Draft profile: Tigers sure Morgan latest hit at catcher

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Editor’s note: Latest in a series looking at the Tigers’ first 10 draft picks.

We know, we know. The Tigers’ recent draft history isn’t great.

But since David Chadd came aboard ahead of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft, he’s had as much success with catchers as any other position. From 2005-11, he drafted 10 in the first 10 rounds, and six made the major leagues.

Two, James McCann in 2011 and Alex Avila in 2008, have been everyday players for multiple years. Avila was once an All-Star, and might be again.

So if you’re going by that track record, there’s reason for optimism with the Tigers’ third-round pick last week, Washington catcher Joey Morgan. At No. 95 overall, it was the earliest the Tigers have taken a catcher since McCann was selected No. 76 in his year.

“He’s a really polished receiver, with a plus arm,” said Scott Pleis, Tigers’ director of amateur scouting. “We think he’s really gonna swing the bat for us, and be a front-line catcher, for sure.

“And he got there in the right spot for us.”

Morgan played three years at Washington and recently signed in TigerTown, receiving slot value of $564,000.

A young junior, at age 20, he led his college team in just about every major offensive category this past season, including average (.324), on-base percentage (.427), slugging (.500), RBIs (45) and walks (30). Not a typical power hitter, at least not yet at 6-foot and 185 pounds, he did bang out five home runs, and six as a sophomore.

Morgan saw significant leaps at the plate this season, enough for DIBaseball.com to rank him the top collegiate catcher in the nation back in late April.

Hard work paid off on that front.

“Last season, for example, was a really good year for about the first half when I was using right field really well and going the other way,” said Morgan, a right-handed batter. “Then I started pulling a few homers, and once that happened, all I wanted to do was hit home runs. So I lived on the pull side a little bit much, and tried to do too much, and I struggled.”

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This season, he again set out to go foul line to foul line -- and even when he did pull the occasional home run, as all of his homers were hit to left, he didn’t let it alter his game plan this year.

As a result, his average went up more 60 points, on-base more than 70 and slugging 75.

That, combined with exceptional defense, made him the second-earliest Washington player taken in a draft, ahead of such alums as two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and current Diamondbacks slugger and legitimate MVP candidate Jake Lamb.

Like most catchers, Morgan prides himself most on his receiving and throwing skills. This season, he caught 13 of 27 would-be base stealers, allowed two passed balls and helped limit Washington to a conference-low 15 wild pitches. He’s always been a catcher, from the day he started playing at age 5.

“It was my first position,” he said.

That’s rare, especially at that age, for a kid to gravitate immediately toward catcher.

He can thank his dad, who wanted somebody to catch for Morgan’s oldest brother, Brandon.

Dad nominated Joey, and he hasn’t taken the pads off since.

As a freshman at Washington, Morgan threw out 17 would-be base stealers in 38 starts. The year before, he was Oregon’s 4A player of the year.

Morgan received word from his agent, Dan Vertlieb, that the Tigers were interested a couple of days before the draft. On Day 1, there were a couple teams that considered taking him in the first couple rounds, but went another direction. That left the Tigers waiting early on Day 3, and he recently arrived with short-season A-ball in Connecticut, where the organization didn't have a true “prospect” at catcher.

“It was awesome,” Morgan, an avid fly fisherman and bass fisherman who grew up a San Francisco Giants fan, said of his reaction to the Tigers’ pick. “Signing the contract really made it sink in.”

Get to know ...

Joey Morgan, C

Age: 20 (Aug. 26, 1996)

Height/weight: 6-0/185

Hometown: Sisters, Ore.

College: Washington

Draft: Third round, 95th overall ($564,000 value)

Fun fact: Back home in Oregon, Morgan loves to fly-fish with his dad and friends. When away from home, he’ll fish for bass, like he did playing in the Northwoods League in Wisconsin Rapids last summer. Any tall tales to share? “Oh,” he said, laughing, “too many to remember.”