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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.

AGE HEIGHT WEIGHT BATS THROWS ACQUIRED
22 6-3 200
Right Right Draft, 2006 – 1st Round
YEAR TEAM LEVEL G IP ERA HR/9 BB/9 K/9 AVG SLGA OPS OPS* BABIP*
2006 Peoria R 7 13.0 2.77 0.00 6.23 9.00 .227 .341 .699 .699 .323
2006 Inland A+ 1 3.0 0.00 0.00 0.00 12.00 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000

Tools –

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.
Grade: 65/70

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.
Grade:
55/65

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.
Grade: 45/55

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.
Grade: 50/55

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.
Grade: 50/60

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

OFP: 66.5

PI Projection 2007: 3.4 ERA, 135 IP, 9.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.5 G/F

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47 Responses to “No. 3 – Brandon Morrow, RHP”

  1. Adam B. said

    Judging from poor Tony Butler’s comments, this one couldn’t come fast enough. ^_^

  2. Butler doesnt mind, Im sure. LOL

  3. Adam PB said

    I am glad you project him as a starter. I would love to have this guy holding down the rotation with Felix for years to come. Any idea on what the teams opinions are of him after his solid spring training?

  4. they thought all along he had a chance to impress like he is doing right now, but it’s not the right thing to do…

    I think he starts the year in West Tenn.

  5. gookie23 said

    Ceiling: Median: Cellar: … reading that part of the player reports you put up is actually helpful to a fan that doesn’t know everything about the game and its’ players in some ways. cause, i hear about those ceiling guys, sometimes hear about those median guys, and the cellar ones, i never hear about them.

    if there is a devestating loss on the mariners’ starting rotation before spring training is up, could he get the slot?

  6. no.

  7. cujo said

    I thought the cellar might be a little high.Ray is preety damned good and this guy has 15 innings o pro ball i was thinking more like Driefert!

  8. Dave said

    I know you have to temper your comments, but it seems you’re not sure you believe what you’re seeing out of Morrow right now. Is that fair?The negatives seem to be tied to his first two years of college ball instead of his last year of college plus first year of pro. The guy looks to have all the intangibles you need to be very successful. A great head, great pyshical build and he competes. More than anything, the fact he isn’t intimidated like 95% of the farm system says a lot. I like what I see.

  9. Jesse said

    When the mariners passed on both tim lincecum, and andrew miller in last june’s draft, i was furious. But as time has gone by, and i have done some research on Brandon Morrow i have become more and more excited about his future with the mariners. Can you imagine if all goes to plan, and the first three picks from last june’s draft progress as true m’s fan’s hope they will. A rotation of Felix, Morrow, Butler, Tillman, and either Feierabend, Thomas, or Blackley, is enough to have me dreaming of the m’s playing in october. That coupled with the m’s wising up and trading ichiro to the yankees for Jose Tabata, or the dodgers for Andy Laroche and one or two of their promising young pitchers. The future (though maybe not the imediate future) finally looks a little brighter for loyal m’s fans.

  10. Adam said

    TRADE ICHIRO!!

    Jason – Does Morrow throw a two-seamer? Is Chaves trying to teach him a two-seamer? Or do you feel his four-seamer is effective enough to obviate the need for a two-seamer? That or a cutter could be a good third pitch, easier to master than a change.

  11. Scott said

    Jason,

    I have heard that passing on Miller allowed the M’s to take and sign Tillman and Butler, along with Morrow. Is that true? If it is true, did they make the right call?

  12. Adam PB said

    Adam – Yes, lets trade Ichiro and ruin any chance at possiblly endearing the team to the fanbase, lose a ton of money and get the payroll cut to ribbons. Team needs Ichiro more than he needs them

  13. Adam said

    Not to get too off topic, but…

    Endearing enshmearing.

    Unless this team makes the playoffs (not a great shot of that), Ichiro is G-O-N-E, no question. And what will the fanbase think when he leaves? Will they rage at Ichiro, who has been honest throughout (unlike A-Rod), or will they get made at management for letting another superstar walk away?

    It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario for management. Do they decide to placate the masses and keep Ichiro, only to have him walk for nothing at the end of the year, or do they trade him, piss of the masses, but get two or three stud, ready to contribute prospects whom we control for another five years and add to the core of the team’s future?

    I don’t think it is a hard decision. I would have dealt him in the offseason, when his value likely was higher. But if we can still get a Kemp/Loney/Elbert or Kendrick/Kotchman/Weaver-type package for Ichiro, I do it in half a heartbeat.

    Thankfully, most Seattle fans are fickle enough that they’ll support a winning team, regardless of Ichiro’s presence. And we’ve got a better chance of winning in the future with a package of young talent rather than with free agents signed to fill the gap left by Ichiro’s departure. And those fans who do have good baseball sense will understand the logic of trading Ichiro.

    It’s a no brainer, if you ask me.

    Now back to the Morrow discussion. Sorry I had to digress.

  14. Andren said

    Jason. Thanks again for the awesome write-ups you’ve done.

    How would you grade our top 5 pitching prospects (Morrow, Butler, Tillman, Feierabend and Thomas) versus other minor league systems?

    I’m very excited by what you’ve written about our arms, but need a point of reference.

  15. Greg08 said

    lol i have an idea that is kinda cheating so to say. trade ichiro to the angels for santana/kendrick or wood/kotchman (that might be to much) and just resign ichiro during the offseason.

    Is there a reason everyone pegs Morrow as a future close? It seems if they want him a starter, make him a starter

  16. Ozzie said

    I’m a little worried about his stamina. He hasn’t pitched over 100 innings in his collegiate carrer and pitched very little in his first two years at Cal. I think this year, in the MINORS, will help him develop his arm strength and see if he is able to log innings.

  17. Ozzie said

    I meant 100 innings in a year.

  18. Adam said

    Jason, is there a reason why a weird blog comes up instead of yours when I go to prospectinsider.com?

  19. Todd said

    Seems like you’re really high on Morrow, if only based on his MLB comparables. Schmidt sounds like an excellent ceiling; Joe Nathan as a median?!; and Chris Ray is no dud either.

    Would you say he’s a sure-thing to blossom into an ace or shut-down closer, or are those simply based on his upside?

    Here’s hoping Batista goes down with something so that Morrow can join the rotation come summertime.

  20. Goose said

    If your gonna root for somebody to go down so Morrow can take their place, I’d say Weaver is a much much better candidate.

  21. Todd said

    Alright — change that to Weaver…

  22. Adam, i’m doing some configuring, so on occasion that will come up… to avoid that for the time being, boomark prospectinsider.wordpress.com.

  23. Re: Dave — I know you have to temper your comments, but it seems you’re not sure you believe what you’re seeing out of Morrow right now. Is that fair?The negatives seem to be tied to his first two years of college ball instead of his last year of college plus first year of pro. The guy looks to have all the intangibles you need to be very successful. A great head, great pyshical build and he competes. More than anything, the fact he isn’t intimidated like 95% of the farm system says a lot. I like what I see.

    I believe it, but think about what he’s actually done so far. He’s mowed down 20 batters in spring training, 70% of which are guys wearing number 88, if ya catch my drift.

    Also, a lot of my “tempering” is because he’s done it in relief, which i have no doubts he can do against good big league bats. But his top prospect value is as a starter. Relief prospects aren’t great prospects at all.

    I wanna see him get outs regularly after he’s thrown 85 pitches in the game already, and against good, solid competition, too. And then both at the same time.

    I’m not basing much on his struggles in 04 and 05 except that because of that he has a very small track record of success, meaning, this is all kind of new to him, at least at the higher levels, as I’m sure he saw success in high school and what not.

  24. Adam B. said

    Remember, even schlubs like Piniero can look good out of the bullpen.
    It’s getting through 6 innings consistently in good shape that seperates the men from the boys. =)

  25. Exactly, which is why the club should not even be considering using him out of the pen right now. He needs work in the rotation.

    But the stuff is certainly there and there is no reason to seriously doubt his future right now. Just let him go do it.

  26. Bilbo said

    Is it fair to assume he isn’t going to pitch 200 innings this year because he has never come close to that and they don’t want to hurt him? If so, and you are going to limit his innings would you rather have him begin the year as a starter and switch to relief or vice versa?

  27. I think it’d be safer to not change it around, but if you had to… ending the year in relief makes a little more sense, though it could probably work either way.

    And no, no way does he get close to 200 innings. I’m thinking 130-140 in the minors as a starter and if the club is still in it, call him up and use him out of the pen for the final 6 weeks.

  28. Adam said

    Jason – does Morrow throw a two-seamer?

    How simple would it be for him to use a two-seamer or a cut fastball as a third pitch?

  29. It’s usually not all that difficult for guys to pick up, but it’s not something you just decide to do and it’s done.

    Morrow’s fastball-splitter-slider trio is good enough, though the slider needs improvement. But his change needs a lot of work. But he does have one. I didn’t put a grade on one because he’s used it so sparingly until now.

    No need at this point to teach him a two-seamer, which, btw, doesn’t really qualify as a different pitch altogether, especially when considering Morrow’s power arsenal.

    You really want to see something slower — change, curve ball, something like that.

  30. Cool — Blackley interviewed on XM. Man, I hope he pulls things together this year. Can’t wait to see him tear up Tacoma!

    Didn’t Morrow have shoulder issues? Have his mechanics been changed to work around or fix this? Beyond the concern that he was suspected to end up in the ‘pen as a closer by some people, I actually was more concerned about his shoulder issues when Fontaine drafted him.

  31. He had a sore shoulder last summer, and yeah, they did look to make a few minor adjustments, but he just needed rest after an apparent tweak.

    His problems in college was behind the shoulder below the shoulder blade. Didnt hurt while he threw, but it did cause pain when he followed through as is stretched out his arm and back. it was so persistent that it became a worry.

    Clearly, it went away as he pitched really well last year and has shown no signs of it returning.

  32. Slack said

    I heard that the reason why Morrow had shoulder problems was because of his sudden increase in velocity. I heard that that can be really hard on the shoulder.
    I don’t know how accurate that really is but I did hear it somewhere and I thought I would throw it into the mix.

  33. No. He was throwing 90+ his freshman year. Velo can go up for several reasons, but Morrow credits it to better mechanics and natural gain in strength.

  34. Adam B. said

    On a different note I’d just like to say how refreshing it is to see the fruits of a couple of decent drafts reflected in the Mariner’s prospect rankings. And though mainstream sources like Baseball America have yet to catch on (Eric O’Flaherty and Yung Chi Chen in the top ten? C’mon…), those in the know see some bright skies ahead.

    Personally I think the Mariners system has received a largely undue bad rap from the mainstream community in recent years. One could blame this on the magnificent “large toolsy highschooler” drafts of the late 90s; But I also think the Mariners super aggressive promotions also negatively effect their farm rankings.

    Just think what this list could potentially look like if you included all the under 25 talent on the major league roster:

    1. Felix Hernandez RHP
    2. Adam Jones OF
    3. Jeff Clement C
    4. Yuniesky Betancourt SS
    5. Brandon Morrow RHP
    6. Jose Lopez 2B
    7. Mark Lowe RHP (before injury)
    8. Anthony Butler LHP
    9. Ryan Feierabend LHP
    10. Chris Tillman RHP

    (My humble personnel rankings)

    That’s a system that stacks up well against even the elites like the Angels, Tigers and Indians.
    And with kids like Truenfel, Halman, Liddi and Peguero potentially blossoming, this system could very well be ranked among the best in baseball relatively quickly.

  35. Willmore said

    I don’t know what it is about the start of the season, but the deep dark abyss of pessimism in my soul is gradually changing to unbridled optimism. It likely won’t last, and by the middle of May I am likely to be in a deep depression as Snelling is lighting up the NL. But when I’m in that Safeco seat on April second and the Mariners are undefeated for the season, there are few things a baseball fan can experience that compare to that feeling of “anything is possible”. And maybe being a Mariners fan, with ’95 and 2001, is much better than a Brewers fan who have little faith or the Yankees fan who has expectations and not optimism in the heart, which only clouds one’s enjoyment in my opinion. It certainly did so last year for the Seahawks fans, I think we lost sight of the game with our expectations of a Super Bowl.

  36. Ugh. Eight pitches for three outs today just makes people swoon just a little bit more for him in the ‘pen.

    They do have problems in the ‘pen, but I really don’t think they’re going to have too many leads to protect early in the season anyway (especially since Sexson is a notoriously slow starter). I just don’t see the slight gain in the M’s chances to win with Morrow in the ‘pen over some fungible MLB-er available on the scrap heap as being worth more than the cost of developing him as a starter.

    But, really, I’m not going to lose a ton of sleep worrying about it. If Morrow is as good as the reports I’ve heard say he is, then he really doesn’t need to spend time in the minors to be a good MLB pitcher, be it in the ‘pen or in the rotation.

    I just think that the Jered Weaver path would be better for Morrow. I know Cha-Cha, Woods, and Fear are all ahead of Morrow in the rotational pecking order, but still, it wouldn’t surprise me if Morrow were able to leapfrog over those guys and do just fine in the rotation.

    I really don’t trust the M’s tendency of pigeonholing a hard thrower into the bullpen. And once he’s there and shows some success, it’ll be that much harder to take him out of the ‘pen…

  37. The Mariners are stupid… at least based on their actions. Hargrove makes stupid decisions, Bavasi makes stupid decisions, Lincoln makes stupid decisions.

    They’ll screw this up – we all know that. They’ll take Morrow north, turn him into a career reliever and continue to be the laughing stock of baseball.

    The Mariners can’t afford to have drafted and paid the fifth pick overall to be a reliever for any extended length of time, and if that’s the case, he should NOT smell the bigs until he’s logged a good chunk of innings in the minors.

    But, they are too stuck on instant gratification to make the right choice.

  38. Ron Hagerty said

    Jason, didnt u say Fontaine would be the one making the call on Morrow?? I thought u respected his voice… are u saying his opinion will be overridden by Lincoln and Hargrove?? I assume Fontaine will realize Morrow’s long term success is best built by going down to AA and working on becoming a starter and not by working the 7th and 8th innings every 2-3 days, on a mediocre Mariners squad…

    Jason, what do u think is goin to happen here?? What would u set the odds at that he breaks camp with the big boys??

    It’s sad when u have to hope Morrow gets banged around a bit, so that he’s sent to his rightful place… AA

  39. Goose said

    In other news, Felix was offically named the opening day starter.

  40. marinerswinws said

    Horray good decision Hargorve!

  41. I can guarantee that Fontaine is saying some version of the following —

    Morrow has looked good… can pitch in the pen very effectively in 2007 in the majors.

    His best value to the club as early as 2008 is as a starter and if he’s used exclusively out of the pen in 07, his future as a starting pitcher is set back at least as long as he’s not starting.

    The Mariners are the dumbest bunch of money-grubbing idiots in the history of baseball. They listen to their financial advisors, or their own pocket book screaming at them from the hip, before they listen to their scouting and player development department.

    I would not be surprised if at some point Fontaine is asked and is forced to respond the way the organization asks him to.

    I’m so tired of this kind of crap.

    I swear to Moses that if the ownership group was different and Lincoln was sent fishing where he belongs, that we would be talking about how Morrow looked so good he might, MIGHT get a call-up this summer if the 25-man needed a boost in July.

  42. Slack said

    How much longer until Bavasi and Lincoln take a hike? I’m sure Bavasi gets lost but what about Lincoln? Morrow going north with the M’s would anger me to no end. I hope we are all just being paranoid but with Morrow still being around this long in spring training and the suits in the office being as dumb as they are, you have to wonder.
    Are the odds really that high that Morrow makes the team as a reliever out of spring training?
    One other thing. The ownership group is just looking for instant gratification? After three straight years of losing, you would think those suckers would take a hint!

  43. Slack said

    Whats next? Tony Butler, the left handed specialist?!

  44. Morrow made the team, there’s no doubt about it now. It’s March 25 Sunday and they aren’t scheduled to make cuts until Monday – and from what I hear, Morrow isn’t among them as of Saturday night.

    You can’t re-assign a player this late in spring training and then expect him to START games in two weeks.

    I guess they could send him down and use him in relief for awhile, but if they were going to start Morrow in the minors they wouldn’t put him through the relief route, they woulda just sent him down 10 days ago.

  45. Re: Bavasi, Lincoln

    First off, we can’t blame Bavasi for the Morrow thing… just to get that out there.

    Lincoln is staying until the M’s get new ownership, sadly.

  46. Isaiah Hunter said

    Is there any chance this is temporary? Could this mean Putz is starting on the DL? Maybe Morrow is filling in for Putz until he gets back?

  47. JasonAChurchill said

    Morrow isn’t connected to Putz in this, because they wouldn’t bring him north for 2 weeks and then send him down. That’s a waste of an option year and they will have to make room on the 40-man for Morrow.

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