At the end of August Mike Morse was moved by the Washington Nationals form first base to the outfield to make room for prospect Chris Marrero. Since then, the rookie has had a solid MLB debut, posting a .280/.305/.333 line in 21 games, however he hasn’t quite done enough to inspire Nats fans to believe that the former first round pick will play a significant role in the team’s future.
One thing that has stuck out for sure though, is that since the move from first base to left field, veteran Mike Morse has struggled. And while it’s just a 15 game sample, his poor performance offensively when playing in the outfield is becoming a bigger and bigger trend.
As we posted in July, Mike Morse’s dramatic offensive turn around can be stemmed directly back to when he switched from left field to first base. In 22 games in April while playing in the outfield he hit just .224/.267/.284 with one home run. In his next 85 games at first base he hit a roaring .336/.401/.601 with 19 home runs, and quickly became one of the more valuable hitters in the game.
Since the Marrero's promotion however, Morse has gone from a batting title contender to a cleanup hitter struggling to keep his season batting average above .300. Unfortunately, in 15 games in September he has hit just .197/.246/.393 while playing almost exclusively in the outfield.
Of course, Morse hit well while playing in the outfield last season, and this spring straining when he earned the starting left field spot, but for some reason this season he just can’t get it going outside of the infield. We’ve hypothesized that playing first base allows him to keep his head in the game more, which can have an effect at the plate. We often see when sluggers turn into designated hitters they have trouble making the transition because they are not used to sitting out defensive play. Morse, a former shortstop, may very well just play better when he is in the infield.
The only reason this matters going forward is that the club needs to figure out their first base situation going into 2012. Right now they have Marrero, a player they’ve invested a great deal of time into as a prospect. They have Adam LaRoche, a player who they’ve invested a great deal of money in to play the position through next year, and they have Morse, a player who they have invested little in but have received amazing returns.
To me, I would say it makes the most sense to not mess with a good thing and keep Morse at first base. Even with his poor numbers in the outfield this year he has hit an impressive .302 with 27 home runs and 86 RBI, which is likely more than you can ever expect from Marrero or LaRoche, even in their best seasons.
The only question then that would remain, is what do we do with the 23 year old prospect, and the over the hill, over paid LaRoche?
They never should have moved him to the outfield, he came up as an infielder...just show him some respect! He earned the right to play 1st and compete with the other big boys at that position for batting titles...poor decision!
The Nats will be stuck with LaRoche next season. Even if he puts up a phenomenal Spring, the injury and price tag will make others want to wait until they seem him in the regular season before committing to a trade. Furthermore, the Nats will have to each a good portion of his salary.
More than likely, Morse will start in LF, LaRoche at 1B and Marrero in Triple-A. His left field stats this year are more than likely the result of pressure at the start of the season, and psychology in September. I think he is worrying about the move a little too much himself and letting it shake is confidence. I doubt it will be much of a problem next year.
Hopefully the team can move LaRoche early in the season in order to promote Marrero. This will give the team a good long look at Marrero to see how he plays during a more meaningful stretch. This is important because of the impending promotion of Bryce Harper. If the Nats get a CF in the offseason, that locks up two outfield positions and leaves Morse without a spot when Harper gets the call in late 2012 or 2013. At this point, the team will have to commit to either Morse or Marrero at 1B based on the numbers they've put up.
@szul I agree. I still don't think Marrero has what it takes to be an above average first baseman in the MLB though. Even at the age of 23 he has failed to show advanced power.
LaRoche is an immovable object but if a major market team finds themselves desperate (St. Louis, or even Milwaukee), it could happen.
@WillyYoder I don't think Marrero will put up the power numbers that everyone wants him to, but if he hits for a high average (.280+) and plays solid defense, I'll take it.
Of course, Harper in LF and Morse at 1B could be the real answer. In any event, Spring Training will be interesting this year. It's good to finally have a position that might be overloaded with talent.
@WillyYoder You are correct, and unfortunately this perception comes from trend analysis. The Nats don't need to find a 1B that hits for power like Fielder or Howard. They need a 1B that fits into their puzzle design for a championship team. If this ends up being a power-hitting 1B or not, only Rizzo and the front office really know, but if Zimmerman is hitting 30 HR a year, Werth goes back to being Werth and Espinosa straightens out his average while continuing to hit for power (not to mention Harper's eventual emergence), do they really need to focus on power at first? I'm not so sure.
@szul The problem is, production like that isn't acceptable for a first baseman in today's game. If you look at the type of numbers LaRoche usually puts up .280 batting average 25 home runs, that's good for other positions, but for first base its bottom of the barrel