Name: Charles Morton
Height: 6'5"; Weight: 218 pounds; Bats: R; Throws; R
Born: Nov. 12, 1983 (Flemington, N.J.)
High School: Joel Barlow HS (Redding, Conn.)
Strengths: Fastball that touches 96-97 and a twelve-to-six curve, along with an average to above-average power slider and so-so change. It's said that he's finally developed confidence and an aggressive attitude towards pitching, and that's keyed his turn-around. The light seemed to go on in the Arizona Fall league in 2007.
Weakness: Morton has always been one of the biggest enigmas in the Braves’ farm system. Blessed with outstanding stuff, Morton was never able to put up a consistent season. He struggled with the mental side of the game, and never developed much confidence in himself.
Morton struggled in limited time at the Major League level with Atlanta last season, showing only flashes of dominant stuff on the mound.
Another problem was physical; he had right back inflammation and pains that no one could quite identify. He was given cortisone and rest as a treatment. The Braves docs said it was nothing structural, and put him on an off-season exercise program to strengthen the area.
Whether that was the result of overwork or something that's always looming isn't really known; it doesn't seem to bother him this year. But we'd rather they could put a name to the injury. Morton also lost 25 pounds during the 2008 season. Pain? Pressure? Bad grits? But again, he seems strong this season.
Projection: Morton has good velocity, and a plus curve and slider. He's got AAA figured out, with a 2.05 ERA in 2008 and a 2.27 ERA so far this year. If he is just a late bloomer that finally saw the light, he has the potential to be a #3 or #4 pitcher in the show.
But there is that rough intro to the bigs last year hanging over him. If he stays confident and aggressive, he'll find the Pittsburgh staff much easier to crack than Atlanta's. If not, hey, he's got to be better than JVB.
Bio: Morton, 25, was the Braves' third-round draft pick (95th overall) in 2002 from Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Conn. It was a pretty good draft for the Braves; it included Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, and Chuck James.
Morton began his professional career for the GCL Braves in 2002 at the age of 18, starting five games in eleven appearances. He was 1-7 with a 4.54 ERA and showed absolutely no control, walking almost seven guys per nine innings.
The suits moved him up to short-season Danville in 2003. Appearing in 14 games, starting 13, he posted a 2-5 record with an 4.67 ERA. His BB/9 came down to 4.17 and his K/9 went up to 7.67.
He spent the next two years at Class A Rome. In the first year, he was 7-9, with a 4.82 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 5.20 BB/9, and 7.80 K/9. In the second season, his peripherals were better, but had a 5-9 record with a 5.20 ERA. He was starting to take on the odor of a career minor-leaguer.
Still, he went on High A Myrtle Beach in 2006. Same ol', same ol', except worse. His walks and WHIP went up, strike-outs down, and he posted a 6-7 slate with a 5.40 ERA.
But the Braves apparently saw something they liked and moved him up another level to AA Mississippi in 2007. And the light finally went on. He started off awfully, but every month his line got better. Morton finished the year at 6-9 with a 4.29 ERA, and got a chance to play in Arizona during the winter break.
Playing for the Peoria Javelinas, he started five games and went 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA. The Braves put Morton on the 40-man roster after he threw a five-inning no-hitter in front of GM Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox. He said that he was finally believing in his pitches. It showed.
Morton was sent to AAA Richmond after a strong camp, and posted a 2.05 ERA with a 5-2 record. He then got the call to an injury-ridden Atlanta. That wasn't exactly an epiphany, as he tried to pitch through a balky back and finished up 4-8 with a 6.15 ERA in 16 games, appearing just once in relief in the last few weeks of the year.
Now he's off to the best start of his eight year career. Morton was 7-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 10 starts for Class AAA Gwinnett, then pitched seven shutout innings in his debut with Indy.
Neal Huntington assured us he'll be up soon, and some observers think he's already better than half the current Pirate rotation. And hey, Huntington was true to his word; Karstens was moved to the pen and Morton is on the 25-man, in the rotation, and starting tonight.
The question remains: is Charlie Morton the perfect example of patience paying off when dealing with a high school kid that jumped straight into professional ball, or is he a AAAA pitcher? We'll find out soon enough.