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2011 Rockies Player Reviews: The Traded Relievers, Franklin Morales and Bruce Billings

Once thought to be a better prospect than Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales ended his Rockies career in 2011 having thrown less innings in Colorado than Esmil Rogers.
Once thought to be a better prospect than Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales ended his Rockies career in 2011 having thrown less innings in Colorado than Esmil Rogers.

It is difficult to find two home grown pitchers more different than Franklin Morales and Bruce Billings.

The former is an erratic Venezuelan southpaw, the rare type that lives in the mid to upper nineties with the fastball. He peaked as Baseball America's #8 overall prospect less than four years ago, when he was more highly regarded than Ubaldo Jimenez. At just 25 years old, 2011 represented his fifth MLB season.

Bruce Billings made his MLB debut in 2011, though he is actually two months older than Morales. He rose through the minors with little fanfare as a starting pitcher, selected in the 30th round in 2007.

Despite their vast differences, Morales and Billings shared remarkably similar 2011 paths. Both had been converted to relievers with Colorado, though Morales made the transition after debuting as a starter. Both men pitched sparingly in Colorado before being shipped out in trades that barely registered a blip on the ESPN ticker. Morales went to Boston on May 19 for a PTBNL or cash, which presumably ended up just being a stack of benjamins. Billings was used to acquire Mark Ellis from Oakland on June 30, with Eliezer Mesa completing the trade as a PTBNL on September 30.

Together, they combined for just 16 of Colorado's 1447.2 innings pitches last season, though you might be surprised to learn their collective ERA in that sample was below 4.00.

Bruce Billings will have the unique designation of making his MLB debut with one team, then making his second career appearance in the same season, but for another team. In his Colorado debut, he faced nine men, allowed four singles, one double, a run, and a wild pitch. He did induce two double plays to help his line look better than Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Daley, who were both shelled by the Cardinals that day.

Franklin Morales had always had an invisible ticking clock on his left shoulder, threatening to go off, thereby sending him in a blind tantrum where he stood no better chance of finding home plate than I do my bathroom doorknob at six AM. This season was different, as he had another invisible ticking clock on his right shoulder as well, this one waiting to blare off his farewell song, sending him right out of town.

The truth is, Morales' time as a Rockie was up in spring training: it just didn't come official until May. Rookie Matt Reynolds dominating early on and Rex Brothers making plenty of noise down south on I-25. With no minor league option years remaining, there was little reason to keep Morales around. After just 147.1 innings in a Rockies uniform (less than Esmil Rogers has now), Colorado closed the book on one of the franchise's most disappointing prospects ever to play at Coors Field.

Fourteen of those innings came in 2011, where he pitched to a strong 119 ERA+ (3.86), raising his Rockies career ERA+ to 98. His peripherals didn't support such a showing, but he wasn't horrible. He went on to Boston and had a 3.62 ERA in 36 appearances, amusingly enough good for a 119 ERA+.

One could argue Morales' time in Colorado was not optimized. After a disaster of five starts in 2008, Morales returned in 2009 in the Opening Day rotation and pitched well in two starts before getting hurt. He was never again given the opportunity to start, giving starts instead to Jose Contreras, Josh Fogg, and rookies Jhoulys Chacin and Esmil Rogers down the stretch. For a pitcher who had issues with pressure, cutting him out of the rotation for good at age 23 with his repertoire of pitches and shoehorning him into the closer role still stands out as a curious move.


Billings is a cost controlled reliever for Oakland for several years. He's in the mix for a bullpen spot in 2012, though he's probably an underdog in that regard.

Morales is out of options. He's still Red Sox property, so he won't be seeing the minor leagues come April, at least not in the Boston system.