of bat and ball sounding off like a gunshot.
It’s another day at the office for Moore.
Mountain Grove’s senior ace makes the 65-mile trip west on Highway 60 from Mountain Grove to the Nationals facility in East Springfield three times per week.
While most seniors are trying to cure bouts of senioritis by hanging out with friends, Moore is traveling nearly 400 miles a week to chase a dream.
For him, the miles and hours spent on the highway are well worth it.
Eck and Featheringill drill Moore on every aspect of his mechanics with the student taking each piece of advice to heart.
There’s no batter or umpire, no catcher or fans in the stands, but Moore has it going. Eck and Featheringill exchange looks or make verbal notes under their breath about the pupil’s progress.
See, Alex Moore isn’t your typical high school pitcher, from his 6-foot-7, 245lb frame, 90-plus MPH heat or work ethic that leads him to two-a-days in the weight room.
In less than a year Moore has transformed from a baseball afterthought to a pitcher that could hear his name called in 2016 MLB Draft.
“Scouts see his projectability,” said Midwest Nationals Director Randy Merryman. “They see a large body and if he’s 88-90 now, they think they can develop the mechanics and maybe make him a 95-97 MPH guy. Could he be that guy? Once you get to know him you’ll find a high character guy with great work ethic and that should lend them to want to invest in him.”
But to get to this point Moore had to first invest in himself.
Gifted a perfect frame for a pitcher with long arms and legs, Moore struggled to crack the rotation at Rogersville and spent his sophomore year playing junior varsity ball; in his mind hadn’t put in the necessary work to truly deserve a spot.
A move from Rogersville to Mountain Grove followed and changed Moore’s perspective.
After a 5-0 start to his junior season, Moore suffered his first loss against his former team, giving up four hits, walking five and surrendering a season-high six earned runs in a 9-5 defeat.
Rogersville standout Jacob Schlesener, a 12th round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2015 draft and Moore’s friend and mentor, pitched for the Wildcats and added a home run to help his own cause.
Moore gave up one triple and two home runs in all of 2015… all came at the hands of the Rogersville Wildcats.
That was the end of Alex Moore the afterthought and the birth of Alex Moore the prospect.
“That was my one loss,” said Moore. “The next day I lifted really hard. Ever since then I’ve really wanted it. It was a complete mental makeover; a turning of the leaf. I may not have the skill but I want to outwork everyone to get to where I want to be. God blessed me with a turning point, it was a hard one at the time, but it made me want it so much more.”
Moore ended the season even more dominant than he started it, going 3-0 and allowing just two earned runs in his final 20 innings. Over that span he tallied 29 strikeouts and allowed just seven hits.
He saved his best for last, tossing a complete game, two-hitter against state-ranked Licking, striking out seven and walking three in a 1-0 Mountain Grove district championship win. He finished the season 8-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 47 innings while allowing just 19 hits.
It didn’t stop there.
Moore carried that over into a successful summer that saw him qualify for the Missouri Junior Sunbelt Team in the 21st Junior Sunbelt Classic and for the Perfect Game World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. He also earned a spot on Merryman’s prestigious 18U Blue Team which features regional standouts J.D. Murders (Bolivar/Texas Tech), Luke Bandy (Fayetteville (Ark.)/Dallas Baptist), Chandler Coates (Republic/New Mexico) and Lutgen (Strafford/Valparaiso).
He also found the weight room.
A kid that struggled to move any kind of weight in main movements found a love for weightlifting and more importantly a love for its results.
Moore has packed on 60 pounds since moving to Mountain Grove and has seen his deadlift jump to more than 400 pounds, made more impressive by the fact he is 6-foot-7.
The alteration of his body has been difficult, but worth it considering Moore has also added five MPH to his fastball.
“It’s been hard on my body,” said Moore. “I’ve had to eat like six meals a day. I’m lifting twice a day along with pitching workouts. It gets tough but that mentality helps push me through. Everybody at Mountain Grove works hard and it wore off on me.”
While the hard work has paid off, it hasn’t come without some sacrifice.
An All-SCA basketball player, Moore decided to forgo his senior season to devote more time to baseball.
Last year Mountain Grove went 17-9 and went undefeated in the SCA. With Moore in the post, the Panthers figured to be one of the top Class 3 teams in Missouri.
He rarely misses a game and a 13-2 start to the season without him has helped ease some of his tension, but the decision to not play basketball was a diificult one for Moore.
“It was definitely one of the hardest decisions of my life until now,” said Moore. “I talked with my family about what is best for me and sat down with my teammates and let them know. They understood and they’re behind me. I love Coach Hiler; he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. It was tough conversation. He told me to go get it. I know it was the right decision.”
Moore also decommitted from Drury, opting instead to sign with JUCO power Iowa Western. The Reivers and head coach Marc Rardin have won three national championships since 2010, producing 11 all-Americans in that time. Rardin has sent 43 players to Division One programs since 2011 with nearly two dozen MLB draftees in that time.
The decision gives Moore more flexibility with an additional opportunity to be drafted that he wouldn’t receive at a D-1 program.
“It was a tough, and Coach Nasby was great about everything, but I just thought JUCO was the route for me,” said Moore. “I want to go and I want to work and that’s what they’re about there. I think I’ll have seven practices in five days, along with lifting every morning. I want to be somewhere I can really get after it.”
During a Nationals Showcase over the weekend, Moore hit 89-90-91-91-91 over a five pitch sequence in front of several D-1 and professional scouts.
Merryman and the Nationals have helped develop major league pitchers such as Scott Elbert (No. 17 pick in 2003 draft), Lucas Harrell (No. 119 pick in 2004) and 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.
Schlesner and Nixa’s Jacob Ruder, who was drafted in the 37th round by the Kansas City Royals, both pitched for the Midwest Nationals before having their names called last June.
“Every kid grows up and dreams of playing in the majors,” said Moore. “At Rogersville I was behind Jacob and it was amazing to see him grow and watch him take off. It was awesome. He and Jacob Ruder are guys I’ve tried to watch closely and follow that path.”
Moore credits the Nats program for much of his development as a player and while he remains excited about attending Iowa Western, he hasn’t closed the door on the possibility of being draft. While much remains to be decided between now and June, Merryman believes if things continue to come together it is not out of the equation for Moore to be selected this summer.
“It’s always very hard to predict,” said Merryman. “Some guys burst onto the scene when they are 14 or 15 and there are guys like Alex that really fly underneath the radar. I’ve talked to several pro scouts and they’re going to follow him closely this spring. I think if there’s a velocity jump and he makes some tweaks to his command of the strike zone and secondary pitches it not out of the realm of possibilities that he potentially gets drafted. I think he’s got a really bright future.”