School: Cal Irvine
Selected 2015 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (38): Morales received some high praise within the community last year despite pitching only a few innings in the GCL and at Class A+ Palm Beach. For our voting discussion this year, we had a lot more to go on in the form of nearly 130 innings at Double-A Springfield.
Blingboy was first on Morales in the early going, noting that Morales hasn’t dominated, but he has been pushed up the ladder aggressively and still held his own. Morales ended up being voted as the community’s #38 prospect. Blingboy also posted that Morales could one day be a potential horse in the rotation, likely in the Triple-A rotation in 2016 as well.
Morales’ early pick status and good results in college have only taken him so far and he’ll need a solid year in 2016 before our Cardinal Nation community decides he is one of the top prospects. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (38): For second straight winter, Morales ranks within TCN's top 40. This comes after he basically skipped Palm Beach following his draft year and faced many difficulties against Texas League hitters in his first full professional season.
However, Morales found his footing and finished strong with two straight seven-inning gems down the stretch in 2015. The former UC Irvine product had just 12 1/3 professional innings before being thrown to the wolves at Double-A. In 129 2/3 innings with Springfield, Morales struck out 85 and walked 46 batters.
"It's an ongoing process to find what works," said Morales during the season. "I am still continuing to work to find that consistent release and pound the zone like I know how.
"One of the mental adjustments I learned this year was not to be so fine; meaning not to nibble at the corners and be timid but pitch with confidence and attack the strike zone with my best stuff."
The talk among scouts on Morales this past summer was a mixed bag. Some peg him as a reliever because of a short stocky frame with a catapult-like throwing motion and high-effort delivery. Another gave him the benefit of the doubt as he wasn't ready for Double-A, but continued to fire strikes with a 90-94 mph fastball and improved slider.
His pitching coach Jason Simontacchi talked extensively about Morales in early July and noted "growing pains" as what kept him from succeeding:
“We look at him, he’s a second-round draft pick, just out of college, had about five or six innings as a professional last year," said Simontacchi. "Guys his age right now wouldn’t even be at this level, but we feel he can pitch and compete here. There’s no doubt about it. I think the Cardinals would agree with that too, but I’m not a spokesperson for them.
“The rough spots, they are just some growing pains. It is what happens to guys who have a lot of successes then all of a sudden they fail a little bit, and they don’t know what to do or how to do it."
I anticipate Morales repeating Springfield and staying with the Double-A Birds until he reaches a level of competency on the mound for a long stretch.
Brian Walton (50): Three top 40 players had been unveiled so far and all are pitchers. That streak is now stretched to four with the choice of Morales at number 37. However, it wasn’t my vote that placed him here.
We each ranked 50 names to ensure we ended up with 40 about which there was a reasonable consensus when the three lists were melded into one. As you can see, Morales did make my list, but just barely.
I am not giving up on him entirely, because as noted, he is just 22 years of age and was pushed aggressively in 2015. However, any aura Morales had because of his second-round status is gone after what was a very rough season at Double-A Springfield.
Cardinals player development staffers like to say that it isn’t about how a player is doing when the season starts, but about how he is performing at the end. Well, in the case of Morales, who spent all season in the Texas League, there was not marked improvement in his numbers from the first half to the second.
After the break, Morales’ already meager strikeout rate of under six per nine innings declined. His batting average against, already over .300, increased to .324. His rate of baserunners allowed (WHIP) remained above 1.6 per inning, a very high number. So it was not surprising that his ERA remained high – though it did drop from 5.43 to 4.63 after the break.
Perhaps what concerns me the most is that his fly ball tendency also increased in the second half, from 0.90 to 0.78 ground outs to fly outs. One major red flag was Morales’ 17 home runs allowed, the highest total against any pitcher in the Cardinals system in 2015. Nine were launched in the first half and eight afterward.
Morales should remain on the watch list. With a second shot at Double-A likely ahead, let’s see what he can do in 2016 now that he has a full year of experience under his belt. As noted above, a move to the bullpen down the road is always an option, though hopes should be higher for a second-rounder, especially this early in his career.
Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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