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Morales' stuff unimpressive so far

3/10/2008

The first of several dispatches from the Cactus League ...

&#8226; Franklin Morales' outing Sunday adds more trouble to the Rockies' growing pile of pitching woes. With Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh both sidelined with shoulder soreness and Luis Vizcaino out with elbow soreness, Colorado is more likely to need Morales to take one spot in its Opening Day rotation. Morales' stuff, however, is nowhere near what it was last season, when he was working at 94-97 mph with a toxic slider and earned the No. 8 spot in this year's ranking of the top 100 prospects in baseball. On Sunday, he worked at 86-91 mph, and dropped down to just 86-87 in the second inning before bouncing back with a few 90-91 mph fastballs in the third inning. He didn't throw his slider and threw just a few changeups, a pitch on which he's allegedly working but which still grades out as below-average. Making matters worse was his poor fastball command; he couldn't locate the pitch and couldn't just blow it by most hitters, although the Giants are a fortuitous opponent for a pitcher working without his best stuff. I spoke to a scout who'd seen Morales' prior outing, and he saw the same things I did. It's an ominous sign at a point in the spring when most pitchers are approaching their normal in-season velocity.

&#8226; Jayson Nix may be in line for the Rockies' starting second base job, but they'll be looking for an upgrade in short order. He's behind anything better than an average fastball and doesn't recognize breaking stuff well. His swing is long, and he tends to pull off the ball. In six full seasons in the minors, Nix has only hit well twice - in 2003 in the hitter-friendly California League, and last year as a repeater in Colorado Springs.

&#8226; Giants' fans are in for a long, ugly season. The team started nearly all of its projected regulars on Sunday against Morales and a JV Colorado squad -- Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, and Brad Hawpe all stayed home -- and lost 10-2, mustering just five hits and playing some uninspired baseball. The buyer's remorse may already be setting in with Aaron Rowand, who looks out of shape and didn't run out a two-out groundball in the first with a man on third. Ray Durham is a statue at second base. Other than Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, there aren't many reasons to go see the Giants this year; check back in 2010 when the fruits of the '07 draft start to trickle in.

&#8226; Brian Wilson was the best of the stream of Giant pitchers, and I like his chances to succeed as their closer this year. He pitched at 90-94, touching 96, with a sharp cutter with a late break and a solid-average changeup, although an observant hitter could pick up that last pitch as Wilson shortens his arm action slightly. The Giants are tailor-made for a lot of save opportunities, with a mediocre offense, two good starters, and a pitchers' park that should depress opponents' run totals.

&#8226; Longtime Giant prospect/suspect Erik Threets made an appearance. Threets is best known for hitting triple-digits and for hitting the disabled list; he's never appeared in more than 49 games in a season. He was surprisingly adequate in one inning of work, pitching at 93-95 and hitting 96 with his last pitch, but he doesn't have a second pitch.