After missing all of 2007 and part of 2008 to Tommy John surgery, no one wanted to see 2009 become another lost year for Bryan Morris. After toe and shoulder injuries and attitude problems that resulted in a conduct-related suspension from Kyle Stark, that’s just what 2009 was for Morris.
Recently, though Morris has admitted his struggles with the Pirates’ “only fastballs until you throw strikes” edict and he seems reasonably upbeat about 2010, especially given his struggles last year. It’s possible (though this is all speculation on my part, so please don’t read further into it) that he butted heads with Troy Buckley and his optimism is related to Buckley’s leaving.
In any case, don’t forget that Morris is still very talented (he has a mid-90s fastball and a good curveball) and still very much a prospect, despite his bad season. He’ll likely begin 2010 repeating High-A, but since the Florida State League is a pitcher’s league maybe that will be a good way for him to start his season. He is 23 now, and while that’s certainly too young to write off, he’s going to have to start making some strides soon.
July 2010 Update: I don’t know if any one player in the organization has done more for his stock in 2010 than Morris. In eight starts with Bradenton, he made FSL hitters look silly with a WHIP and ERA both below 1.00 and a 5.71 K/BB ratio. Since then he’s made ten starts for Altoona and his K-rate has actually gone up a bit (up to 8.7 BB/9), though he’s giving up more hits and a few more walks (3.2/9). In short, he’s become exactly the pitcher everyone hoped the Pirates had traded for in the Jason Bay trade, just a year behind schedule after so much went wrong last year.
One thing I particularly like about Morris is his ground ball rate, which is up around 55% this year. He doesn’t exactly project as an ace (people throw that term around way too much), but if he keeps progressing he could be the 2-3 sort of starter that we all hoped Charlie Morton would turn into before his disappointing implosion this year. In any case, it’s great to see him making some strides this year. July 2010 rank: 1
January 2011 update: Morris is a good example of why I’m not very good at ranking prospects. I think I overvalued his early season a bit much last year, and so as a result it looks like I’m dinging him more for his rougher second half last year than I really have in my own personal evaulation. He tailed off quite a bit in the second half of 2010 in Altoona, which was probably at least partially because he almost doubled his inning count from 2009. In fact, he threw 133 2/3 innings last year and that’s far more than any other year in his minor league career, which has constantly been marred by injuries and by his outburst in 2009. So he might be more talented than Locke or Owens, but he hasn’t produced consistently on the level that either of them have and he’s also the oldest of the group, so I think he’s still the most inscrutable. I think this will be a telling year for him as if he starts in Triple-A, he’ll both be fresh and pitching at the level that he should be at, age-wise. January 2011 rank: 5