Adrian Morejon quandary finally solved by Padres?

Padres Adrian Morejon


The short URL of the present article is:
Spread the love
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The San Diego Padres 2016 international class was the last of its kind, and eight years removed from then, only one of those is actively on the team.

While the Padres’ ability to develop their prospects has at times been questioned, it seems they have finally found a role for one certain signee from 2016.

Adrian Morejon has had a push-and-pull pro career. Signed to the largest signing bonus the Padres gave out that signing period, Morejon was slowed by injuries during his time in the minors. The arm talent was undeniably there, but he was only able to make a combined 43 starts at the minor league level between 2017 & 2019. During a time when he was between two and three years younger than the average player at his respective minor league stops, Morejon posted a 3.77 ERA across 164.1 professional innings before his call-up in 2019.

Called up in 2019 to aid a righty-heavy bullpen configuration, Morejon pitched in five games. As a 20-year-old debuting at the Major League level, Morejon’s numbers do not look particularly great: a 10.13 ERA across eight innings. However, most of such damage came in his last two outings of the season. While it was a small sample size, a 21.5% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate, and 3.71 FIP posted a better picture.

However, his season would come to a premature end in August when he was placed on the injured list with a shoulder impingement. While he had regained some health in the shoulder by September, the Padres did not want to rush him back from injury, shutting him down for the year on September 4, 2019.

Entering 2020, Morejon was on the Padres’ 60-man player pool, initially assigned to their alternate training site. However, with their starting rotation going through struggles, the Padres called him up on August 18. Used as a starter and bulk reliever, Morejon had a 4.66 ERA/5.93 FIP in 19.1 innings, although most of the damage came in his last two outings of the season.

With the team short on arms entering the playoffs, Morejon was included on the playoff roster and pitched well in the N.L. Wild Card series, prompting then-manager Jayce Tingler to tab him as the starter for Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. The 21-year-old went two-plus innings, clearly working on a pitch count, allowing three runs on two hits, walking two, and punching out two. While the season did not end the way the team would have wanted, it represented a significant development for the left-hander.

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

2021 was intended to be a big step forward for the left-hander, as he made the opening day starting rotation due to an injury to Dinelson Lamet. This opportunity would be short-lived, unfortunately. Morejon would leave his second start of the year after three batters faced with a forearm/elbow strain. This ominous diagnosis led to a more ominous outcome: Tommy John surgery. With the 12-16 month recovery time, Morejon was now out until 2022. The loss of an arm like Morejon would eventually come to be one notable loss, as the lack of starting pitching depth would be the undoing of the 2021 Padres season.

Returning in June of 2022, Morejon would miss time upon his return due to Covid, but he would remain on the roster from mid-July to the end of the season, used out of the bullpen to preserve his arm health. He started his 2022 campaign strong, posting a 3.00 ERA & 3.11 FIP from June to August. While Morejon had a difficult September, his early season performances and the late-season struggles of Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger led the team to include Morejon on the playoff roster. He only pitched in two games that postseason, surrendering four runs against the Mets but holding the Phillies scoreless in an inning of work.

2023 was set to be a crossroads for the left-hander. He had pitched well out of the bullpen, but the Padres still believed in him as a starter. The Padres’ organization hoped his performance would allow them to make a decision. However, as we’ve seen with his career trajectory, injuries would play a role in his trajectory. Morejon came down with shoulder inflammation in spring training, He missed time from March to June before being activated and optioned on June 6th. Returning to the big leagues in late June, he pitched nine innings across eight games (including one three-inning start). However, be it a result of the early season injury or a lack of zip on his fastball, Morejon posted a 7.00 ERA and 4.59 FIP before departing his final outing with a knee injury. His time in the minors in 2023 wasn’t great either, even for Pacific Coast League standards.

Entering 2024, Morejon’s career had been defined by injuries despite incredible potential. He had never thrown more than 65.1 innings in a season and had a history of injuries that included:
2019: Shoulder impingement
2021: Tommy John surgery
2022: Left shoulder inflammation
2023: Left elbow sprain, right knee strain
Not many players receive opportunities with the same team after this sort of injury history, but the Padres still believed Adrian Morejon had something left to prove. Even Morejon could see that faith, as he told the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Bryce Miller in Spring Training, “Any time I’ve had an injury, they’ve shown faith in me, confidence in me that I’d be able to get back.”

Having dived into the particulars of Morejon’s career heading into the season, some of the particulars resembled the careers of pitchers past. In terms of career paths and injury histories, two comparisons come to mind: Former major leaguers Andrew Miller and Jason Isringhausen.

I'd like this amount to  

Isringhausen was a highly touted prospect for the New York Mets in the early 1990s, part of the young crop of Mets prospects dubbed “Generation K.” However, Isringhausen would be slowed by elbow, shoulder, and wrist injuries between 1995-98. While he debuted as a starting pitcher for the Mets, by the time he was eligible for salary arbitration, he was cautiously used primarily as a relief pitcher before being traded from the Mets.

Miller was also a former highly touted prospect at the time of his major league debut, and he made 66 starts between 2006-2011 but posted a 5.70 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in the role. Despite the mediocre results, Miller’s stuff had always been praised by evaluators and people around the league. In his first full year out of the bullpen, Miller recorded a 3.35 ERA & 3.17 FIP across 40.1 innings. Both Miller and Isringhausen were able to find success pitching out of the bullpen after their disastrous tenures as starters early in their careers. Both pitchers were also touted for their pitch mixes out of the bullpen, with Miller’s fastball-slider combination being one of the most lethal in the game during the mid-2010s.

So, how does this relate to Adrian Morejon? Well, in 2024, having Morejon pitch exclusively as a reliever has made his fastball-slider combination play up. Furthermore, when facing left-handed batters, he has held them to a .132/.186/.158 slash line, culminating in an OPS of .344 against him. Right-handed batters have registered a .757 OPS against him, which is slightly above league average.

Despite this, right-handed batters are reaching base against him at a below-average on-base percentage of .328. Is there still room for him to improve? Of course. But posting a 2.00 ERA and 1.56 FIP, paired with a 29.1% strikeout rate and 6.4% walk rate is certainly a welcome development. Even with these incredibly solid numbers, there are some that indicate his results will only improve. Morejon has posted these results despite a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) above the league average, his being a .324 against the MLB average .300 rate.

When evaluating Morejon as a player since his debut in 2019 and having seen the possibilities of his stuff in the bullpen in 2020 & 2022, the Miller comparison was one that couldn’t be overlooked. Now that Morejon is in the bullpen and pitching multiple innings in several outings, making batters look lost at the plate, it is possible that he is able to fulfill his potential at the Major League level, albeit in a different role than he and the Padres organization had initially envisioned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *