Prospect Retrospective: Michael Morse
As you know, Mike Morse was recently traded from the Washington Nationals to the Seattle Mariners as part of a three-way transaction with the Oakland Athletics. Morse had a very unusual development path as a prospect, and is our choice for today's Prospect Retrospective topic.
Morse was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the third round in 2000, from high school in Davie, Florida. At the time, he was a promising shortstop with a strong arm and good power potential but an unrefined bat. He hit .256/.308/.333 in 180 at-bats for the Arizona Rookie League White Sox after signing. I gave him a Grade C in my 2001 book, noting that I didn't "put excessive stock in rookie ball numbers, good, bad, or mediocre" and that scouts liked him, but that I wanted to see performance at higher levels before going "ga-ga" over him.
Moved up to Bristol in the Appalachian League for 2001, Morse was very ineffective with a .227/.324/.365 line with 17 walks and 57 strikeouts in 57 games. He played fairly well on defense but his bat was disappointing, though again he was very young. It should be noted that at this stage in his career he was listed at 6-4, 180 pounds, very unlike the 6-5, 245 pound beast he would become. He was still a Grade C for me.
Promoted to Low-A Kannapolis in 2002, he continued to disappoint offensively with a .257/.310/.362 line. His defense was adequate but scouts were now talking about an inevitable move to third base as he was gaining size and losing mobility. He was still a Grade C.
Morse continued his steady rise up the ladder in 2003, moving up to High-A Winston-Salem. He began tapping his power, hitting .245/.296/.394 but with 30 doubles and 10 homers. Scouting reports pointed to poor plate discipline (confirmed by a 25/91 BB/K in 432 at-bats) and big problems with breaking pitches. He was reasonably reliable on defense, still at shortstop, though his range was limited. He was still a Grade C for me and a pretty marginal prospect.
2004 was different. His power blossomed with a .287/.336/.536 line for Double-A Birmingham, with 11 homers in 54 games. His strike zone judgment was still poor. Of bigger note, theWhite Sox suspended him at one point for taking steroids. Perhaps wanting to sell high, the Sox traded him to the Mariners in the mid-season Freddy Garcia trade. Morse went to Double-A San Antonio and hit .274/.326/.465 the rest of the way. I gave him a Grade C+ entering 2005, noting that he had made progress but that we should "be wary of hype."
Morse split 2005 between Triple-A Tacoma (.253/.317/.407 in 49 games) and the Mariners (.278/.349/.370 in 72 games). He served another suspension that September for the same 2004 steroid incident, as baseball was trying to get a handle on the PED issue.
Morse spent the next several years bouncing between Seattle, Tacoma, and the disabled list, suffering with knee and labrum injuries. In 2009 he was finally healthy again, hit .312/.370/.481 in 66 games for Tacoma, and traded to the Washington Nationals for Ryan Langerhans. Now an outfielder/first baseman, he hit .289/.352/.519 in 98 games for the Nats in '10, .303/.360/.550 in 146 games in '11, and .291/.321/.470 in 102 games in '12.
Overall, in 485 career games Morse has hit .295/.347/.492 in the majors, OPS+ 126. Plate discipline is not a strength for him.
Morse's power outburst over the last three seasons validates the raw power that scouts saw in his bat in high school, though it took him a long time to develop it and he was an ineffective hitter for much of his minor league career. His path serves as a reminder of how important it is not to take rookie ball statistics overly seriously.