The Atlanta Braves are waiting for young right-hander Charlie Morton to turn the corner. He's struggled in his three plus seasons in the Braves' organization, and 2006 is a big year in his development.
Morton was 5-9 last year with a 5.20 ERA in his second stint in Rome. He's struggled with consistency, but now he's heading to High-A Myrtle Beach for a huge test.
Here's our interview with Charlie Morton.
SHANKS: How would you describe 2005 for you?
MORTON: It was a struggle. At the end I started to get better. I started to piece things together. For some reason, that seems to be the case with every season. The later months of the season everything starts to get easier. For some reason, it seemed a lot worse this season. Early on, it seemed really bad.
SHANKS: They send kids back to a level for a repeat season often. What did they tell you when they did it?
MORTON: As always, they're positive with me. I wasn't surprised whatsoever. I thought that was what was best for me too. When I went back they said that they were hoping and they expected me to be able to make the jump to High-A later in the season. I didn't do what I needed to do to make that happen.
SHANKS: Looking back now, why were you not able to do that?
MORTON: I've always been my biggest enemy. I let myself get inside my own head. I just think too much. I found out last year more than ever that if you just go out there and throw the ball and not think about it you can at least compete and at least keep yourself in position to keep yourself in the game. I'm battling myself at the same time I'm trying to pitch against hitters.
SHANKS: On the mound or between starts?
MORTON: Both. At the start of the year I had a pretty positive outlook. I was thinking I would get out there and have a couple of good outings, and then things would start to take off, and then by the first of second month I would be looking to get moved up. It's harder to maintain a positive outlook like that and be realistic with yourself and maintain that positive outlook - at least for me it is. I can't look at myself and look at the few positives over the negatives, which seem to be overwhelming at times.
SHANKS: Were you thinking too much about going to Myrtle Beach?
MORTON: It was on my mind because I was drafted in 02. I'm in this draft class where everybody in the draft class is in the big leagues or has been released. So it's tough. It's tough to look at yourself and realize you're in Low-A, and you're struggling in Low-A.
SHANKS: It wasn't easy seeing those other guys called up, was it?
MORTON: I knew how great an athlete Jeff was, and I knew how great a catcher Brian was. I watched them coming through the system, and I watched how the Braves handled their situation. It doesn't happen when you see that many rookies go up. I was happy, very happy for them. I respect them a lot for their achievements - I really do. I want that for me. I want that respect and to earn it - like they did. So it is tough.
SHANKS: But we've seen glimpses that you can be productive, especially at the end of the year. Why at the end of the year? Why have you been successful at the end of the year like that?
MORTON: That's what's so frustrating. It's like something clicks. It's out of necessity. You realize that if you don't do something about it, it's all going to fall apart. That's the problem. I have that attitude in the beginning of year, and then I struggle. I think I've approached this year differently as I have in the past because I realize that…I guess I've had enough of the bad seasons to really, really, really rise above it. I'm getting sick of it. I listen to what people say that I could be, and then I see pieces of that come together at times during certain games. I realize there is potential. It's not something they're just fabricating out of nothing just to keep my hopes up. Everybody's been positive. Everybody's been supportive. It makes it easier.
SHANKS: Pitching-wise, what do you have to do to get better?
MORTON: I know that in Rome the biggest problem for me was throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count. Having that instinct to attack and go after hitters. Once I start doing that consistently from start to start, pitch to pitch, inning to inning, and piecing all that together, I think everything will come together. I don't know what else to think about. I've tried so many different things, and sometimes it's like nothing's working. At the same time, if I settle down and just throw the ball over the plate, it's so much easier to deal with.
SHANKS: But are your pitches developing?
MORTON: Yeah I feel like I'm throwing my fastball harder with movement. At times, I feel like I can locate, especially in the latter end of the season. I'm more confident. It's truer at the end of the season. That's the problem, finding that comfort zone.
SHANKS: I think you're a good testament to the belief that this organization can develop over time instead of having to be rushed through the system.
MORTON: It's funny because through the development stage, my outlook on how it's been dealt with changes a lot. At the start, it was kind of like a nurturing. I was here in Gulf Coast League. That was tough, with the weather and the everyday in and out of it. The bus trips. All that stuff. But at the same time, you just get adjusted to it. You just grow into it. Now I look at it like it's coming to a point where I need to…where I have to advance to the next level, for myself and because I feel like I have a responsibility to the organization. I feel like I have a responsibility to the coaches that spent their time and effort day in and day out putting everything in it they have. It's more of a responsibility now to advance. Before I felt like I was trying to learn and stuff, but right now I've got to get in my own mind where I get to a point where I just go out there and pitch and not think about it and just throw the ball. I'm on auto pilot almost.
SHANKS: Are you better this spring?
MORTON: I pitched yesterday. I pitched two innings and I walked three people. I don't know what it is. When I'm out there, I'm just thinking to much, trying to make the adjustments. That's where I go wrong. That's what I feel like I've overcome. My pitches are there. I just need to get out there and get it done.
SHANKS: What all are you throwing right now?
MORTON: Four-seam fastball, circle changeup, and a curveball.
SHANKS: You're smart enough to know that you've been through four drafts now since your draft, so there are people that are going to pass you.
MORTON: They are going to pass me.
SHANKS: Can that motivate you?
MORTON: Yeah. It motivates me and also I like that kind of pressure. I don't think I was ready for that kind of pressure before, but it's more like a motivator now than it ever has been. Not just the pressure from the younger kids that are getting signed and new players in the organization, but I want to play at a level that it's a big part of the game, where pressure is a big part of the game. To be respected like that.
SHANKS: Myrtle Beach? Are you ready to go?
MORTON: Yeah. I think that I just need to get out there and throw the ball. If I'm good enough, I'm not good enough. If I throw the ball over the plate and I'm not getting the job done, then I'm not getting the job done. Everybody's seen it. Everybody's seen someone that has potential and ability and can throw hard and can put movement on the ball. I need to find that out. When I actually do throw strikes, I find it a heck of a lot easier to succeed.
SHANKS: Bruce Dal Canton will be good for you.
MORTON: From working with him, and from working with him in Instructs, yeah he's one of the most respected pitching coaches I know. Yeah I'm excited to get the chance to work with him.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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