Kadon Morton was drafted by the Atlanta Braves with their 19th round pick in 2019, but it took $450,000 to sign him away from a commitment to play football at Oklahoma. That investment paid few dividends for three years until some mechanical changes clicked this summer, allowing Morton to make the first of many necessary steps towards being a complete hitter.
Preseason report card
Athletic talent has never been a question for Morton, who possesses arguably the best physical tool set in the Braves’ minor league system. Standing 6’2” and 195 pounds, Morton had the athleticism to play football at a Power 5 school and showed both raw power and plus speed in Rookie ball. What he never showed, though, was any ability to make consistent contact, and as such he was simply a lottery ticket the Braves had stowed at their Spring Training complex.
What we saw in 2022
Morton started out 2022 in awful fashion. There is really no other way to put it. He had a hit in each of his first two games, including a home run in the latter, then had three more hits for the entirety of April. Early May treated us to a few decent showings and a four-hit game, but Morton was otherwise nearly unplayable with a .491 OPS and 37 percent strikeout rate through June 5. He had his positives, like his control of the zone and his gaudy outfield assist totals, but it was hard to watch him at the plate. The focus for Morton was simplifying his swing, which had a complicated load, a bad hitch, and a busy lower body. The organization shifted Morton’s hand position to minimize his load and shorten the hitch while reducing the leg kick in his swing, and these changes combined to have some positives. Morton went on a run in June with a 1.067 OPS over his final 17 games and produced far more consistent power numbers. He hit 10 home runs over his final 63 Single-A games, kept walking around a 13 percent clip, and cut his strikeout rate down to 30 percent. He also had a mind-boggling 21 outfield assists in 102 games. He was promoted to High-A for a taste of the level at the end of the season and it did not go well at all, but in general 2022 was a successful year of development that gave Morton’s career a breath of life.
Make no mistake, even with all of the positive development and athleticism, Morton is still a very low probability MLBer. Even in his good stretch, he struck out over 30 percent of the time in Single-A, and his defensive ability is solid but short of plus in center field. Morton has to make significant strides offensively to even get to the point he can handle the pitching at Double-A or higher, and he’s now at the level where raw athleticism and the willingness to wait out pitchers with poor control can no longer rescue him. He has to take what he has learned and continue to refine those skills and it’s very unlikely to work out. However, if it does work out, he has the ability to play above average defense at any position and has plus power. That is an enticing combination that will give him a long leash to try to figure out his game at the minor league level.