The road to the Majors for Adam Morgan was never clear. About four years ago, it was hard to even envision Morgan cracking the starting rotation due to the likes of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee existing. From everything that we had heard, though, Morgan was at best a top five prospect, at worst a guy who would flame out and never make a real impact.
Fast forward to 2015, a year removed from missing an entire campaign due to a left shoulder that eventually needed surgery, and Morgan likely knew that even with average numbers in AAA, he'd likely get a call-up to the big club.
June ended up being that time for Morgan. And he wasn't pitching very well for Lehigh Valley either. But if you had seen enough of David Buchanan, Severino Gonzalez and Chad Billingsley so far last year (and who hadn't), you were probably at least curious to see what Morgan had, for the sole reason that he had some sort of pedigree in the Minors pre-injury.
Morgan's numbers for the Pigs weren't pretty: 4.74 ERA, 4.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 81 hits allowed in just 68 1/3 innings. Then again, neither were the numbers (or the health) of Buchanan, Gonzalez, Billingsley and others.
Things started off innocently enough for Morgan. He logged 23 innings in his first four starts, allowing 21 hits while striking out 15 and walking eight.
The middle six starts saw him post a 3.91 ERA, with a lower strikeout rate, but also lower walk rate. The final five starts for Morgan were the real struggle, as he allowed 32 hits in 27 innings with a 5.67 ERA. If there was a silver lining, it was the three walks allowed in those 27 innings.
So that was Morgan's season in a nutshell. A "hey, this guy isn't bad but isn't great" entrance. A "meh" middle. A poor finish.
The Phillies shut Morgan down at the end of September, so he did not make his final two starts. That was another part of the story arc for Morgan in 2015: pitch counts. His 2015 wasn't particularly strenuous, and the Phillies kept him in check. He never threw more than 98 pitches in his 15 Major League starts, often finishing with pitch counts in the high 70s or low 80s.
So that will be one of the questions for Morgan in 2016. Can he actually get deep into games and be a guy who can throw 110 or 115 pitches in an outing? Would the Phillies even want him (or expect him) to be that guy? It was understandable to keep him in check as he was coming back from the shoulder injury, but he'll have a lot to prove in that department next season.
The other question that Morgan will have to answer is whether or not he'll be able to survive as a guy striking out a little over five batters per nine innings. The money is on "no." Morgan was a guy who was capable of hitting 91-92 MPH with the fastball, but he hasn't flashed the same velocity post-surgery.
Morgan threw his fastball 57% of the time last year, with the slider and change-up mixed in about equally. The curveball was a near non-factor at just 3.5% of the time. They aren't necessarily bad pitches, but Morgan's not really fooling anybody with a below-average fastball averaging 89 MPH. Sure, he didn't really walk many hitters, but his ERA/FIP/xFIP line was 4.48/4.88/5.12.
Morgan's minor league life was a bit more glamorous three or four years ago. It's almost kind of hard to believe that he struck out 169 batters in 158.2 innings across two minor league levels in 2012. That's not coming back. The surgery seems too much to overcome, and it's hard to see Morgan becoming a serious strikeout pitcher ever again.
Chances are Morgan will be in the Phillies' rotation come April. He's also going to have the pressure on him if he doesn't come out of the gate with a strong start. Morgan is more or less in the rotation as of now out of desperation, not out of choice. Unless the Phillies sign another Jeremy Hellickson type of pitcher, Morgan will be there.
If he can't go deep into games, doesn't strike anybody out, and doesn't control the off-speed stuff, it will be hard for him to be anything more than a AAAA player. For now, on this roster, that might just be good enough to get by.