On June 2, righthander Francisco Morales walked four of the six batters he faced and was removed from the game after just 0.2 innings in the shortest start of his young professional career.
Five days later, however, Morales faced the same low Class A Greensboro club and pitched five innings of three-hit ball. He allowed only one unearned run, walked none and struck out seven.
For Phillies officials, that rebound typified some of the strides Morales has made this season.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth, both as a pitcher and a person,” director of player development Josh Bonifay said. “We’ve seen it in his work between starts, in his ability to stick to a game plan and his ability to make adjustments.”
Morales was the Phillies’ top international signing in the summer of 2016. Scouts Rafael Alvarez, Carlos Salas and Sal Agostinelli liked the lanky righthander in several Venezuelan showcases and signed him for $720,000. Now 6-foot-6, Morales has moved swiftly in the Phillies’ system and is one of the youngest pitchers in the low Class A South Atlantic League. He won’t turn 20 until October 27.
Morales showed a 93 mph fastball when he was 16, and that pitch has gotten even firmer since then. He also now features a plus slider and a developing, third-pitch changeup.
“He’s a young power arm with electric stuff,” Bonifay said. “His slider is one of the best I’ve seen.”
Morales recorded a 4.08 ERA in his first 68.1 innings at Lakewood this season. He allowed just 55 hits and is striking out more than 12 batters per nine innings, but his walk rate (4.3 per nine) is still high. That said, Morales has taken a nice step forward and rival teams often bring up his name in trade discussions. The Phillies, looking to develop a pitching staff from within, will be very protective of Morales, however.
“He was a high-profile guy when he signed so he didn’t sneak up anybody, but to see what he’s been able to do at that level at that age has been very encouraging,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “He’s one of the youngest guys there, and to be dominating hitters the way he does with that strikeout rate is really impressive.”