When we were talking amongst ourselves about our pre-season Top 25 prospect list, one of the last cuts for us was Jonathan Morales. Selected in the 25th round of the 2015 draft, Morales was clearly not a heralded prospect out of Miami Dade College. However, after an impressive workout right before the draft where he displayed power as well as a very real defensive tools including quick pop-up times and a good arm, the Braves pulled the trigger and successfully signed him.
After a strong showing in the GCL with the bat after he slashed .304/.377/.511 with seven homers in 46 games, he caught the eye of talent evaluators and his performance led the Braves to promote him to full-season ball in 2016 at Rome. Thus far, the move has paid massive dividends for Morales and the Rome Braves as Morales has hit .421/.421/.500 through the season's first nine games while showing some promise as a receiver as well.
We were fortunate enough to see Morales for a couple of games live during the opening weekend in Rome as well as several games via the magic of MiLB.tv, so here is our first look at him in terms of a scouting report.
Jonathan Morales - Hitter
Tool Grades (Present): Bat - 50, Power - 45, Run - 40
I'm going to avoid dwelling on 20-80 scale grades too much in this first pass of scouting, especially on players like Morales who are just starting their first year of full season ball. We are ultimately working off of very small sample sizes from this season where we were actually able to watch players and then rookie ball has the typical "scouting the stat line" concerns. Its highly likely we will be re-evaluating all of these tool grades as we gather more information during the season.
Jonathan Morales has a smooth, line drive swing with good, but not elite bat speed. Despite his woeful walk numbers to start the year (zero thus far), he does have a good approach at the plate working counts and choosing a pitch to drive. His rookie ball numbers seem to reinforce that he does have the ability to draw a walk while continuing to not strike out much.
One thing we noticed is that Morales does not try to do too much once he commits to a pitch. Despite a relatively high front kick, he does well to keep his hands back and not over-swing. This has led to a lot of singles in the early going this year, but the doubles are starting to drop now. We saw the same thing last year where he debuted in June but did not hit his first home run until the end of the July. As he become more accustomed to pitching at this level, the power could very well return.
Speaking of that power, starting on July 30th last year, Morales had a month where he totaled all 7 of his home runs in the GCL. Whether or not that has to do with getting accustomed to the league or simply just getting warmed up a bit, he does have some game day power and displays a fair bit of pop in batting practice as well. Once he shows some of that power, teams may be less inclined to pitch to him as much as they have been thus far which should help his walk numbers.
Morales is not a speedster, but is quite athletic. He played shortstop, second, and third base during his time at Miami Dade as well so he has some quickness. That said, don't expect to many stolen bases from him, but he is not going to embarrass anyone on the basepaths either.
Jonathan Morales - Catcher
Tool Grades: (Present) Arm - 55, Field - 50
Morales may actually be better than these grades give him credit for, but we are accounting for the 11 passed balls he suffered in rookie ball a bit here. First, as a receiver, his leadership qualities and ability to manage the game are very impressive despite his limited experience in pro ball. He makes good adjustments in game based on what is working for his pitchers and, more important, what isn't. His pitchers are quick to point out the same thing and have quickly learned not to doubt Morales as he is usually right.
Despite his issues with passed balls last year, Morales has looked quite good behind the plate thus far. His pitch framing has been pretty good, with several "stolen strikes" from when we saw him live. He has a very quick pop-up and throw (which was 1.8 seconds or so when he worked out before the draft and seems right for his present state) and a strong accurate arm. He still needs some work on blocking balls in the dirt, but he certainly isn't deficient there.
One thing he does seem to have a knack for is always trying to get an out. Whether that be on pickoffs to first to pitch outs, he seems to be acutely aware of the runners on base and helping his pitchers manage them.
Overall, he has the makings of a really good defensive catcher with the tools he possesses and the fact that he seems to command the respect of his staffs.
To be frank, we were loathed to leave him off our Top 25 list to begin with, but with the acquisitions in the Shelby Miller trade as well as the emergence of players like Ronald Acuna, he just barely missed the cut primarily due to not playing above the GCL. Its clear that the Braves think a lot of him and that they have two really good catching prospects in Rome this year with Morales as well as Lucas Herbert.
Herbert may have the higher ceiling with his defensive skills, leadership, and pop, but there is no question in our minds that Jonathan Morales' ceiling may not be much lower and he is the more advanced player at this point. He is currently one of the hottest players in the Braves' system and before long, he could move up quickly in a system that is really rather devoid of real catching prospects.
Given that Morales was a 25th round pick in the draft last year in combination with how many of the other draftees from that class are doing (Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Austin Riley, Patrick Weigel, Ryan Lawlor, Justin Ellison, Chase Johnson-Mullins, and Sean McLaughlin just to name a few), the 2015 draft could go down as one of the best the Braves have had in a long, long time.