POSITION: Right-handed pitcher
BORN ON: October 12, 1983
AGE: 24 years old
BORN IN: Flemington, New Jersey
LIVES IN: Redding, Connecticut
WEIGHT: 190 pounds
SCHOOL: Joel Barlow High School
ACQUIRED: Selected by the Braves in the third round of the 2002 draft
SIGNED BY: John Stewart
Click here for Morton’s 2007 stats
Charlie Morton has always been one of the biggest enigmas in the Braves’ farm system. Always blessed with outstanding stuff, Morton was never able to put up a consistent season. His numbers were always sub par, and it was tremendously frustrating for the Braves.
Morton struggled with the mental side of the game. He never developed much confidence in himself. He would battle with learning how to pitch, while at the same time flashing above average stuff on the mound. But his internal struggles kept him from becoming a serious prospect.
Most believed that Morton would eventually figure things out, but the fear was that it would happen after his chances with the Braves ran out. The tall right-hander lacked confidence in himself and in his stuff, but coaches believed that if he ever turned the corner and gained that confidence he could really take off.
Well, Morton has lifted off like a Space Shuttle. The Braves contemplated sending him back to Myrtle Beach to start the 2007 season, but at 23 years old and after three seasons in A ball (two in Rome, one in Myrtle Beach), some pushed for him to be challenged at the Double-A level.
Morton was inconsistent in the first half of the season in Mississippi. He had a 4.97 ERA in April, and then was very good in ten games in May (2.95). Morton fell back in June to a 5.63 ERA, followed by a 5.40 ERA in July. But it was in the month of August when things began to click.
The Braves had given Morton only two starts through the first four months of the season, but in August he was given a few additional opportunities. On August 28th Morton allowed only one run on two hits in seven innings, with no walks, and seven strikeouts. That game opened the Braves eyes a bit.
Morton finished the 2007 season with a 4.29 ERA, and while that’s not great, it was the best mark of his six-year career. The hits (80) to innings pitched (79.2) stat was okay, and Morton had 37 walks and 67 strikeouts.
Atlanta then sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where Morton simply shocked the baseball world. He would show his 94-97 mph fastball, a nasty power slider, a plus curveball, and an improved changeup. Morton finished the AFL with a 4-1 record, a 2.57 ERA, 15 hits allowed in 21 innings, eight walks, and 20 stikeouts.
His most impressive performance was also his most important. With General Manager Frank Wren, Manager Bobby Cox, and Pitching Coach Roger McDowell watching from the stands on November 12th, Morton pitched five no-hit innings, with two walks, and six strikeouts.
The Braves placed Morton on the 40-man roster, and a year ago that seemed like something that would never happen. But the stats and approach finally met up with the raw talent, and now Morton is one of the best prospects in the Braves’ farm system.
Charlie Morton is a classic study of why patience is always important with pitching prospects. You just can’t give up on them too easily, especially when you see someone with the stuff Morton has in his repertoire. You have to hope that everything will come together – stuff, confidence, makeup, and timing. And it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening with the right-hander.
When you see a kid that has a mid-upper 90s fastball, a true major league power slider, a curveball that is rated a 70 (well above average), and an improving changeup, people are going to take notice. And Morton was attracting a huge crowd even when he’d warm up in the AFL. People wanted to see first-hand how good Morton’s stuff can be when he’s in a groove.
The kid that use to analyze everything now has started to trust his stuff. He’s no longer afraid to use his changeup and breaking ball when he’s behind in the count. And he now complimented that confidence with a little mean streak, which was severely needed if Morton was going to advance as a prospect. The Braves wanted him to go out and compete, and that’s exactly what he did.
Morton doesn’t show his emotions too much, but he’s a competitor. The Braves liked what they saw in Arizona, and Morton definitely made an impression on the brass when they made the trip to Arizona.
The Braves now feel Morton is pretty much in the same category as Jo Jo Reyes and Jair Jurrjens, two pitchers who could be middle-of-the-rotation starting pitchers. Morton’s stock has climbed that fast, and this year could be the last audition for him in the minor leagues.
So how is Morton going to respond to all of this? Will he build off his momentum and continue to march toward the big leagues? Or if he gets off to a slow start will he regress and go back to being just another pitcher in the Braves’ farm system?
The Braves will debate in March whether Morton goes back to AA Mississippi or AAA Richmond. They could let him return to AA and have some success and then let him go on up to Triple-A. Or if they challenge Morton and send him to Triple-A, what’s going to happen if he gets knocked around just a bit? Will he be able to recover and regain that confidence that he’s lacked at times in his career?
It’s not an easy decision. Perhaps Morton will make it easy with his spring training performance. Remember, prospects usually ‘tell’ you when they’re ready to make that jump, and it’s entirely possible with his work in March Morton will make this an easy call. Either way, the goal is going to be for Morton to be in a rotation the entire season and get 25 starts or so and 150 innings. That will be the real test to see what kind of starting pitcher Morton might be in the big leagues.
And the projections of that are really amazing considering Morton’s history. Coaches and scouts now wonder if Morton can be a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues in a few years. With that stuff that ceiling is possible, and now that Morton has gained great confidence, it’s maybe even probable.
There will be a lot to watch with Morton this season. How does he handle the success? How does he handle the pressure of now being a real prospect? How does he handle failure and then learn from it and bounce back? This could be the season that dictates Morton’s career. It could catapult him into a major league rotation, or make him just another pitcher in his mid-20s that could never get over that hump.
Morton is a great kid, and everyone associated with the Braves is thrilled that he’s turned the corner. He’s got one more hurdle to jump, and if he’s able to do that this season, the sky’s the limit.
ADDITIONAL STORY LINKS
Click here for Morton’s 2007 Player Profile
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.