A.J. MORRIS
RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
Born: December 1, 1986
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 185
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
Drafted: 4th Round, 112th Overall, 2009 (Nationals)
How Acquired: Rule 5 draft (minor league phase)
College: Kansas State University
Agent: N/A

WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES

The Nationals drafted Morris in the 4th round on the strength of a low-90s fastball with a great deal of movement and sink.  He threw an average slider and a developing change.  He moved to the bullpen partway through his first full year to address arm troubles and his velocity improved a bit to 93-94.  Baseball America rated him among the Nats’ top 20 prospects after his first two seasons, but he missed his third year due to shoulder surgery before being traded to the Cubs.  He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but has had very high groundball rates in the minors.  He hasn’t had a clear platoon split.  The Pirates selected Morris in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

2009
R: 0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 5.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 7.2 K/9
A: 0-4-0, 3.82 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 37.2 IP, 1.9, 8.6 K/9

After a couple outings in rookie ball, the Nationals sent Morris to low A for eight starts. He pitched mostly well, although he did have more hits allowed than innings pitched.

2010
R:  0-0-0, 3.21 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 14.0 IP, 0.6 BB/9, 6.4 K/9
A+:  5-3-2, 3.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 72.0 IP, 3.4 BB, 7.6 K/9

Morris opened in the Nationals’ high A rotation and posted a 3.15 ERA in 16 starts.  He went out with a sore arm, though, and after rehabbing in the GCL he moved to the bullpen.  His ERA in relief was 6.60, but his arm felt better and he gained a little velocity on his fastball.

2011
INJURED

Morris had shoulder surgery that cost him the entire season.  After the season the Nats traded him to the Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny.

2012
A+:  5-2-7, 2.24 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 52.1 IP, 2.6 BB/9, 7.2 K/9

The Cubs sent Morris to high A, where he pitched strictly in relief.  He allowed very few baserunners, although his K rate was ordinary.

2013
AA:  4-2-0, 4.75 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 72.0 IP, 4.4 BB/9, 6.6 K/9

Morris struggled in AA, allowing more hits than innings pitched and seeing a sudden increase in his walk rate.

2014
R:  0-0-0, 2.57 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 7.0 IP, 1.3 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
A+:  0-0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP, 1.0 IP, 0.0 BB/9, 9.0 K/9
AA:  5-1-0, 1.98 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 59.0 IP, 2.7 BB/9, 6.1 K/9
AAA:  2-4-0, 4.54 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 37.2 IP, 2.6  BB/9, 6.7 K/9

The Pirates started Morris off in the Altoona bullpen, but he pitched his way into a starting job.  He continued to pitch well for the Curve through the beginning of June, when the Pirates promoted him to Indianapolis.  Morris pitched well in his first three AAA games, including a nine-inning shutout, but got shelled in his fourth game and then went on the disabled list with a forearm strain.  He was out for over a month and then rehabbed his way back to AA for one game and AAA for three, which mostly didn’t go well.  Overall, Morris was a strong groundball pitcher, as advertised.  He had no meaningful platoon split.

Morris’ situation is similar to that of Kris Johnson, another struggling former prospect who turned things around with the Pirates.  After he made progress in his first year with them, the Pirates signed Johnson to a second minor league deal.  Johnson reached the majors during that second season.  One big difference, though, is that Morris isn’t eligible for minor league free agency yet.  He is, however, eligible for the Rule 5 draft.  The fact that he missed, or was rehabbing during, the season’s last two months probably didn’t help the Pirates’ evaluation process.

STATS
Baseball Reference–Minors
Fangraphs
MiLB.com
CONTRACT INFORMATION
2015: Minor League Contract
PLAYER INFORMATION
Signing Bonus: $270,000
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: N/A
MiLB FA Eligible: 2015
MLB FA Eligible: N/A
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: N/A
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
TRANSACTIONS
June 10, 2009: Drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 4th round, 112th overall pick; signed on July 7.
January 17, 2011: Traded by the Washington Nationals with Michael Burgess and Graham Hicks to the Chicago Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny.
December 12, 2013: Selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft.