07/11/10 9:52 PM ET
Morris puts tumultuous '09 in rearview mirror
Pirates pitching prospect showing immense promise in Minors
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
The last day of July will mark Morris' two-year anniversary with the Pirates, who touted the former first-round pick as having top-of-the-rotation potential at the time of his acquisition. That evaluation looked seriously flawed initially, as Morris became one of the system's biggest disappointments by the end of a tumultuous '09 season.
But as he donned a black and gold hat and took the mound at Angel Stadium in Sunday's XM Futures Game, Morris did so as arguably the organization's most promising pitching prospect.
Yes, it's been that unbelievably quick of a turnaround.
"My mindset nowadays is to put the past in the past and live for today," Morris said. "That's what I've been doing this year, and it's been tremendous."
Morris had plenty of "past" to file away from his trying '09 season. There was the right shoulder tendinitis that cost him the season's first two months. There was the display of "unprofessional conduct" in August that led to an organization-induced 11-day suspension.
There was the pushback he gave when the coaching staff suggested mechanical changes. And as burdensome as anything, there was the unavoidable pressure of trying to live up to the trade.
Through it all, Morris watched his strikeout numbers shrink, his ERA escalate, and he finished his first full season in high-A with an uninspiring 4-9 record.
"I had a lot of failure, and I'm not a guy who has dealt with a lot of failure before," Morris said. "It almost took that year to let me mature and figure out how to grow. I had a lot of stuff that happened last year that I might not have dealt with the right way. But I've grown from it."
And he has in extraordinary ways.
Morris left his Double-A teammates and flew to Anaheim on Saturday owning a 7-4 record and 2.56 ERA in 18 starts. More importantly, Morris also owns a fresh perspective and renewed confidence.
The right-hander points to Spring Training as the critical crossroads in the turnaround, though his path back started a few months earlier when he embraced the Pirates' suggestions of a mechanical change. He began the simplification of his delivery in instructional league, took that to minicamp and then watched it translate into immediate success during his first big league Spring Training experience.
Confidence quickly followed. So, too, did a new sense of motivation.
"I learned in Spring Training that the stuff that I did during the winter paid off. I learned I was going about my stuff the right way," Morris said. "It was so fun. I can't imagine myself doing anything other than being a part of that group. That would mean a lot to me to be a part of that group."
Spring Training was Morris' springboard to an unbelievable stint with high-A Bradenton (Fla.). He made eight starts with the Marauders and allowed a mere three earned runs in 44 2/3 innings. Morris struck out 40 and walked seven.
That earned the righty a promotion to Double-A in mid-May. At the time, his 0.60 ERA was the lowest in all of Minor League baseball.
"They told me that if I kept doing what I did in spring, it wouldn't be a long stay," Morris said. "I was very happy with how everything turned out."
Morris hasn't been as dominant with Altoona, though he hasn't struggled all that extensively either. His 4.19 ERA at the time of his Futures Game appearance was largely inflated by three subpar performances, the latter two of which came consecutively this month.
Still, Morris has been efficient enough to pitch at least six innings in five of his past seven starts, and his 52:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio remains impressive.
"The struggles this year have been few and far between," Morris said, noting how his perspective has changed. "My struggles this year are an average day last year, so it's been a big improvement."
Morris' reemergence this season certainly has him on the Pirates' radar, though he's likely at least another full year away from making a serious bid at a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation -- a September callup in 2011 doesn't seem entirely unreasonable.
Development of a changeup remains one of Morris' primary goals, as even he admits: "I've had a couple games where it's really worked, and I've had a couple games where it has been nonexistent." More consistent fastball command is a must, too.
Still, from where Morris was just one year ago, the obstacles in front of him are so much less daunting. He's excited to talk about how much fun baseball is for him again. And he speaks openly about how much he has benefitted from the presence of his wife, Chelsey, who has been able to spend the majority of the season with him.
"She's made me grow up a little," Morris joked.
Morris' appearance in Sunday's Futures Game was brief, though certainly the chance to participate at all was well deserved. He entered with two out in the seventh and retired the only hitter he faced -- ironically, that was Morris' Double-A teammate Gorkys Hernandez of the World Team.
"I'm very grateful to be a part of this," Morris said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.