Once upon a time, Franklin Morales was the future of the Rockies. That time was 2007 and 2008, but things have never really worked out the way they were supposed to for the Venezuelan lefty. Now though, he has a World Series ring, but more importantly, another opportunity to be a starting pitcher in the major leagues. Back in Colorado, Jhoulys Chacin’s spring training injury and Brett Anderson’s overall brittleness signal that the Rockies are going to need plenty of starting pitchers this season, and while Morales may not be in the rotation come Opening Day, he has a chance to be one of the first off the depth chart. It may be his last chance to prove he can start in the majors.
It wasn’t always like that, of course. Morales came into the 2007 season with plenty of buzz. He was ranked 30th overall on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list, and his work during August and September – including 17 straight innings of shutout ball against the Phillies, Marlins and Padres in mid-September – helped propel the Rockies into what is now lovingly remembered as Rocktober.
Things only ramped up the following spring. Morales had petered out shortly after his 17 shutout innings, but Baseball America was undeterred, and ranked him eighth overall in their top 100. It was – and still is – the highest rank a Rockies pitcher has ever been given by BA, and the second-highest that they have ranked a Rockies player overall (Ian Stewart was ranked fourth overall on the 2005 list). He was ranked right after Clayton Kershaw, and was ranked just ahead of Homer Bailey and David Price. Also behind Morales on that 2008 list but still in the top 50 were Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Wieters, Andrew McCutchen, Elvis Andrus, Rick Porcello, Carlos Gonzalez, Gio Gonzalez, Jason Heyward, Chase Headley, Johnny Cueto, Austin Jackson and some Joey Votto guy.
Unfortunately, the 2008 took a pretty nasty turn for Morales. The Rockies were anxious to prove to everyone that they weren’t a flash in the pan, and tensions ran high throughout what turned out to be a disastrous season. Morales began 2008 with a six-inning shutout, but his control problems took over in the next four outings. He walked 14 batters against just seven strikeouts in 19.1 innings across those four starts, and was summarily banished to Colorado Springs. And when he walked six, seven, four, one and five batters in his first five starts for the Sky Sox, his fate was essentially sealed for the rest of the season. The fact that he was a 22-year-old entering his first full season in the majors held little weight – the Rockies wanted to win now, and after Morales final start on April 28, the team was 10-16 and already nine games out of first place. Clearly, something needed to be done.
Unfortunately, the team didn’t have a good solution for the problem. Morales’ de facto replacement in the rotation was Greg Reynolds, who the team had chosen over Evan Longoria in the 2006 draft, and were eager to see succeed at the major league level so that people would forget about the fact that they could have had Longoria. That didn’t happen unfortunately, as Reynolds was even worse than was Morales. While Morales’ 6.39 ERA and 5.59 FIP across five starts certainly weren’t pretty, Reynolds’ 8.13 ERA and 6.81 FIP across 14 games (13 starts) was downright depressing. However, since the Rockies had banished Morales rather than exhibiting even the slightest bit of patience with him, they were stuck with Reynolds, and retreads like Glendon Rusch and Mark Redman, who were never going to be part of Colorado’s long-term solution.
Things didn’t change much for Morales the following season. He made the rotation at the season’s outset, but he was felled by a shoulder injury that cost him the better part of two months, and when he was eligible to come off the disabled list at the end of June, the team optioned him and converted him to a reliever. Morales has had fits and starts ever since, glimpses of the pitcher that he was expected to be, but has never sustained any noteworthy success. His career high in WAR still stands as his abbreviated 2007 season.
Now, after some time with the Red Sox spent mainly in a relief role, Morales is back once again with the Rockies. He has started the spring well, with six strikeouts against two walks in his first five innings of action. That is an impossibly small sample, and these results mean nothing in real life, but for a pitcher trying to grab a rotation spot, it’s better than the alternative. Most importantly, Morales says he feels healthy this year.
Morales’ window may be incredibly small in Colorado this second time around even if he does win a spot out of spring training. Morales winning a spot would likely mean that Jordan Lyles would start the season in the minors (or at least out of the rotation) and he would be joined in the wings by top prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler. Furthermore, Chacin will put a crunch on the rotation when he is ready to go, and there’s always a chance that Anderson manages to stay healthy for a full season. In other words, the Rockies have options. But still just 28-years-old this season, Morales remains an intriguing option. All a pitcher can ask for is a chance. Morales may only have one more chance, but it is a chance nonetheless.
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