Discipline Helps Morris Turn Around His Career
PITTSBURGH—On Bryan Morris' official bio, Page 117 of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 2010 media guide, one can find these two items that do anything but add up:
Under the section labeled "OBTAINED," this 23-year-old righthander is listed as one of four players acquired in the trade that sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.
Under "2009 SEASON," among other items, it reads, "Was on suspended list from Aug. 1-11 for 'unprofessional conduct.' "
It is highly likely that next year's media guide will be much kinder, as Morris' pitching has been the brightest spot of Pittsburgh's improving system: He was 6-2, 2.11 with 72 strikeouts and 17 walks through 14 starts, including 3-2, 4.22 in six starts since being promoted from high Class A Bradenton to Double-A Altoona.
His fastball has ranged at 91-96 mph, with the Pirates' scouts three times recording him as high as 98 mph. He has a plus curve, plus slider, the makings of a major league changeup and "has just buried guys when he's needed big out," general manager Neal Huntington said.
What a difference a year makes?
No, this one took one tongue-lashing, really.
Time For A Change
Morris' suspension for berating an umpire and showing up high Class A Lynchburg manager P.J. Forbes in a July 30 game against Binghamton became public knowledge at the time when farm director Kyle Stark responded bluntly on the matter when asked by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"Through various comments and actions during his outing the other night, he disrespected the umpires, his manager, his teammates and the organization," Stark said then.
The decision was Stark's, and it did not come by accident. The Pirates had seen enough, heard enough. If their message was not penetrating—Morris was 2-6, 5.91 at the time—maybe a very public timeout would do the trick. Even if it meant additional embarrassment for the management team that reaped so little from Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen, the other three acquisitions in the Bay trade.
So, Morris was sent to the Pirates' spring home in Bradenton, Fla., and, almost immediately, into the office of Tom Prince, the military-style Gulf Coast League manager.
"Nothing, to date, means more to me than that talk," Morris recalled. "Tom told me to be a man, to accept what's going on around me, to keep things in better perspective. I needed to worry about the things I could control."
Instead, Morris had been worrying about losing 58 days to right shoulder tendinitis and, once healthy, about the Pirates' emphasis on the four-seamer. Morris would lean on his hammer curve in times of trouble, and management's firm policy is that prospects will not be promoted until displaying consistent fastball command. Some sinker-ballers even have had their sinkers taken away until they get this right.
"We had some arguments back and forth," Morris said.
But there generally is little arguing with Prince, who did most of the talking that afternoon. Morris committed on the spot to change his mindset. In the offseason, Morris unilaterally approached Huntington and Stark with the message that they would see a different Morris in 2010.
"Especially with the time I had in Florida during the suspension, I had a lot of time to think," he said. "And what I thought about most was that it's my dream to be a major league player. If I decided right there that things were going badly, I could have just packed my stuff and gone home. I wasn't going to do that. I want to be in the majors, and I want to make a career of it when I get there. I knew I could do it."
Back On Track
In consultation with the Pirates, Morris engaged in a superior strengthening program for his shoulder and generally improved his 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame. He dominated with the new high Class A Bradenton affiliate, going 3-0, 0.60 through eight starts. Now in Altoona, the next question is whether he could finish 2010 in Triple-A and challenge for a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation next year. Huntington has hinted that the former is possible.
"On the mound, he's consistently turning it loose on every pitch, a real max-effort approach that I think is a match for his personality," Altoona manager Matt Walbeck said, "His stuff has late life in the zone, he has fastball deception, his breaking pitches have a sharp tilt. The big thing with Bryan is the fastball command. Any manager will say that about any pitcher, but he's gotten a lot better."
Huntington credited several instructors, notably new pitching coordinator Jim Benedict, but he reserved most of it for Morris.
"Bryan took a long look at himself in the mirror, thought about where he was, where he wanted to go and how he needed to get there," Huntington said. "We had some outstanding instructors there who put a great plan in place, but Bryan did what most players don't do: He took a good, long look at himself and recognized what needed to change."
Here is something else that changed about Morris: He used to bristle at the mention of the Bay trade, particularly the memory that, on the day it was announced, management identified Morris as the return with the highest ceiling.
"You know what?" Morris said when asked about it yet again. "I'd like to think I can be the guy who turns that trade around. I want to be the guy who turns it around."