Mailbag: Will Morales return as starter?

Mailbag: Will Morales still start?

Do you think Franklin Morales will return for the 2009 season as a starter after basically spending all of the 2008 season away from the Majors working on his control issues? Also, do you think the younger pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hirsh, etc., will return, or will the Rockies spend the big bucks to get a big-time player and move 2008's young starters to the pen?
-- Kyle A., Atlanta

The reclamation of Morales, who helped lift the club to the playoffs late in 2007 but struggled at the beginning of 2008, is a continuing process. He took a step forward in instructional ball at the team's facility in Tucson, Ariz., according to Rockies player development director Marc Gustafson.

Somehow, Morales lost his delivery. It could have been that he never found his offseason routine after the Rockies went to the World Series in 2007. He didn't pitch in Venezuela over the winter, which had been his pattern. Then Morales underwent an extensive dental procedure around the beginning of Spring Training and may have lost some conditioning and timing at a key time.

So this fall, the Rockies took him to Tucson for a detailed program to regain his form. The club wanted him to pitch in a less-competitive atmosphere. They also wanted him to learn his motion by doing detailed video work and analysis of his game and bullpen sessions.

"Progress is being made," Gustafson said. "He's worked hard. A lot of credit goes to him, and he's really focusing on how he's going about his business. It's been good for him to be in a very structured environment, so he is off to a good start."

But all the good practices and analysis does no good if he can't carry it into a game, so Morales will return to winter ball -- but with scrutiny. Francisco Cartaya, a key Venezuelan scout, is in the league and will see him, but it doesn't stop there. Gustafson said the Rockies will send Minor League pitching instructor Jim Wright to Venezuela "a couple of times," and assistant general manager Bill Geivett also will go.

"We're not just looking at box scores, but keeping an eye on him and making sure all is well," Gustafson said.

There's also a possibility that Venezuela will ask for Morales to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, which could get Morales into competitive mode before Spring Training.

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The Marlins are not necessarily interested in bringing back arbitration-eligible second baseman Dan Uggla, and I know Clint Hurdle is a fan of Uggla. Do you think a trade is likely, and who might the Rockies part with in such a deal?
-- Barrett B., Denver

I think a trade is possible. The Marlins are likely to have a payroll of between $30 million and $35 million, and could look to avoid paying Uggla the $5 million to $6 million he'll get in the arbitration process. They also could package him with left-handed pitcher Scott Olsen, who could make $2.7 million.

A match could be made with the Marlins, who are looking for catching help and have flirted with obtaining the Rockies' Yorvit Torrealba in the past. They couldn't work a trade with the Rockies at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but could be in a better position if they gave up some players with rising salaries and obtained Torrealba and a pitching prospect.

The Rockies, of course, have Clint Barmes coming off a solid year and Jeff Baker, who was a decent run producer in limited playing time, at second base. But Uggla could change positions, and there could be trade interest in Barmes or Baker. If the Rockies deal Matt Holliday, Uggla might be feasible in left field.

Why do you think that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki started to break out on the home stretch of the season, and could not get it started at the beginning?
-- Josh M., Centennial, Colo.

You've hit on the unanswered question about Tulowitzki, who deserves the praise he has received for his strong performance after the All-Star break (.327 in the last 62 games).

Through 21 games of his rookie season in 2007, Tulowitzki was hitting .205. Before his first injury this past season, Tulowitzki had a .152 average in 26 games.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Tulowitzki's conditioning or preparation, but the numbers do suggest he's a slow starter. The good news is he's shown the capacity to make up for it, but it would be interesting to see what kind of numbers he can post if he's able to have a good April.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.