During tonight's game, the Pirates broadcasters repeatedly mentioned that Neal Huntington had been asked about the possibility of playing both Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan in the outfield at the same time, and he would not rule it out.
A couple of caveats: first, if I were Huntington I might not publicly rule this out either, and anyway it would be ridiculous to do so--if a team only has four outfielders on its roster, it would be crazy to say that two of them would never play together. (Of course, if I were the GM, Morgan wouldn't be on the roster right now in the first place.) Second, there might be defensible reasons to get McLouth a bit of time in a corner outfield spot to prepare him for the arrival of Andrew McCutchen, who will presumably play center. (If I were the GM, I wouldn't bother, but I could at least understand it.)
What gets me here is that the idea that Nyjer Morgan is a prospect simply will not die. He isn't a prospect. I'm all for giving young players chances to play, but Morgan isn't young, and I'm not in favor of handing out playing time indiscriminately. Steve Pearce deserves a real chance in the big leagues, and if both Morgan and McLouth are playing in the outfield, he isn't going to get it.
I know I'm repeating myself here, but--if people watch Morgan play and see anything greater than a fifth outfielder, it's because they're thinking of baseball as it used to be played, and not baseball as it is played now. There aren't any successful outfielders in baseball like Morgan, and it's not because his skill set is unique. It's because players who utterly lack power, don't draw tons of walks and don't play infield or catcher just don't have what it takes to play in the big leagues.
I'll repeat an exercise I did last year. There are currently twelve players in the big leagues who have enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title and have five or fewer homers. Here they are:
Michael Bourn, Cristian Guzman, Ichiro Suzuki, Yadier Molina, Aki Iwamura, Yuniesky Betancourt, Felipe Lopez, Ryan Theriot, Jason Kendall, Willy Taveras, Gregor Blanco, Chone Figgins
Of these players, who is Morgan supposed to become? Guzman, Molina and Iwamura all play tougher positions on the defensive spectrum than Morgan does, and all have five homers this year, which helps them keep pitchers honest somewhat; Morgan has a grand total of four homers at any level since 2004.
Comparing Morgan to Ichiro would be ridiculous for any number of reasons. Betancourt and Lopez play tougher defensive positions than Morgan and are both in the midst of bad seasons. Theriot, Blanco, and Figgins, like Reggie Willits last year, have been productive in part by doing an outstanding job drawing walks; that's not really in Morgan's skill set. Kendall gets so much playing time in part because he's a well-regarded veteran, and anyway he's far better than Morgan at working the count also.
That leaves Michael Bourn and Willy Taveras. Bourn is in the midst of an absolutely atrocious season, so we wouldn't want Morgan to emulate him. And Taveras is hitting .264/.316/.312. For Colorado. And as I said last year, he was vastly better in the minors than Morgan was.
Allowing Morgan to start in the majors is a complete waste of time. I can't emphasize this enough. Short of completely re-learning how to hit so that he can draw tons more walks, there's no path for him to become a productive major leaguer. Players like him simply do not succeed in the big leagues anymore. It just doesn't happen.
Steve Pearce isn't a sure bet by any stretch of the imagination, but players like him do succeed. If the Pirates would like to allow a young outfielder (besides Brandon Moss) to try out the rest of the year--and they should--it should be Pearce. Morgan still isn't a good player (people seem to forget that he has a .595 OPS in the majors and a .721 OPS in the minors this year, and that he's already 28), and letting him play now is only likely to make the 2008 Pirates more painful to watch while doing nothing to improve their future.
I'm sure Huntington already knows all this, but I'm mentioning it just in case. The possibility of more playing time for Morgan was mentioned so many times in the broadcast that I feel I should address it.