No. 3 – Brandon Morrow, RHP
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 20, 2007
Righthander Brandon Morrow has a lot of fans awfully excited right now, and understandably so. He’s been lighting up the radar guns with a mid-90s heater, locating his slider a little bit and his splitter is, well, splitting effectively against anyone who steps into the box against him.
But I know I’m going to have to explain myself at some point, so let me get into the specifics of why Morrow is No. 3 and not No. 1 or 2.
Morrow is a safer prospect to project than, say, Jeff Clement, but comes with similar or greater risks in other areas such as health, future role and long-term value. If both players reached their absolute ceilings of Jason Schmidt for Morrow and a Jorge Posada-type role for Jeff Clement, Morrow probably has the advantage, slightly.
But even with Clement’s defense as questionable as it is, his offensive ceiling has more potential value than does Morrow’s back-up career as a closer.
I had Morrow sitting at No. 2 for nearly a month as I compiled all the data for the Top 10, and I flip-flopped each name back and forth at least three or four times. But considering the general risk of pitchers/the advantage that hitters take with them into the upper minors as far as risk goes, Clement edged out Morrow by the slightest of margins.
Truthfully, the entire group between 2 and 6 are interchangeable for me, and the end-result could reflect them in any order. I just feel like Clement’s got a little bit better shot to become a full-time catcher/offensive force in the majors than Morrow does to be a frontline starter.
Morrow is terribly talented and I’m as excited to see what his future brings as anyone else. I believe what some don’t – I think he can start in the big leagues and I don’t buy the BS that he has to have a good change-up or curve ball in order to do it.
This whole “he needs a third pitch” thing is not a universal, global concept that applies to all pitchers. Most of them yes. But do you think Greg Maddux needed another pitch outside his two-seam fastball and change-up combo in his prime? He had one, but there were entire games where he’s admitted he threw less than five curve balls of the 110 he tossed toward home plate.
Did Randy Johnson need a third pitch in his day? Nope. A 98-mph fastball and nasty slider were more than enough to earn him his legendary status.
And many times a third offering is just that. A third pitch to show the hitter something different. It doesn;t always need to be something great.
Morrow has plenty of velocity on his fastball and his slider and splitter give him three pitches, with his slider being the current “show-me” selection.
Clement is a special case and may ultimately need more time to learn to catch than the team wants to wait. His bat will get him to the bigs, unlike most catching prospects. He’s come along ways since draft day, but that is another story for another day – like tomorrow, when Clement is named the No. 2 prospect.
As for why Morrow is not No. 1? Let’s not even go there. At the top spot the Mariners have a legitimate future all-star. Stay tuned.
Strengths: Morrow has good size, plus stuff and grades average or better across the board, including makeup, mechanics and pitchability.
He’s a bit of a late-bloomer in that he didn’t taste a lot of success in college until he had experienced as many adverse results as one may be able to take.
After posting a combined ERA of 7.57 during his first two years at Cal Berkley, Morrow responded with a strong year in 2006 where the right-hander showed vast improvement in all areas, most importantly cutting his walk rate in half.
Morrow has all the makings of a successful power arm, whether he’s getting 30 starts a year or finishing games.
Weaknesses: The 22-year-old has a shallow track record of success and was drafted primarily on his physical ability, raw stuff and risky future potential.
Morrow possesses a frontline starter’s arsenal but has yet to display more than average command. Combined with his lack of a true off-speed pitch, each could provide a major obstacle to Morrow’s long-term future as a member of the rotation.
Diagnosed with diabetes four years ago, Morrow pitches with a glucose tablet in his back pocket and checks his blood sugar between innings. There’s no reason to believe it’ll ever interfere with his baseball career, however, and surely hasn’t limited his physical abilities.
Arm soreness last summer restricted his time on the mound, but he’s had no signs of trouble since.
||Right||Right||Draft, 2006 – 1st Round
Fastball: Morrow gets a good downward angle on his mid-90s fastball, a four-seamer he is able to locate regularly. There’s plenty of zip on it, enabling the Bay Area native to pitch aggressively up in the zone, but it has solid sinking action that induces a decent amount of groundballs.
Sitting 93-98 with the four-seamer, Morrow sets up his secondary stuff well by forcing the hitter to start early. Improved command with the fastball may be the difference between Morrow the No. 3 starter or Morrow the Curt Schilling clone.
Splitter: Morrow’s out pitch is a high-80s split-finger that serves as his off-speed pitch and can baffle hitters charged up to hit the plus fastball. The club would prefer he employed a change-up instead – and word is that he’s working on it – but he’s got a great feel for the split already and it appears he’ll be allowed to use it at his own discretion.
At times the splitter is a devastating option for Morrow and reduces the necessity for a legit curve ball.
He must avoid abusing the pitch and trusting his third offering a little bit more, but the split-finger is a big time weapon, and keeps left-handers completely off balance.
Slider: Morrow’s slider has improved since his sophomore year and he’s gaining the confidence needed to throw it when behind in the count. Morrow typically throws the pitch at 83-86 mph with decent tilt and late break.
The more the 6-3, 200-pound flamethrower can use the slider, the more effective his fastball-splitter combo will be, as if it’s not good enough already.
Command: Morrow showed solid command at Cal last year and it continued in his short stint as a pro last summer. He’ll need to become more consistent with it as he works his way through the system, which could be very quickly if all goes well.
As a starter in college, Morrow experienced spells of control problems and in the pro game he’ll have to find a way to avoid those if he’s to smell success in the upper levels as well as the big leagues.
Mechanics: With his arm angle, a near-7/8 slot, Morrow should be able to stave off major elbow injuries but that may come with a negative, too. Improving his slider might be a limited venture, which is why the club is on him to grow a change-up and a curve.
His velocity is reached with an easy, flowing motion from both the wind and the stretch and his stride is solid and without a ton of effort, which bodes well in the long-term.
Future: Morrow could step in this spring and help the Mariners out of the bullpen, but he’s most likely slated for Double-A West Tennesse to get work in the starting rotation. If the big club is contending after the all-star break, Morrow may be a prime candidate to come straight from Double-A to shore up the relief corps.
If the Mariners handle his development properly he’ll get 120+ innings as a starter in 2007 between West Tenn and Tacoma, even if he gets the big call later in the year. He could be in the show for good sometime in 2008, even right out of spring training.
MLB ETA: 2007 (Post Break)
MLB CLONE –
Ceiling: Jason Schmidt
Median: Joe Nathan
Cellar: Chris Ray
PI Projection 2007: 3.4 ERA, 135 IP, 9.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.5 G/F