Morris Getting Back On Track

KINGSPORT, TN - Coming into the 2012 season, Akeel Morris was one of the names in a stable of pitching prospects that had Mets fans excited about the club's future on the mound. After a rocky two months to start the season, the 19 year old looks to reestablish himself as a key piece in the organization's future.

The young pitcher has suffered from a sort of split personality this season. There is the Morris on paper, who has struggled this year: 0-6, 7.98 ERA over 38.1 innings.

Then there's the Akeel Morris in person, the pitcher with a live arm full of raw talent. The latter continues to impress those in the organization, despite his lackluster stats.

"He's got a good, live arm. We definitely all like his arm," manager Jose Leger said.

"With [Morris), there's just a lot of raw talent," added pitching coach Jonathan Hurst.

The fastball/changeup combination is the highlight of the prospect's repertoire. Morris puts his fastball at around 90-94 mph, with a complimentary changeup at around 78-82 mph, that has been shown movement both laterally and sinking at times.

"My strength would have to be my fastball and changeup," Morris said. "I have a pretty good fastball and I've worked up a pretty solid changeup off that."

His coaches agree.

"Fastball and changeup are his two key pitches," Hurst said. "Right now, he's able to command his fastball down and to pretty much both sides of the plate. The changeup has been complimenting his fastball really well. So far this season, he's actually gotten more strikeouts off his changeup than his fastball."

A point of focus for the young pitcher has been to add a reliable breaking ball to his repertoire. Hurst, who has been working with Morris this season since Extended Spring Training, sees potential in the third option.

"We're really trying to get him a good feel for his curveball right now," Hurst said. "He's been kind of caught in between more of a slider and a curveball, and we really just want to get some break on it. Along with his fastball/changeup control, if we are able to add in that curveball, that's going to elevate his game even more."

Morris admits he is still uncomfortable at times with the pitch.

"I've been working on trying to get [the curveball] over the plate with more consistency," he said. "There's certain days it feels good, certain days not. It's a feel pitch, and I don't always have the feel for it."

At this level, the most important thing is for the 19-year old is to get reps throwing the curveball so that the feel will become second nature.

"Confidence is still a work in progress with the breaking ball," said Hurst, "but we still insist he throws it. He needs to get a feel for it, which is a daily task."

Leger holds similar hopes for Morris's breaking ball.

"It needs some refining, throwing it for strikes," the manager said. "It's not yet a put-away pitch, but it could be. With his fastball/changeup contrast, when he has a good feel for it, he can definitely get hitters out."

Coming off a solid 2011 campaign, Morris – the 10th round pick in the 2010 out of the U.S. Virgin Islands – rocketed up many Mets' prospect boards. In an organization full of quality pitching prospects, Morris turned heads.

The momentum carried over into Extended Spring Training, where, aside from some ongoing difficulties with his curveball development, Hurst said Morris looked "very good."

Morris looked strong enough in Extended to garner significant discussion as to his assignment to start the season, whether he should return to Kingsport for a second season or be promoted to Brooklyn.

"A lot of us thought he was right there cutting it close," Leger said about the preseason assignment discussions.

"There was a lot of debate whether to send him here or to Brooklyn," Hurst added, "but I thought it would benefit him to come back here to establish more of a breaking ball instead of going there and maybe running into some problems."

All this makes Morris's split personality this season all the more mysterious. How does a pitcher who was considered for promotion continue to impress coaches and scouts despite posting a 7.98 ERA on the season?

While it is impossible to trace such a discrepancy between talent and numbers to any one source, the coaches offered a couple different ideas.

Hurst noted mechanical problems in Morris's delivery throughout much of the season.

"Mechanically, he was off a little bit with his hand separation," the pitching coach said. "He was doing what we call sticking – he was taking his motion a little bit forward early and his hands were sticking and he was getting late with his separation.

"What we've really had to work on was him getting his timing back with his leg kick and hand separation at the top."

Leger noted the possibility of some disappointment in not being promoted too.

"He was a little disappointed [returning to Kingsport], and that didn't help. He put a lot of pressure on himself coming back and thought he would dominate the league, and it didn't happen," the manager said.

"But he's a good kid," Leger was quick to add. "The good thing is he's never stopped working, and that's showing now."

Morris himself attributes the early season woes to over-thinking and timidity on the mound.

"I wasn't being aggressive with my pitches," he said. "When I stopped trying to aim my pitches and started just throwing them, that's when I started getting it back."

After his struggles over the first half of the season, Morris was temporarily moved out of the rotation and placed in the bullpen. Though Morris's numbers on the season remain an eye sore, his last five outings in a relief role have fared drastically better than his starts.

In his six games as a starter this season, Morris's ERA is 12.90 in 22.1 innings. In his five relief outings, Morris's ERA is 1.13, allowing only two runs in his 16 innings pitched. The change of scenery worked better than the coaches thought possible.

"Mentally, it has obviously worked based on the results," Leger said. "We weren't sure if it would work, but sometimes that's what a player needs – a little change in his approach or in their role.

"You either put more pressure or less pressure on him to get him back on track. It definitely has worked."

As for whether Morris's success out of the pen has the organization considering a relief or closing role in the pitcher's future, the coaches insisted on the temporary nature of the move.

"I still like him as a starter," Hurst said. "The switch was to just let him look from the outside in. Let him get a different perspective on the game and preparation, let him look at more hitters. He still has all the tools to be a really effective starter."

Leger agreed on Morris's starting potential.

"He's still young and has a good arm. He has the potential to be a solid starter," he said. "That decision will be made down the road when you have all the guys competing. That's to be determined in the future."

Morris succinctly summed up his thoughts on the matter.

"I definitely feel better as a starter. They have me in a piggyback role right now, and they say it's temporary. I'm looking forward to getting back out there as a starter."


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nThe young pitcher has suffered from a sort of split personality this season. There is the Morris on paper, who has struggled this year: 0-6, 7.98 ERA over 38.1 innings.
\r\n
\r\nThen there's the Akeel Morris in person, the pitcher with a live arm full of raw talent. \r\nThe latter continues to impress those in the organization, despite his lackluster stats.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's got a good, live arm. We definitely all like his arm,\" manager Jose Leger said.
\r\n
\r\n\"With [Morris), there's just a lot of raw talent,\" added pitching coach Jonathan Hurst.
\r\n
\r\nThe fastball/changeup combination is the highlight of the prospect's repertoire. Morris puts his fastball at around 90-94 mph, with a complimentary changeup at around 78-82 mph, that has been shown movement both laterally and sinking at times.
\r\n
\r\n\"My strength would have to be my fastball and changeup,\" Morris said. \"I have a pretty good fastball and I've worked up a pretty solid changeup off that.\"
\r\n
\r\nHis coaches agree.
\r\n
\r\n\"Fastball and changeup are his two key pitches,\" Hurst said. \"Right now, he's able to command his fastball down and to pretty much both sides of the plate. The changeup has been complimenting his fastball really well. So far this season, he's actually gotten more strikeouts off his changeup than his fastball.\"
\r\n
\r\nA point of focus for the young pitcher has been to add a reliable breaking ball to his repertoire. Hurst, who has been working with Morris this season since Extended Spring Training, sees potential in the third option.
\r\n
\r\n\"We're really trying to get him a good feel for his curveball right now,\" Hurst said. \"He's been kind of caught in between more of a slider and a curveball, and we really just want to get some break on it. Along with his fastball/changeup control, if we are able to add in that curveball, that's going to elevate his game even more.\"
\r\n
\r\nMorris admits he is still uncomfortable at times with the pitch.
\r\n
\r\n\"I've been working on trying to get [the curveball] over the plate with more consistency,\" he said. \"There's certain days it feels good, certain days not. It's a feel pitch, and I don't always have the feel for it.\"
\r\n
\r\nAt this level, the most important thing is for the 19-year old is to get reps throwing the curveball so that the feel will become second nature.
\r\n
\r\n\"Confidence is still a work in progress with the breaking ball,\" said Hurst, \"but we still insist he throws it. He needs to get a feel for it, which is a daily task.\"
\r\n
\r\nLeger holds similar hopes for Morris's breaking ball.
\r\n
\r\n\"It needs some refining, throwing it for strikes,\" the manager said. \"It's not yet a put-away pitch, but it could be. With his fastball/changeup contrast, when he has a good feel for it, he can definitely get hitters out.\"
\r\n
\r\nComing off a solid 2011 campaign, Morris – the 10th round pick in the 2010 out of the U.S. Virgin Islands – rocketed up many Mets' prospect boards. In an organization full of quality pitching prospects, Morris turned heads.
\r\n
\r\nThe momentum carried over into Extended Spring Training, where, aside from some ongoing difficulties with his curveball development, Hurst said Morris looked \"very good.\"
\r\n
\r\nMorris looked strong enough in Extended to garner significant discussion as to his assignment to start the season, whether he should return to Kingsport for a second season or be promoted to Brooklyn.
\r\n
\r\n\"A lot of us thought he was right there cutting it close,\" Leger said about the preseason assignment discussions.
\r\n
\r\n\"There was a lot of debate whether to send him here or to Brooklyn,\" Hurst added, \"but I thought it would benefit him to come back here to establish more of a breaking ball instead of going there and maybe running into some problems.\"
\r\n
\r\nAll this makes Morris's split personality this season all the more mysterious. How does a pitcher who was considered for promotion continue to impress coaches and scouts despite posting a 7.98 ERA on the season?
\r\n
\r\nWhile it is impossible to trace such a discrepancy between talent and numbers to any one source, the coaches offered a couple different ideas.
\r\n
\r\nHurst noted mechanical problems in Morris's delivery throughout much of the season.
\r\n
\r\n\"Mechanically, he was off a little bit with his hand separation,\" the pitching coach said. \"He was doing what we call sticking – he was taking his motion a little bit forward early and his hands were sticking and he was getting late with his separation.
\r\n
\r\n\"What we've really had to work on was him getting his timing back with his leg kick and hand separation at the top.\"
\r\n
\r\nLeger noted the possibility of some disappointment in not being promoted too.
\r\n
\r\n\"He was a little disappointed [returning to Kingsport], and that didn't help. He put a lot of pressure on himself coming back and thought he would dominate the league, and it didn't happen,\" the manager said.
\r\n
\r\n\"But he's a good kid,\" Leger was quick to add. \"The good thing is he's never stopped working, and that's showing now.\"
\r\n
\r\nMorris himself attributes the early season woes to over-thinking and timidity on the mound.
\r\n
\r\n\"I wasn't being aggressive with my pitches,\" he said. \"When I stopped trying to aim my pitches and started just throwing them, that's when I started getting it back.\"
\r\n
\r\nAfter his struggles over the first half of the season, Morris was temporarily moved out of the rotation and placed in the bullpen. Though Morris's numbers on the season remain an eye sore, his last five outings in a relief role have fared drastically better than his starts.
\r\n
\r\nIn his six games as a starter this season, Morris's ERA is 12.90 in 22.1 innings. In his five relief outings, Morris's ERA is 1.13, allowing only two runs in his 16 innings pitched.\r\nThe change of scenery worked better than the coaches thought possible.
\r\n
\r\n\"Mentally, it has obviously worked based on the results,\" Leger said. \"We weren't sure if it would work, but sometimes that's what a player needs – a little change in his approach or in their role.
\r\n
\r\n\"You either put more pressure or less pressure on him to get him back on track. It definitely has worked.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs for whether Morris's success out of the pen has the organization considering a relief or closing role in the pitcher's future, the coaches insisted on the temporary nature of the move.
\r\n
\r\n\"I still like him as a starter,\" Hurst said. \"The switch was to just let him look from the outside in. Let him get a different perspective on the game and preparation, let him look at more hitters. He still has all the tools to be a really effective starter.\"
\r\n
\r\nLeger agreed on Morris's starting potential.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's still young and has a good arm. He has the potential to be a solid starter,\" he said. \"That decision will be made down the road when you have all the guys competing. That's to be determined in the future.\"
\r\n
\r\nMorris succinctly summed up his thoughts on the matter.
\r\n
\r\n\"I definitely feel better as a starter. They have me in a piggyback role right now, and they say it's temporary. I'm looking forward to getting back out there as a starter.\"
\r\n
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