Padres Interview: Colt Morton

San Antonio, TX-- The promotion of catcher Colt Morton to the San Diego Padres in early September is not only the realization that he is starting to approach part of his enormous potential, but moreover a testament to his ability to preserve, through both injuries and struggles on the field.

Morton, 25, was drafted in the third-round of the 2003 draft and almost immediately the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Morton made an impression [I know he's listed at 6-foot-5, but he's probably closer to 6-foot-7 than 6-foot-5], but then again it's tough for someone of his size not to. Morton has a good arm, moves well behind the plate and revels in all that comes with being a catcher, calling a game and handling the pitching staff.

On offense, he's always had tremendous power; the problem has been a long swing, which has led to too many strikeouts. He bounced back and forth between Eugene and Fort Wayne in 2003 and 2004, but finally began to give an indication of what he could do offensively in Lake Elsinore in 2005 when he hit .323/.407/.646.

The next year he struggled with a .227 average in Lake Elsinore, but his peripheral numbers, especially an OBP of .374, indicated that he still had a pretty good idea of the strike zone. He picked up in Double-A Mobile when George Kottaras was promoted to Portland and the Padres wanted to promote Nick Hundley to Lake Elsinore. Morton drew raves from the Mobile coaching staff on how he handled the pitching staff and his average picked up as well hitting .266/.329/.468, followed by a nice season in the Arizona Fall League, .269/.333/.462.

As Morton's career was finally starting to take off a nagging shoulder injury suffered in the AFL forced him to have surgery in the off-season, which delayed his 2007 season until July. A quick pit stop in Lake Elsinore followed by a solid 27 games in San Antonio, .273/.383/.477 showed that he's not only fully recovered, but maybe better than ever.

Could you go over the injury that kept you out of for most of the first half?

Colt Morton: Sure, it was just my shoulder. Last year in the Fall League I felt something but I told Randy, [Randy Ready, the Missions manager who was also the manager of the Padres' Arizona League team last year] and I thought it was something that was just needed some rest. When I started training for the season in January it started to hurt again, so I had surgery in February.

They cleaned out the rotator cuff and my labrum. I was in Arizona rehabbing all the way up until July.

That must have been fun for you in the AFL.

Colt Morton: Not particularly [laughs], no. They have some good people down there to help get you through the injury. I didn't look at stats or go on the Internet and find out how everyone was doing because I couldn't compete. I was just focused on getting healthy and it's tough because you can't be with your buddies. Everyone else is competing and they're out there doing what you want to do, whether it's good or bad – so it's tough.

It's what you love doing and you're on the training table doing arm exercises. In some ways it was good because it took me away from the game and forced me to remember all of the things that I love about it and some of the things that I missed and enjoyed. I prayed a lot and God was also able to do a lot with me and I think I came out of it a better person.

You came back pretty strong and have put up some pretty good numbers at Lake Elsinore and San Antonio. It seems like the biggest knock on you has always been that you have great power, but you're swing has always been a little long. What have you done to improve upon this weakness?

Colt Morton: I worked with Rob Deer when I was in Arizona, and he let me know that the injury may have been the best thing that has ever happened to me. It forced me to watch and then get me to work on some parts of my game that I normally wouldn't have had the chance too. I was able to hit before I was able to throw so I was able to slow everything down. I was able to feel some things, instead of work on this aspect of your game and then go play at seven o'clock. Working with Rob and Jim Lebfreve my swing got a lot shorter. I was able to simplify a lot of things, work on my timing and my approach mentally. I'm still going to have strikeouts, but it's not going to be for the same reasons.

When you say got a lot shorter, you still have some pretty good power numbers, so it doesn't look like it's affected you that much. You do seem more spread out at the plate.

Colt Morton: Before I tried to swing too much with my upper body, so my front arm would get straight pretty fast, so I had a long bat path to the ball. My legs are more spread out now and my hands are a little higher, so I'm trying to get to the ball in as short a path as possible. I really don't need to elevate the ball or swing as hard as I can every time, so I was able to slow it down some more and am having some better results.

Denis Savage and David Jay have interviewed you before and I believe captured how much you really enjoy catching. I don't think enough of our readers really understand how much work that both you and Nick Hundley put in everyday before the game. Can you go through it a little for us?

Colt Morton: I really take pride in my catching. Love it, enjoy it and I know Nick does too and obviously Nick has had some great success this year on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball. We go over the scouting reports with our pitching coach Glenn Abbott of each team we play. We then go over it with the starting pitcher, what he's been doing, what the other team has been doing and in general learning how to pitch to our strengths and their weaknesses. We go over how they feel today, watch them in the bullpens. Something is going to be working better for them in August than it was in April. We get to the end of the season guys are tired, maybe use the changeup more or try to pitch to contact more and keep the pitch count down.

Both Nick and I put a lot of work into it, probably more on the mental side as the year goes on. Earlier in the year we are working more on mechanics, footwork, blocking and receiving. Just doing it for 140 games a year is tough.

To go on a slightly different track, maybe you could help us understand the success behind the Mission's staff this year. For example, Josh Geer claims all he does is throw strikes, but there must be a little more to it than that?

Colt Morton: Josh is a very humble guy, really all of them are. None of them are power pitchers, but they all know how to pitch. They understand what they have and what they need to do, and they don't deviate from that approach.

The first game I got to catch coming off of the DL was from Josh. He went nine innings and was phenomenal. I told him that I could remember him being good, but not that good. Those were the games that are fun for me because it's like a chess game out there.

Were you literally just holding up the glove and the ball would come there every time?

Colt Morton: Yeah. I would set up in a location, and he would hit it or I would up the fingers and go up and in, and I may not need him to get a strike – but I want to change the guy's eye level – and Josh would understand what I wanted to do instantly and do it. He understands setting up hitters and he's a student of the game. He was sitting next to me in the dugout one game and he said this guy is about to foul one off right at us the next time our guy throws inside and two pitches later there was a ball right on top of us. I thought, ‘This guy watches the game, he knows tendencies, he knows his opponent and he knows what he is going to do.'

I was able to watch Wade LeBlanc the other night and he was amazing with the way he could change speeds. The other team seemed like they were about ready to pound their bats into the ground so that must be so much fun to catch.

Colt Morton: It is. The difference in catching a game in Eugene or Fort Wayne and here, and I can't imagine how big a difference it is in the big leagues, is much more fun. You can do what you are trying to do because you don't have to worry about guys missing. You can set up hitters, throw the fastball in, change away, speed them up, and slow them down. Guys can not only go in and out, but up and down. That is where Ramos gets a lot of his outs, by going up in the zone.

Ramos has really improved since last year, especially with his cutter. All three of these guys [Geer, LeBlanc and Ramos] have great changeups. LeBlanc's changeup is stupid. He's throwing his fastball at 87 to 88, and then his changeup is 68.

Doesn't he throw two changeups?

Colt Morton: Yeah and he knows how to throw both. The second one is like an eephus pitch. Guys sit there and they know the changeup is coming and they still can't hold up enough to hit it.

Randy made a comment the other night that guys get in trouble when they try to guess with him.

Colt Morton: Yeah, they do. When they start to lean he can locate the fastball inside. That is a big key with him because he's always got the changeup, but he's going to have his best days when he is locating the fastball. Because then he can come in and keep guys from hanging over the plate. Let them guess because then he is going to come inside and you have no chance of hitting it.

No offense, but you don't have the typical body that you associate with a catcher. You always think that a catcher is some guy around 5-foot-10, 220-pinds and you're close to 6-foot-6 and around 225. Is it tougher on bigger guys to squat behind the plate?

Colt Morton: No, not really. I get that a lot when people first find out that I play baseball. They think that I play first or even pitch – especially right now after the surgery because I'm a little leaner than I've been – but I love to catch. There are a lot of bonuses to it, I'm a big target and as long as I don't let the negatives get to it, you can get immobile back there, slower. This is why I really focus on working my quads and really focusing on my core exercises so my back stays strong. I know what the negatives are being so big behind the plate, so I work extra hard to make sure I don't fall into those traps.

What are you working on to improve your game to make it to the next level – besides everything?

Colt Morton: [Laughs]

I stole that one from you.

Colt Morton: Being more consistent at the plate. The difference between a lot of minor league players and big league players is that we have the talent to be there, we just can't do it every day. For me, that short swing that I have been working on doesn't show up every day. Sometimes I go back to the old Colt with the big long swing and try to hit home runs way too far; and he shows up more than I would like him too. So I'm trying to stay short to the ball and know what my strengths are and sticking to them.

It seems like so many of the guys we talk to such as David Freese and Brett Bonvechio who experimented a little with playing behind the plate in the Instructs seem to really enjoy playing behind there. How much do you think they would enjoy playing there after a 100 games?

Colt Morton: [laughing very hard] I don't know. A lot of them may be just trying to spin it for you guys, but I would really like to see them after a 140. Some days Nick and I just look at each other and ask why are we doing this. We love it, but you also have to know after a certain period of time you are going to feel bad.

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