Michael Morse – If you weren’t diligently following baseball around Y2K, Michael Morse is a name you probably weren’t aware of until the end of last year. However, had fantasy baseball and the internet been as big as it is now five or so years ago, Morse would have been just another Dallas McPherson.
Morse was a third round selection by the Chicago White Sox in 2000. He wouldn’t do anything overly impressive (unless you count getting slapped on the wrist with a 10-game suspension for using PEDs) until 2004, when he was 22 years old and split time between Seattle’s and Chicago’s AA affiliate.
Combined, he hit .281/.332/.505 with 17 HRs in just under 400 plate appearances. He had done so well for the White Sox that he was a somewhat major part of the Ben Davis/Freddy Garcia trade, which saw the White Sox part with Morse, Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed. Poor Jeremy Reed…
Morse began 2005 with the Mariners in AAA playing shortstop but his numbers fell off a cliff (.253/.317/.407). However, he made his major league debut and impressed (sort of), going .278/.347/.370 in 258 plate appearances (he did have a .341 BABIP).
The following year, he was again unsuccessful at AAA but surprisingly successful in the majors (.372/.396/.488), albeit in just 48 plate appearances. Unfortunately, his breakout was cut short by knee surgery on July 6.
He saw limited action in 2007 but tore the cover off the ball in spring training in 2008. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as five games into the season, Morse tore his labrum. He wouldn’t play in the majors for the Mariners again, as they traded him for Ryan Langerhans in 2009.
For his new team, the Nationals, he flashed a little power promise in a small sample at the major league level after mashing AAA for the first time in his career. Then, he took off at the end of 2010 and has continued mashing in 2011. Over the last two seasons, in 552 plate appearances, Morse has gone .297/.353/.538 with a 162-game average of 29 homers. Right now, ZiPS (U) has him pegged for just eight more bombs, however I don’t see why he can’t double his total and come close to 30. The only thing holding Morse back is health. I don’t see him as much different than David Ortiz from here on out.
Ryan Vogelsong – The Giants made Vogelsong a fifth round draft pick in 1998. Yes, way back then. He would show some promise in low ball as a 20- and 21-year-old; however would find times difficult in AA.
In his first stint at Shreveport, in just 28.1 IPs, he had a 1.94 WHIP and allowed 12.7 hits per nine innings and 4.8 BB/9. The following year in 155 IPs, he wasn’t much better (1.43 WHIP, 8.9 H/9 and 4 BB/9). However, throughout his early career, he did show the ability to strike batters out.
That didn’t stop the Giants from promoting him in 2001 to AAA, as a seasoned 23-year-old. It looked like the move paid off, as Vogelsong pitched some darn good innings (0.91 WHIP, 5.4 H/9 and 2.8 BB/9). He performed so well that he was part of the Jason Schmidt trade – along with Armando Rios, he was sent to Pittsburgh for Schmidt and John Vander Wal.
He didn’t pitch quit as well in AAA for the Pirates, but still did good things. He would start two games in the majors for the Pirates and perform horribly, but it was just six innings and then he needed Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get that taste of Pittsburgh for another year as he spent all of 2002 in the minors, not pitching particularly well while he was recovering. Finally, all the way back from surgery, Vogelsong spent all of 2004 in the majors. He appeared in 31 games, 26 as a starter, and allowed 10 hits per nine IPs, 4.5 BB/9 and only struck out 6.2 batters per nine.
That was it for him as a starter for the Pirates. He’d appear in 64 games over the next two seasons and not exhibit much promise. After 2006, he played in Japan for three years and came back stateside in 2010 to pitch poorly for the Angels and Phillies in AAA. Then the Giants signed him in 2011. He pitched incredibly well in just 11.1 AAA innings, and with a little luck, got the call. Since then he has done nothing but be exceptional: 2.67 BB/9, 7.3 K/9, i.e. a 2.74 K:BB rate. He has allowed only 66 hits in 77.2 IPs. Sure, he’s been the benefit of some good bounces (83.1% strand rate and .262 BABIP), but he has allowed only a 17.8% line drive rate and is racking up the ground balls (45.2%).
You can flip a coin between his performance and Chris Carpenter rest of the way. I’ll take Vogelsong, as a final line will look a lot like: 3.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 7.30 K/9. What a story.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Remember way back to 2010 when some fantasy baseball writers thought Ellsbury was easily a top 10 performer? You don’t? Was your memory erased by his putrid .192/.241/.244 line with just seven steals?
While a lot of that had to do with a crippling early injury, Ellsbury was a bit of a black sheep heading into 2011. I wanted to like him, I just didn’t want to be ridiculed again. Well, I do own him everywhere – I really thought his sixth round price tag was a steal. He now sits with a .296/.357/.450 line with nine homers and 25 steals. Carl Crawford, eat your heart out.
Realistically, what I saw in Ellsbury pre-2010 was the ability to put up prolific SB numbers while profiling to add high teens HRs. I see virtually nothing to suggest his career year will not continue for years to come. He could push 20 HRs and 50 SBs, he’ll likely fall short of both, but when we think about “this year’s Carlos Gonzalez” it has to be Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ian Kennedy – Unlike most ball players, things started out rosy for Kennedy, the 21st overall pick in 2006. He acquitted himself quite well in his first season in the minors in 2007: 1.91 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 5.6 H/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 10 K/9 across A, AA and AAA ball. In 34.2 innings at AAA, he struck out 34 batters and walked just 11. He earned the call to the major league squad and pitched a darn impressive 19 innings, including winning his major league debut.
Unfortunately, baseball is never that kind. His beginning to 2008 in the majors went horrible. After his start on May 27, he had a 7.41 ERA and was placed on the DL. After coming off the DL, he was dispatched to the minor leagues, where he again dominated.
Then, at the beginning of the 2009 season, Kennedy was diagnosed with an aneurysm under his right armpit (gross) and had surgery in May. Between the majors and minors, he’d get just 23 innings in. Then, in December, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his 310.2 IPs for the DBacks, Kennedy has a 3.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 7.5 H/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 7.7 K/9 rates. After allowing a .256 average on balls in play last year, Kennedy is at it again with a .264 mark this year.
While his line drive rate is slightly elevated this year, his ground ball rate has gone up with it and his walk rate has gone down. I don’t think he’ll flirt with a sub-3.00 ERA all year, but he should sit comfortable around 3.25 with a very palatable WHIP and at least 70 more Ks.