On the Pharm: Adam Morgan testing the 'learning curve'

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On the Pharm: Adam Morgan testing the 'learning curve'

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — When players like Roy Halladay or John Lannan get injured, it does more than test the big-league club. It’s when veteran big leaguers like Halladay or Lannan get hurt that an organization’s minor league depth is put on display.

So far the Phillies have dipped into Triple A Lehigh Valley and dropped Jonathan Pettibone into the rotation. On Friday, Tyler Cloyd will make his season debut for the Phillies after going 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts for the IronPigs.

Next up could be 23-year-old lefty Adam Morgan, a pitching prospect that has quickly turned some heads in the organization.

After an All-American career at the University of Alabama, Morgan was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft and has been climbing ever since. In his first full season as a pro, Morgan posted an 8-11 record and 3.35 ERA for Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading. More impressively, Morgan had 169 strikeouts in 158 2/3 innings.

On the strength of that 2012 season, Morgan was tabbed as the Phillies' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America, earned an invitation to big-league camp in Clearwater this spring and began the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley where he was named International League pitcher of the week after a shutout three-hitter.

It was coming together very quickly for Morgan.

“He has a lot of talent. He’s here for a reason -- he’s here because he is talented and obviously he has a bright future ahead of him,” Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage said. “But he has a lot to learn.”

Since then, Morgan has been undergoing a “learning curve,” according to Brundage. Every young ballplayer needs a bout of adversity to help in their development, and Morgan is finally taking a lump or two.

“There is a learning curve here about how to handle situations and how to deal with adversity and that’s a good thing,” Brundage said prior to the IronPigs’ game against the Louisville Bats at Coca-Cola Park on Wednesday. “It’s experience. A lot of these guys who have had a lot of success coming through, like at the University of Alabama and the minor league system, have not had to deal with a lot of adversity. Your stuff gets you so far and once you get here or the big leagues, they are trying to deal with adversity.”

Morgan followed his three-hitter with a two-hitter over five innings against Pawtucket. But after allowing three runs and 11 hits in 19 innings in his first three starts, Morgan has been belted around for 12 runs and 19 hits in 15 2/3 innings.

In his last outing, Morgan allowed four runs in four innings against Indianapolis, with a pair of them coming on a long home run off his fastball. So like any young pitcher who was burned on a particular pitch, Morgan stopped throwing it.

According to Brundage, Morgan’s fastball command is the biggest asset in his arsenal.

“What happens when a guy hits a good pitch?” Brundage said. “The other day [Morgan] gave up a two-run homer and [he had to figure out] how to react and where did it take him and what to do? It was a learning curve the other day when he didn’t want to throw his fastball after that. He was thinking, ‘I don’t want them to hit that.’ But it’s not going to be the last two-run homer he gives up.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Morgan has scuffled a bit. According to Brundage, it’s how the lefty responds to a rough outing that will determine how good he can be.

“Morgan is a young pitcher who doesn’t have as much experience as Jonathan (Pettibone) does,” Brundage said. “There is a lot to learn. It’s not a bad situation when he has to deal with some failure and deal with some adversity because it’s after that is what we want to see as an organization.”

So far Morgan understands the hard lessons he’s learned. He also said he picked up a lot just from watching the likes of Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels during spring training. The old pros could handle their bouts of failure and use them to come back stronger.

And compared to what Halladay, Lee and Hamels have endured - and what Halladay has in front of him - Morgan is way ahead of the curve.
 
“The immediate feedback from this level is that you pay for a pitch that ends up in a different spot from where you thought it would be,” Morgan said. “At [lower levels], I could get away with throwing a mistake. Here, I can’t. I am always working on something to better myself and be consistent.”

Morgan next takes the mound on Friday night in Durham, N.C. Though he still has to put in more work in Triple A, Morgan is still just a phone call away from the big leagues.

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

Blue Jays 10, Phillies 4: Aaron Nola hit hard in final Grapefruit start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies got the good health they were looking for from Aaron Nola this spring.

But the overall results weren't so good.

Nola struggled in his sixth and final Grapefruit League start Tuesday night. He was roughed up for seven hits, including two home runs, and five runs and did not make it out of the second inning in the Phillies' 10-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Nola finished the Grapefruit League portion of his spring with an ERA of 8.38 after giving up 18 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He gave up 28 hits, walked seven and struck out 23.

"People say it's spring training but nobody wants to go out there and give up runs," Nola said.

While he wasn't happy with the numbers he put up in camp, Nola was pleased with his health. He missed the final two months of last season with an elbow strain. He said that is completely behind him.

"I feel good," he said. "The ball is coming out of my hand really good.

"Tonight was the best I've felt all spring. I just left some balls up and they took some good swings. It was a tough night."

Manager Pete Mackanin weighed in on Nola's spring.

"One thing I like is that his velocity is way up," Mackanin said. "I think his arm is healthy and that's good to see more than anything.

"He hasn't shown the command that makes him a good pitcher, but I think that will get there."

Nola gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki and Melvin Upton Jr.

Nola lines up to pitch the fifth game of the regular season a week from Saturday in Philadelphia.

He only threw 51 pitches Tuesday night so he has room for a good bullpen session and another start before that outing. The start will come at the minor-league complex on Sunday. He will then join the team in Cincinnati for Monday's season opener.

Murray injured
Reliever Colton Murray ran his scoreless string to 10 1/3 innings before allowing a two-run homer in his third inning of work. Murray left the game with what looked like a lower back injury. He fell to the ground in pain after throwing a pitch. Earlier in the day, Murray was told that he would open the season in Triple A.

Minor matters 
Infielder Cole Stobbe, 19, the Phillies' third-round pick in last year's draft, and 18-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez were named winners of the Bill Giles and Larry Rojas awards for their standout work in minor-league camp. Both are among the organization's most highly touted young prospects.

Up next
The Phillies will split the squad and play two games on Wednesday. One team will go to Lakeland to play the Tigers. The other will go to Bradenton to face the Pirates.

The battle for one of the final spots in the bullpen will take center stage as Luis Garcia starts in Lakeland and Joely Rodriguez in Bradenton.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening-day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League Rookie of the Year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we're going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster, so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday, so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that, so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening-day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."