The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and unlike in 2020, this will be a twenty round draft — shorter than the forty rounds the draft has been in the most recent years prior to 2020, but longer than last year’s five round version. The Rangers’ top three picks are at #2, #38, and #73.
In the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks, looking both at players who are in the mix at #2 and players who would be candidates to be picked in the second or third rounds. Today we are looking at Pennsylvania high school pitcher Michael Morales.
Michael Morales is a righthanded pitcher out of East Pennsboro, Pennsylvania. He’s listed at 6’1’, 200 lbs. by Baseball America and 6’2”, 205 lbs. by MLB Pipeline, so take your pick as to which of those you want to believe, or split the difference between them. Morales is a little bit on the older side for a prep pitcher, as he turns 19 in August. Morales is slated to go to Vanderbilt if he doesn’t go pro this summer.
Morales falls more on the pitchability/polish end of the scale than the stuff end of the scale. He sits low 90s with his fastball, and BA says that his fastball “has good life to it, especially when he pitches up in the zone,” which would seem to suggest he’s a high spin rate four seamer guy.
Morales’s second best pitch is his curveball, which BA calls solid-average and which MLB Pipeline says is “plus...at its best.” Morales also has a changeup which sounds like is fairly advanced for a prep pitcher.
Morales also gets very good reviews for his delivery and arm action, with his arm action described as “loose” (which I have gleaned is a good thing) and the delivery as repeatable. MLB Pipeline says Morales “has a strong, athletic and durable body,” which is the sort of build that you are looking for in a potential starting pitcher.
The rankings are all over the place with Morales. Baseball America has Morales at #109 on their current top 500 draft list, down from #56 earlier this year. MLB Pipeline has Morales at #28 on their board. Kiley McDaniel slots Morales at #37 on his current board, however, while Keith Law has Morales as the #34 player in his draft rankings. On the other hand, Fangraphs doesn’t have Morales on their board at all.
None of the mock drafts I’ve seen from the major outlets have Morales going in the first round.
Morales will be an interesting guy to watch on draft day. The wide spread in his rankings on the various boards would seem to suggest that there are varying opinions on him throughout the industry, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him popped in the supplemental/compensatory first round, nor for him to not be drafted at all, particularly with the draft only going 20 picks this year.
Morales appears to have a similar profile to T.K. Roby, who the Rangers took in the 3rd round and signed to an above-slot deal in 2020. Roby was a righthander a little over six feet tall who threw a low-90s fastball with a high spin rate, a potentially plus curveball, a developing change up, and threw strikes. He had the overall build, delivery and repertoire that you want to see from a potential starting pitching prospect, and BA noted pre-draft that Roby was someone who could see his stock rise dramatically in college.
Morales is more highly regarded right now by the publications than Roby was at this time last year, but the overall picture is similar. He has a starter’s body and delivery, a three pitch mix with a fastball that plays up because of its spin rate, and the potential to make a big jump if he goes to college. Morales is a guy who you could see become a high first rounder in three years if he goes to Vanderbilt, but he could also very well stagnate and not develop.
The quote that jumps out to me about Morales is from Keith Law, who says, “you can put future 55 or 60 grades on all three pitches if you buy into his development.” If there are teams who see 55 or 60 FVs on all three of Morales’ pitches, I don’t think he’ll make it to campus, one of those teams will draft him and moneywhip him. Given the Rangers’ recent trends in evaluating high school pitchers, it would not surprise me at all if the Rangers are the team that does that.
I would wager Morales will be a tougher sign than Roby, who took $775K as a third round pick to forego a commitment to Troy. Slot money at #38, the Rangers second pick, is $1,952,300, and it may well take more than that to sign Morales. Late first round money is around $2.5M, while slot at #73 is $857,400. If the Rangers have several guys they are looking at at #2 they rate similarly, they could potentially over $1M off the $7,789,900 slot figure there, particularly if Boston at #4 ($6.664M slot) is locked in on Jack Leiter, and Baltimore at #5 ($6,180,700 slot) signals they are going under slot, as expected.
That plan would allow the Rangers to take someone in the third round that they can pay late first round money to, who otherwise wouldn’t be available at #73 and who wouldn’t sign for third round money. If the Rangers adopted such a strategy, there are likely several names they’d have in mind — you don’t put all your eggs in one basket if you do that — but Morales would seem to be someone who could be at the top of that list.