RHP Morales (83rd overall) keen on analytics

July 13th, 2021

SEATTLE -- Michael Morales might be the Mariners’ most intriguing selection of their 20 in this year’s MLB Draft, at least in the context of where he was taken, what he brings and how he fits.

The 18-year-old right-hander out of East Pennsboro High School (Enola, Pa.) joins a Seattle farm system loaded with pitching. But much of that group was assembled via college talent, a premium that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has had since taking over ahead of 2016.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder was on his way to the elite college-pitching ranks, committed to Vanderbilt, but it’s almost certain that he will sign with Seattle after being taken in the third round with the No. 83 overall pick, saying he is “extremely confident” on the negotiations. Morales was the No. 109 Draft prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

The intrigue he presents is that he’s a high-school arm taken so high, at least for this front office; his baseball IQ appears to be far advanced for his years; and he’s recently had a downtick on his stuff.

Morales wowed in summer circuits last year, most notably at the East Coast Pro Showcase, where he carved up hitters with a solid three-pitch mix and an idea of what to do with it, hitting 95 mph on his fastball, which he complements with a curveball that has been described as a plus breaking ball and a solid-average changeup. But his Draft stock skidded some earlier this spring when he was sitting in the 88-90 range, though that’s not necessarily a concern for the Mariners.

“He didn’t have his best stuff as the Draft season rolled along … but he’s always been able to spin a breaking ball,” Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter said.

“I don't want to put this much pressure on him, but there are some comparisons from our guys that this is what Walker Buehler looked like in high school,” Hunter added. “The 88-92 mph guy that threw a ton of strikes and could spin a breaking ball. If you dream on the athleticism and the projection, we do believe the velocity will come, either come back or come even better as he gets into our [high-performance] program and developing with what we've done with our pitchers over the last four or five years here.”

Listening to the way Morales speaks about his stuff, there’s an acumen and awareness that come off as signs of a mature pitcher knowing who he is and how to best exploit his weapons.

“One thing with me is we never really chased the velocity,” Morales said. “We always kind of chase more of understanding the body, understand the movements do not dive so much in the weight room that you're going to get off-track.

“They like the plan that I have in place,” Morales said of the Mariners. “They like that I'm a student of the game. They like that I'm pretty well-versed to kind of what goes on [on] the throwing end. I understand it pretty well, especially, we're kind of in that technology era. So everything with the spin rates and stuff like that, every time you pick up a baseball, there's like 30 cameras on you. And I think one thing that they like is that I should be able to bind pretty well with their staff and their team on the analytic side.”

Morales has been working with Scott Swanson at Full Reps Training Center in Campo, Pa., and the Mariners have opened the dialogue with Swanson to create and tailor the best plan for the right-hander.

“Blend what they already know works on our end, blend what they already know works on their end,” Morales said. “And I'm super excited that the Mariners seem really open to growth.”

The only other high school pitcher taken as high in the Dipoto era was Sam Carlson in the second round in 2017. He obviously went on to deal with multiple injuries that cost him three seasons, but the right-hander is back in '21.

With no Rookie-level affiliates as part of the Minor League restructuring, Morales will head to Seattle for a physical next weekend if all things go well with his negotiations. Then he’ll report to Arizona, where he and the rest of his high school-selected peers will spend the summer.