With reclamation projects likely to factor heavily on this season’s staff, Cubs fans may want to get to know Adam Morgan as more than just the guy who gave up that huge grand slam to Jason Heyward in 2018. As first reported by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadephia, the Cubs have signed the former Phillies reliever to a minor league deal that includes an invitation to spring training.
Formerly a starter, the lefty has worked exclusively in a relief role for the past three seasons and is coming off of an abbreviated campaign in which he posted a 5.54 ERA over just 13 innings. Morgan elected free agency after being outrighted off the Phillies’ 40-man roster in October, a move precipitated as much by availability as performance. As you probably could have guessed even without knowing the details, Morgan underwent surgery in early October to repair his left flexor tendon and his recovery is expected to take anywhere from 6-9 months.
Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune tweeted that Morgan is “expected to be game ready sometime in March,” but he still may not be able to participate in spring training. Well, assuming MLB is able to get the new season underway on something resembling a normal schedule. Morgan was also limited in 2019 by shoulder issues, but he could be an interesting option if this latest procedure and subsequent rehab allows him to get back to full health.
The injuries are evident in his fastball velocity, which peaked in the mid-90’s during the 2017 and ’18 campaigns to 93 and 92 over the last two years. Morgan’s repertoire fluctuated as well, primarily when it comes to his four-seam fastball and how that impacts his secondaries. Check out the chart below via FanGraphs and note how he’s flip-flopped every other year for the past four seasons.
You can also see how much he’s gotten away from the fastball since his rookie season, using his sinker and slider much more frequently. The slider in particular has gotten a lot more usage, which makes sense because it’s been his best pitch. That helped him get to a career-best 11.08 K/9 mark in 2020, but losing those extra ticks on the fastball may be the reason he also allowed three homers on an alarming number of barreled balls.
According to Statcast, Morgan’s 13.9% barrel rate allowed was nearly double his previous worst mark of 7.4% in 2017. Among 520 pitchers with a minimum 25 batted-ball events, only 34 had a higher barrel rate than Morgan. One of those was Craig Kimbrel, whose 18.5% ranked eighth-worst in MLB. A typical boom/bust pitcher, Morgan gives up as much contact in the air as he does on the ground and has frequently been stung by the home run ball.
On the bright side, Morgan has traditionally been very good against left-handed hitters and might be able to improve against righties with some tweaks to his sequencing. He pitches backwards, favoring his breaking balls — sliders to LHH, curves to RHH — to open at-bats and then opting for a mix of fastball/sinker/change before trying to finish with the breaking balls again. Throw a cement mixer, though, and it’s going a long way in the opposite direction.
It’s hard to see this as much more than a lottery ticket, but Morgan could really work out well if he’s able to recapture his form from two years ago. Even with the recent injury history stacked against him, he’ll only be 31 in February and could very well get back to his old velo numbers if the rehab works well.