Beavers newest recruit knows field, court
First baseman/outfielder Scott Morgan comes with Gonzaga hoops record
PEORIA, Ariz. Ñ Scott Morgan hits home runs better than he sinks jump shots, as much a reason as any that he finds himself in pro baseball instead of the NBA.
Truth be told, basketball is the 6-7, 230-pound Morgan's first love. He was sixth man at Gonzaga from 1994-96 and played on the Wildcat team that lost to Maryland in the first round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
'But I had a much better opportunity to make a living in baseball,' says the first baseman/outfielder, who will be with the Portland Beavers this season.
Morgan's debut with Portland will be postponed for at least a couple of weeks. He had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Thursday and is expected back by the middle of April.
Then Morgan will take aim at the PGE Park fences. Five times in his seven-year minor-league career, the Lompoc, Calif., native has swatted 20 or more home runs. In 1999, he was Cleveland's minor league player of the year after collecting 34 homers and 101 RBIs with Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo. Last season, with Anaheim's Salt Lake City affiliate in the Pacific Coast League, Morgan had 28 homers and 83 RBIs.
Great numbers, for sure. In both cases, though, there was no room for Morgan on the major-league club. In December, San Diego signed him to a minor-league free-agent contract. This spring, he had two homers and seven RBIs in 22 spring-training at-bats, but he hit only .222 and wasn't impressive enough to make the major-league roster.
'When I first signed, I thought my chances were good to make the Padres,' Morgan says. 'Then as I got here and started seeing what was around me É if I had really played well, I would have opened up a lot of eyes. It's unfortunate I didn't. I just hope I am given the chance to play every day and show why they got me.'
Beaver Manager Rick Sweet believes he has a chance to make the majors.
'If he hits 28 home runs again in our park, and with our club, he will have more than 80-some RBIs,' Sweet says. 'He could have a big year for us. The biggest thing for him is to stay aggressive. That is something we will be working on.'
Portland, Morgan says, is a good second choice to San Diego. He played at Chiles Center against the University of Portland while at Gonzaga and at PGE Park while with Salt Lake City last summer.
'I have a lot of friends who live there, I like the stadium, and I love Rick Sweet, who is also from Gonzaga,' he says.
Morgan went to Gonzaga on a basketball scholarship Ñ his wife, Claudia, played on the women's team Ñ but he also played baseball. He was one of the players who came during the mid-'90s under then-coach Dan Fitzgerald and turned the basketball program into an NCAA force..
He agonized over Gonzaga's first-round loss last week to Wyoming. 'I was in mourning the next few days,' he says.
When he retires from baseball, his goal is to coach basketball at some level.
Portland Beavers, 2002
With a week to go in spring training, here is how the Beaver lineup is shaping up:
CATCHER: Matt Walbeck, 32, and Wilbur Nieves, 24. Walbeck has spent at least part of the last nine seasons in the majors and was a starter with Minnesota and Anaheim, carrying a .238 career average. Nieves is a hot prospect who hit .300 with 24 doubles in 95 games with Double-A Mobile last season.
FIRST BASE: Mark Sweeney, 28. With several years of big-league experience, he would fill in until Morgan comes off the DL.
SECOND BASE: Cesar Crespo, 22. Crespo divided time between San Diego and Portland last season. He is hitting .333 in 30 at-bats with the Padres this spring.
SHORTSTOP: Julius Matos, 27. Matos hit .279 in 106 games with the Beavers last season. He is hitting .346 in 26 at-bats with the Padres with spring.
THIRD BASE: Kevin Eberwein, 24. Eberwein played 27 games with Portland last year and is close to making the Padres, hitting .275 with two homers and eight RBIs in 40 at-bats this spring.
OUTFIELD: Pete Incaviglia, 37; Kory DeHaan, 25; Al Benjamin, 24; Darren Blakely, 25; and Jeremy Owens, 25. Incaviglia had 30 homers and 88 RBIs as a rookie with Texas in 1986 and had 20-plus homers in each of his first five seasons with the Rangers. He last played in the majors in 1998 and was in the independent Atlantic League the last two years. He is hitting .360 in 25-at bats this spring. DeHaan spent part of last season in Portland and is batting .303 this spring. Benjamin, Blakely and Owens are prospects moving up in the San Diego farm system.
STARTING PITCHERS: Jason Middlebrook, 26; Matt DeWitt, 24; Junior Herndon, 23; Kevin Pickford, 27; and Mike Bynum, 24. Middlebrook spent much of the season in Portland and finished with San Diego last season. DeWitt was a closer who had 27 saves with Triple-A Buffalo and pitched 16 games in relief for Toronto last season. Herndon was 9-5 for the Beavers and 2-6 for the Padres last season. Pickford is a veteran minor-leaguer who could start while Bynum recuperates from knee surgery.
BULLPEN: Brandon Villafuerte, 26; J.J. Trujillo, 26; Brad Clontz, 30; Clay Condrey, 26; and Isabel Giron, 24. Villafuerte is a fastballer who pitched part of the last two seasons in the big leagues. Trujillo was a closer with Double-A Mobile last season. Clontz is a veteran major-league sidearm reliever who went 19-5 with Atlanta from 1995-97 and led the majors in appearances with 81 in '96. Condrey and Giron were middle relievers with Portland last season.
OVERALL: Portland was 71-73 and finished fourth in the PCL North Division last season. Sweet says this year's team will be younger, with the potential for better pitching, and solid up the middle with Crespo and Matos.
'Eberwein is as good, if not better, than Sean Burroughs defensively,' Sweet says. 'We probably don't have as much power as last year's club, but I think we can be a good hitting club.
'We want to win. My major priority is development of players for the major league club, but they want guys in San Diego who are winning and know how to win. That is what I expect us to do this season.'