A six-year journey through the Phillies‘ minor league system finally yielded the outcome reliever Francisco Morales was looking for: a call-up. With multiple pitchers on the big league roster contracting covid and a road matchup starting in Seattle, a promotion like this was necessary.
The Origin Story
The Venezuelan product was signed as an international free agent by the Phillies in July 2016 at the ripe age of 16. The acquisition was relatively cheap at $720,000 in the form of a signing bonus as he has yet to gain a base salary. Four years prior to this move, Ranger Suarez was signed for $25,000 out of Venezuela. Suarez blanked the Mariners over six innings of work, tacking on seven strikeouts and four hits in Philadelphia’s dominant 9-0 victory. Seeing production like this from a pitching staff that has struggled over recent years puts hope back in the hearts of fans and coaches alike.
Morales spent the first two seasons of his career between Low-A and High-A ball before getting a shot with the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in 2021. After two starts, he was sent down to finish the remainder of the season with the Reading Fightin’ Phils and started the 2022 season there as well. It was clear that struggles were mounting for him in the starting role, so after spring training, he was moved to the bullpen. A role that ultimately turned his career around and played into his strengths.
He elected to change his pitching stance from the windup to the stretch, which has allowed him to gain more control over his pitches. Speaking of pitches, his repertoire consists of a fastball, slider, and changeup, with the latter pitch being discarded to simplify his game. His fastball topped off at 99 mph in spring training, and his slider was up there too, topping off at 91 mph.
In the Phillies’ Monday night’s victory, Morales recorded scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth innings, walked one, and struck out three. The 22-year-old young star threw 24 pitches total between the two innings, with 16 of those being sliders and the remaining eight as fastballs. Three months ago, he was just an ordinary international prospect with struggles galore, and now, he’s shown that he has what it takes to stay in the big leagues.
The setup to this performance can be traced back to the start of the 2022 season with Reading, when he put up 16 1/3 innings of relief with just six hits and one run surrendered. To add icing on the cake, he managed to surrender only six walks and maximized his strikeouts with 28. That strikeout total is the most he’s recorded through at least 15 IP in his minor league career.
Phillies director of pitching development, Brian Kaplan, stated that “he’s leaning into what he’s always been good at” when asked about the progress of Morales in the relief role. Something that could have easily been seen as a demotion in younger ballplayers’ eyes was not active in this case as Morales used his tools and built a more solid foundation in relief. Many players make transitions to new positions while they’re still in the minors or, in other circumstances, in the majors, too (Kris Bryant is a prime example of this).
With a strong statement made in Game 1, it seems “moral es good” in the Phillies clubhouse as they look to continue rolling through Seattle. Game 2 is set for a 9:40 pm start time tonight with Aaron Nola (1-3, 3.38) taking the mound for Philly and reigning Cy Young Award-winner Robbie Ray (2-3, 4.38) on the bump for Seattle.