Is Franklin Morales a solid left-handed reliever, or is their a starter with serious potential hidden inside? After 2012, it's hard to say.
For those not aware of his history, Morales used to be a pretty big deal in the world of prospects. Ranked as the eighth best in the nation by Baseball America before 2008, Morales never made good on his potential in Colorado. His ERA spiked to 5.47 in his first season of Triple-A ball in Colorado Springs, and when he moved to Coors, things really fell apart. In 147 innings (15 starts, 87 relief appearances, Morales produced a disappointing 4.83 ERA, working neither as a reliever, nor a starter.
So it was that when Boston picked him up in 2011, it was effectively a scrap heap move to see what they couldn't get out of Morales to help a thin bullpen.
Well, Boston seems to have done him quite a bit of good. Maybe it's the lower elevation, or maybe it's the lack of fresh mountain air. One way or another, though, Morales was decent for the first time in years, seeing his ERA drop to 3.69 in the second half of the year before finding himself as, effectively, the setup man for the 2012 team early in the season.
Morales would take another step ahead, however, when the rotation ran through all of its depth in a hurry, and that's where things got confusing. Because for the first time since his run through the low minors, Morales took the mound as a starter and killed it.
The sample is certainly small, and it's frankly hard to remember now after the intervening months of misery, but backtrack to June and you'll find perhaps the single best month put up by a Red Sox starter this season. Morales only managed 25 innings in the five games he pitched. Ironically enough, though, it started by accident. On June third, Morales took over for Daniel Bard after his disaster start against Toronto and went 4.1 innings in relief, needing just 52 pitches to get there. He followed this up with three innings in relief of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and at that point it seemed to just make sense to take advantage of the impromptu stretching out and give him a shot.
The Sox were rewarded for their gamble with three amazing starts where Morales provided 18 innings of four-run ball, striking out 24 batters, walking three, and allowing 14 hits. He looked dominant.
The trouble is, though, that this didn't last. Morales was yanked from starting duty for one trip through the rotation, making just one strong-but-short relief apperance, and then found himself knocked around by New York when he returned three days later. He would stay in the bullpen until August, when his return to the rotation for a third time resulted in some mediocre outings and, eventually, injury.
The question, then, is whether this is a matter of Morales just being yanked around too much without having been properly prepared to start the season, or just a reliever looking like a reliever. The hope is, obviously, the former. While the Red Sox are not likely to enter the season depending on Morales, it wold be excellent to have him stretched out and ready to give it a shot as a swing-man. After seeing Morales pitch like he did at times last year, it's hard to pass up that potential given how many other bullets the Sox already have in the bullpen.