The Rays drafted Ty Morrison in the 4th round of the 2008 MLB Draft. The Rays signed him to a well above-slot $500,000. Observers jeered. What did Morrison have? His speed. He was explosive on the basepaths and smooth in centerfield. That was about it. His bat speed? So-so. Plate discipline? No- and he strikes out too much! Power? Yeah, right. Arm? Well, it’s good enough for centerfield. Count ‘em: two above-average tools, speed and fielding. What’s going on here? Are the Rays hoping for the next Joey Gathright? Good for them. Genius to over-draft a player by four rounds and then sign them for above-slot.
Let’s just say that the Rays are a whole lot smarter than we take them for- or at least we took them for. Morrison has turned himself into a good all-around player and was a good pick by the Rays not just in hindsight, but in retrospect.
Morrison was, and still is, a 6’2″, 170 lefty-swinging centerfielder out of Tigard High School in Oregon. Just reading that line, we see a bunch of other factors that made Morrison an upside play and not just a speedy “cupcake” pick for the Rays. Firstly, he’s coming out of Oregon, not exactly known as a baseball hotbed and not a place where you can play baseball year-round, leaving room for development. His poor plate discipline and propensity for striking out was something that could be corrected. Now look at Morrison’s size. He’s 6’2″, 170 with room to bulk up and get stronger. He doesn’t look like he’ll ever be a significant home run threat, but especially considering his explosive speed, he has the ability to a gap-to-gap hitter who legs out some doubles and triples. Morrison may only top out at 8-10 home runs if even that many, but if he can hit line drives and net a solid batting average while drawing his share of walks, he’ll be able to maximize his ability to steal bases. And while Morrison’s arm in centerfield certainly isn’t elite, it’s solid and plays up thanks to good accuracy. Morrison is a 4-tool talent with a chance for a little pop, and the Rays have been happy with that the whole time.
So far in 2012, Morrison, who will turn 22 on July 22nd, has worked his way up from High-A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery as he has posted a .286/.353/.396 line with 15 doubles, 7 triples, 2 homers, 35 RBI, 21 of 28 stolen bases, and 70 strikeouts versus 24 walks in 77 games. He has actually upped his OPS from .711 to .778 since arriving in Montgomery. Defensively, Morrison has played 66 games in centerfield and 6 each in left and right field, combining for just a decent .984 fielding percentage but with good range and 6 outfield assists. Morrison still strikes out a little too much and doesn’t walk quite enough, but he hits a lot of line drives and groundballs he can beat out to go along with bunts.
According to Minor League Central, Morrison has managed a nice 19.3% line drive percentage in 2012 compared to the 16.0% league average (between the two leagues where he played), and even though most of those line drives are of the singles variety as opposed to extra-base hits, Morrison is definitely not a tap hitter. Morrison did hit groundballs for 49.0% of his batted balls compared to the 42.8% league average, which is reasonable for a player with his speed, and he has bunted 5.2% of the time compared to the 1.8% league average. Morrison’s focus at the plate is still primarily to put the ball in play and use his legs, but we are seeing him square up more pitches and hitting the ball harder.
Morrison will never be an outstanding major league player, but he has a chance to be a player who will hit .270 with a solid on-base percentage, good defense in centerfield, and of course tons of speed- Morrison could be threat for 50-60 stolen bases. Morrison has an opening now. B.J. Upton is departing as a free agent following the season and the Rays could have an outfield spot open for 2013 (it all depends on where Ben Zobrist plays). Morrison will not be major league ready for the start of 2013. But with his all-around ability, Morrison has the potential to make his major league debut later in the 2013 season and be an impact player for the Rays thanks to his speed- but also his bat.