By Tommy Rancel
The Rockies are expected to start the season with closer Huston Street on the disabled list. Street has been battling shoulder stiffness this spring, and suffered a setback while playing catch on Tuesday. He underwent an MRI on Wednesday, and although the results were clean, he is likely too far behind on his throwing program to be ready by opening day.
Right-handers Rafael Betancourt and Manny Corpas would seem like obvious replacements, but both have issues of their own. Like Street, Betancourt has missed time with a shoulder issue this spring. Corpas, on the other hand, missed the second half of 2009 with a bone chip in his right arm.
More likely, the Rockies will turn to left-handed former starting pitching prospect Franklin Morales to fill in for Street. Most baseball fans remember Morales, 24, as a promising rookie starter on the 2007 National League championship team. He dealt with a back injury and inconsistency in 2008, and had a shoulder problem of his own in 2009. Once healthy, he rejoined the Rockies as member of the bullpen. When Street went on the DL in September with biceps tendinitis, Morales closed out six games in his absence.
He made 40 appearances last season (38 in relief) and had a league average-ish 4.50 ERA. He also saved seven games in eight chances. Despite the ho-hum ERA, Morales showed traits of a good relief pitcher.
In his brief time as a major league starter (72.2 innings), Morales had an unimpressive strikeouts per nine innings rate (K/9) of 5.4. Meanwhile, as a relief pitcher he struck out a batter per inning (32 strikeouts in 32 innings). He also allowed just one home run in 32 relief innings.
The knock on Morales has been control. In his major league career, he has a walks per nine innings rate (BB/9) of 4.6. In 2009, his BB/9 was over 5.0. While his control remains an issue, velocity is not. As a starter, Morales averaged low 90s on his fastball; as a reliever, he topped 93.0 mph, on average, in 2009.
Outside of his strikeout rate, Morales currently offers little to fantasy players. With a league average ERA and poor walk rates, his average draft position is just 335.5. That said, as a the potential closer on a promising team, those flaws become less relevant, and Morales becomes a serious late-inning target.
Grab Morales at the back end of your draft, especially in a deep NL-only league or a larger mixed league. Given Street’s injury history, as well as the medical and performance questions facing the rest of the bullpen, Morales presents the potential for some cheap save opportunities – and maybe more.
For more on Franklin Morales and other potential sleepers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.