Draft Q&A: Josh Morgan

The weekly draft Q&A series is back at Baseball America, providing you with a deeper look at a variety of players and different stakeholders in the draft process. Josh Morgan is one of the top prep shortstops in the country. His Orange Lutheran (Calif.) High Lancers will travel to Cary N.C., for the third National High School Invitational.

You are in the early stages of your season. What is the outlook for your team and how are things going so far?

Things are going really well. At the beginning of the season I didn't really know what we were getting into because we don't have much varsity experience. It’s not that we are young, but we have a lot of juniors that were on junior varsity last year. We don't have that much varsity experience as a team. But we have a couple of guys who have been on varsity for a few years. We need to get used to it and the varsity pitching that we are going to see. The thing we need to improve on is coming up clutch in big situations early in the game and moving runners over. I don't think our pitching is going to be a problem this year. We are going to be a good hitting team but we just need to hit. We have good hitters 1-9 in the lineup but we just need to put the bat on the ball. I like the chances of our team has this year. Hopefully we can come back with a ring, in North Carolina and in California.

How excited is your team to be able to compete on the biggest stage in high school baseball at the NHSI in Cary, N.C.?

It is unbelievable how many times a day North Carolina gets brought up. I would say at least five times a day. We hear from a lot of people at that aren't even on the baseball team about excited they are to have us heading to North Carolina. To be able to play against top caliber teams, the top teams in the nation, is a blessing. I know we play Coral Springs Christian Academy in the first game. That is Touki Toussaint’s team, so I am guessing we will be seeing 95 and 96 right out of the gate. We need to prepare for that but it will be a great experience, and the whole team is excited.

That is going to be a great first-round matchup. You attended a lot of the same events that Touki did this summer. Did you ever face him?

I have never faced him. We were on the same Team USA 17U Developmental Team in North Carolina. We have talked a little bit and we are friends. I am looking forward to talking to him out in North Carolina and we have talked a little bit on Twitter. It is going to be fun to face him.

See also: A Day in the Life of Josh Morgan

You are obviously a very talented player and are receiving attention from a draft perspective. How helpful was it to have a teammate last year in outfielder Jason Martin (eighth round; Houston Astros) go through the draft process, which enabled you to get used to seeing scouts at your games, before you were the one in the draft spotlight?

It was very helpful. Jason has been my best friend since I was 3 years old. He told me all about the life of a minor league baseball player. He just left last Thursday to go back to Florida with the Astros. Hopefully he does well. I have picked his brain, as well as (Mets’ 2013 first-rounder) Dominic Smith‘s and (Phillies’ 2013 first-rounder) J.P. Crawford‘s. All the guys I have played with I have picked their brains about the grind of minor league baseball because you always hear about minor league baseball being a grind. It is a different environment with a bunch of players from different countries and cultures, and Spanish-speaking players from different countries. Everybody said it is a very fun environment. The spotlight has shifted from Jason to me at Orange Lutheran and also (righthander) Garrett King and (outfielder) Joey Sanchez. We have a great group of guys. It has been good because last year we had Jason, so we are all used to the scouts being at games. I feel like we play better with scouts present because you want to perform at your best.

I believe your father played college football. Did you play football this year? What position did you play in football in your career?

I didn't play this year. I played eight years of football but stopped after my freshman year. It was hard to quit but baseball was the right decision for me and it has worked out well. I played wide receiver and corner. I never got to play under the Friday night lines, which is one thing I will regret. But I am happy with my decision to focus on baseball.

You are committed to the defending national champion UCLA Bruins. Walk me through the recruiting process, when you realized schools were interested in you and what the process was like.

The first letter I got was actually from UCLA my freshman year. I was very excited because it has always been my dream school. I wanted to stay in California, although it wouldn't have been a big deal if I didn't. From freshman year to sophomore year I started seeing a little more attention from colleges. I realized I had a chance to play at the next level at the middle of my sophomore year when I got a little more attention. It was good. T.J. Bruce is the recruiting coordinator for UCLA and I love him to death. The whole coaching staff, Rex Peters, John Savage, is great. I can’t wait to be there. It is going to fun.

You got offers from a lot of different schools so how difficult was the decision to pick UCLA?

To tell you the truth I got an offer from Arizona and I was going to commit there. I had my mind set on them. I had narrowed my schools down to UCLA and Arizona. It was during the summer and I had talked about my decision in the morning with my parents and told them that I was going to call UA’s recruiting coordinator (and pitching coach) Shaun Cole. I really like him because he is a great guy. All the guys I dealt with at Arizona were great guys. I decided that I was going to go to UA. I was going to call him around 10 a.m. It got to be around 9:45 or 9:50. I had his number set up in my phone and was about to call him. I was getting ready to push the send button but then something came to me so I stopped. I stopped for like 10 minutes and called my parents and told them I had to go to UCLA. Arizona did everything right but staying in California was a better fit for me personally. So I was on the verge of committing to Arizona but I chose UCLA, and I am really happy I made that decision.

Making the Southern California Area Code Games team is an honor. The level of talent on that team is incredibly high and that is really known as the marquee event of the summer. What was that experience like?

It was crazy to get all that Southern California talent on the same diamond with (catcher) Alex Jackson, (infielder/righthander) Jack Flaherty and (lefthander) Brady Aiken, among others. Everybody on that team is a big-name guy and it was fun to pick everybody else’s minds and get to know everybody. To play on the same team with them was pretty fun and that was by far the best team I have ever played for.

One of the prominent annual games at that event is when NorCal and SoCal square off. There is not much on the line for other games at the event but there is usually a crowd for that event and people are cheering. How much fun is a game like that when you have some unofficial bragging rights on the line?

It is the battle for California. I think the last couple of years we have taken that. It is really fun. I had a lot of family members come out for that one and my coaches did as well for the game against NorCal. We are the only state that has two teams, which is amazing. There was so much talent on the field. To be picked for one of those teams is a blessing. It was a great game and we came out on top. All the matchups at the Area Code Games were good games but that was the best. The Texas game was also a very competitive game, but NorCal versus SoCal is just a different kind of atmosphere.

Because you were at so many different showcase events you faced a lot of pitching through the summer. This is a good draft from a pitching standpoint with a depth of arms. Who was the toughest pitcher you faced this summer and who was the most physically impressive?

The most physically impressive has to be (righthander) Tyler Kolek from Texas. … dude is insane, nearly touching 100. I faced him at Tournament of Stars. The toughest pitcher was (righthander) Nathan Hadley. I have known him for a long time because we played on the same travel ball team. He is one of my best friends now and he got me two times this summer. I was not happy. His attitude on the mound is exactly how he is in person. He won’t brag to you but he will let you know when he gets you out. So you don't want to get out against him because he will let you know, especially since he was spent the night at my house a handful of times and he is a great friend of mine. He is a great pitcher. Those are the top two I have faced.

I think it is funny that he and lefthander Quinn Brodey are the headlining pitchers for Loyola. I don't know either of them that well but they seem like polar opposites. Quinn seems very quiet, stoic and very cerebral. Then Nathan gets out on the mound and he pitches with serious attitude. He is going to bring it. They are both very good pitchers but the contrast between those two is funny.

Exactly how you described them is exactly how they are. Quinn is quiet and when he gets you out he won’t really say anything. If Nathan gets you out,  he will yell at you. They are both Area Code Games guys and on the same team for high school at Loyola. We will see how they do this spring.

You participated in a very underrated event this summer, the BreakThrough Series. What was that experience like getting to play on national TV in the Astros stadium?

It was a great experience to play with those guys. You realized how blessed you are, how fortunate you are and how much attention you get because there were some guys there that had not received much attention but are really good players. I was out there with (outfielder) Denz’l Chapman. He was one of my best friends. To play in Minute Maid was amazing. It was easily the nicest field I have ever played on. They take care of it really well. I am glad I got to attend that event.

More than other events, the BreakThrough Series is based on feedback, development and preparing players for their life experience inside and outside of baseball, as opposed to just showing up to play and show off your tools. What did you learn at the BTS?

They not only teach baseball but they teach life lessons at the BTS. One thing that hit home for me was the importance of schoolwork. We all love baseball but it isn't life. It is supposed to be fun. If you are good enough and blessed enough you can get paid for it and it is your job. It is supposed to be fun. I think at this age we can get wrapped up in thinking that we have to get drafted and go to a Division I college to get seen. But it is about relaxing, playing hard, showing off your tools and giving it what you got. I think the BTS taught me that schoolwork, friends and family are all very important to life beyond baseball. There is a whole other life out there, so what are you going to do after baseball? Your career is not going to last forever.

Over the course of the showcase circuit you got to compete against the best players in the country. How do you feel you improved over the course of the summer and fall?

I think I improved in all aspects of the game by seeing all of those top recruits and top prospects. It has made me think that I need to work harder. I have lost some weight and gotten faster. I have gotten better with the bat and glove. All aspects of the game I have improved in. You always have to work hard every day because there is always going to be somebody working harder than you if you aren't. You can’t let that beat you out. In the end, let’s say the professional scouts are in the draft room on the last day before the draft. If they are all talking about a player that has the exact same talent that I do but they see work ethic in one player and no work ethic in the other player then obviously they are going to take the player with work ethic. It is always important to work hard and that is what I did over the summer and fall. I am happy with where I am right now but want to get better as the year goes on.

For our readers who haven't had a chance to see you play yet, how would you describe yourself as a player? What would you say are your best attributes?

My strengths are never taking a play off. I think I play really aggressively. I feel as though I am a good team leader. If you make a mistake I am not going to get on you for it, but I am going to let you know what you might want to do the next time you get that opportunity again. I feel as though I am a very easy person to get along with. I feel like a have a fun personality to play the game with because I don't take the game too seriously and am always having fun out there.

When you and I talked in Jupiter you talked about how you had received some feedback from scouts and were working hard to improve your body. At that time you said that you lost 10 pounds and your goal was to lose 15. How has that development coming along?

I ended up losing 15 or 16 pounds. I am at the point now where I am looking at myself and think ‘you are skinny. You need to get back in the weight room.’ It is all good, though. I weigh around 177 or 178 right now. I am trying to get bigger back in the weight room but not too big because I don't want to tear anything with the season starting. I feel good with where my body is at. I am just trying to put on a little muscle.

During the summer and fall when you are playing in showcase events all across the country, how difficult is it get into the gym on a consistent basis, not just to maintain but to really improve? You guys are almost living an approximation of the life that someone would live in pro ball with all the traveling that is required.

It is hard to get dedicated to a certain diet or go to the gym regularly. Every place you go people always tell you that there is a famous restaurant in every place and that you have to go to it. You have to take a day off every once in a while. When I was trying to lose the weight I took one meal off a week. In Jupiter, Quinn Brodey and I would go down to the gym to work out after games or on a day we didn't have a game. If you are dedicated to what you are doing it is a lot easier to stay committed to a difficult diet or regime. If you hear from pro scouts or college scouts who tell you that they want you to do specific things, then you can’t turn them down. You have to work at it and what they think is your future. You want what is best for yourself and what they think is best for you.

Working out with Quinn has to be pretty fun because he is a physical beast. He is put together.

I remember when we were 12 we went out to the Junior Olympics and he hit a ball that was 410 feet. I didn't think it was possible. It went over the batter’s eye at the spring training facility. He is a freak of nature. When we were 12, he was enormous. Although some people have caught up with him, he is still big. He used to play soccer, which has made him really fast. He runs the 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds, which is amazing for being a pitcher.

Speaking of 6.7 speed, your speed has improved dramatically over the last few months. At Tournament of Stars, you ran the 60 in 7.02 and 6.97 seconds. Earlier this spring at Compton you ran a 6.70, a dramatic improvement. What specific exercises or training have enabled you to add that speed in such a short amount of time? 

I do a lot of sprint work. I do short sprint work with 30s and 60s. Then I do a couple of 100 yard sprints. It is a workout that my dad made for me and he obviously knows what he is talking about. He was football player and ran like a 4.4,  40-yard dash. I think my weight loss also got me faster, which I feel made me be quicker at shortstop and able to get to certain balls I might not have gotten to before. I feel good and I basically do sprint work four or five times a week.

In the “Day In The Life” video you used TRX straps. How often do you use the TRX in your workouts and how beneficial do you find them to be?

Those kill me. Our speed and strength trainer played in the minor leagues and with Ryan Howard and he loves those. The TRX are a really good workout for me and for anybody to use.

You are not like many middle infielders because you look to drive the ball and have the bat speed and physical strength to do that. Describe your approach at the plate, because you also see a lot of pitches and show the discipline to lay off pitches out of the zone. One game at Jupiter you went 0-0 with four walks.

It depends on who I am facing and if I have a scouting report. I like to sit on certain pitches. I will sit on location as well. For example, if I am sitting on an inside fastball I will not swing at a fastball outside even though it is a fastball because I am not zoned in on that certain spot. I can make an adjustment to try to hit that pitch if it is there but I am not going to usually swing at that pitch. I feel like I have a good eye at the plate. I also watch the umpire from shortstop and what kind of balls he calls on the opposing team when we are on defense to get a feel for the umpires’ zone. That helps me a lot because I feel as though once I get on base I can steal and get on scoring position.

For you, what are the biggest differences between when you are mechanically sound and seeing the ball well versus when you know you need to put in some work because something just feels a little off?

My big thing is my hands. I need to be quick. What I do best is staying aggressive and if I don't have an aggressive swing then I am not putting a good swing on it, even with two strikes. I am not going to come out of my shoes with two strikes but I am still going to out an aggressive swing on the ball. A weird thing that I do sometimes is simply take my eye off the ball. That is what you learn in tee ball but you have to use your eyes properly. Sometimes I like to see where the ball goes before I hit it and that doesn't work too well. You have to see the ball before you hit the ball. I think my hands and eyes are keys.

When we were in Jupiter, you showed more rhythm to your hands and setup and used a shorter stride in game action than at other events. Walk me though the changes you have made to your setup and swing. What drove those changes?

One person who drove those changes was Dominic Smith. When he bats he is very relaxed, like Robinson Cano. Dominic is insanely good and I want to be like him. He is a super-relaxed player at the plate and I wanted to mimic that. I used him as a role model for my setup. I feel like I am very relaxed now while still being able to put a good, quick swing on the ball. I feel like my setup allows me to key in on what the pitcher is throwing. I am not going to guess. I am not a guesser. It allows me to stay relaxed, key in on certain pitches and look to drive the ball to the gap somewhere.

You are a very good defensive shortstop. What is your favorite play at shortstop that allows you to show your physical talents and defensive acumen?

I love backhands. They are my best friends. I am very confident in my backhand and that is why I cheat up the middle because I feel more confident in my backhand. I feel as though I have a good throwing arm and I like showing that off. I feel confident that I can make any play out there but if there was one play I had to choose, it would be a backhand. I feel like that is my play. I like looking a little flashy sometimes.

You do that very well. I remember on the second or third day of the Area Code Games during the warmups you slid about three or four steps into shallow left field and made this awesome sliding backhand play. It was a prime-time play and we were only in warmups. Who would you say has had the greatest impact on your baseball career?

I would have to say my dad. He drives me to succeed. He pushes me and he can play a rhetorical game. If I say that I am tired he might say something like ‘there is somebody out there working hard right now, but if you want to stop that is fine with me’ that can get me going. I feel as though I have a very good work ethic and drive but he is the guy that really helps me every single day. He hits me ground balls and gives me soft toss in the garage and helps me fix the flaws in my swing. I think that he has drove me to be the player I am today and I can’t thank him enough.

You have mentioned Dominic Smith, and he was hanging out with your team in Jupiter. Did you two have the chance to talk hitting?

He is such a relaxed guy at the plate. He takes things seriously on the field but is such a fun guy to be around. He is a great clubhouse guy. He is great guy to talk hitting with because he knows so much baseball. He gave me a lot of examples of where I should hit balls and different pitch locations. A lot what I do at the plate is based off what he has told me and that is staying quiet and confident and being relaxed. He has helped me a lot with my hitting even if he doesn't really know how much he has done. I am very thankful for him as well.

You mentioned in the video that you try to hit every single day. How many reps do you like to take doing tee work daily? Also, are you a hitter that likes to do a lot of extra tee work when you feel like something is just off at the plate?

I do tee work every day whether I am struggling or doing well because if you are struggling you are trying to put in extra work to get out of it. If you are doing well, you want to do extra work to make sure you continue to succeed. Doing tee work every day and soft toss with my dad has helped me out a lot. I also take ground balls in the church parking lot right across the street at least two or three times a week.

You like to get your ground ball work in based in a church parking lot. How do you think that helps you with ground balls on grass? I’m sure it has to be a faster surface.

It has helped me a lot. My dad hits them and he fires them at me. I tell him to hit them as hard as he can because I try to make the speed of the ground balls as close to game speed as possible. I know there are a lot of rocks in the parking lot but I try not to move them because I treat those as bad hops. You can’t control a bad hop, so that has helped me.

What else should the audience know about Josh Morgan the player or person?

I think we have covered a lot of it. I just want to say that I am a Christian and I give all my glory to God. So all my work ethic and everything that has driven me is because he has done great things in my life. I couldn't be more blessed and I am very happy with where I am today and I just have to keep pushing to get to my final goal.

Thanks a lot, Josh. This has been a lot of fun and I look forward to seeing you out here in North Carolina in a few weeks.