Breakout Candidate: Ronny Morla, P
Name: Ronny Morla
Because of the nature of the Arizona Rookie League, it is hard to put too much stock in any particular number posted by a player in that league. The league is heavy on developmental instruction, meaning that while players are there to compete, they are there primarily to work on aspects of their game and learn about professional baseball. The league is generally filled with that year's draft picks, rehabbing prospects from higher levels and international free agent signings playing in the United States for the first time.
That being said, there is still something to be learned from the numbers posted in the AZL. With its warm climates, thin air and inexperienced defenders, the AZL can be a difficult place for a young pitcher. Ronny Morla, however, was able to overcome a lot of the obstacles pitchers face in the AZL by pounding the strike zone in 2007.
The young right-hander, who will turn 20 this May, made his US debut with the Arizona A's in 2007. He had spent the previous season in the Dominican Summer League, where he held opposing batters to a .216 average and walked only 16 in 50.2 innings split between the A's two DSL squads. Morla then made two appearances in the DSL in 2007 before coming over to the United States, allowing only two runs and nine base-runners in 8.2 innings.
Once with the A's AZL affiliate, Morla threw a career-high 58.1 innings. He split his time between the starting rotation (eight starts) and the bullpen (seven relief appearances). Morla was one of the Arizona A's top pitchers in 2007. His 1.20 WHIP was second on the team behind Jason Glushon's 1.14 WHIP, and Morla's 52 strike outs were third behind Kyle Christensen's 71 and Pascual Manzueta's 56. Perhaps most importantly, however, Morla's BB/9 ratio 2.62 was good for second on the team behind Glushon's unbelievable 0.47 mark.
Morla did a good job both locating his pitches and inducing groundballs. He held AZL batters to a .240 average and recorded more than two groundouts for every flyout. As a reliever, Morla was dominant, walking only two in 21 innings and holding opposing batters to a .164 average. As a starter, he was hit harder (.277 BAA), and his walk totals increased (15 in 37.1 innings), but his strike outs leapt from 14 in 21 relief innings to 38 in 37.1 innings.
Former Oakland A's Minor League Pitching Coordinator and current major league bullpen coach Ron Romanick was impressed with Morla's command last season.
"The numbers that I keep, I track the strikes. I have my own database and I ask the pitching instructors to track the strikes that the pitchers throw. I have about eight years of the database, and I think he has the highest strike percentage of any Latin program player that I've ever had. He just filled up the strike zone with quality," Romanick told OaklandClubhouse.com during the off-season.
Morla has a starting pitcher's build at 6'4'', and he has a nice, easy delivery. He throws his fastball in the low-90s and he has good command of his off-speed pitches. Although he had more success out of the bullpen in 2007, Morla is likely to continue to develop as a starting pitcher, where he can work on his secondary pitches.
Although his advanced command would likely allow Morla to play-up a level and jump to Low-A Kane County next season, Morla may be moved along more slowly by the A's to give him a chance to add to his repertoire in extended spring training before heading to the Northwest League's Vancouver Canadians. Given Canadians' pitcher-friendly ballpark, Morla could put up some big numbers for the C's in 2008.
"He just did a great job [in 2007]. For a guy that's in his first year over here, there is a lot to deal with. They are dealing with the culture change and all of the issues that come with that," Romanick told OaklandClubhouse.com.
"The positives just come and come and come. He had a really good year, and I am excited about him. We'll see what he does next year [in 2008]."
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