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03/12/09 8:52 PM ET
Morlan hoping he's finally home
Cuban Rule 5 pick has bounced around different teams, countries
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Brewers manager Ken Macha is speaking purely in the baseball sense when he says that, "the Rule 5 guy is an interesting guy." The guy's story is just as intriguing.
Eduardo Morlan -- he goes by Eddie or Eduardo, whichever you prefer -- is a 23-year-old right-hander plucked away from the Tampa Bay Rays in December's Rule 5 Draft and a man without a country. He was born and raised in Cuba, and his father made a comfortable living as a construction equipment salesman, but in 1998, the family petitioned successfully for Spanish citizenship and moved to the other end of the Earth.
Morlan's father, mother and brother moved shortly thereafter from Spain to the Dominican Republic. Then, to Miami, where Morlan caught the eye of baseball scouts and went to the Twins in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.
"There was opportunity here," Morlan said in his nearly perfect English, a language he did not learn until he landed in the U.S. "In Cuba, there was no future for us."
Morlan takes issue with those who call him a Cuban "defector." His family left legally, he points out, with all of the proper paperwork. Unlike some of the other Cubans who have passed through the Major Leagues, including former Brewer Alex Sanchez, Morlan has no harrowing tale of crossing the Straits of Florida on a raft. His family boarded an airplane at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport.
He has been watching the Cubans in the World Baseball Classic. Morlan knows many of them from his own days on the diamonds of Havana and probably would be with them if not for his family's move. But there is no contact between Morlan and his former teammates.
"Once you leave Cuba," he said, "it's like you are dead to them."
Now, to some degree, he's a man without a team. The Twins traded Morlan to the Rays in 2007 along with pitcher Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett, two players key to Tampa Bays's run to the World Series last season. When Rays officials decided not to protect Morlan on the 40-man roster, he was exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Milwaukee took him with the 16th pick.
The Rule 5 Draft is designed to prevent prospects from stagnating in the Minor Leagues, but selections must stick on a team's 25-man roster, or be offered back for half of the original $50,000 claim cost. The Brewers have carried Rule 5 picks in the past -- in 2003, they kept both infielder Enrique Cruz and left-hander Matt Ford -- but now, the situation is different. Milwaukee is a contender, and Morlan is competing for a bullpen spot on equal footing with the rest of the candidates.
"I'm the same as all of my teammates -- I just want to make the team," Morlan said. "Whatever happens in the end happens. I'm just trying not to think about it.
"I was actually pushing to get picked [in the Rule 5 Draft]. After they decided not to protect me, I did everything I could do, the best I could do, to get noticed by other teams. I wanted to show them I could do the job in the big leagues."
That included a trip to winter ball in Puerto Rico, where Morlan was 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and three saves in 15 relief appearances. Brewers scouts liked Morlan, because he throws strikes. He has 382 career strikeouts vs. 120 walks in 126 professional appearances, with a 2.94 ERA.
He's keeping his expectations tempered.
"It's crazy, you never know what's going to happen," Morlan said. "That's the way this business is. That's what's so good about it, you know?"
Macha has some history with Rule 5 picks. He carried one as A's manager in 2003, when right-hander Mike Neu pitched in low-leverage situations and posted a 3.64 ERA in 32 games, before the A's flipped him to Florida for left-handed starter Mark Redman. Neu appeared in only one more Major League game.
Morlan is being evaluated not for his future promise, but based on whether he can be more effective than the likes of Todd Coffey and Jorge Julio.
"In our situation, with the expectations, it has to be a level playing field from my standpoint," Macha said.
Macha was a Rule 5 draftee himself. The Expos snatched him away from the Pirates in December 1978, because they needed a backup catcher, and Macha spent two years in Montreal. He then moved to the Blue Jays in '81 and was a teammate of one of the best Rule 5 picks in history. George Bell didn't play much during the 1981 season (he hit .233 with five homers in 60 games) and spent all of '82 and most of '83 in the Minors before flourishing in '84 with regular playing time. In 1987, he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
Macha has seen good and bad from Morlan so far. Morlan did not allow a run in his first two appearances, including a two-inning stint against the Angels on Feb. 28, but then surrendered five runs on six hits, including a pair of home runs, over his next two outings. On Monday against the Giants, he didn't record an out in the bottom of the ninth inning, allowing three Giants hits, including a walk-off three-run home run.
He was better on Thursday against the Padres. Working the top of the ninth inning of a game tied at 10, Morlan set down three San Diego hitters in order. He fanned the first two hitters in the 10th before surrendering consecutive singles, but struck out Travis Denker to end the threat.
"I like his delivery, it's compact and everything," Macha said. "His fastball looks a little straight to me, so it might look straight to the hitters. He's got some things to work out, and we've got a long list of guys who are competing there."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.