When a then-22-year-old Michael "Mike" Morse was included in a June 27, 2004 trade between the Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox that sent catcher Miguel Olivo, outfielder Jeremy Reed and Morse to the M's for Sox' starter Freddy Garcia and catcher Ben Davis, Chicago's hitting coach Greg Walker praised both prospects (Reed and Morse) in an article by MLB.com writer Scott Merkin entitled, "White Sox reel in Garcia", but he singled Morse, then a shortstop prospect, out as a "dynamite talent" who, in hindsight, "...might be the guy when you look back that everyone says 'Oh, man.' He has jaw-dropping talent and to have that kind of juice at shortstop is something special.'"
Morse, a 3rd Round pick by the Sox in the 2000 Draft out of Nova High School in Davie, Florida, had nine doubles, five triples, 11 HR's, 38 RBI's and a .287/.336/.536 slash line in 54 games and 209 at bats for the Sox' Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, before the deal and a .274/.326/.465 line after it with ten doubles, a triple, six HR's and 33 RBI's in 41 games and 157 at bats for the Double-A San Antonio Missions in Seattle's system.
Morse started the '05 campaign with the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers, but he made his MLB debut that May, and in a June 6th '05 article entitled, "Morse hopes to settle in Seattle", MLB.com writer Jim Street compared the 23-year-old infielder to a certain Seattle shortstop who'd since moved on to Texas and was then playing third in NY, writing that the, "...batting stance and swing Mike Morse uses is a spitting image of A-Rod," and noting that, "Morse fields a ground ball exactly the same way A-Rod did when he was a shortstop," while acknowledging that Alex Rodriguez had already been a three-time All-Star, Silver Slugger winner and MVP candidate by the time he was twenty-three. In 49 games at Triple-A that season, Morse hit .253 with a .317 OBP and .407 SLG, 12 doubles and four HR's.
In Seattle, Morse had a .287/.349/.370 slash line (.718 OPS, 97 OPS+) with 10 doubles and 3 HR's in 72 games and 258 plate appearance during his rookie campaign, but Yuniesky Betancourt debuted that season too, and a month later the Mariners were discussing moving Morse to the outfield to make room for the the 23-year-old Cuban-born Betancourt who was then considered Seattle's shortstop of the future.
That fall, Morse was suspended for 10 games for a failed steroid test in 2003. As he explained it at the time, in an AP article at the time archived at ESPN.com under the title, "Morse suspended for steroids he says he took in '03", he made the decision to to take steroids because of lingering issues with a torn thigh muscle which, "had never healed," leaving the prospect, "...scared that my career was over." Morse was punished three times for the test, as he saw it, since the PED's turned up or remained in his system (according to the player) leading to another suspension in '04, and Morse was later made to serve a suspension at the major league level as well.
Morse moved to the outfield, played third and first in 2006 at Triple-A and in Seattle but a knee injury limited him to just 78 games, 21 of them with the Mariners, during which Morse hit .372 (14 for 68), though he struggled at Triple-A Tacoma, with a .248/.300/.403 slash line in 57 games and 228 plate appearances. Morse played just nine games in the majors in '07. In Rookie ball and Triple-A in 2007, Morse, playing first, short, third and left, put up a .304/.367/.451 line earning a call up to Seattle in late September. A strong Spring and a Cactus League-leading .492 average earned Morse a platoon spot in right when the '08 schedule began, but just five games in, a torn labrum suffered on a diving play in the outfield ended the then-26-year-old Morse's season.
After hitting 14 doubles and 10 HR's with a .312/.370/.481 line in 66 games for Seattle in '09, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo acquired Morse from Seattle in a June 28th '09 trade for Ryan Langerhans. Morse, 27, hit .339 with a .404 OBP, .558 SLG, 12 doubles and six HR's for Triple-A Syracuse, earning a call-up in late-August and hanging around through the end of the season, finishing the year with a .250/.291/.481 line in 32 games.
A calf strain cost Morse a month at the beginning of the 2010 campaign, but given the chance to play in right (-16.7 UZR/150 in 72 G) and at first (+14.2 UZR/150 in 19 G) on a regular basis at the major league level for the first time since 2005, Morse finally came through with the power, hitting 15 HR's with a .289/.352/.519 line, .330 BABIP, .229 ISO and 374 wOBA in 98 games and 293 plate appearances in which he was worth a career-high +1.4 WAR.
The Nationals were willing to deal Josh Willingham this winter because of the progress Morse and his expected platoon mate in left, Roger Bernadina, were able to make in 2010. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, however, told MASNSports.com's Ben Goessling in an article entitled, "Mike Rizzo on the Nationals' offseason", that the two remained "a little bit of an unknown,":
"'We don't know what they're going to do on an everyday basis, if they're going to be a platoon system or if one's going to take the job from the other. So we're still a little bit in a wait-and-see, but I like the progression that both of them have made and together, the numbers - if you put those two sets of numbers together - it's a pretty reliable corner outfield position.'"
Morse's history in left? Eight games in Seattle in '05, two games in '06 and two in '09. Roger Bernadina? Bernadina's played 51 games in left with Washington, 44 of them last season. The Nationals added Laynce Nix who spent the 2010 season in left in Cincinnati. Rick Ankiel had been signed earlier in the offseason to challenge Bernadina and Morse for time in left. Morse is the only option at first behind Adam LaRoche currently on the 40-Man Roster. Bill James is projecting a .278/.337/.461 line with 17 doubles and 11 HR's for Morse in 2011. Marcel's projections have Morse putting up a .274/.339/.470 line with 16 doubles and 14 HR's. Both sets of projections see a drop in ISO (.229 to .183 acc. to James, .196 Marcel) wOBA (.374 to .348/.350) and BABIP (.330 to .316/.316). Six years after his MLB debut, Morse heads into Spring Training with the best chance he's been given since he first came up with Seattle. Can the 29-year-old OF/1B join fellow late-bloomer Jayson Werth as part of the Nats' 2011 lineup and provide protection for the Nats' big bats in the middle of the order? D.C. GM Mike Rizzo, Jim Riggleman and the Nats are counting on it...