Morgan Promoted to Akron After Strong Start at Lynchburg

Baseball is a game where rhythm matters. The hitter is trying to get into a pattern where he can predict the trajectory and rotation of a pitched ball, and the pitcher is trying to throw the hitter off to get him to swing and miss, or to ineffectively make contact with the ball, inducing a pop-up, or a weak fly, or a groundout. For the 2019 High-A Lynchburg Hillcats, Eli Morgan has been one of the most effective pitchers at keeping opposing Carolina League hitters off-balance and unable to generate a consistent rhythm in the batter’s box.

Morgan, now in his third year out of Gonzaga University, was an 8th round selection by Cleveland in 2017. The right-handed 5’10”, 190 pounder finished the previous season pitching 143.1 innings, the most he had ever thrown in a baseball season.

“A big thing the coaches told me last year is you are going to have to limit your throwing. I didn’t really believe them,” said Morgan about his first full season in the minors.

Opening the year with Low-A Lake County, he started eight games for the Captains before being promoted to Lynchburg on May 16. He would get 19 starts for the Hillcats, helping them in their run to the second half Northern Division title, while posting a 7-7 record.

A fan of long toss, he was used to throwing every day, and was not prepared for the full rigors of a 140-game minor league season.

“That was a big eye opener last year, the fatigue that settled in towards the end of the year,” he said about the long season.

Dealing with the fatigue of playing baseball, and especially pitching, for six months or more, is always one of the most significant adjustments players have when they move up into the professional ranks.

“I think Eli kind of fell into that trap last year in his first full season, and logged a lot of innings,” said Hillcats pitching coach Joe Torres. “He learned his routines along the way and this earned him an opportunity to start here again.”

Even with that long season and making his adjustments to professional baseball, Morgan turned in a successful 2018. He earned pitcher of the week honors once at Lake County, and twice in a Hillcats uniform. Even more significant, he stuck to the organizational plan, getting batters to miss pitches, and posted 156 strikeouts, while allowing only 34 free passes on walks.

Getting batters to strike out is a principal focus on the way the Cleveland organization goes about developing their pitchers. Not all organizations have this philosophy. Others may teach pitching to contact, relying on strong defense, or ground balls to get out and limit opposing offenses.

“A big focus in their [Cleveland’s] equation of a good pitcher is missing bats,” said Morgan. “They feel that the majority that dominate get a lot of strikeouts.”

That has been a feature of Morgan’s career, from college on into the professional ranks. He had a K/9 ratio of just a hair over 9.8 during his collegiate career, peaking in his junior season (of three college seasons) at a ratio of 12.83 strikeouts per nine innings.

This ability to garner strikeouts without free passes has also marked his career with the Indians farm teams. In 211.1 innings pitched, he has a K/9 of 10.78, with 254 strikeouts and only 48 walks. His ratio for the current season is right at that level, as he has mowed down 40 opposing hitters while walking only five. In the season opening stretch of six starts (through May 6), he earned a 3-1 record, and garnered pitcher of the week for the fourth time in his career and third time in the Carolina League.

Even with this success, he remains humble about his skill and talent on the mound.

“It’s always nice to see you’re pitching well, and to win an award like that,” he said.

On a Wednesday night start in Kinston, North Carolina, he pitched five strong innings, striking out nine to earn this accolade. This was the second of two starts that week, posting a victory in both.

During the off-season, he spent his time building up lower body strength to assist with his endurance for the long season. He also spent time working on tightening up his motion on his sinker. On top of that, he has added a curveball to his mix of pitches. Now he can come at hitters with his fastball, slider, and change-up, or mix in the curve as he learns to apply that new pitch to game situations.

“Now I’m a four-pitch mix rather than three,” said Morgan. “The slider I threw has tightened up a lot, and the biggest thing with the slider and curveball is having different pitches to throw, rather than just the changeup.”

With his four-pitch array, he continues to keep opposing hitters off balance, and put himself at the top of the Hillcats rotation.

This success has not gone unnoticed by the organization. On May 6, ten days shy of a year since he arrived in Lynchburg, Morgan was promoted to AA Akron.

He has been consistent in meeting his goals of using all four pitches in his arsenal to get batters out, and to improve his in-game pitch selection. Now he gets to toe the rubber for the Rubberducks, and show that he can continue to be successful at the next level.

Photo: Joseph Doyer/Lynchburg Hillcats

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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