Morse's big spring
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After missing the first two months of the season last year with a lat strain, Seattle Mariners outfielder Michael Morse (then with the Washington Nationals) suddenly couldn't elevate the ball.

He hasn't had that problem this spring.

Morse is tied for the major league lead with eight home runs in 52 at-bats.

Fantasy owners should take spring stats with a giant shaker of salt, but they shouldn't ignore them completely. Especially when a guy who saw a spike in ground ball rate from 44 to 55.3 percent last season is knocking the ball out of the park once again.

Morse had 31 homers and 95 RBIs with Washington in 2011, but he hit 18 and drove in 53 runs last season and experienced an 80-point decline in slugging percentage.

He still displayed solid power when he got the ball in the air, as evidenced by his 23.4 percent HR/FB rate, up 2.2 percentage points from 2011.

When he's hitting homers, the outfielder's combination of power and batting average makes him a coveted fantasy option.

Morse hit .291 last season and has a three-year batting average of .296. This has been helped by a .339 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over those three years, but he has hit for a high BABIP at every level in his career.

He had BABIPs of .349 and .350 with the Mariners' Triple-A club in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and it was .379 with the Nationals' Triple-A team in 2009 after he was acquired from Seattle.

However, Safeco Field could take a bite out of his HR/FB rate, and if more of his fly balls are turned into outs, it will impact his batting average.

The Mariners moved the left-field fence in a whopping 12 feet, from 390 to 378, but the right-handed slugger is actually an opposite-field hitter.

Morse has picked up 74 percent of his career hits and 74.3 percent of his career home runs either up the middle or to the opposite field, according to baseball-reference.com.

And while Nationals Park is 370 feet in right-center field, Safeco Field's new right-center field dimension still is deeper than that at 381 feet.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, not a single right-handed batter hit a home run to right field at Safeco Field in 2012.

Still, fantasy owners shouldn't worry about the field dimensions when it comes to Morse. He is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and can put it out of any park in the majors. His homers traveled an average distance of 412.5 feet in 2011 and 402.8 feet last season.

He also led all righties in opposite-field fly ball average distance in 2012.

As long as he is hitting the ball in the air like he did in 2011 (36.5 fly ball percentage), he should hit close to 30 homers in 2013.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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