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.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.