March 21, 2011
As seen in any league, standout exhibition performances, for the most part, are largely meaningless. If believed, these seductive mirages often lead to mass drops, widespread disappointment and inescapable early holes. For every Austin Jackson(notes), there are a dozen Jeremy Reeds.
Prior to coming over from Seattle for Ryan Langerhans(notes) in a footnote deadline trade two years ago, Morse was a little used utilityman. Though blessed with considerable size (6-foot-5, 230-pounds), strength and versatility — he logged time at 1B, SS, 3B and OF — the afterthought failed to develop into a regular for the Mariners. Untimely injuries in 2006 and 2008 derailed any possibility of extended playing time. Over four seasons in the Starbucks City, he posted a bland .300-3-37-33-4 line in 300 at-bats, an output not even an "only" leaguer could love.
At first, Morse didn't produce immediate rewards in the nation's capital. Languishing for much of the season at Triple-A, he played in just 32 games for the senior club in 2009, making a minor impact. But, last year, after given a long look from June 1 on, he quietly flourished. Overall, the 28-year-old cracked 15 homers in just 266 at-bats (HR per 17.73 at-bats). His out-of-left-field power outburst and terrific OBP (.352) were very Zobristian.
Morse has carried momentum over this spring. In 47 Grapefruit at-bats, he's notched a .340 AVG with a team-high five homers and 11 RBI. His sharpened eye, improved defense and scorching bat has finally earned him an everyday gig. Skipper Jim Riggleman indicated last week the hidden gem will be the 'Nats' opening day left-fielder, getting the nod over Roger Bernadina(notes) and Rick Ankiel(notes). Not lacking in confidence, Morse is optimistic he could become the next Jose Bautista(notes). From MLB.com:
Playing in a career-high 98 games, Morse enjoyed his best season as a big leaguer in 2010. Now, he wants to be an All-Star like former teammate Adam Jones(notes), who has become a respected player with the Orioles.
"I guess you could say that I'm a late bloomer, but I guess it is better to bloom sometime than never," Morse said. "Right now, I'm honing in my game. I'm just telling myself, 'Why not try to be a great player, try to make an All-Star team? Why not?' I've played with a lot of guys in this game and seen them become All-Stars. Why can't I?
"Adam Jones and I were neck and neck in the Minor Leagues, and I'm thinking in my head, 'Why can't I be an All-Star?' I don't want to sit back and watch other people. I've done that long enough. Now, it's my time."
Dreams of Morse representing the Nationals in Phoenix are akin to the Noise's logging extensive PT with Brooklyn Decker — farfetched. However, in the later rounds of deep mixers, he shouldn't be forgotten. Extrapolate what he accomplished in limited action last year over 550 at-bats (31 HRs, 84 RBI), and his production was on par with Vernon Wells(notes) and Nick Swisher(notes). In other words, the multi-position qualifier (1B and OF) has OF3 upside even in shallow mixers. Not too shabby for a player owned in just 12-percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Doubters, primarily in the 206, will take Morse's eye-opening spring with a grain of salt. After all, he's pulled this trick before. Fanatics, though, should view his situation more positively. Remember, predictable surprises lurk around every corner. It's within the realm of possibility Morse, who will likely bat behind Ryan Zimmerman(notes) and Adam LaRoche(notes) in the sixth spot, does emerge as a poor man's Bautista.
Any exhibition performance from an unproven commodity should be heavily scrutinized. But Morse could very easily become one of this year's early season sensations.
Fearless Forecast: 562 at-bats, .278 AVG, 26 HR, 81 RBI, 75 R, 2 SB
Image courtesy of the Associated Press