Matt Morgan batted .273 in late-and-close situations with Vancouver in 2017.
2017 Vancouver Canadians catcher Matt Morgan is the latest guest to catch everything thrown his way in the latest edition of C’s Chat. The 22 year-old backstop is getting his first extended exposure of full-season baseball with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2018. Morgan was a fourth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014 out of high school in his hometown of Thorsby, Alabama. He decided to turn pro as a teenager after forgoing an opportunity to join the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Morgan says he can’t believe he’s in his fifth season in the Blue Jays system.
“Yeah I know, it’s crazy. It’s funny but I get to work with a bunch of guys and I have made relationships with many people as I can. As far as stats go, no matter where they end up sending me, I have a good feel of the guys that I’m working with. The staff here in Lansing, I have complete confidence in and I’m super excited about it.
It’s pretty crazy that it is five years. It seems like yesterday it was June 6th and I was in my high school coach’s living room getting a phone call (about being drafted by the Blue Jays).”
2017 Regular Season
After a one-game cameo with Lansing in 2017 on June 9, Morgan enjoyed some big moments with the bat during his time in Vancouver last season. Though he had just one hit in his first 20 at-bats, the righthanded-hitting Morgan busted out with a two-hit game. One of those hits was a game-tying two-run home run that led the C’s to an eventual win over the Eugene Emeralds at the Nat July 2.
“The whole game, it was back and forth. Every time we played them, it was a good game. They were a good team last year. That’s why we saw them in the championship.
Yeah, that at-bat. I knew the guy (Junior Marte) was going to throw hard and he was throwing hard all day. I was just trying to get ready for a fastball and I was ready. I took a good swing and hit it. That’s about it. I was just trying to do something to help the team win and try to get a big hit and it happened to go over the (left field) fence.”
Morgan felt there was a play-off type atmosphere that Sunday afternoon at the Nat.
“Anytime you’re facing good competition, we preach that we take those games seriously even in the regular season because that’s a team we’ll face later in the season when it really matters. Anytime you face guys like that. I remember when we faced Hillsboro, we’d take the same mentality in those games.
Honestly anytime you really play at home in Vancouver, it felt like a play-off game with the fans. They kind of helped us get ready to play everyday too.”
Morgan followed up that July 2 contest with a perfect day at the plate July 4 when he had two hits and two walks in Spokane. He also helped the C’s snap a five-game losing streak by doubling home the first run of the game and adding a home run in a win over Salem-Keizer July 20. That helped Vancouver right the ship and eventually clinch the first-half North Division title.
“Anytime we were in the hunt, our goal was to win. Anything that we could do as a whole lineup to help the team win. For me, I was just wanting to really, really to help the team. Anytime I got in a spot to get a base hit or throw a guy out or do anything on defence, I wanted to do it. We had confidence in everybody and we had confidence in ourselves.”
Matt Morgan singled in his first at-bat as a professional with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays on June 20, 2014.
On whether clinching the first-half division title was a huge weight off the team’s shoulders.
“I wouldn’t say it was a weight off our shoulders. We didn’t necessarily press over it. We’d just went out there and played. It was definitely nice to clinch especially that early. A couple of guys could work on some things and knowing that we were going to be in the playoffs was awesome. Definitely clinching early was a good feeling.”
On how the team kept its focus during the second half of the season.
“Our locker room was relentless on going out there and playing hard every day. After we champagned in the locker room, we all had an almost team meeting where we all had to put in our two cents on the second half. We were really trying to win the second half to really set the tone and let everybody in the league know that we’re not going to back off. I think that mentality helped us with that.”
Matt Morgan wore number 7 to start the season in Vancouver before switching to number 30.
Morgan began wearing number 7 with the C’s before switching to number 30 later on. He says there was a simple reason why he made the switch.
“Anytime that I get to choose a number, I want to choose number 7 but we didn’t have a red jersey with the number 7 on it. I didn’t want to have to switch jerseys and switch numbers the whole season so I just ended up with the next number I thought that I’d wear so I just kind of picked the jersey that fit and wore it for the rest of the season just because I didn’t have the red number 7 jersey but I got it back now in Lansing.”
As it turned out, Morgan got to wear the number 30 of Hall of Famer Tim Raines on Tim Raines Night when the C’s donned Montreal Expo-style jerseys. Morgan said that was a special night.
“It was awesome. I have a fun relationship with Rock. He’s an unbelievable dude. He’s one of the best baseball people I’ve ever been around. To wear number 30 on his night was unreal. I can’t put it into words. It was super cool and to have him sign it and to talk to him and everything like that, it was awesome.”
Morgan earned a special place in Vancouver Canadians playoff lore as his mishap with a skunk in Tri-City led to the creation of the Rally Skunk cap. He said he tried his best to avoid Pepe Le Pew.
“It was a 6:15 am bus and I was coming out of the clubhouse with my glove and my bag. I was just walking through the tunnel to get out of the stadium and I see a skunk beside me. I was kind of like side-stepping to keep walking.
I put my stuff on the bus, put my glove down and I walk on the bus and about that time, I smell it (laughs). I turned around and ran off the bus and started screaming. I threw my clothes off in the parking lot (laughs). Everybody came out and thought that I was on fire or something.
Yeah, it was a rough morning for sure. I ended up having to wear the stench and what little bit I did have left until we got to a gas station (laughs) and find a way to get it off.”
Morgan said the Rally Skunk was waiting for him when the team returned home.
“Our clubby Johnny (Stewart), he came in when we got back from the road trip and the skunk was in my locker already. He didn’t tell me about it. It was like a joke to me and then I just kind of ran with it. That day, I think I wore it out on the top of my hat to the game. I think it was A – we swept on the road and swept a three-gamer at home when we came back. After that, they were like ‘Hey, you’re going to have to bring the skunk out every game.’ “
Matt Morgan fist bumps with Bryan Lizardo (left) during player at the C’s 2017 home opener.
The playoff drive for the C’s was supposed to begin in Spokane for Game 1 of the North Division final. However, a nearby forest fire led to the game being postponed and caused the entirety of the best-of-three final to be held in Vancouver. Morgan says it was a strange experience.
“Super weird. It was funny because we were all looking and looking and the rumour was obviously if it does get smoked out in Spokane, we get to play them at home. To me, that was almost just a curse for them to play us at home for all three games. We had our fans behind us and everything. It was crazy, honestly.”
“They were definitely hot. They played really good in the second half. We had a good game plan. They had some guys that we really had to be careful against and I knew they had some good arms. Like we talked about in the clubhouse all year, we thought that we were the best team in the league. Every time we went out there, we played and acted like it. We didn’t necessarily fear but we knew that they were going to be a good team and they were hot but we stuck to the game plan and do what we had to do.”
On the prospect of facing Eugene or Hillsboro in the league final.
“We knew both of those teams. We played them several times during the regular season. Going into it, we had scouting reports and we know they had scouting reports so we know it’s going to be who’s going to go out there and play harder and execute. We were fortunate enough to go out there and we had really unbelievable pitching through the playoffs. That’s kind of what I credit it to that, timely hitting and we got us the championship.”
On taking part in the championship celebration.
“I remember I was coming right off the bench. I felt Reggie (Pruitt) on my back and then after that, everything was (a blur). I don’t remember much after that. The next thing I know we were taking pictures.”
Vancouver’s a great city and they took care of us that night for sure. We all had early flights next day so we had to work our way around that. We celebrated and had champagne in the locker room. Everybody was beside themselves. I think at one point (Dave) Pano was standing on the couch yelling but it was a blast.”
“The clubhouse atmosphere was unbelievable. Anytime that happens, it’s special. For me, it was one of those things where coming to the park everyday was easy. At the end of the day, what we want to do is win and that’s what we did obviously. We had a great time doing it. It was a blast.”
On receiving his championship ring.
“It was awesome. The rings were unbelievable. They’re huge. (The owners) told us that they were going to get some rings for us if we won it and they didn’t disappoint for sure.”
On catching Nate Pearson.
“It’s a blast. It’s almost easy to catch him. You can’t call it easy because he throws 100 but it’s a blast. He’s an intimidating guy when he’s out there to the other team and you can really feel when he’s on the mound and the presence he puts off. Yeah, he’s unbelievable. He’s really, really, really worked. It’s easy to work with him. We bounce ideas off of each other about pitch calling and stuff like that. When he stepped in, he was a leader in our clubhouse towards the end of the season. I love Nate and we’re still really close friends.”
Matt Morgan made 23 starts behind the plate for Vancouver in 2017.
Morgan says his work behind the dish was a big focus of his after the season.
“For me personally, what I try to do in the off-season is just kind of keep building on whatever I have been working on during the season and in previous off-seasons. To get bigger, stronger and faster. My defence is my priority so I worked on defence a good bit.
I was in Tuscaloosa for most of the off-season and I would head over there with some of my buddies that go to school there. I was working on my swing, what I need to do with catching and thinking about baseball.”
On hosting hitting camps in the off-season.
“What I normally do every off-season is I go and (offer) lessons. I have some kids that I grew up with and know their parents and they’ll contact me and I’ll give lessons to some community kids and whoever calls and needs something.
I love to give lessons. I normally do a couple of hitting camps and maybe a couple of catching camps in the off-season just to get guys in and try to spread my knowledge because I know I always enjoyed it when I was coming up. I knew that if I had the opportunity to do it, I was going to do it. I make sure every off-season I get a chance to give back to them.”
Matt Morgan threw out 31 percent of would-be basestealers with the C’s in 2017.
On working with Blue Jays catching coordinator Ken Huckaby.
“I love Huck. Huck’s awesome. Huck’s been unbelievable with our catching program and with every guy. The one thing I love about Huck is he lets every catcher be their own catcher and kind of figure out what works for you in the best way and he works with that. He’s in our corner no matter what and he always will be. We all have a special relationship with Huck. He’s awesome.”
On what he wants to accomplish this season.
“My goal for 2018 – I want to win a championship every (year). Anything, whether it’s checks or if it’s baseball, I want to win a championship. I’m going to get these guys on board with me and I think they are. I just want to have a healthy, strong season and win a lot of ball games.”
Morgan’s game behind the plate continues to shine with Lansing in 2018 as he has thrown out eight of 16 runners trying to steal against him. If he can make similar gains at the plate, the sky could be the limit for him.
In the first episode of Around The Nest, Lansing broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler believes the best is yet to come for the 6-foot-1 backstop.
“He’s shown off bat speed. He’s shown off pop in his bat and his defence is very much improved as well. He threw out a runner, picked him off cleanly at second base and handled the pitchers well from (Zach) Logue to Brody Rodning and right on through to Andy Ravel and Kyle Weatherly in the pen.
The defence is the priority for the most part and so because of that, I get excited whenever I see Matt Morgan do what he did like April 12 when he just starts crushing them. He flied out twice to very deep center field and then he doubled to left-center and he reached on a single that should have made it into center field if not for a diving stop by (Fort Wayne) shortstop Gabriel Arias, who’s one of the top prospects that we’ve seen so far this year.”
My thanks again to Matt Morgan for taking part in the latest instalment of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @Matt7Morgan.
Additional thank yous go out to Lansing broadcasters Jesse Goldberg-Strassler and Dante De Caria for arranging the interview. Check them out on Twitter @jgoldstrass and @Diamond_Dante and listen in at LansingLugnuts.com.