Name: Colt Morton
DOB: April 10, 1982
Morton's catching skills have continued on a steady incline.
Dedication to his stretching program has given Morton the flexibility to remain at catcher, despite his height. His footwork has improved but it takes time to set his frame into throwing position. He may never be a true threat at consistently turning back basestealers but his ability to stay agile and be accurate with his arm will be a natural deterrent – at least one would be led to believe.
An average of 1.57 baserunners per game attempted to steal against Morton during his California League stint, by far the highest per game total in the league. He tossed out 27-of-83, 33 percent. It was clear they wanted to test his bulk and arm out.
He went on to throw out 14-of-36 thieves in Double-A, a solid 39 percent.
"Colt Morton – it is unbelievable the way he prepares," Padres' roving catching instructor Carlos Hernandez said. "What I heard before – because he was too big – he wasn't good at blocking, throwing and that kind of stuff. But he has made a big, big improvement this year. His blocking – his throwing the ball is right there to the base. Sometimes you have to know that the pitcher does go too slow to home and they don't have a chance. But every time they have a chance, like Morton, he is doing a tremendous job. He is calling good games. This is what I liked. He has shown he can be a big league catcher."
"When Colt Morton came up he helped us a lot," 2006 Mobile pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "We played a lot better with him behind the plate and we pitched better.
"He did a good job in (calling games. He took a lot of pride in his catching. He improved a bunch from spring training. From what I saw in spring training he improved a lot. He had a pretty good rapport. The things we would talk about we would see him make those adjustments throughout games as the season went on, our pitch selection, what is going on right here in this situation and how you got there. He made a lot of improvement."
He is adept at calling a game and dealing with pitchers, taking pride in understanding how each personality ticks and getting the most out of them on gameday. He puts in the work and often finds the rewards from scouting the opposition and extensively instituting the gameplan with his staff.
Morton also gets down and blocks the ball well, using his large frame to get in front of the pea.
"Anytime I talked to him about pitch selection or pitch calling he took it well, too," Abbott added. "Some guys get defensive about it. It is all about making the right pitch. You can make the right pitch and get hurt because you made a mistake with it. So many guys, all they see is the result. It is not about the result of the pitch. It is about executing the right pitch."
It was an interesting year hitting for Morton. After hitting well in April (.289), Morton went into a funk after missing three weeks with a groin strain.
He would hit .180 over his final 31 games with the High-A Lake Elsinore Storm and ended his tenure with a .152 mark with runners in scoring position in 53 games.
Inarguably one of the hardest workers around, the Padres altered his batting stance in Double-A to maximize his strengths and diminish his weaknesses.
"Colt did a nice job for us," 2006 Mobile manager Gary Jones said. "He got there and handled the staff very well and came up with some big hits for us. He worked his tail off trying to get better with his swing, shortening his swing up. He worked on using the middle of the field and making contact. His biggest thing is when he makes contact with the shorter stroke he has a chance to do a lot of damage. He worked on it consistently on a daily basis and got better."
While his ascension to Double-A wasn't based on merit, Morton made the most of the situation. Perhaps finally able to swing the bat with authority in his effort to recover from the groin injury, the backstop hit .266 over the final 41 games of the year. The concern was seeing his walks dwindle to a crawl and his strikeouts climb.
"We as an organization did some things up at Double-A and he made the adjustments and took to the things we wanted him to do and really made some strides in using his ability, his long, lanky body, his strength and his leverage," 2006 Mobile hitting coach Arnie Beyeler said. "He took to some things pretty good and is a real hard working kid. For me, I was really impressed with what he brought to the table. I hadn't seen him play much coming over here this year and his catching skills were phenomenal for us. He threw the ball well and he blocked well and he got better at the plate. He put the ball in play a lot more and he is a big, strong kid that can use the whole field to hit and drive the ball. We are hoping he continues and it keeps snowballing with the bat against better competition."
Morton has always struggled with his long swing but has been able to slow down his approach to get mixed results. He will have periods of domination but it is easy for him to fall into old habits and struggle finding his rhythm. Staying short to the ball has been a continuous challenge.
There is no doubting the power generated from the towering 6-foot-6 prospect. Forty-seven percent of his hits over a four-year minor league career have gone for extra bases. The 2006 season marked the second time he had more doubles than homers (25 to 11) in a single season. The only other year he accomplished the feat was his debut year (10 doubles to nine homers).
When Morton is able to extend his powerful arms, the ball naturally jumps off his bat. It is his staple but also his hindrance.
Finding the delicate balance that keeps the strikeouts downs and walks and average up will ultimately decide his fate.
"The sky is the limit with this kid with his size and strength," said Beyeler. "Hopefully he can continue rolling from where he was in Double-A."
ETA: Morton has had an up and down career in the Padres' system. The highs show how much power and promise he has, but the lows can quickly douse his standing. His progression defensively is the best measure of his work ethic and makeup – but the bat could be a huge separator if he puts it altogether. Returning to Double-A in 2007, Morton won't have time on his side anymore. With a catcher on his tail and a solid defender in front, it comes down to this season and what he can do with his chances.