Grinding through the First Season: An Interview with Josh Morgan

As a 19-year-old, Hickory Crawdads infielder Josh Morgan has had a nice season, especially given the slow start to the 2015 campaign.

The third-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014 out of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School led the Crawdads in hits, walks and on-base percentage (.385) prior to a broken right index finger suffered on August 5 that ended his season.

After a .246/.293/.319 slash in April, Morgan began to settle into the everyday grind and became an integral part of the lineup and finished at .288/.385/.362. In the field, Morgan made just ten errors total in 98 games at short and third.

“He’s been a big part of everything we’ve done,” said Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale. “A 19-year-old kid that, quite honestly, he’s a guy that’s not going to hit balls farther than anybody. He’s not going to throw it farther than anybody. But the kid’s an all-around baseball player. He can do so many different things and do them well.”

Josh Morgan led the Crawdads hits, walks and on-base percentage before a broken finger ended his season. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan led the Crawdads hits, walks and on-base percentage before a broken finger ended his season. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

In conversations with scouts, most are pleased with the plate discipline has shown  at a young age (53 Ks/ 45 BBs in 416 plate appearances).They’ve been mixed on how much power he will develop, essentially seeing his ceiling as a gap-to-gap hitter. In the field, several scouts see Morgan’s range and feel he will eventually move to second.

However based on work ethic, I wouldn’t doubt the ability of Morgan to achieve much of what he wants to. My first memory of Morgan was taking extra ground balls at third base after the first batting practice session at L.P. Frans Stadium.

In the interviews I’ve done with Morgan this season, I’ve found him to be an articulate young player – more so than most 19-year-old. Most of his answers are not the usual “baseball speak”, but thought out answers.

He is aware of and confident in the baseball talent he possesses and the potential that lies ahead for a successful career in the game. But he is sturdily grounded in his faith and the upbringing he received from his parents.  Morgan has the potential to be a leader of people in whatever industry life takes him. For now it is baseball.

I spoke with Morgan during the early-August homestand prior to his injury. When I found out about the injury, I debated on re-recording parts of the interview as some of the questions and answers are now outdated. But I decided to let it stand and so below is my interview with Josh Morgan.

First of all, 14 months ago you walked across a stage with a cap and gown on and you played you last high school game. Now, here you are almost a full season in. What kind of whirlwind has that been over the last 14 months?

Morgan: It’s been crazy. It’s something that I couldn’t have dreamed of, you know walking across the stage and then I see that I’m here in Hickory, N.C. playing the game I love for a living. It’s a little overwhelming, but it’s what I wanted and it’s cool. It’s a blessing to be out here and to be with my friends and to see how far all of us – my family and the guys in the same clubhouse as me – have come. We definitely not done yet. We’re in low-A, so we have a long ways away from our goal. I think we’re all happy with where we’re at right now and we’re going to try to make a push to the playoffs and try to do well in the playoffs.

You talked about being overwhelmed. What have been some of the things for you that have been maybe a little more than you bargained for going in?

Morgan: I think just the long days. Before I signed, I didn’t know that it was going to be this long – just the grind. You always hear all the scouts ask you before you sign, “Are you ready for the grind? Are you ready to do this and to do that?” I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I’m ready,” because you are. You really don’t understand the grind and you don’t really understand what you go through until you actually live it out. I think that’s different from what all the high school guys are used to.

I think it was a cool process just for me to go to Arizona my first season and then getting moved to Spokane. Now I’m in Hickory in my second season and just about to finish off my first full season, which is real cool. It’s a bittersweet feeling because we still have a month left, but you see everything starting to die down and we’re all starting to focus a little more just as the playoffs come up. I think we’re all excited about how we’re going to do in the playoffs. It’s been a fun season, so hopefully we’ll finish off this last month strong.

Everybody has an introductory moment where they realize that this is a different game. A pitcher might face a batter that sends one by his ear. What was the moment for you that told you that this is now big-boy baseball?

Morgan: I had two. One of them was my third game playing in Arizona last year, I got hit in the ribs by a 98. I was like, “this is happening right now.”

The second time, it was this season. It was the first month, month-and-a-half of the season where I wasn’t hitting as well as I wanted to. I really started to see what the grind was and I really started to see what it took to overcome different struggles. I realized – with Corey Ragsdale’s help and everyone’s help – that it’s a long season and you’re going to go up and you’re going to go down. You want to stay as even as you can and do the best that you can. But you’re not always going to get a hit; you’re not always going to make the play. I think it took a little while for me to understand that it’s such a long season and that there’s a lot of ups and downs.

I’m real happy with how I’ve done and how the team has done. I really thank Rags and Matos and Oscar and Comie and all of our coaching staff that’s helped me. My parents have definitely been number one up there. It’s been good; it’s been fun.

They will talk about “it’s not how you start, but how you finish.” You’ve got to be pleased that though you did start slow, you had a gradual increase throughout the year. Has that been the way you’ve see your season?

Morgan: Obviously, I started slower than I wanted to, but now I see myself finishing strong. From the start until now, I think I’ve done a lot better. I see myself finishing strong and I see our team finishing strong. We’re excited about what’s to come and I think it’s just the focus has to stay there The mental part has to stay there. It’s the dog days. It’s the last month of the season where you’re thinking about home. You’re thinking about home-cooked meals. You’re thinking about your girlfriend and everything like that. You have really stay focused on what you’re trying to accomplish in the season. I think we’re all doing a very good job of finishing strong.

How cool has it been to have your parents out to Hickory a couple of times this season?

It was great. It kind of made it feel like home again. My teammates and our coaching staff make it feel like home, because they’re loving guys. Even if they don’t want to say it, they know how to handle us and they’re good guys. But I think them coming out here was great. I played well in front of them and I was really happy that I got to spend some time with them together. They came out two times, so I was happy that they came and I was spending every minute with them outside of the field. It was good and I can’t wait to see them again.

What do you know now about the game that maybe surprised you?

Morgan: I think maybe the different cultures. I knew there was a lot of Latin guys and different guys here. It’s fun talking and discussing with all the guys who speak different languages. I think that’s really cool and it’s helped me with my Spanish to help them with their English. So, it’s just cool to see what they bring to the table and to see how they work, too. They’re definitely hard workers, too. Just to see where they come from: the Dominican Republic, Curacao, Venezuela, wherever it is. It’s cool to see how hard they work.

The other thing that I was surprised by, like I said, was just how long the season is and how the grind works. It’s all good and I’m taking everything in and seeing how it goes.

What improvements have you made that maybe didn’t seem possible 14 months ago?

Morgan: I’ve made a couple of improvements. I think that my biblical standpoint has improved, just because 14 months ago I didn’t really didn’t struggle that much on the baseball field because it was high school. It was hard and you had to deal with school and grades and then the baseball side of it and the stress of getting drafted. But, on the baseball field, I feel like I was good. Now, I still feel very confident, but it’s just different. I feel comfortable now and I’m happy with how things are going.

My first memory of you was when you guys were out taking BP before the Lenoir-Rhyne exhibition game. Everybody was done and you asked Chad Comer to hit ground balls for you at third. I remember taking pictures of that. Do you feel like you’ve had to make the extra effort, or is it something that was ingrained in you that you want to take the extra groundball or the extra BP? Where does that come out of for you?

Morgan: I work hard. I know that I work hard and I’m going to work hard on and off the field. I’m going to be as healthy as I can. I’m going to put myself in the best situation for me to have success on the field. That comes from my parents working hard and me seeing them do what they do and providing well for me. I think that’s just going to carry on for the rest of my life and for my kid’s life as well.

Josh Morgan taking extra ground balls at 3B (photo by Mark Parker)

Josh Morgan taking extra ground balls at 3B (photo by Mark Parker)

We’re a working-hard family. We don’t want anything handed to us and so the way I see it, if you want something, you’ve got to go get it. I think me taking extra ground balls and some extra hacks in the cage is just who I am.

I do want to outwork people, but I don’t see anything as a competition like, “I’m going to work harder than him; I hope he fails and I don’t.” No. I’m not going to look at it like that. Everything I see as a competition, yeah, but I’m not going to wish failure upon someone. I want all my friends and everyone to do well and have success, but I work hard and I feel like that’s a plus for me.

When you watch games on TV, do you get a taste of “I’m getting closer”?

Morgan: Yeah. You still think, “That’s the dream. Someday, I want to call myself a big leaguer.”  You realize that you’re in the organization for a reason. People have invested in you and you need to work hard and do what you can on and off the field to see yourself there.

Obviously, you have to have a lot of confidence to get there. You have to work hard and do what you can during certain situations. I feel like it’s still a little “Wow”. I still get a little goose bumps when I think about it.

I remember in spring training, I was helping out the big league team with different games and everything and I was hanging out with Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus and all those guys. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was a wow feeling. I’m next to these guys and it’s cool to see how they work and how they go about the game. They’re all hard workers and they do what they do. You see how they’ve had a lot of success on the field and I just want to be like those guys and work as hard as I can to get to where they are.

Who do you see yourself drawn to that you say to yourself, “this is who I want to be”?

Morgan: It’s easy for me and that’s Derek Jeter. He’s a role model on and off the field. You never see him getting into any trouble or anything. He’s a great leader and he knows what he wants to do. He’s kept his baseball life away from his off-the-field life, which I have a lot of respect for. He’s the captain and you have respect for him. You see him being a role model for, I want to say, everyone in the game. He’s changed the game and he’s a great human being from what I see.

Do you prefer third or short?

Morgan: I don’t prefer either one, as long as I’m in the lineup. I like playing third, short, second. Wherever they put me, I’m going to work hard and do the best I can on that given night. I feel like if you’re in the lineup that night, you don’t have any excuse to not get the job done. So, whatever position you’re playing, wherever you’re batting in the lineup  – there’s going to be changes, there’s going to be different positions – but wherever I am, I’m confident that I’m going to get the job done.

Josh Morgan making a diving catch on opening night against Hagerstown (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

Josh Morgan making a diving catch on opening night against Hagerstown (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

What do you feel like is the next step for you in your development? Or, maybe what is the biggest thing you have to develop between now and a big league callup?

Morgan: I think just taking the game in and keeping the game to a certain pace and slowing the game down. Sometimes I tend to speed the game up and get into different situations. I just need to relax and learn from different things and learn from different situations that I’ve already been in. I see myself getting better at that.

When you get a call to the big leagues, what does that moment look like for you?

Morgan: Aw, man. My heart’s going to drop and I’m getting goose bumps. I’m going to call my parents, because it’ll be a dream come true making the big leagues – not only making the big leagues, but staying in the big leagues is what I want to do.

You hear all around our organization that making the big leagues is hard, but staying in the big leagues is harder because there are guys like myself that want to get to the top and grinding to get to the top every single day. But that call is going to be great and I can’t wait for it to happen and I’m confident that it will happen. I’m excited, but I’m going to trust the process. I’m still far away from that, though. I want to make sure I finish every level and finish my duties here. I’m not looking too far ahead, but rather focusing on right here.

Who do you think it will mean the most to?

Morgan: My parents. Myself, obviously, but they’ve seen what I’ve gone through on and off the field and all the struggles. They’ve been with me one-hundred percent of the time. I know my mom and dad will be crying and you might even get a tear from me. It’s going to be a great time and I can’t wait for it to happen. I think they’re all excited and I’m excited as well. I’m confident and I’m going to work hard to get there.

Is there a weight lift, a road trip to Lakewood, or a particular moment that you might look back and say, “okay, this was worth it?”

Morgan: I would say this whole season. It’s not just one moment; it’s kind of the whole season that’s worth it. All the ups and downs, all the friendships that I’ve made just form this team. It’s a great group of guys – one of the best groups of guys that I’ve ever been with.

There are no selfish players. A lot of times you hear of teams that have selfish players and only care about themselves. This team in Hickory, we all care about each other and seeing the team win. So, whatever we have to do, where going to get the job done to help the team win. It’s been a great year overall and hopefully we’ll finish this last month off strong and make some plays in the playoffs.

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