Indians' Top Prospects: No. 34

Ryan Morris

For each of the past 15 years, Indians Ink Magazine has ranked the top prospects in the Cleveland farm system. It began as a top 10 list and turned into a top 50 early this decade. This is our third year ranking the top 100 Tribe minor-leaguers. It factors a player's potential, accomplishments, how he's moved in the system and projects it to what he could bring to the major-league team.

No. 34 -- Ryan Morris

The Ryan Morris File

Born:
Jan. 10, 1988 in Mt. Pleasant, SC
Position: Starting Pitcher
B/T: L/L
HT/WT: 6-3/175
Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick in 2006 from South Mecklenburg (NC) HS.
Strengths: Sinks the ball very well and is a strike-thrower. He's a ground ball pitcher who relies on his defense. A low-90s fastball is his best pitch. The change-up is his best secondary pitch. Has a good feel and command for it considering he just turned 21.
Weaknesses: Has struggled when moved to a higher level due in part to lack of confidence facing older, more experienced hitters. Is working to develop a more consistent breaking ball.
2009 Projection: Will likely start season in rotation at Kinston.

2008 & MINOR-LEAGUE CAREER

Team W L ERA G GS IP H BB SO
Lake County 9 7 3.76 27 27 134.0 116 57 101
Minor Totals 13 14 3.96 50 49 227.6 189 101 176


BONUS COVERAGE: The following feature is reprinted from the August 2008 issue of Indians Ink Magazine:

Thrills And Chills
Morris Experiencing Typicals Ups And Downs Of Pro Career
By Frank Derry
Ryan Morris' professional baseball career, at least through the first two-plus seasons, has been similar to riding the Blue Streak at Cedar Point.

"The thing I have learned about minor league baseball is that it is like riding a roller coaster," he said. "There are a lot of ups and downs. It might sound like a cliché, but it's true."

Morris, a 6-3. 175-pound left-hander who was the Tribe's fourth-round draft choice out of South Mecklenburg (N.C.) High School in 2006, was on the lower portion of the ride soon after he signed.

Morris had a dominating high school career. After going 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA as a junior, he signed a letter of intent to play for Clemson University. He was even more dominating as a senior, allowing just 27 hits in 54 innings. He struck out 78 and had an ERA just slightly over one.

When the Indians offered him a $500,000 signing bonus in addition to agreeing to pay for his college education once he decides to go that route, he informed Clemson that he was turning pro.

Morris then tasted a dose of reality in the summer of 2006 when he went 1-5 with a 4.61 ERA in eight starts for the Gulf Coast League Indians.

"I struggled a little bit in 2006," he said. "I was facing college guys who had been playing ball every day and who had played a lot more ball than I ever had. I was seeing a lot better hitters than I had ever faced in high school."

After spending time in extended spring training in 2007, Morris opened his season with those same Gulf Coast League Indians. This time, things were much different. He started five games, going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. In 25 innings, he allowed just 13 hits while walking eight and striking out 22. He was on top of the game once again.

His performance earned him a ticket to Lake County, where he once again found himself down on the bottom. He made nine starts for the Captains last year, going 0-2 with a 5.22 ERA.

He returned to Lake County to open this season and, in keeping with tradition, was dominating. In 10 starts through the end of May, he was 6-0 with a dazzling 2.01 ERA. In 53 2/3 innings, he allowed 40 hits and 18 walks while striking out 36.

"I think that's how it's going to be," said Morris. "You go to one level , struggle a little bit, then once you get comfortable and realize that you fit into that level ability-wise, you go up to the next level and go down a little bit. You compete and then you go up again. It's a grind."

Captains pitching coach Reuben Niebla says, "Ryan has been throwing the ball very well. He sinks the ball and he's a strike-thrower. He has really utilized his defense well, too. He's a ground ball pitcher.

"He is developing a little more consistent breaking ball right now that he can keep in the strike zone. Right now, his change-up is his best secondary pitch. He has a petty good feel and pretty good command of it. He also is able to control the running game with his move to first. "There are a lot of things he is doing well right now," Niebla said.

There's a good chance Morris will earn a ticket to high Class A Kinston (N.C.) at some point this year. If not, he'll most likely be there to start the 2009 season. He's definitely looking forward to pitching for Kinston, due in large part to the fact he'll be close to home.

"I'm real excited about getting there," he said. "It's about three hours from my home, which is a little bit of a drive, but all of the places that Kinston plays are within driving distance. I'll get to see my family, my friends and my fiancée."

During a game, Morris's best "friends" are usually his teammates. "I consider myself more of a groundball guy, so I do rely on my teammates. My infielders are definitely my best friends this year," he said. "In high school, I had an above-average fastball. Now, I have an average fastball. I try to get guys to miss-swing. I know I'm no going to blow the ball by anybody."

Quite a few people have compared Morris to Aaron Laffey, who made his major league debut with the Indians last year. "We have similar velocity and similar breaking stuff," Morris said. "We both like to get first-pitch outs as often as possible."

Niebla says, "I see some similarities to Aaron Laffey, but I never want to make comparisons. But there are some similarities in what Laffey was able to do at this level, which is to sink the ball away from right-handers, change speeds. He also comes across his body, which helps a little bit with deception. His velocity is also very similar to that of Laffey.

"There are a lot of similarities, but I really don't want to compare."

The similarities could end, however, if Morris continues to grow. Right now, he is 6-3, 175. Laffey is 6-0, 185.

"Ryan is still filling out, which is interesting because you never know how big a guy is going to be or how strong he is going to get," Niebla said. "Obviously, there is a projection there, but he is still a growing young man."

Morris looks forward to adding some muscle and perhaps a few miles and hour to his fastball, too.

"My body still has to mature as far as size," he says. "I think once I get involved in a good weight program and I get stronger, I should be able to get my fastball up there a couple of miles an hour faster."

He once had his fastball clocked at 94 miles per hour in college, but as of yet that has not been the case in pro ball.

Right now, he is able to get a lot of sink on his fastball when it's in the mid to upper 80s. He also throws a four-seam fastball that will sometimes top out at 90 miles per hour.

"I think he understands what his strength is," Niebla said. "That's to keep the ball down and sink it against right-handers, He does that very well."

Asked if he has a timetable for reaching the majors, Morris said, "A lot of people have asked me when I think I will get to the big show. That's not something I concentrate on. Right now, Reuben says, `This is your big leagues. You get it done here and then you move on to that next level.'

"Right now, I'm just taking it on day at a time. If it takes five years to get there, then it takes five years. If it takes two years, then it takes two years. Ultimately, I just want to get there any way that I can."

One things pretty much knows for sure that his path will include plenty of highs and lows, which is fine with him provided he ends up on top when all is said and done.

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