How did Michael Morse escape notice until now? It's funny how you can pour over every box score every day and still have players crop up that you never heard of before. Until Michael Morse started hitting moon shots so often in this 2011 Spring Training season for the Nationals, I had never heard of that guy. And that's really odd because he had 293 plate appearances last year. It's not like he played a game or two and I just didn't catch it. The odds of this guy playing 98 games without me noticing seem astronomical. And yet there it is.
The only reason I discovered this obvious blind spot was because after all his homers this spring, I wanted to check out his minor league numbers to see if this was some sort of fluke. But not only has Michael Morse played 98 major league games in 2010, he has appeared in 138 games spanning the five seasons before that! Golly. That IS a blind spot.
So how did he do in those 98 games last year and is this big spring power surge some kind of spring anomaly? Well, his slash line last year for the Nationals was .289/.352/.519. Those aren't pumpkin numbers. Those are good numbers! He hit fifteen homers last year. Again, how did I miss that? Morse has enough at bats over those six partial seasons to have one full season with 685 plate appearances. He has a 117 career OPS+. That's highly interesting!
The only reason I know him now was that I watched a Nationals spring game on MLB.tv and he hit this massive opposite field homer. Whoa! I thought. And I also thought he looked huge. He looks as big as a linebacker and as big as Jose Canseco and Mike Piazza looked when they were playing. So my first guess was that he's always been a first baseman. Wrong again! This huge guy played major league shortstop in 57 games! Well, he was standing out there at least because his fielding metrics from those 57 games are awful. But still. Who would put a huge guy like that out and short? He's also played nine major league games at third and 100 in the outfield. He wasn't particularly good in either one of those places either. But in his limited time at first base, obviously where he belongs, he's played that position 37 times and has good fielding metrics there.
What else is there to know about Michael Morse? He's just about to turn 29 and was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, one of my favorite places on earth. He was drafted out of high school in the third round of the 2000 draft by the Chicago White Sox. So this Morse guy has been hammering away at pro ball for a decade. In 2004, the White Sox traded him to the Seattle Mariners along with Miguel Olivo and Jeremy Reed for Freddie Garcia and Ben Davis. Morse got his first taste of the majors with Seattle. He was then traded by the Mariners to the Nationals in 2009 for Ryan Langerhans. It appears the Nationals got the better end of that deal.
Morse has spent parts of ten seasons in the minor leagues including parts of five years in Triple A. He seems to be one of those weird players who has gotten better with each step up he took in the minors. He played the bulk of his bulk at shortstop during those years. But this guy is definitely not a shortstop. His total career numbers in the minors are not impressive and include a .771 OPS. But his OPS is .814 in Triple A. He batted over .300 for four years in a row in Triple A until last year when he fell off to .254. But it was last year that the Nationals called him up and gave him quite a bit of playing time. Interestingly, his minor league numbers do not show the kind of power he is exhibiting now.
All he is doing in this spring (remember these stats are meaningless) is batting .429/.436/.914 with five homers in 35 at bats. He's only struck out four times but he's only walked twice. Patience at the plate is not one of his talents. Based on his 98 games last year and his performance this spring, it seems impossible that the Nationals would head north without him. Not bad for a guy a boxscore-junkie like me somehow never noticed before.