Nyjer Morgan is one of the big reason the Pirates are enjoying some success this year.
He has added some real spark to the top of the lineup, and been pivotal in the field.
In preparing this story, I was reading a lot of fan comments on the blogs, so many of them blasting Morgan.
Some said things like, “We are half way through ST (spring training) and Nyjer Morgan has not shown one single reason to deserve a starting job, to be frank, if it wasn't for the fact that we do not have anyone else to play CF, he doesn't deserve a spot in the bench.”
In fact, at the start of the season most described the former hockey player as nothing more than a placeholder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, until somebody better could get some minor league at bats and be called up. These comments seem sorely empty at this point in the season.
Now with a tight hamstring and a couple days off, John Russell and the Pirates were hoping that his absence would not slow the team down.
The funny thing is you don’t usually hear these folks apologizing for their comments. Morgan has impacted the team in all facets of the game—including hitting and fielding, to add to his base-running. If Morgan could hit for power, some might suggest that he is on track for an All-Star bid.
Morgan started the season off well and has not let up. His batting average just recently dipped down to .290, but there is no reason to believe it will not come back. He has 23 runs, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases on the young season. He has four three-hit games on the season. He also has five doubles and three triples.
If he has a weakness at the plate, it is that he does not walk enough for a lead-off hitter. But even his walks are up from last year, and it is making him a better hitter overall as he grows more patient.
“I’m a lot more comfortable," he said recently. "I’ve tried to slow the game down.”
In April he had just eight walks. There is evidence he is improving. He has 11 in May with six games left to play.
Perhaps very notable is that Morgan has added Gold Glove-type performances to left field as well. He has made so many over-the-shoulder catches taking away what are normal extra-base-hits, that they have come to be routine.
It is hard to think of another Pirate beyond Nate McLouth that can field like Morgan does. The Pirates have been playing Morgan well forward, and in from the left field line, because they know Morgan has the legs to get to balls that are hit over his head and can prevent doubles on hits up the line.
Morgan is actually taking hits away from Pirate opponents on a regular basis because of where they can place the speedster in the field—however, this does not always show up in the box scores.
Consistant Standout Plays by Morgan
On April 9: A hard shot by the Cardinals’ Ryan Ludwick that would have landed in foul territory was snatched out of the air by a leaping Morgan. With the catch made just before Morgan reached the wall, he raised a leg to brace himself for impact and preserve the out.
On April 15: Against Houston, Morgan showed just what he can do when the team plays him deep in the gap between left and center. Charging left at a flat line drive to left, Morgan dove face first making a sliding catch perfectly intercepting the ball and keeping Houston from rallying in the ninth.
On April 22: Against the Florida Marlins, Morgan sparked a comeback with a single and then in stealing third, the throw got past third base and Morgan scored to put the Bucs up in the game.
On May 2: Against Cincinnati, Morgan reached on a fielder’s choice. Then on a wild pitch, he showed just how fast he is, as he took two bases moving all the way from first to third, beating out the throw from the Red’s catcher Ramon Hernanez. “I just saw them slacking a little bit—I just figured that I had an opportunity to go so I just figured I’d take it,” Morgan said following that game.
On May 3: In a game against the Reds, Morgan made a leap to snatch a line drive right out the air in mid field robbing Hernandez of what was an almost sure hit.
A recent problem with a tight hamstring took him out of action for a couple of games, the first games he has missed all season. Whether many of the spring training naysayers are right has yet to be seen as Morgan has become a big reason the Pirates fans still feel hopeful this late in the season. Looking like he had returned back to form after the injury layoff, Morgan was part of the Buc bat resurgence on Sunday, going three-for-five and scoring the go-ahead run.
To this point, Morgan has been nothing short of reliable, productive and exciting from start to finish. He is a natural athlete with blazing speed, the toughness of a hockey player and has shown himself to be teachable as he tunes his game. His on-the-field awareness has allowed him to make some great plays. His consistency from in the batter's box has lasted nearly two months and there is no sign it is letting up.
You do not hear people today saying, "I wish we had a solid leadoff hitter." You don't hear it because Morgan has that position locked down—and it doesn't look like he'll lose it anytime soon.