Morel Mania

If you are not familiar, the guys here at Royals Farm Report have (slowly) been progressing through the annual top-75 prospect list, and in such I took my own deep dive into some of KC’s prospects. The staff submitted individual top-75 lists, and being the sophisticated intellect that I am (I’m being facetious, I’m actually just a dumb college student with too much Busch Light and Dos Equis), I analyzed the differences in our thoughts. While the rest of the composite list should be coming out soon, it was clear that I diverged from the consensus on a few items. Notably, I had the least esteem in MJ Melendez after his less-than-hoped-for campaign in Wilmington last year, yet I had the most faith in prospects like Kris Bubic, Darryl Collins, and Yohanse Morel. This last name brings me to the premise of this article: Yohanse Morel is very good and is (in my opinion) the most underrated prospect in the Royals system.

Morel was acquired from the Washington Nationals in June of 2018 as a lottery ticket piece as a part of the Kelvin Gutierrez and Blake Perkins trade package that Kelvin Herrera garnered. A year prior to that, he was signed as an international free agent at the age of 16 from the Dominican Republic. Viewed as a toolsy raw outfield prospect standing 6’0” and 170 pounds, the Nationals converted him to a pitcher. According to John Eshleman of 2080 baseball, who watched Morel in late 2018, the young pitcher has grown from his original frame to 6’2” and 190 pounds. This assessment was backed up by our editor-in-chief Alex Duvall, who said that the last he had heard, Morel was roughly 6’1” and 185 pounds. Given that he had just turned 18 at the time, there is potential that he’s grown more.

Morel’s surface level stats in Lexington were not great for 2019; he posted a 2-6 record with a 6.02 ERA with 7 HR. However, because we do not live in 1970, we have realized that ERA is not the best way to evaluate pitchers, let alone prospects. Looking at Morel’s K/9, it rose from 9.69 to 9.80 between his 2018 rookie ball season to his 2019 Low-A season, and his BB/9 stayed relatively steady, moving from 3.30 to 3.61. Further, some of his troubles can be accounted by the fact that he was BABIP’d to death, posting a .370 opposing average on balls put in play, and posted an astronomically high HR/FB rate, as almost 15% of the fly balls he generated left the park. 

While the latter can be concerning given that home runs are entirely in control of the pitcher, a 15% HR/FB rate for someone who can strikeout people as well as Morel is just confusing; I am going to be lenient and partially attribute it to small sample size. Further, the .370 BABIP was incredibly unlucky, as Morel’s young career shows that he is leaning toward being a ground ball pitcher (a career GB% of just above 50%). Considering this, that .370 BABIP absolutely should regress back toward a league average of .300 next year, meaning that Morel will put up much better base line stats. Even this year, he posted a 3.93 xFIP (xFIP adjusts FB/HR rates back to league average), showing how much his performance was skewed by luck and astronomical home run rates.

What excites me, however, are Morel’s comps, his scouting reports, and his age. Looking at a few comps within the system, I have a few disclaimers before presenting the data. First, decent stuff can fool a lot of lower level hitters and never work on the major league level. Second, a few of these are very small sample size of 10-25 IP at a certain level. Third, K/9 and BB/9 are certainly not everything, but they are decent evaluation metrics. Fourth, Brady Singer started in A+ ball, so it didn’t make sense to really include him.

Rookie Ball Low-A High-A
K/9 BB/9 K/9 BB/9 K/9 BB/9
Lynch 11.12 1.59 10.58 1.35 8.85 2.64
Bubic 12.55 4.50 14.16 2.83 9.74 2.39
Kowar N/A N/A 7.52 4.10 8.03 2.54
Morel 9.69 3.30 9.80 3.61 TBD TBD

What excites me here is that 3 college level pitchers are posting very similar numbers to a 17-18-year old Morel. The BB/9 is a little higher than I would like, but for a 19-year old going into hopefully A+ ball, there is still certainly time to work it out. However, there are concerns about whether these K and BB numbers can translate to a high level (as are with Bubic’s, given mediocre yet deceiving stuff can often fool a large part of lower level hitters).

Updated scouting reports are few and far between on Morel, as the majority of them are still listing him a 6’0” and 170 pounds. Baseball America rated his fastball as a 60-grade pitch, and Baseball Savant also lists him at this number and says he hits 94-96 MPH consistently (Savant’s report appears to have been written before the 2019 season). One of the original concerns from BA was that his slider was crude and unpolished, but Savant lists it as a 55 grade and sits at 83-84 MPH, which Alex Duvall backed up as well, saying the slider has great shape, spin, and velocity. Our Editor-In-Chief further voiced confidence in Morel’s changeup, which Savant graded at 55, and while Alex also went on to say that the changeup does not have to be very effective against RHH, the slider will serve as an excellent complement.

The biggest concern from all sides has been Morel’s control, as BA talks about his bouncing slider, and Baseball Savant rates his control at a 45/80. However, it is very clear that his slider has been improved from the outdated BA narrative, and we can only hope that translates to the rest of his game. One can only expect so much control from someone who spent almost the entire past season as an 18-year old, and we can reasonably expect him to continue to develop as he enters his age-19 season. His home run numbers are certainly concerning, but I am willing to write off some of those troubles as unlucky in a small sample size. 

The peripherals are great, and the tools are there for Morel. The pitch arsenal screams a similarity to Justus Sheffield, and their stature is relatively similar as well. Sheffield had the same control issues as a young prospect out of high school as well, but got by on his mid to low 80’s slider with a complementary change. Sheffield is a LHP whereas Morel is RHP, but they were too similar to ignore, and Morel even has a few ticks on his fastball over Sheffield.

As for an established pro player, Luis Severino is an excellent best-case-ever scenario. Currently standing as a 6’2” 215 pound RHP, he was signed as an international free agent at a young age like Morel. While he did not quite have the control problems that Morel has had, he posted extremely similar strikeout numbers in Low-A and a similar GB% throughout his career. Now his 96 MPH fastball, secondary 84 MPH slider and complementary changeup have cemented him as one of the better pitchers in baseball.

I am very excited about Morel. Let me repeat, very excited. Many of the scouting reports talk about a player who has a pretty high ceiling but is extremely risky, and I firmly believe we are beginning to see some of that risk fade while the ceiling stays the same.

Photo Credits: Doc Riddle (@TheGrandOldGame)

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