Hillcats' Morgan throws blanks

Indians No. 28 prospect allows three hits over 6 1/3 innings

Eli Morgan has struck out 74 and walked 11 over 62 2/3 innings across two levels this season. (Joseph Dwyer/MiLB.com)

By Vincent Lara-Cinisomo / MiLB.com | June 1, 2018 11:04 PM

Eli Morgan is best known for his changeup, which a scout once called the best he'd ever seen from a college pitcher. On Friday, he had another pitch working -- with great success.

The Indians' No. 28 prospect threw shutout ball into the seventh inning, allowing three hits, as Class A Advanced Lynchburg blanked Frederick, 3-0, at Nymeo Field.

Gameday box score

The former Gonzaga right-hander fanned six and walked one over 6 1/3 innings. He is tied for sixth in the Minor Leagues with 74 strikeouts and has walked 11 over 62 2/3 innings between Class A Lake County and Lynchburg.

While the change of pace is his money pitch, on Friday he leaned on another secondary offering.

"Actually, it was the slider tonight," he said. "The changeup was fine, I just didn't have as good a command as usual. It had movement, but the slider was just a lot more effective.

"I was working on at Gonzaga both a slider and curve, but the slider wasn't very good. The Indians asked me to focus on one and the slider proved to be better, so I stuck with that."

The advanced command is nothing new for the 2017 eighth-round pick. At Gonzaga, he had 281 punchouts and 70 walks over 256 innings.

As a junior for the Zags, Morgan (2-0) ranked in the top 10 nationally in strikeouts (138) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.34) but lasted until the eighth round, largely, scouts said, because he's undersized at 5-foot-10 and because he lacks premium velocity on his fastball, touching 93 mph but sitting in the high 80s and low 90s.

Still, he's not looking to throw harder.

"[Velocity] seems like it's the about the same, but that's not a huge point of interest," the California native said. "It's around 88-91 [mph] most nights.

"[But] with my fastball profile, it profiles better at the top of the zone. The Indians want me to work on mixing it up and down [in the zone] rather than attack the ball with downward angle. So I'm focusing on how to get more effective at the top of the zone."

Against the Keys, everything was working. Morgan struck out three batters in the first around a walk to Ryan McKenna. Over the first four innings, he allowed just a double to T.J. Nichting. He was lifted in the seventh after a one-out single by Collin Woody, having thrown 60 of 89 pitches for strikes.

Three starts in, Morgan seems to have gotten the hang of the Carolina League, although he acknowledged the differences from the Midwest League.

"Yeah, a couple of better hitters in each lineup," he said. "I feel like the mistakes you make in [Class A], you're going to get hit, but they're going to get hit harder. They have better eyes at the plate."

Righty Dalbert Siri pitched the final 2 2/3 innings, yielding a hit and punching out three, for his second save.

The Hillcats backed up Morgan with homers. Trenton Brooks hit his first of the season in the fourth to break a scoreless tie and No. 12 prospect Conner Capel blew the game open with a three-run blast in the eighth.

Cristian Alvarado (5-4) was the hard-luck loser, allowing a run on five hits in seven innings. He struck out five without issuing a walk.

MiLB include

A year after he was selected, Morgan is looking toward Monday's Draft, when former Zags teammate Daniel Bies -- a fellow right-hander -- is expected to be taken.

"I've been texting with him recently, talking about the Draft," said Morgan, who admitted with a laugh that he and the 6-foot-8 Bies have slightly different profiles. "But he's focused on pitching deep [into the NCAA tournament]. We haven't gotten too deep on the Draft."

Vince Lara-Cinisomo is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @vincelara. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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