Hot Stove: Morris looking beyond Bay trade
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All baseball prospects face some pressure, to varying degrees, but Bryan Morris was identified by the Pirates' management as potentially the main piece in a three-team trade in which the other two main pieces were Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez.
Good luck, kid.
Bay proceeded to become one of the American League's top run producers in Boston, then signed a $65 million contract with the New York Mets, and Ramirez has created a "Mannywood" empire in Los Angeles.
He will turn 23 in two months, he is projected by management to repeat high Class A, and he is coming off a dismal year at Lynchburg in which he went 4-9 with a 5.57 ERA and was suspended by the Pirates for berating an umpire and other on-field behavior deemed "unprofessional" by director of player development Kyle Stark.
So, forget Bay and Ramirez, as well as the other three players -- Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen -- the Pirates received in the trade. The priority for Morris, heading into 2010, is simply to regain the elite-prospect status this 6-foot-3 right-hander once enjoyed.
"It's almost impossible not to think about being part of the trade, but I'm trying not to," Morris said this week at minicamp in Bradenton, Fla. "You can look at it both ways. If you succeed, they're going to pat you on the back and say, 'Great job, man.' If you don't do as well, they're going to think they wasted Jason Bay. Yeah, there are high expectations from the trade, and I've let that bother me in the past. But now, I'm here to do one thing, and that's pitch."
Morris will start, he said, by focusing on perhaps his lone highlight of 2009, pitching 6 2/3 decent innings -- three runs despite 11 hits -- to win the decisive fifth game of the Carolina League semifinal against Salem. The Hillcats went on to win the title.
"The playoff game is the No. 1 thing, especially because that team just killed me in the regular season. That was a big boost because all year long it had been a struggle. For me to step up with the playoffs on the line, that felt good."
Morris' specific emphasis -- as per management's emphasis -- will be on fastball command. The Pirates maintain that they will not promote pitching prospects until they master the most basic pitch, even if that means prohibiting them from leaning on breaking stuff.
The latter happened with Morris last season, and he apparently did not like it.
"I was working off my curve a lot, without a lot of control of the fastball. It was tough for me to grasp at first. We had our arguments back and forth. That, in and of itself, led to inconsistency in my game. I was battling the system when I shouldn't have. But now, I know what I've got to do."
• The only injuries of the minicamp that ended yesterday were minor -- Joel Hanrahan missed a session to elbow tightness, and another reliever, Vinnie Chulk, had a sore neck -- and manager John Russell yesterday expressed satisfaction that the team is on course for a fairly healthy spring training: "This was very productive."
• To watch Jeff Clement take grounders at first base -- and Russell did again yesterday -- it would appear the player and the coaching staff have plenty of work to do to be ready by April 5.
• Another pitching prospect on the 40-man roster, wiry right-hander Ronald Uviedo, will switch from starting to relief this year in Class AA Altoona. He went 5-5 with a 3.36 ERA in 18 starts for Class A Lynchburg last season. "I love to be in the bullpen," Uviedo said. "That's my game."
• Newly signed outfielder Ryan Church, on PNC Park: "It's beautiful. I've thought about that every time I've played there. What a great place that will be to go to work every day."
• Hard-throwing left-hander Donnie Veal will take a step back this year. No longer a Rule 5 roster requirement that he stays with the Pirates, he will be a starter rather than reliever. That apparently is OK with him, especially after a highly encouraging Arizona Fall League stint in which he went 3-1 with a 2.14 ERA in seven starts, with 22 strikeouts and 7 walks. "Everything was just going right, and once that happens ..." he said. "I just got into a rhythm, and that's what happens when you start. I'm really looking forward to it, to be honest."
• By the time the Pirates return to Bradenton for spring training, they will have an expanded clubhouse at Mc Kechnie Field, notably a new dining area and more room for equipment storage.
• Thirty-one days until pitchers and catchers report.
First Published January 17, 2010 12:00 am