Adam Morgan is not a prospect, at least not by the arbitrary requirements that govern the Rookie of the Year race. He has 84.1 innings of major league baseball under his belt, during that time he was a #5ish starting pitcher who showed some good and some bad. This spring Morgan had almost a perfect run, marred only by a lack of strikeouts and the unstoppable force that was Vincent Velasquez. I am sure Adam would have liked to have earned a trip to the majors purely on merit, but Charlie Morton’s injury have brought him back to the majors anyway. So far in three AAA starts, Morgan has been solid posting a 3.57 ERA over 17.2 innings with 19 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 walks, and 20 strikeouts. As Morgan gets his chance to stick in the majors longer term, here is what I am watching closely for him.
Morgan is now over 2 years removed from his shoulder surgery, and while he was effective in the majors, his fastball was down to an average of 89.6 mph. Now that is not a death knell for lefty, it is not good for sustained success. The Phillies claim that Morgan’s velocity has increased some this spring, and on the shaky radar guns of spring training he touched up to 94. If Morgan can sit 90-92 touching 93-94, that will give him a much larger margin for error.
Morgan’s best secondary pitch is his slider. Pre-surgery it was a plus pitch that he could miss bats with and command in and out of the zone. Post-surgery the pitch sits in the low-80s and it is longer and loopier. He can miss bats with it as a chase pitch, but to get major league hitters out you need to threaten to throw the pitch as a strike. If Morgan can use the slider to get outs in the strikezone it will help his strikeouts go up.
Strikeouts have been Morgan’s biggest problem. No one expects him to be Vincent Velasquez, but he needs to be able to end at bats in some way. He had a 10.7% K% in AAA last year, that increased to 13.9% in the majors, and then this spring he struck out 2 in 9 innings. None of those numbers are going to work going forward. However, Morgan has a 26.7% K% in AAA this season which is the first time he has missed bats at that rate since Clearwater in 2012. Now he is not going to miss bats at that rate going forward, but somewhere in the 19%-21% range would be important for him.
The Other Secondary Pitches
Morgan last year had a 4 pitch mix, mixing in a changeup and curveball to his fastball and slider. Morgan’s fastball is very straight and we already discussed his slider. Morgan’s changeup is also straight, with a bit more drop than his fastball due to the velocity gap. His curveball is loopy and Morgan has all but scrapped it due to its ineffectiveness. This year Morgan has added a cutter, which may be able to offset some of the straightness of his fastball and changeup and function as a bit of a second changeup for Morgan. To be effective Morgan does not need to have any of these pitches be a monster weapon, but he needs them to be able to keep hitters off balance.
Holding Up Deep Into Games
I mentioned during my end of season recap on Adam Morgan that his slider velocity dropped off as he went deeper into games, and with the velocity drop, his effectiveness with the pitch also dropped. There has been a lot of talk about the 3rd time through the order penalty, and that seems to affect Morgan quite a bit. Now some of this is the recovery from surgery and working his strength back up, but it is also having the pitches to keep hitters off balance. The Phillies’ bullpen has been better of late, but it still lacks the depth to 3-4 innings with any reliability, so it will be important for Morgan to work deeper into games.
Morgan will be the lowest upside pitcher in the Phillies’ rotation, but that doesn’t mean he does not have major league upside. He has flashed the ability to be a #4 starter, and despite the flashiness of the Phillies’ young pitchers, there is a role for a back end starter in the majors. The Phillies will likely give Morgan a long run as none of the IronPigs’ pitching prospects are desperately needing a promotion. Even if he is not a rotation mainstay going forward he could turn himself into a valuable trade piece.
Photo by Cheryl Purcell