"My mom tells the story about when I was 2 years old, and she asked me what I wanted to be," Morrison said. "I said I wanted to be a big league baseball player."
On July 27, Morrison became a big leaguer—and sooner than expected.
The Marlins called up Morrison from New Orleans to replace left fielder Chris Coghlan, who injured his left knee while celebrating teammate Wes Helms' walk-off hit.
Reached by telephone just a few hours before he made his Marlins debut, Morrison said he hadn't had time to get nervous.
"I'm more tired than anything else," said Morrison, who went 1-for-4 with a bloop single in his debut. "I only slept two hours last night—and that was on the plane. I had to get everything ready to get out to San Francisco."
With New Orleans, Morrison batted .307/.427/.487 with six home runs and 17 doubles through 238 at-bats, while showing his remarkable plate discipline in the form of a 48-to-35 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Entering the season, the lefthanded hitter ranked second only to the Herculean Mike Stanton among Marlins prospects.
Enter Stage Left (Field)
Morrison lost out to Gaby Sanchez for the Marlins' first-base job during spring training. So while Morrison may be four years younger, it is Sanchez who has emerged as Florida's first baseman of the present.
As a result, Morrison got regular turns in left field for the Zephyrs, a position he had played just twice in his pro career prior to this season.
" 'LoMo' can be a plus outfielder," said New Orleans manager Greg Norton, a 13-year big league veteran. "He has a plus arm. And for a big kid (6-foot-3, 235 pounds), he runs well."
It's Morrison's bat, however, that has served as his ticket to the big leagues.
A 22nd-round draft-and-follow selection in 2005, Morrison played one year at Maple Woods (Mo.) CC—the same school that produced Albert Pujols—before signing with the Marlins.
Morrison started to emerge as a prospect in 2007, when he hit .267/.343/.483 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs in 453 at-bats for low Class A Greensboro.
The next year, he hit .332/.402/.494 with 13 homers and 38 doubles in 488 at-bats, earning MVP honors of the high Class A Florida State League.
A pair of injuries have slowed him down the past two years—and both happened while playing first base.
In the second game of the 2009 season, with Double-A Jacksonville, Morrison broke his right thumb when he tried to catch the shortstop's up-the-line throw and got tangled up with the runner. He played just 82 games, batting .277/.408/.439 with 8 homers and 19 doubles in 289 at-bats.
In April of this season, Morrison hurt his right shoulder in a similar collision and missed a month.
"Anytime you are not playing, it's absolutely frustrating," said Morrison, who added that he is completely recovered from both injuries. For proof, he reached base in 22 straight games upon returning from the disabled list in May.
Norton, who had not worked with Morrison before this season, said he was impressed with the prospect's work ethic.
"He's always in the cage," said Norton, who was promoted from hitting coach at midseason when Edwin Rodriguez left New Orleans to become the Marlins' manager. "The work he put in to improve defensively was impressive."
Part of what makes Morrison an advanced prospect, Norton said, is his ability to lay off certain pitches and go deep in the count, which is why the Marlins batted him second when he made his debut.
"He is not afraid to hit with two strikes, and you don't usually see that in young hitters," Norton said. "And he possesses the ability to go opposite field really well."
That is all part of the plan, said Morrison, who talks about "waiting not only for pitches I can hit, but pitches I can drive. I don't swing at it just because it's a strike."
Perhaps it's no surprise that Morrison, who was born in Kansas City, Mo., grew up idolizing Royals Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett. Morrison said he admired Brett's blue-collar approach.
When he was 16, Morrison and his family moved to Slidell, La. As a senior at North Shore High, he hit .486 and struck out just twice all season, earning all-state honors. His team made it to the state quarterfinals and played at New Orleans' Zephyr Field.
"I went 3-for-3 in that game with a pair of doubles," Morrison said.
Zephyrs broadcaster Tim Grubbs said Morrison—whose parents still live in Slidell—was a popular player in New Orleans.
"Since he is from the area and lives just a 40-minute drive away, he is the face of the franchise," Grubbs said, speaking a few days before Morrison got his promotion. "He gets hounded for autographs, but he embraces it. He said that if he is not in the big leagues, there is no place he'd rather play than right here, where he gets home-cooked meals."
Morrison now will get major league meals. He also will continue to work on his defense in left field, a position he said is less challenging than first base.
"There's no doubt," he said, who threw as hard as 93 mph during his prep pitching days. "At first base, you are involved in every play.
"In left field, you just have to make a good read off the bat. There are not many times that you will be asked to throw a runner out. The runners will only advance if you make a mistake."
And Morrison has made few of those in his professional career.
Walter Villa is a freelance writer based in Miami.