Franklin Morales and the Closer Gig

Franklin Morales has endured a career destined for someone well beyond his years. Morales has always been a precocious talent though. The Rockies signed him back in November 2002. At the time, Morales was two months from turning 17. In 2007, Baseball America would rank Morales as the 30th best prospect. A season later he was up to 8th — the highest rank a Rockies’ pitcher has ever received. He made his MLB start at the age of 21, and threw in more playoff games that year than he had previously at Triple-A.

The six-foot-nothing southpaw seemingly found his home in the bullpen last season, which is to say that he appeared 40 times and 95% stemmed from being summoned from the bullpen. He struck out more than a batter per inning while still struggling with some control issues. Nevertheless, he managed to deliver a 4.15 FIP while throwing in some tense moments. He tossed fire to lefties, striking out 10 per nine and showing a better feel for the zone.

Unsurprisingly, Morales leans heavily on his mid-90s fastball, but does mix his breaking pitch in along with the occasional change-up. Each pitched held a whiff rate over 8% last season, including that change’s 15.4%. Morales rarely threw it, but when he did, the similar break to his fastball really gave batters fits. The Rockies never scrapped Morales from the rotation because he couldn’t miss bats though; it was about control, something he still struggles with.

It does raise a question though: Are the Rockies giving up on Morales the starter too quickly? Maybe not. He’s made 47 starts between the bigs and Triple-A. His Triple-A numbers are the damning ones. A 1.19 SO/BB ratio just won’t cut it. If a guy with this kind of stuff can’t avoid walking that many batters in Triple-A, where the batters are considerably less talented, then it’s probably not happening in the big leagues. Morales being out of options and being short for a traditional starter complicates manners even more.

Most are aware that Huston Street will begin the year on the disabled list and as of now, Morales looks like the favorite for the job. He’s certainly dressed for the part, although at the tender age of 24, he would be the youngest closer in baseball, at least until Street returned. If for whatever reason Morales is removed from the gig, the Rockies have plenty of alternatives, including Rafael Betancourt and Manny Corpas.

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