Morton Starts Off Strong

Morton pitched six shutout innings on Monday

STATEN ISLAND, NY - After being sent to Extended Spring Training and overcoming an injury, Taylor Morton returned to the Staten Island Yankees and didn't disappoint in his season debut against the Brooklyn Cyclones. He revealed his improvement in strength and command during his six shutout innings, and pitching coach Carlos Chantres admits that for this young prospect, "the sky's the limit."

"I went into offseason trying to gain a little weight but the main goal was to get stronger, stay healthy and overall to get into better shape," Morton said. "I got a nutritionist, I eat a little healthier and I worked out a lot. Overall I'm getting stronger."

During Spring Training, Staten Island pitching coach Carlos Chantres noticed Morton's commitment to improvement and to the sport.

"What I saw was a guy who is really competitive and wanted to pitch every day," Chantres said. "He showed a good composure out there and he's working on a couple pitches. But he's a great kid and he loves to work."

With Morton's success in earning two championship rings last year with the GCL club and Staten Island Yankees, there was no secret of the possibility for him to move up to the Charleston RiverDogs this season. While Morton admits to his disappointment in being held back, he's focused in the moment and making improvements for the future.

"It's tough," Morton said, laughing. "Just being competitive, you want to break camp and go to a higher team like Charleston. But they're a great team, they're doing really well this year. It was hard for a little while but you know, you've got to get over it and move on.

"I feel a lot better. Overall, my body feels a lot better. I definitely see improvements in pitching. I feel pressure on the mound more often, I feel stronger and I can go longer. Just overall, I've got to keep a momentum going."

Coach Chantres acknowledges Morton's abilities and claims that there was no specific weakness in his game that held him back.

"There was no doubt he could have pitched there," Chantres said. "But we got him an Extended and then he actually got hurt and we had to keep him back.

"I think it was a numbers game, where he was going to make it, but then some other guys got the chance. But there was so specific reason why he didn't go."

After he began at the minor league complex, Extended Spring Training was focused on restoring Morton back to health.

"I was actually injured for about six weeks. My arm went dead and I didn't have too much time to work on a lot," Morton admitted. "I really focused on getting my shoulder strong because after Spring Training, my shoulder just went dead, so I did six straight weeks of physical therapy and straight shoulder exercises."

Chantres gives Morton credit for pushing through his injury, but says he benefited from more than just physical therapy training. With a concrete command for his fastball and a secure changeup, the focus during Extended and now is on perfecting his slider.

"He got hurt for a little bit and he missed some time but we got him back and he's pitching now and he's doing good," Chantres said. "His fastball command has always been there. He has always been able to hit both sides with his fastball. And his changeup is probably his bet secondary pitch right now, which is showing bottom to it.

"That is [Morton's slider] one of the pitches we worked on down there [during Extended], and it's getting better. Last year he had something like it, but it wasn't really [pauses] sliding, I guess. But this year, like [during the home opener], he threw a couple that were really, really good. So we are making steps forward in that."

Morton's commitment to improving his slider is evident.

"I just keep working on it," Morton said. "Coach has done a great job with me. I got committed to it and I just got to keep working on that slider. I got to get it."

All of Morton's dedicated work paid off during his standout performance in the Staten Island opener on the road against the Brooklyn Cyclones Monday night. Pitching the first six innings, with only four hits and one walk, no one was able to get a run off him. Pitching a consistent and reliable 88-91 mph with his fastball, Morton gives credit to his changeup.

"My fastball is okay but what really kept me in the game was my changeup," Morton said. "When I got behind in the count I could throw that changeup. I changed speeds pretty well. I was just out there to compete and keep us in the game. Now I really just have to get that slider."

Staten Island Yankees manager Justin Pope says that Morton played a smart game, and stayed ahead of the count. He highlighted his aggressiveness and ability to command the zone.

"[Morton was] throwing all the pitches for strikes," Pope said. "He was aggressive going at the hitters, working quick, and keeping the defense in the game. He wasn't afraid of contact.

"When these guys, especially Taylor [Morton], when they start nibbling and trying to strike everybody out, that's when they run into trouble. But he was throwing first-pitch strikes, and when you get ahead of the hitters it's easier to get rid of them, and that's what he was doing."

Chantres says that Morton's success on the mound is also a tribute to his undying confidence.

"There is no question he has great confidence on the mound," Chantres said. "He goes out there thinking nobody is going to hit him, and as you saw [in the opener], it worked out for him."

Both Pope and Chantres expect future greatness out of Morton. With two already solid pitches, his slider is the focus of his improvements, and staying healthy and keeping the strength in his shoulder is of utmost importance.

"He can be as good as he wants to be, as long as he works hard," Pope said. "If him and Carlos are on the same page, which I know they are, and he works hard in the weight room and stays healthy, he can be as good as he wants to be."

"I think he needs to get that slider down," Chantres added. "Once he masters that slider I think he is on his way. He is able to throw a fastball for strikes and his changeup is very, very good. I think if he is able to throw that slider more consistently, I think he should be moving up the latter.

"I guess time will tell. What I've been seeing, it looks like he could be pretty darn good. If he stays healthy, the sky's the limit."

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