There’s no question that Bryan Morris is a talented pitcher. The Dodgers thought highly enough of him to select him in the first round of the 2006 draft. The Pirates thought highly enough of him to take him as a part of the return for Jason Bay, their best player at the time. The problem with Morris has been injury issues, and that has carried over in to his time with the Pirates.
I interviewed Bryan last Thursday, before his outstanding outing against Wilmington, and we discussed the trade, the injuries, and what he is now doing different. Here is what he had to say:
Tim: You were described as the final piece of the Jason Bay trade last summer. There was talk that the trade wouldn’t have gone through unless the Dodgers threw you in. How does that feel?
Bryan: I’m grateful to be known as a quality player to be put in such a deal, as big as that deal was. Hopefully I can make everything work out the way the Pirates want it to.
Tim: Any pressure being involved in a deal of that magnitude?
Bryan: No, because I can’t do anything other than do what I can do, and that’s just pitch the way I pitch. If I had any frustrations, it would be the health issue we’ve had the past couple of years. We’re getting past that, we’re trying to move forward, and that’s been the main goal all year long is just to get through the rest of the year healthy.
Tim: What would you say the biggest noticeable difference is between the Dodgers’ system and the Pirates’ system?
Bryan: Probably sportsmanship, professionalism. The Dodgers had great professionalism, don’t get me wrong, but they really expect it here big time.
Tim: You had Tommy John surgery a few years ago. How difficult was it to come back from that?
Bryan: That year of rehab was probably the longest year of my life. You go to the field every morning and work out in rehab, and then you’ve got nothing to do the rest of the day. It took me awhile to figure out what to do with my time. That’s probably the only tough part about it. Working out and everything, elbow’s fine, all that stuff is good, so no repercussions from the surgery.
Tim: You’ve been described as having a delivery where you throw across your body. Has that led to any of your injuries, and have you done anything to change from that delivery?
Bryan: This year has been a big mechanical year because of the health standpoint. All year long I’ve been working on the mechanics, trying to get the mechanics better to keep my shoulder and elbow and everything a lot healthier than it has been in the past. That’s where a lot of my struggles have come from this year. New mechanics, new throwing style, not very consistent with it, but we’re moving forward.
Tim: You mentioned the new mechanics. Have you altered your delivery, and has that effected your release point?
Bryan: The delivery’s changed a little bit. Arm angle’s changed a little bit, or we’re trying to change it a little bit to keep pressure off of my shoulder. It’s a little bit different. There’s been some inconsistencies there, along with me not being healthy there’s going to be some inconsistencies there. The more I get on the field, I’ll improve slowly.
Tim: You’ll be headed to the Florida Instructional League later this month. Do you know what you’ll be working on?
Bryan: It will be about 95 percent mechanical, and then that will all relate to fastball command and develop, and changeup command. The majority, mechanical, and actually just continue to throw, because I didn’t get to throw a lot this year.
Tim: I’ve only been able to see one start from you this year. I notice in that start you were throwing a lot of fastballs. Are you focusing mostly on the fastball while you make those adjustments, or have you been incorporating other pitches in as well?
Bryan: My (bullpen sessions), unlike a lot of the other guys, I’ll throw 80-90 percent fastballs, because I’m at the point where I’m changing mechanics, I need fastball command, I need to find that consistency. Do I work on the other pitches? Yes, of course, but right now fastballs the main goal.
Tim: What is the early return on the mechanical changes reducing the injury issues?
Bryan: Health wise, it’s helped tremendously. My shoulder feels good, my body feels good, so it’s not been an issue here recently.
Tim: How do you feel about your chances going in to next year, improving on this year’s numbers?
Bryan: I’d like to say I’ve got a great chance to improve those numbers, because this year’s been a little frustrating, I’ve been a little inconsistent. Going in to this off-season I’m going to work my tail off and get stronger, and continue to work on the mechanics and get more consistent.
First of all, before the interview I asked Bryan if there was anything he did, or did not want to discuss, which was my way of asking him if he wanted to discuss the suspension. Bryan said he didn’t want to discuss that, saying that it was behind him, and that he was moving forward. I see a lot of “headcase” comments, with comparisons to Ian Snell. As someone who has actually talked to Bryan, I can say those comments are off-base, and really they’re derived from a situation that has been fueled mostly by speculation and here-say.
While I was at the Baseball Prospectus event at PNC Park a few weeks ago, Neal Huntington and Kyle Stark talked about so called attitude problems. They mentioned Lastings Milledge and Jose Tabata, two guys who were labeled as “head cases” due to specific incidents, but have been model citizens in their time with the Pirates. Huntington and Stark mentioned the importance of weighing whether an incident is a one time deal, or a habit.
In the case of Morris, I believe it was a one time deal. It was a 22 year old pitcher, totally reworking his game, dealing with several major injuries the past few years, and struggling in high A ball. I don’t know the specifics of the suspension, so I can only go on my interactions with Morris here, but those interactions don’t lead me to believe he’s deserving of the “head case” label I’ve seen thrown around.
As for the struggles, I’m not close to writing off Morris, and I’m not weighing this year too heavily. First of all, he’s only 22 years old. Bryan could spend another year at A ball, a year in AA, a year in AAA, and be in the majors at age 26, which is the same age as Ross Ohlendorf and Daniel McCutchen this season.
Think about it. You’ve got a pitcher who spent the first half of the season on the DL. He comes back and essentially changes his whole approach to the game, altering his delivery, arm angle, and focusing primarily on commanding the fastball with his new approach. Would you expect a pitcher to experience success right away after making those drastic changes?
Maybe Morris is getting used to the adjustments. He had three quality starts in the month
of August, wrapped around two bad starts. Then he had his outing in the playoffs, which you can view for yourself here. Any sign of success is encouraging, although consistent performances will be the key to his long term success.
So how do I rate Morris going forward? As I said, I’m not writing him off. At this point I’d label him a project, which seems like the only label you can give a pitcher who is pretty much going back to the basics. Morris has a lot of raw talent. In the starts I saw this year he was throwing low to mid 90s. He has some nice breaking pitches, but he needs the fastball to work in order for those to be effective.
The key to future success from Morris, and the big factor in his struggles, has been his health. The majority of what Morris is working on right now is geared towards avoiding future injuries. If Morris can shed the injury bug, it would allow him some time to actually develop. Morris only pitched 96 innings since the 2006 season coming in to this year. This year he’s pitched just under 80 innings. That’s hardly been enough time to develop, especially when considering the fact that he only has one year pitching in JuCo outside of his time in high school.
Next year will be a very important year for Morris. If the mechanical adjustments work out as planned, it will be his first full season in the minors, four years after being drafted. With no injury issues to hold him back, it could be the first chance we get to see the real Bryan Morris: the Bryan Morris taken in the third round by the Rays in 2005, in the first round by the Dodgers in 2006, and acquired by the Pirates in the Jason Bay trade last year.
Like this interview? I’ll have a new interview with a Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each day this week. Check back tomorrow for my interview with Justin Wilson. Also, be sure to check out my previous interviews with Tony Sanchez and Rudy Owens.