Josh Morgan has been one of the best pure hitters in the Rangers system since signing for an above-slot $800,000 as a third-rounder in 2014. But there has been some question as to where he fits best on the diamond.The Rangers' No. 15 prospect lacks the quickness typical at shortstop
Josh Morgan has been one of the best pure hitters in the Rangers system since signing for an above-slot $800,000 as a third-rounder in 2014. But there has been some question as to where he fits best on the diamond.
The Rangers' No. 15 prospect lacks the quickness typical at shortstop or the power desired at third base, the two positions he has played the most. He spent much of his pro debut at second base, and this year Texas decided to add another option to the mix.
Morgan caught as a freshman at Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High in 2011 -- the same program that produced big leaguers Gerrit Cole and Brandon Maurer -- and went behind the plate during instructional league in 2015 and 2016. He didn't see his first Minor League game action there until this year, when he played 36 games at catcher, 62 at shortstop and two at third base in high Class A.
The Rangers had the 21-year-old Morgan concentrate on catching again during instructional league and have sent him to the Arizona Fall League to do the same. He's on the taxi squad for the Surprise Saguaros, meaning that he's only on the active roster for two games a week, but he still will have plenty of opportunity to improve.
Morgan never has handled pitchers of the consistent quality that he's working with in the AFL. Though he won't get a lot of game action, he's soaking up everything he can from bullpen workouts.
"It's awesome just to see what their balls are doing -- the sink, the run, the cut, the really good curveballs and sliders, things like that," said Morgan, who went 2-for-6 with three walks while throwing out two of five basestealers in his first two games for the Saguaros. "A lot of my development comes just from catching their bullpens.
"It might not look like it, but I feel I'm working a lot in the bullpen, framing pitches, blocking pitches, just getting better out there. It's a lot different than playing every day but I am learning a lot just from being on the bench and being in the bullpen."
Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler said the plan going for 2018 is to use Morgan more behind the plate while continuing to give him some time around the infield. It's still early to say Morgan can be a regular catcher in the Majors, but he shows promise.
"He looks really good for doing it for his first year," Tingler said. "He receives well, his stance has improved, his throwing has improved. There are so many things that go into developing a frontline starting catcher. We're certainly encouraged by what he's done and his progress."
Morgan says he has an increased respect for catchers now that he understands how difficult it is to balance the offensive and defensive responsibilities while handling the physical demands of the position. A contact-oriented hitter with a simple approach and an easy right-handed swing, he batted .270/.318/.380 with six homers in 2017.
"Whether I'm having a good day at the plate or not, it can't affect your defense," Morgan said. "You've got to separate the two. Obviously, I'm trying to be the best hitter I can be and we'll see where it goes."
Rangers hitters in the Fall League
Luis La O, 2B/3B
Michael O'Neill, OF
Yanio Perez (No. 11), 1B/OF/3B
A member of Cuba's national team when he defected in July 2015, La O signed for $110,000 in January. Known for his line drive-hitting ability and his speed, he batted .292/.336/.399 with 11 steals in 124 Class A Advanced games in his U.S. debut this summer.
The nephew of five-time All-Star Paul O'Neill, Michael signed with the Yankees as a third-rounder out of Michigan in 2013 and hooked up with the Rangers after getting released last offseason. He offers speed, power and arm strength and is coming off his best Minor League season, hitting .266/.336/.445 with 15 homers and 28 steals in 119 games between high Class A and Double-A.
Another Cuban who made his U.S. debut in 2017, Perez signed for $1.1 million in September 2016 and combines plus raw power with solid speed. He batted .280/.343/.434 with 14 homers in 123 games between two Class A stops.
Rangers pitchers in the Fall League
Steven Bruce, RHP
Adam Choplick, LHP
Tyler Ferguson, RHP
David Ledbetter, RHP
Bruce, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Keiser (Fla.) in 2016, induces groundballs with his low-90s sinker. He went 3-5 with a 4.70 ERA and a 50/13 K/BB ratio in 59 1/3 innings over 19 games (seven starts), mostly at the Class A Advanced level.
Choplick had Tommy John surgery as a high school junior before attending Oklahoma and signing as a 14th-rounder in 2015. Using a 92-96 mph fastball and a hard curveball, he had nine saves, a 2.93 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 55 1/3 Class A Advanced innings.
A Vanderbilt product, Ferguson has a lively 93-97 mph fastball and flashes a plus slider, but control woes dropped him to the sixth round of the 2015 Draft. He continues to battle the strike zone, recording a 6.61 ERA and a 57/26 K/BB ratio in 47 2/3 innings between two Class A affiliates.
Texas drafted both Ledbetter (third round) and his twin brother Ryan (19th) out of Cedarville (Ohio) in 2013. Armed with a low-90s sinker and a curveball, David went 4-8 with a 4.81 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings over 29 games (17 starts) in Double-A and Triple-A.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.