Welcome to the second installment of Fifty Prospects In Fifty Days! Today we’ll look at a couple of 2016 Rome teammates who have had some up-and-downs in 2017.
44. Jonathan Morales, C
Age: 23 | Bats: R
.219/.268/.272 | 56 wRC+ | 3 HR | 1 SB | 5.4% BB | 14.8% K
Final 2017 Assignment: Class AA – Mississippi
Acquired: Draft – 2015 – 25th Round
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking : 37
History: An unheralded low-round pick in the 2015 draft, Morales showed a strong bat in the Gulf Coast League in 2015 and for Rome in the 2016 season as well as improving defensive skills. Morales was assigned to the high-A Florida Fire Frogs to begin the 2017 season and got off to a good start, hitting .295/.345/.372 over the first month of the season. Unfortunately Morales went into a deep slump and was only hitting .253/.300/.304 when he was moved up to AA Mississippi to make room for catcher Brett Cumberland, who had been destroying South Atlantic League pitching and needed a new challenge.
Morales’s hitting fell off a cliff at the new level as he hit only .169/.221/.223 in 143 plate appearances and he played the definite second fiddle behind first Kade Scivicque, then Alex Jackson when Scivicque was promoted to AAA and Jackson moved up from high-A in late July.
Offense: Morales possesses good hands and makes regular contact. Unfortunately, a good chunk of that contact was into the ground, especially once he moved up to AA where his groundball rate was a woeful 61.3%. Morales displayed a good line-drive oriented stroke with Rome in 2016, but this season he had a tough time staying back on the ball and often tried to flick the head of the bat while off-stride at breaking pitches just to get them in play. This lead to many weak grounders back to the pitcher or to second base. I believed Morales could be a source of some over-the-fence pop after last season with just a little more bat speed, but Morales went backwards in that as well, and he only hit 1 home run in his final 172 plate appearances of the season.
Defense: Morales didn’t start catching until his junior year of college, but he and Braves coaches have worked to make Morales an overall above average receiver. Morales has a very strong arm and improved footwork has helped him to a 36% caught stealing rate. Morales gets high marks in pitch calling and framing, but still has some work on blocking and making good decisions with the ball. Morales worked some at first base while with Mississippi in order to keep him getting steady plate appearances; he’s athletic for a catcher and was competent at first if uncertain at times.
What’s Next: The Braves were very excited by Morales after the 2016 season, but in many ways 2017 was a lost season at the plate. Morales will need to completely re-work his approach to regain the offensive promise he showed in rookie ball and at Rome. In the meantime, his good work behind the plate will keep him on a roster to see if he can get it figured out, though there are several strong catching prospects pushing their way up that could potentially leave Morales on the outside looking in at the organizational depth chart. Look for Morales to return to AA Mississippi.
43. Leudys Baez, OF
Age: 21 | Bats: R
.300/.353/.498 | 134 wRC+ | 6 HR | 2 SB | 7.2% BB | 23.8% K
Final 2017 Assignment: Class A Rome
Acquired: International Amateur Free Agent – 2014
Midseason 2017 OFR Ranking : 87
History: Baez was one of the first international amateur signings by the post-Frank Wren front office, using international bonus pool slots acquired from the Chicago Cubs for infielder Tommy La Stella. Baez was originally signed by the Washington Nationals, but the team was forced to release him after an undisclosed irregularity with his signing was made know to MLB. Due to his delayed start, Baez was sent directly to Danville for his pro debut in 2015 and proceeded to hit well, going .311/.331/.473 in 33 games before getting a quick promotion to Rome. That jump turned out to be a rockier one, and Baez finished the 2015 season hitting .206/.232/.318 with Rome.
Baez was assigned back to Rome to open the 2016 season, sharing time in a crowded outfield that also included Ronald Acuna, Ray-Patrick Didder, Justin Ellison, and Bradley Keller. Baez continued to struggle against SAL pitching, hitting only .228/.298/.286 until a scary knee injury suffered on August 2 while chasing down a fly ball on wet turf ended his season. Baez tore several ligaments in his knee and required reconstructive surgery.
Baez returned to the field for Danville in 2017 and once again mastered that level, hitting .340/.415/.585 while showing that his knee was sound. Baez returned to Rome for his third tour of duty with the team, finishing the season hitting a respectable .268/.302/.431
Offense: A switch-hitter, Baez has to date shown far better ability hitting left-handed, and it’s not even close which raised the question of how beneficial switch hitting is for the young Dominican. From the left side, Baez has a quick but powerful stroke and good hands. Baez has plus raw power, and the ball cracks when Baez is able to lay good wood on it. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen as often as he would like. While there was a noticeable improvement this year, Baez has not exhibited good pitch recognition or strike zone judgement, which severely curtails his offensive game. Before the knee injury, Baez had above average speed and while there doesn’t seem to be any appreciable lingering affects, he’s probably an average runner at this point, and was never a prolific basestealer in the first place.
Defense: Baez is an above average defender at both outfield corners. He generally takes good routes and makes good decisions. He has an above average and accurate arm. He played some centerfield in 2015, but any chance of him getting significant looks there likely evaporated after his knee injury.
What’s Next: Baez is a perennial tease with his plus power and all-round above average tools, and he demonstrated enough improvement at the plate in 2017 to put him back on the prospect map for the Braves. Further refinements to his offensive game in Rome wouldn’t be out of order, but the push of other outfielders up from the rookie leagues may see Baez off to the Florida Fire Frogs to begin the season.