Adrian Morejon: Padres Fifth Starter?

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The San Diego Padres put together an extremely flashy offseason in the field, but they’ve been much more under the radar when it comes to the mound.

San Diego signed Seth Lugo as a rotation/bullpen option while agreeing on deals with free agents Robert Suarez and Nick Martinez. However, the departures of Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger open up a pair of spots in the rotation. Lugo and Martinez will likely have chances to compete for a chance to start, but another strong option is Adrian Morejon.

Morejon came into the 2021 season as San Diego’s fifth starter, but his season ended on April 11, when a left forearm injury forced the left-handed to undergo Tommy John surgery. It was a heartbreaker for Morejon, who looked as if he was primed for a breakout year. Instead, he was knocked out until June of 2022. When he returned, his rotation spot was gone, sending him to the bullpen.

Morejon pitched well in 34 innings, posting a 4.24 ERA and a 3.88 FIP across his 26 appearances. He had a pair of terrible performances, where he allowed a combined eight runs and recorded just one total out. Those outliers aside, he had an ERA south of three. That’s a major reason why Padres’ fans have optimism that he could play a crucial part in San Diego’s starting rotation. 

The southpaw uses a four-pitch mix, throwing his fastball, which sits around 97 miles per hour 70% of the time. He also brings a curveball and a slider, which he uses 13% of the time. His change-up is used only sparingly, but he can rely on his fastball so much due to its impressive nature. He ranks in the 96th percentile for fastball spin and 92nd percentile for fastball velocity (Baseball Savant).

He used his fastball under 60% of the time before the Tommy John surgery, but his approach changed in 2022. The prominence of the fastball helped Morejon produce an impressive .418 xSLG (expected slugging percentage) and a career-best .285 wOBA (weighted on-base average). 

Padres Adrian Morejon

However, there is still plenty to be concerned about. Morejon hasn’t pitched more than 40 innings since 2018, and he’s never thrown more than 70 innings in his career. He showed a tendency to let innings get away from him, sending rough performances into disastrous outings in a blink of an eye. That became excruciatingly clear on the biggest stage when Morejon surrendered four runs without recording an out in the second game of the 2022 NL Wild Card.

Nick Martinez’s decision to miss the World Baseball Classic in order to prepare as a starter, along with his previous success in the role, makes it seem extremely likely that he’ll get the fourth spot in the rotation. However, Lugo hasn’t started a game since 2020 and become a prime reliever over his career. Morejon, who came through the minor leagues as a starter, could be a better candidate for the rotation. It’s extremely unlikely that San Diego would allow Morejon to pitch much more than 100-150 innings, but he could absolutely enter the season as part of the rotation before moving to the bullpen down the stretch.

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It’s a big year for Morejon, who is arbitration eligible in 2024. He’ll have a chance to show that he can be a reliable starter at the MLB level for the first time, but if he cannot, he may be resigned to work out of the bullpen permanently.

The Padres, who are short on starting pitching, would love nothing more than to see Morejon step into his full potential in 2023. His battle for a rotation spot will be one of the biggest storylines in Peoria.

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