Joey Morgan has one of the most interesting stories of any of the Detroit Tigers’ top prospects this season. Coming out of high school in 2014, he was rated the 303rd player in the draft class by Perfect Game and had committed to Oregon. The school had over-recruited catchers, though, and decided that Morgan was the odd man out. He was cut from the team and his athletic scholarship revoked.
Fortunately, he has managed to rebound in a big way. He had a solid career at the University of Washington, and was drafted by Detroit last summer. With such tremendous turnover in the Tigers' system over the past year or so, it would be easy to lose a player like Morgan in all the shuffle. As a glove-first catcher, he isn't the most exciting prospect in the system, but he adds much-needed depth at a premium position.
Following his fallout at Oregon, Morgan walked on at Washington, where he was slated to play second fiddle to Austin Rei. Shortly after the season started, an injury struck Rei, a top catching prospect. Morgan was thrust into a starting role. Transforming himself into Washington's best hitter over the course of his collegiate career, he landed a spot on the All-Pac-12 Team and was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist in 2017.
Detroit was impressed and took Morgan in the third round of the 2017 draft. “I was pumped when I heard the Tigers were interested,” he said to MLB.com, “just because I knew their history of developing catchers.” He played for the Short-Season Connecticut Tigers during his pro debut, hitting .250/.328/.321 for an even 100 wRC+ in 128 plate appearances.
Built like a prototypical catcher, Morgan is an able defender as a backstop. Scouts agree that he has above-average potential with the glove. The easy defensive actions and agile footwork Morgan bring to the table create a solid (if unspectacular) profile that promises a player who can stay behind the plate for the entirety of his career.
Not only are the standard aspects of Morgan's defense work above average, the secondary parts of his game also grade out well. He has a strong arm, and it is paired with quick release and accuracy. This ability was on full display during the 2017 college regular season, when he threw out 13 of 27 runners trying to steal.
Finally, this addition to the farm should be a breath of fresh air for followers of the system. The Tigers have had good success developing college catchers over the years but none of them have been very useful in the way of pitch framing (we're looking at you, James McCann). Fortunately, the scouts at 2080 Baseball seemed to like Morgan in that regard.
He can frame pitches well, and was comfortable handling high-velocity offerings (including Wladimir Pinto’s 96-mph fastballs), and he shifted well, with average range and blocking ability in this viewing.
This combination of skills creates a very high floor for Morgan. His development won’t be too quick because of his deficiencies at the plate (more on those in a moment). However, his glove and ability to work well with pitchers give him a strong shot at reaching the majors.
Morgan isn't an imposing presence at the plate. He may have been a pillar of the Huskies’ lineup in college, but scouts doubt that his batting ability will transfer well to pro ball. They give his contact ability a below average grade — MLB Pipeline said he was just a tick under, at 45 — and his power is thought to be even less impressive. Even if he develops well, he won't be in the middle of the order hitter in any lineup.
That said, Morgan doesn't need to be much of a masher to stick. Any catcher with his defensive acumen and a strong bat would be a top prospect. Fellow Tigers prospect Jake Rogers, one of the best defensive catchers in the entire minor leagues, just missed MLB.com's Top 100 list because he pairs his impressive defensive skills with raw power and an improving hit tool.
Unfortunately, because Morgan’s bat seems to be mediocre at best, his high floor is matched with a low ceiling. Like many a defense-first college prospect before him, he could reach the majors fairly easily. But it is unlikely he will be more than a bench piece playing every third or fourth game. While able backups are absolutely vital to a major league team, they don’t always make for exciting prospect write-ups.
Projected Team: Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps
After a smooth introduction to the professional ranks, the Tigers have no reason to keep Morgan in short-season ball. He is already 21 and has crushed collegiate competition, and should be pushed aggressively through the lower minors. If he performs well for the Whitecaps, don't be surprised to see him moved up to Lakeland midseason.