Hot Stove: Eager Morgan aces his offseason
Share with others:
Nyjer Morgan is as cool as they come -- anyone who names his car "Christine because she rides so clean" is a slam dunk in that category -- but he has become something of the class nerd this winter: Every time the Pirates have sought volunteers for a conditioning camp, his hand has been the first to go up.
There have been two such camps so far, mostly designed for pitchers, but he has been at each. He will be at minicamp next month, too, even though only pitchers and catchers get invited.
"I'm ready, man, and I want everyone to know it," he fairly shouted through the telephone this week from Chicago. "I'm working hard, and I'm going to be right there. I want to make sure I earn my chance to play."
It might not be easy.
If the Pirates took their current roster to St. Louis April 6, yes, Morgan would be in left field, with Nate McLouth and Brandon Moss sharing the outfield, according to manager John Russell. But much can -- and could -- happen between now and then, not the least of which is the acquisition of the team's openly declared greatest need, that being a right-handed power bat. If that bat happens to be Rocco Baldelli, Morgan would be pushed out.
Moreover, even if Morgan starts opening day, his days would appear numbered, with top prospect Andrew McCutchen a highly likely arrival in 2009.
Be sure that Morgan is aware of all of this.
"It's been that way my whole career, man, but there's no give-up in me," he said. "I'm just going to keep plugging away. I'm going to go out there and show that I belong, that I'm not a fluke. I'm going to bring the consistency that it's going to take to keep me playing all the time."
Consistency will be key: Morgan got off to a disastrous start this past season, visibly uncomfortable with a bench role, and was sent down to Class AAA Indianapolis. After it took a month to get going there, he clawed his way back to Pittsburgh and was outstanding: His .347 average from Aug. 19 until season's end was 10th highest in the National League in that span.
He drew eight walks, too, which is not spectacular but might have represented a sign that his long-lagging on-base percentage could rise.
"That's the key with Nyjer, getting on base," Russell said. "If he can do that -- hey, if he hits like he did for us down the stretch -- yeah, he's going to be out there."
• The shoulder ailment that nagged Freddy Sanchez all last season appears to be an afterthought. Sanchez is engaged in two-a-day workouts with a personal trainer in southern California and is having no negative issues.
• Salomon Torres, never the type to sit still too long, is doubling his enterprises in the Dominican Republic. Freshly retired from the Milwaukee Brewers, Torres is approaching teams who still do not have full-scale academies there with his plan to build two more on land adjacent to those he rents to the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers.
• The Pirates seemed genuinely disappointed when the Houston Astros signed free-agent outfielder Jason Michaels, even though the Pirates never made him an offer. The plan was to see how a couple of larger pursuits would go -- including that of Baldelli -- before turning to Michaels. Obviously, Michaels elected not to wait.
• Of the many right-handed arms vying for bullpen duty behind Matt Capps and Tyler Yates, expect recent signing Chris Bootcheck to have an inside track, even though he will be attending spring training on a minor league contract.
• Outfielder Jose Tabata, one of the system's top prospects, wrapped up his winter ball in Venezuela with a .286 average, 1 home run, 14 RBIs and 9 steals in 126 at-bats.
• Expect precious little news on the Pirates' front until later in the week. Their offices, like those of nearly all Major League Baseball teams and even most agents, go dark from Christmas to New Year's Day.
• Only 47 days until pitchers and catchers report.
First Published December 28, 2008 12:00 am