Frisco RoughRiders, May 2018, Suad Bejtovic Photography.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again” was one of the more famous quotes issued by the late, great Yogi Berra.
But the funny thing is that quote just might be fitting for the Frisco RoughRiders in 2018, especially since for a third consecutive season, the local Texas Rangers affiliate have a player who will see time both in the infield and at catcher. Currently, Josh Morgan, the Rangers’ No. 28 prospect per mlb.com.
The past two seasons, that most versatile of roles was ably filled by Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is now playing for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate down in Round Rock. But Morgan, 22, who hit .270 in 106 games for High Single-A Down East of the Carolina League in 2017, is more than happy to follow in the footsteps of “Kiner”. Morgan shared,
That’s my boy, man. He gives me pointers all the time, on what to expect, what not to expect, not to overthink and everything. Obviously, he’s doing really well. He had a really good spring training at the big-league level. What he told me is to keep pushing, keep your head on straight and just make sure you take it one day at a time, don’t overthink everything and just be in the now, take it day-by-day.
Last season, Morgan played 36 games behind the plate for the Wood Ducks, his first taste of catching.
Although he’s just coming off 7 days on the DL, he’ll probably see a similar workload this season in Frisco under manager Joe Mikulik, who is back for a fourth consecutive season of leading the ‘Riders. Mikulik said,
Well, there are some similarities (between Morgan and Kiner-Falefa). It’s a tough comparison. The conversion is not easy. I think you got to be mentally tough enough to do it and both of those kids are. In those regards, I think they’re equal because they can accept it and they handle it very well. They’re able to accept the role and it’s not an easy role to accept, but I think (it is) the avenue for them to get to the big leagues.
Maybe the biggest plus with having such versatile players as Kiner-Falefa previously and now with Morgan is that it gives their manager the one thing every skipper can never seem to have too much of – options. Mikulik added,
It gives us maybe a third catcher, a backup catcher who can be versatile, go to the infield and play in a pinch, that’s great. He (Morgan) had a good season last year hitting in the Carolina League, which is not an easy league to hit versus the (more hitter-friendly) California League, so I see with his bat, him able to be versatile and play different positions, it’s huge. It gives a manager a lot of different options, especially late in the game.
Besides his time behind the plate in Down East last season, Morgan gained additional experience as a backstop by playing in the prospect-heavy Arizona Fall League last October.
And even with a small sample size in terms of games played at this new spot, the versatile prospect calls his comfort level high behind the dish. Morgan shared,
I feel very comfortable back there, very comfortable and that’s not my own doing. That’s come with a lot of coaches and a lot of teammates helping me throughout the journey. It’s been a process for sure, but I feel extremely comfortable back there and we have an extremely good pitching staff this year, so I’m really excited to see what happens.
Morgan also focused more on his catching this past offseason than before but added that extra work as a backstop did not come at the expense of him devoting less time to becoming a better infielder.
I still got my ground ball work in. I think I was just a little more focused on catching because it’s a lot newer to me,” he said. “In off-seasons, it’s always trying to get bigger, stronger, faster and polish up your game, the whole part of your game. I think it was really important for me to continue to work hard and just keep it.
At ‘Riders Media Day right before the start of this season, Morgan talked about how blessed he was to play in a venue like Dr Pepper Ballpark, one that has its own river, the Lazy River, in the outfield.
Another aspect of making the jump to Frisco he was looking forward to is playing for Mikulik, who is known as a fiery skipper who demands a lot from his players but who will also go to bat for them no matter what.
I played for him in spring training multiple years. (He’s) really in the moment and really fiery, but (that’s) the best manager to have. It’s amazing, what kind of relationships he has with his players and I’m excited to build that relationship this year. Nothing but good things (to say) about Mik.
Morgan also feels like he benefited greatly from being around veteran Rangers like Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre in spring training, an experience which allowed him to see how big-leaguers go about their daily routines, pointers he can incorporate into his own approach.
Being around all of those guys really is just a blessing, man. It’s awesome just to see what they’re doing, how they act and honestly how loose they keep the clubhouse because I think the off-the-field stuff is just as important as the on-the-field stuff, the team chemistry and they’re all so close up there (in Arlington).
I think that we have a group (here in Frisco) that’s been together for a little while and that’s going to be important for us too, is team chemistry off the field as well. Just like I said, seeing how they act up there and what their different routines is I think extremely important and that’s something that I very much take interest in.