All across Florida and Arizona over the last week, managers and front offices had to make tough decisions on players. Who makes the club, who gets sent down, who gets released? In Clearwater, one of the tougher decisions was being made after Vincent Velasquez and Adam Morgan battled all Spring for the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation. Finally, manager Pete Mackanin announced that the job was going to Velasquez, who the Phillies acquired in the Ken Giles trade over the Winter, and that Morgan would open the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, waiting for another chance to return to the majors.
Last season brought the major league debut for both pitchers. Morgan debuted on June 21st for the Phillies, four years to the day after he initially signed with the team after being drafted in the third round of the 2011 Draft. The 26-year old lefty pitched against St. Louis, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on six hits and two walks, while striking out six. The outing was good enough and the Phillies bats woke up long enough for Morgan to get the win in a 9-2 game.
Velasquez had debuted with Houston the day before Morgan took the mound for the Phillies, and had an impressive outing against the White Sox, going five innings, allowing three hits and four walks, striking out five and keeping Chicago off the board. Unfortunately for Velasquez, he didn't have the help from his bullpen nor the Astros offense and took a no-decision in a 5-1 Chicago win.
In Spring Training, the two seemed to battle back-and-forth, with neither seemingly willing to give ground to the other in their battle for that final spot in the Phillies rotation. In the end, the two gave all they had and made things tough on Mackanin.
“It was a hard decision to make," admitted Mackanin. "We just felt that for us in a rebuilding situation, we just felt that Velasquez – he had a pretty good Spring, especially in his last outing – that it was important, knowing that we’re building for the future, the near future, that he get up to the big leagues and show us what he can do as quickly as possible."
The decision to keep the 23-year old Velasquez was an obvious disappointment to Morgan, who headed back to Lehigh Valley to open the season. Instead of sulking or letting the defeat get to him, Morgan took it in stride and will look to work his way back to Philadelphia.
“Of course you’re going to be disappointed, that’s just the nature of the beast," explained Morgan. "it’s a competition and we always want to win, but in my opinion, everything will work out just the way it’s supposed to. I’m just going to keep going about my business, keep working hard and not try to do anything too special or out of the ordinary, just try to keep it simple and go about my business.”
It's not the first time that Morgan has had to battle some adversity. Two years before he would make his major league debut, an MRI showed that Morgan had suffered a torn rotator cuff and was going to miss a considerable amount of time. At the time, Morgan was the closest pitching prospect to reaching the majors for the Phillies and the injury was a blow to the organization and to Morgan. It was hoped that by late in the 2013 season, Morgan could potentially be a part of the Phillies rotation, but that ended with the injury and Morgan's timetable was pushed way back, especially when he needed surgery to repair the injury rather than just some time off the mound.
Coming into Spring Training, Morgan was more upbeat than he's been in a long time, and was completely healthy, which also helped.
“I did feel good coming in. This offseason was huge, in just that it was an offseason with no restrictions and no monitoring. It was basically just up to me to get myself into shape and come into Spring Training to compete for that fifth spot, so it was a good Spring and a good offseason to lead into the season with," said Morgan.
Morgan has good reason to be optimistic. After all, it's rare for a team to go too deep into the season without needing a starter from the minors and Morgan could very well be the first name on the list to head for Philadelphia if someone falters or the injury bug strikes. Mackanin was quick to point out that the Phillies are very aware of just what they have in Adam Morgan and they don't plan on letting him waste away on the farm.
"We know what type of pitcher Morgan is and what he’s capable of doing and we know that he can pitch at the big league level. If Velasquez shows us that he can pitch at the major league level and then we’ve got Morgan waiting in the wings," said Mackanin. "It doesn’t happen too often that you don’t need a starter because of injury or something. There’s a good chance that Morgan will be back in the majors at some point.”
Vincent Velasquez MLB stats
Adam Morgan MLB stats