Scouting Padres Prospect: Colt Morton

Catcher Colt Morton was tearing up the California League, well on his way to MVP of the Championship Series until the team imploded after being up 2-0 in the best of five series. But that did not diminish some of the success he had in 2005.

There is a little hesitation when evaluating the status of Colt Morton as a prospect.

The 2005 season marked his third year in Fort Wayne and his first two stints netted sub-Mendoza line statistics.

But this year was different. It started with a shorter compact swing that made his path to the ball quicker. The result was solid contact on the ball, if for less power.

"Colt is a guy who we took third round of the 2003 draft and has made a lot of progress this year," Jeff Kingston, the Padres director of baseball operations, said. "He fell of the radar screen at the beginning, and now statistically he is one of our best hitters. If he continues to put it together, it gives us still another good catcher."

He came into the season with 50.8 percent of his hits going for extra bases but with better pitch selection and a better swing he sacrificed some of the power numbers in order to reach base more consistently.

Morton generates enough power in his 6-foot-6 frame that he doesn't need the extra torque in his swing. He still managed to collect 38 extra base hits – accounting for over 40 percent of his total.

In the process, Morton was able to cut down on his strikeout totals, particularly at Fort Wayne. He had made one of his missions and while he got a little sloppy in the California League, he also hit .323 with nine homers and 19 RBI's in 26 games – spanning 96 at bats.

At Fort Wayne, Morton struck out fewer times than games played for the first time in his professional career. His .362 on base percentage over 63 games was also his highest ever.

Some of the initial excitement in Morton's game was tempered after he fell off the map in June after hitting .301 over the first two months of the season. June, however, granted him a .206 average and in July he was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. A few days after his return, the big catcher was promoted to Lake Elsinore and showed no ill-effects from the injury.

In a quirky stat, Morton, who is not blessed with speed, has only grounded into 11 double plays in 239 career minor league games.

Behind the plate is just as important as his work at the dish in evaluating a catcher and Morton had a down year as a receiver.

He was charged with 17 passed balls over two leagues, which would have placed him worst in the Midwest and second-worst in the California League.

Morton also struggled with gunning down men on the bases. He threw out 18 of 77 baserunners in the Midwest League – 23 percent – and then went on to toss out five of 28 thieves in the California League – just 18 percent.

His problem has been in regards to his footwork coming out of the crouch. He hasn't been able to set himself to generate the power necessary through his legs for the throw down to second base. When he moved up to play for the Storm he found himself unconsciously compensating for the hamstring injury that shelved him with the Wizards.

While he has regressed in the fielding and throwing portions of the game, pitchers are happy with his progression calling the game. He presents a big target and mixes in the pitches according to the pitchers' individual strengths.

"Colt does a great job of calling games," reliever Kyle Stutes said. He knows these hitters pretty well. I put a lot of trust in that guy. It is not often that I have to shake him off. He mixes up the pitches well. We are on the same page quite often."

It took three years to see success in Fort Wayne but the immediate dividends in Lake Elsinore were quite evident. For Morton to continue to move up the chain he will have to not only hit but work on his defensive game. Catchers routinely make the show with sub par hitting but above average defense and while hit bat intrigues, his glove and arm will hold him back. Now, more then ever, the pressure is on the 23-year old (he turns 24 in April). George Kottaras is ahead of him and Nick Hundley is in hot pursuit. The Padres depth at catcher is better than any other position on the diamond and Morton will be pressed at times. He cannot crack under that squeeze.

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