MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Morris closest among Pirates' Top 10 Prospects

Morris closest among Pirates' Top 10 Prospects

The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at the top 10 prospects from each farm system, with only those who still maintain rookie status entering 2011 being eligible.

Bryan Morris's stay in big league camp this spring may not have been terribly long -- he got reassigned on March 12 -- but the right-handed pitching prospect, ranked No. 5 on the Pirates' Top 10 Prospects list, made sure to pack in as much as he could while he was there.

It goes far beyond the game action he saw, though his two games and three innings of work were undoubtedly memorable. For Morris, mostly known at this point as the best prospect to come over in the Jason Bay trade, just soaking up the knowledge was vastly important.

"Every day, I tried to pick up something that I didn't necessarily know or didn't have a complete grasp on," said Morris, who spent most of last year with Double-A Altoona. "I tried to pay attention to [pitching coach] Ray Searage whenever he was talking to us."

The learning experience went beyond that. Pitchers tend to stick with each other, and it is invaluable for young arms to pick the brains of those pitchers with more experience. But Morris expanded his horizons this spring and tried to gain insight from a different viewpoint.

"I spent a lot of my time talking to a couple of the catchers this year, compared to last year, when I was just watching pitchers," Morris said, singling out Dusty Brown as being particularly helpful. "I got the catcher's perspective on how they attack hitters. It kind of opened my eyes a little bit. They give you an outlook that you don't necessarily see."

Morris is hoping things like that will give him the added tools necessary to have a successful 2011 season. Morris was largely successful last year, staying healthy for the entire season and throwing a career-high 133 2/3 innings. He's the first to admit that he hit a wall in the second half of the season, and he's working on making sure that doesn't happen again.

"The reason why I hit adversity has a lot to do with getting to an innings point I had never been to before," Morris said. "My body wore down and my mechanics got off. When your mechanics get off, your pitches flatten out. The main thing I'm working on this year is not hitting that wall and being able to push through it.

"Early in the year, I had really good fastball command. The results I had from that, I need to keep that going. At the end of the year, I started losing it a little bit mechanically, that made my pitches not as effective as they should be."

If he can do that, this could be a big year for the right-hander. Even if he has to start in Altoona, he could quickly move up to Triple-A, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get the call up to Pittsburgh at some point.

"Being very competitive, I would love to be the first one to get in there during the season and get after it," Morris said. "At the same time, whatever happens is meant to happen. I'll be patient, and I'll work my butt off until it happens. When it happens, I'll work my butt off to stay there."

Pirates' Top 10 Prospects

1. Jameson Taillon, RHP: The No. 2 overall pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft, 19-year-old Taillon isn't the typical high schooler. He's got size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds), stuff and command, with four pitches he can throw for strikes. He came in at No. 18 on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospect list and No. 6 among all right-handed pitching prospects. He could go to West Virginia to make his pro debut, and even if the Pirates are cautious at the outset, he could move fairly quickly after that.

2. Stetson Allie, RHP: There may not have been a more live arm in last year's Draft class than Allie's. He can crank it up to 100 mph and has an excellent power slider to complement it. He was more thrower than pitcher in high school, though he showed improvement right before the Draft. He worked on a changeup during instructional league play, and that will help him become a more complete pitcher. Worst-case scenario, starting doesn't work out and he has more than enough stuff to be a closer. The 20-year-old will start the year in extended spring camp and will get an assignment later this summer.

3. Tony Sanchez, C: While some thought he was a stretch at No. 4 overall in 2009, he came out in 2010 like that's exactly where he belonged, hitting .314/.416/.454 over 59 games before a broken jaw ended his season. The 22-year-old did make it back for the Arizona Fall League and is good to go for 2011. He should continue to hit for average and get on base, and he gets good marks for his defensive work across the board. He'll move up to Double-A to start the season.

WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
Rank Player ETA
1. Jameson Taillon 2013
2. Stetson Allie 2014
3. Tony Sanchez 2012
4. Rudy Owens 2011
5. Bryan Morris 2011
6. Luis Heredia 2014
7. Jeff Locke 2012
8. Starling Marte 2013
9. Zack Von Rosenberg 2014
10. Colton Cain 2014

4. Rudy Owens, LHP: A funny thing happened on the way to Owens' career as a pure pitch-ability lefty. He added some ticks in velocity and now has all that command but with better stuff. His breaking ball and changeup are OK, but play up because he commands them as well. Twenty-three-year-old Owens will move up to Triple-A and will be one of a few prospects starting to knock on the door this season.

5. Bryan Morris, RHP: Morris will be 24 for the entire regular season and start in Triple-A Indianapolis. If he continues the arc of his improvement from last year, he'll be one of the first to be called up to Pittsburgh this year, should the need arise.

6. Luis Heredia, RHP: Showing they mean business not just in the Draft, but internationally as well, the Pirates shelled out $2.6 million for one of the prizes in last year's market. Heredia is only 16, but he's advanced beyond his years when it comes to his feel for pitching. He's got an above-average fastball, with perhaps room for more, and an outstanding curve. He also has a slider and changeup, both of which have the chance to be decent offerings. Fairly mature, he should make his United States debut later this summer.

7. Jeff Locke, LHP: In his first full season with the organization (he came from the Braves in the Nate McLouth deal), all the 23-year-old lefty did was lead the system in strikeouts, tie for the lead in wins and finish in the top 10 in ERA. He finished it off by pitching well as Altoona won the Eastern League title. While Locke doesn't have "wow" stuff, he mixes pitches very well and can throw any of his three offerings at any point in the count. He might start the year throwing to Sanchez back in Altoona.

8. Starling Marte, OF: Some players are just fun to watch, and 22-year-old Marte fits that description. His plus speed makes him a threat on the bases, and coupled with an outstanding arm, he's a clinic in center field. He's got a great swing at the plate and some think power will come as he matures. He missed two months in 2010 because of a broken hamate bone in his hand, and he's yet to collect more than 230 at-bats in one season. That should happen this year as he moves up to Double-A.

9. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP: The Pirates stockpiled some intriguing high school pitching talent in the 2009 Draft, and 20-year-old Von Rosenberg may prove to the best of the bunch. The Pirates had to give him a way above-slot bonus to sign him away from LSU, and he made his official debut last year with short-season State College. ZVR has three pitches he can command well. If he can gain velocity as he matures, he has the chance to be a front-line starter. A move to full-season ball should be fun to watch this season.

10. Colton Cain, LHP: Another 2009 high school arm, 20-year-old Cain stands out, because lefties who throw in the low-to-mid-90s don't grow on trees. His secondary pitches -- a curve and changeup -- need work, but keep in mind he's thrown less than 50 professional innings to date. He should get more of those as part of what could be a really interesting West Virginia rotation.

Under the Radar

Evan Chambers, OF: A 2009 pick who wasn't a pitcher, this 21-year-old third-round outfielder did a lot of nice things in the South Atlantic League in his full-season debut, including drawing 92 walks (for a .384 OBP), stealing 35 bases and even homering 12 times. On the down side, he struck out 116 times, got caught stealing 17 times and hit just .239. He lets too many pitches go by and he's still fairly raw, but there's a lot to like here.

Elias Diaz, C: Maybe more of a deep sleeper right now, 20-year-old Diaz is a ways away considering he just made his U.S. debut last summer. The Venezuelan catcher is outstanding defensively, having thrown out 43 percent of would-be basestealers, in the Venezuelan Summer League and the Gulf Coast League combined, over the past two summers. He may not put up great offensive numbers just yet, but the Pirates think he has the chance to be a very good all-around backstop.

Predictions

Hitter of the Year -- Sanchez
It came down to Sanchez or Marte and this time, the catcher gets the nod. He'll stay healthy all year, continue to hit for average, show some extra-base ability and earn a promotion to Triple-A at some point in 2011.

Pitcher of the Year -- Taillon
Shocking, isn't it? Actually, the odds-on favorite could be Owens, who won this in 2009 and '10. But if he spends considerable time in the bigs, that leaves him out. Besides, it's not too difficult to think that Taillon will dominate the South Atlantic League, even if he's treated a bit with kid gloves.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.