Morrison mastering Sally League

HICKORY, N.C. - Finally getting the chance to play every day, Erik Morrison has proven to be perhaps the best slugger in the South Atlantic League, as he sits among the leaders in every major statistical category. Lone Star Dugout has a question-and-answer session with the 23-year-old.

Coming off a solid four-year career at the University of Kansas, in which he batted .279 with 51 doubles and 31 home runs, Erik Morrison was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 46th round of the 2008 MLB Draft.

Morrison quickly signed with the Rangers and reported to rookie ball in Arizona to begin his professional career. The utlityman got 66 at-bats with the AZL Rangers, batting .318 with nine doubles and two home runs.

The former Jayhawk worked his way out of Arizona quickly, as the Rangers sent him to fill a spot in High-A Bakersfield for the last two months of the season. Morrison appeared in 32 games with the Blaze, going 25-for-106 [.236] at the plate with three home runs. Defensively, he played a mixture of corner outfield and third base.

Coming out of his first Spring Training this past April, the Rangers didn't have a spot for Morrison on a full-season roster. But injuries happen, and sure enough, he was assigned to Double-A Frisco after a couple of weeks in Extended Spring Training. Morrison appeared in two games with the RoughRiders—both in the outfield—and was 0-for-5 with one strikeout.

Morrison's spot was eventually filled, and he was sent to Single-A Hickory, where he could become an everyday player for the first time in his short professional career. Although Morrison is still moving all around, playing a handful of positions, he has found a home in the Crawdads' lineup.

In 69 games with Hickory, Morrison is batting .319 with 25 doubles, 15 home runs, and 55 runs batted in. He ranks fourth in the South Atlantic League in batting average, third in on-base percentage, and first in slugging percentage.

Because the Crawdads have a young lineup and they're in the midst of a playoff race, the Rangers would prefer to keep Morrison's powerful bat in the middle of the Hickory lineup for the remainder of the season.

Being a 46th round senior sign, Morrison will have to prove himself all the way up the minor league ladder. The 23-year-old will get that opportunity with either Bakersfield or Frisco [likely both] next season, but for now, he's setting out to win a ring in Hickory.

Jason Cole: In your year in the system, you've kind of been all over the place, playing anywhere from Arizona to Frisco. Now that you're getting a chance to stick in one place and you're playing well, do you feel like you're kind of proving yourself?

Erik Morrison: I'm just doing whatever I can to basically keep a job. I was a 46th round pick senior sign. I wasn't given any money or anything like that. I was just kind of given an opportunity and I'm trying to make the most of the opportunity—do whatever I can and play wherever they put me in the lineup to play.

Cole: At the time that you signed, did the Rangers tell you that you'd be a guy that goes between teams and plays a lot of positions?

Morrison: Yeah. They told me, ‘You're going to probably be more of a utility guy.' Kind of play all of the spots in the infield. Then they threw me into the outfield last year in High-A. I held my own up there and proved that I can play in the outfield a little bit too. I fill in the outfield when they need me there and play all the spots in the infield.

Cole: What position—or positions—were you mostly playing at Kansas?

Morrison: I played third my freshman and sophomore year and then shortstop my junior and senior year.

Cole: Had you ever played in the outfield before last season?

Morrison: No, that was the first time I'd played in the outfield, last year in Bakersfield. I played a couple of games in the outfield when I was in rookie ball before I got sent up. I'd never played first base until about a month ago. I've been playing first quite a bit here.

Cole: So I guess now you've played all four infield positions. What is first base like compared to the others?

Morrison: For me, I think it's kind of similar to third except you've got to be more aware of where you need to be on certain balls that are hit. The glove is kind of the biggest thing for me—just how big and floppy it feels on me. Other than that, it's the same thing. Balls on the ground at you.

Cole: Talk about that transition to the outfield that you had to make last year. How difficult was that?

Morrison: I didn't think it was too bad. I think it kind of helps being in the infield the whole time. You've got to be able to read balls quickly, especially at third. I played there a lot. You have to get good jumps on balls right off the bat. The hardest thing for me in the outfield was kind of getting my feet right when I'm charging a ground ball to throw someone out at the next base.

Cole: They always say one of the most difficult parts of learning the outfield is learning to judge line drives that are hit directly at you. Did you have trouble with those at all?

Morrison: It probably is the hardest ball—right at you. But just as long as you don't overcommit. You've got to hold your ground and then once you see the ball diving at you or still rising at you, then you know. But all in all, it's not too bad.

Cole: Since you've been in Hickory, have you played in the outfield at all?

Morrison: I've played probably four or five games in right field. One game in left field.

Cole: Talk about your experience of playing in Frisco. You got to do that pretty early in the season. What was that like?

Morrison: It was a great experience, getting to go up there and play with those guys and see the competition up there. It was a special thing for me. I didn't ever think that would happen in my first full year. But to experience something like that out of the gate was pretty cool.

Cole: They sent you down here to Hickory when you left Frisco. Did the Rangers say anything to you when they did move you back down here?

Morrison: I started in extended and played about two weeks there in extended. Then they sent me up to Frisco saying, ‘We don't know how long you're going to be or anything like that. But a guy broke his finger and we need you to go in and fill in up there.'

They called me in after six or seven games and they said they wanted to send me down here so I could play every day. They sent me down here, and everything else is history.

Cole: Now that you've seen Double-A pitching and seen what the game up there is like, does it help you relax down here at all?

Morrison: They're not as polished—the pitchers aren't as polished here as they are in Double-A. For instance, when they throw the ball in up there in Double-A, they throw it in off the plate for a ball. When they throw it in here, they either hit you or they leave it out over the middle of the plate a little bit more.

They tend to not make as many mistakes. They're still going to make mistakes, but not as often as they make them down here, for sure.

Cole: What have you been working on at the plate with your hitting coaches here?

Morrison: My biggest thing is with my rhythm and timing. Once I've got good rhythm and I get on time, then my swing just kind of irons itself out. I'm not really making too many big adjustments on my swing or anything like that. I'm just trying to make sure I stay on time and get myself going and ready to hit early.

Cole: Is there an area of your game that you feel has improved more than anything else over the last year?

Morrison: I think just learning how to make adjustments in the middle of at-bats from pitch-to-pitch. You've really got to do that.

And accepting my responsibility or role as a player in this organization. I know that I'm going to be moved around a bunch and play here or play there. But I'm going to get an opportunity to play every day. Just assuming that and working as hard as I can.

Cole: Having gotten quite a bit of experience in a hitter's league like the Cal League last season, this would be considered the exact opposite of that. What are some of the differences here? Do the leagues cause you to approach at-bats different ways?

Morrison: No, not really. Everybody talks about having a plan for every at-bat. I try to not make hitting as complicated as other people make it. I try to take it as it comes and go up there and hit the ball hard every time. Then I let everything else take care of itself.

Cole: Are you looking for anything out of yourself for the rest of the year, like maybe get back up to Bakersfield or Frisco?

Morrison: I'll be here for the rest of the year. Scott Servais was in town last week and he sat down with me. I had a nice talk with him. It was nice to kind of get on the same page and realize where I stand. I'm here for the rest of the year to try to help get this team to the playoffs and win a championship.

Cole: You didn't get to play in the playoffs last season. You guys are currently in first place in the second half. How much are you looking forward to playing in a playoff race and hopefully getting a ring?

Morrison: That's why I play this game—to win. I'm a gamer, I like to win. I'm not a real individual guy. I'd be cool if I was hitting .200 and we were winning every day and I was doing whatever I could to contribute to this team to win.

Yeah, it's nice to be hitting well and stuff like that. But at the same time, like I said, I want to win and do whatever I can to help this team win.

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