The Blocker: Franklin Morales, LHP, Colorado Rockies
Franklin Morales was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 8 overall prospect headed into 2008 after he reached the major leagues as a 21-year-old and made eight starts during the previous season. By 2009, however, control issues had forced Morales into a full-time bullpen role, working mostly against left-handed batters.
After posting a 5.24 ERA and a 68-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 68.2 innings spanning 75 games between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Rockies decided to part ways with the once highly touted prospect the following year, as they allowed the Red Sox to purchase him a few months into the 2011 season.
Morales served as a valuable swingman for the Red Sox in 2012, making nine starts and appearing in 28 games out of the bullpen, and he enjoyed arguably the best season of his career with a 3.77 ERA and a 76-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76.1 innings.
However, a pair of trips to the disabled list last year kept the left-hander from building on his success; Morales missed 52 games to begin the season due to a bulging disc in his lower back and then another 42 games surrounding the All-Star break with a left pectoral strain. When actually healthy, Morales struggled to the tune of a 4.62 ERA and a 21-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25.1 games.
Morales, now 28, returned to the Rockies this offseason via a trade with the Red Sox and ultimately earned a spot in the team’s Opening Day rotation behind a 2.10 ERA and a 28-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25.2 spring innings (seven starts). (I’d be remiss not to mention that the real reason he made the rotation is the result of injuries to Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood.)
Well, Morales’ strong spring hasn’t carried over into the regular season, and he’s now allowed nine earned runs on 16 hits and six walks through two starts (11.2 innings). With a pair of reputable left-handers (Rex Brothers, Boone Logan) in the bullpen, Morales’ sole purpose is to serve as a serviceable-at-best placeholder in the rotation until the team’s aforementioned injured starters return.
However, even when those guys return, it’ll only be a matter of time until their jobs are threatened by one of the Rockies’ high-end pitching prospects, specifically right-hander Eddie Butler.
The Blocked: Eddie Butler, RHP
Butler enjoyed a remarkable full-season debut in 2013, posting a stellar 1.80 ERA and a 143-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 149.2 innings across three levels.
After dominant showings with Low-A Asheville and High-A Modesto, the Rockies promoted Butler to Double-A Tulsa in early August. The 23-year-old right-hander responded by putting together arguably his best month of the season, posting a 0.73 ERA and 22 strikeouts over five starts.
Overall, opposing hitters batted a paltry .180 against the right-hander.
Butler has three pitches that grade as plus or better as well as a vastly underrated feel for pitching. Butler’s fastball sits in the mid- to upper 90s with exceptional sink and run to the arm side, and he complements it with a swing-and-miss, wipeout slider in the upper 80s. Lastly, Butler possesses a filthy changeup in the same velocity range that dives off the table and evades barrels.
While the 23-year-old’s strenuous arm action and low release point will always provoke questions about his long-term durability, Butler has passed every test thus far with flying colors.
The right-hander was assigned back to Double-A to begin the season and has looked sharp in both his starts, posting a 2.25 ERA and a 12-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 innings. It shouldn’t be long until Butler gets his first crack at the major leagues.