We continue our countdown of top prospects here at The Good Phight, counting backwards from 20 to our top prospect.
Francisco Morales, RHP, 22 years old
The Phillies added the wild, high-profile Morales to their 40-man roster after the 2020 season and sent the 21-year-old straight to Double-A, where he struggled very badly throughout the entire season. While the Phillies big league staff (especially the back of their bullpen) felt the strain of injury and inconsistency, Morales spent his first option year in Reading, walking about 15% of the hitters he faced while working exclusively as a starter. Morales has, at best, been on the starter/reliever line since the moment he signed, mostly due to his physical maturity. He’s never thrown strikes at an average or better rate, nor really developed a third pitch, though he does have the huge arm strength and vicious slider of a traditional late-inning reliever. Rather than move Morales to the bullpen proactively (if you call doing it in his fifth pro season “proactive”) the Phillies got nothing out of his first option year, all while he occupied a precious 40-man spot. They’re likely to burn yet another option in 2022 unless Morales enjoys a sudden and dramatic strike-throwing improvement during the 2021 offseason and becomes one of the Phillies’ best four or five relievers during the course of spring training. He’s trending like a frustrating middle relief piece, though he undoubtedly has the stuff to grow into a much more prominent role if he can throw strikes with his fastball.
Jay: 15, Ethan: 12, Alex: 11
They’re the foundation of any pitcher in baseball. If you as a minor league pitcher want to make it to a major league mound at any point in your career, you have to throw strikes. It doesn’t really matter how hard you throw, how crisp your breaking pitch is, how much your changeup fools the other batters - if you can’t throw strikes, you aren’t going to last all that long in the majors.
Francisco Morales has been ranking among the top prospects in the Phillies’ system for some time now. He’s ranged from the top to the middle to the bottom of many prospect prognosticators’ lists. At this point, after his subpar 2021 season, it seems as though he has reached a crossroads in his young career. Always possessing good stuff (researching his grades, there are a lot of 65’s and 70’s for his fastball/slider combination), throwing strikes has been the bugaboo in his career. 2021 saw that bugaboo torpedo his prospect stock. He walked 6.51 batters per nine innings in Reading, teetering on the precipice of starter and reliever.
As he now occupies a 40-man roster spot, this coming spring represents a big one for Morales. The team would clearly like him to develop into a starting pitcher, but at some point, moving him to the bullpen has to be discussed. Considering he is on the 40-man, it is completely possible that if the team has bullpen issues (again) and Morales is throwing strikes, they may want to see him in the big league bullpen this year. Is that the optimal outcome? No, but if it can help him and the team, it may be an avenue to discuss.