Starting to itch yet?

Can Bryan Morris Salvage The Jason Bay Trade?

Until ten minutes before the 2008 trade deadline, Neal Huntington said the Pittsburgh Pirates were “reserved to hold onto Jason Bay.”   As you know, they didn’t. 

So for a team that had very few above average players it’s hard not to look back and try to see what’s left for the Pirates.  Can 2011 be the year that the Pirates see something of a positive return in what is now viewed as a lopsided deal that sent Bay to the Sox for two prospects from the Red Sox and two from the LA Dodgers?   

So where are the Bucs now?

The two prospects received from the Red Sox haven’t worked:  Craig Hansen has pitched 22 innings for the Bucs, suffered a fluke injury and hasn’t thrown an inning since 2009.    The other prospect, Brandon Moss headed down the turnpike to Philly after getting four hits for the Bucs in 2010; he will try to play for the Phillies in 2011.   The Dodger prospects seemed to be the best, but after fizzling in the ‘Burgh Andy LaRoche is back in the California sunshine trying to earn an Oakland A’s hat. 

So just one player is left to salvage the deal.  And for a few months last season, it appeared that it could happen when Bryan Morris, the other prospect from L.A., stormed out to one of the best starts in all of the minor leagues last year.

You remember Morris, he was the key piece of the Bay deal.  A 6’3″ hard throwing right handed pitcher who was a much ballyhooed player in the eyes of scouts when he was drafted in the first round.  But once Morris made it to the Bucs, there were skeptics. You shouldn’t be shocked by that. Pirates fans have always been disturbed by trades the club has made of their well known players, even though Jason Bay had a very difficult 2007 season.

Life as a Pirates for Morris hasn’t been overly good. He was hurt. There were nasty stories of disagreements with the Pirates development staff. A suspension. Injuries. Unprofessionalism. And then there were the results. Morris was awful. Especially for the Class A+ Lynchburg Hillcats.

Morris was 22 years old. Most fans thought it was time for this diamond in the rough to shine. He pitched for Lynchburg in the Carolina A+ League and frankly nothing shined. It was more like dull copper without a touch of Brasso in sight. He had a 5.57ERA in 72 innings with 34 walks and 32 strikeouts. He was “Zach Duke hittable” with a line of 10.8 hits per 9 innings.

But when it mattered most to his Hillcats team, Morris delivered. He delivered a pile of fastballs. Perhaps that explained the frustration with the development staff, but nonetheless, it was money time for Morris and the Hillcats were in the thick of winning a Carolina League title: [story PG Dejan]

Morris was coming off a regular season in which he pitched poorly — 4-9, 5.57 ERA — and was suspended for berating an umpire, but he was chosen to pitch the decisive fifth game of the semifinal and came through with 6 2/3 innings and three runs to prevail.

“It says a lot about the kid,” Forbes said. “And the most important thing was that he went through 6 2/3 on 68 pitches, and 50 were fastballs. We tried all season to stress the importance of fastball command if you want to start in the big leagues. That game was as big as they come at this level, and he stepped up.”

In the early part of the 2010 season it all clicked for Morris, he started pitching very well at the A ball level for the Bradenton Marauders. He posted a 0.60ERA. He allowed just three earned runs in 44.2 innings while he struck out 40 batters and walked seven.  He was dominant.

It continued when Morris was promoted to Altoona to play for the AA Curve.

What have Pirates pitchers lacked in recent years? Some would say kahunas. The balls to pitch inside when it matters most. We like this story about Morris last season when Portland had scored a run on him in the top of the first, Morris settled down and blanked the Sea Dogs the rest of the way to pitch 6+ innings of one run ball. [From AJ at Altoona Mirror]

“I gave them a little bit of chin music,” said Morris, who knocked down a couple of Portland hitters in his 6 2/3 innings. “I don’t like doing that a whole lot, but whenever a team’s battling you pretty good, you’ve got to put a little fear in them. They started out awful comfortable in the box.”

In his first seven outings at Altoona, Morris had a 1.99 ERA. He showed solid command. The new mechanics did wonders for his numbers. Morris had a 1.22WHIP, 3.35ERA, 42 strikeouts and 15 walks in 45.2 innings pitched.

Some of the new mechanics came in spring training when Joe Kerrigan spent extra time ensuring everything was working well.  When we saw pictures of Morris and Maholm in the same groups we paid close attention. Obviously, so did Morris. It appeared that all of the hard work and Kerrigan voodoo had worked.   It looked like the Bay deal was going to reap a return.  At one point, Morris had the best ERA in all of pro baseball.

But that ERA, which was at one point 0.81, started to climb the more Morris pitched in Altoona.  His outings became less dominant and more about survival.  He lasted just four innings and gave up two runs, followed up by a mauling when he allowed 10 hits and eight runs. 

The Pirates decided to give him a ‘breather.’  His innings were monitored.  It was a smart move by the development team.  The fact that his ERA was 4.25 (3.87FIP)  at the AA level after 89 innings pitched show just how roughed up Morris was while pitching with the Curve. While other pitchers were leading the team to the AA title, Morris was in the bullpen.

So in 2011, will Morris prove he can be a starter or will he miss out on the opportunity? Will Bryan Morris who was the 26th player selected by the L.A. Dodgers be at Indianapolis or back at Altoona?  A starter or a reliever?

For some Pirates fans, the Jason Bay deal will be impossible to overcome without Morris having an amazing breakout.   All he needs to do is funnel his talent for the Bucs. Put together a complete season, then another, and another.  Morris needs to take 2011 by the horns and prove he can be an effective starting pitcher that the Bucs can place in the two or three spot in the rotation for a few years.

So ‘suddenly’ five years after being the first round (26th) pick of the LA Dodgers in the MLB Amateur Draft and then becoming the key piece of the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez/Bryan Morris trade, can Morris be the T-bone steak on Neal Huntington’s black eye?  Can Morris make those ten minutes not so painful?

It’s all up to Morris.  It will take a ton of work. It also might take a pile of bats heads, fish scales and other voodoo, but when it happens, if it happens,  it could be even sweeter because it would prove the development system of the Pirates got one right.


Bryan Morris talks about controlling what he can control, changing his ways, and fulfilling his dream to be a big leaguer.

For us it’s all about his last sentence in this video from Bradenton Marauders TV

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