Author: Michaela Johnson
MLB Draft Preview: C Justin Morris
Justin Morris – C
Ht: 6’2″ Wt: 215 Year: Jr. Bats/Throws: L/R
Hometown (HS): Edgewater, Md. (DeMatha Catholic HS)
G: 38 (31 GS) AB: 90 Slash Line: .211/.290/.389 HR: 5 RBI: 13 K-Rate: 26.9% BB-Rate: 9.6 %
Previously Drafted: 2015 – 35th Round, 1050th Overall – Arizona Diamondbacks
Background: Entering his freshman season with the Terps in 2015, Justin Morris was ranked the third best player in Maryland by Perfect Game USA. The Edgewater, Maryland, native started 27 games his freshman year between first base, catcher and DH, but struggled to hit, batting just .133. With the departure of Kevin Martir after the 2015 season, Morris secured his spot as a mainstay in the catching rotation as a sophomore, starting 34 games and throwing out 38 percent of runners from behind the plate. He improved his average to .194, but still struggled at the plate.
The following summer, in 2016, Morris demonstrated his offensive potential with the Ripken League’s Bethesda Big Train. In 35 games, he hit .287 with 10 doubles, 25 RBIs and a league-leading four triples. Coming off a breakout summer season, Morris started the 2017 season as part of a three-man catching rotation with Danny Maynard and Nick Cieri. He again struggled to hit early in the season, earning much of his playing time due to the fact he was the best defensive catcher of the three. Late in the season, however, he solidified himself as the starting catcher, and with every day playing time, his bat came around. In 14 games after he was named starting catcher, he hit .267 with three homers and nine RBIs, including a .353 mark in five Big Ten Tournament contests.
After the 2017 regular season, Maryland hitting coach Rob Vaughn praised Morris’s drive to compete and develop as a player.
“Justin has been unbelievable. He had a tough start to the year… but he kept working and when his number is called he’s been unbelievable.”
J-MO!! The catcher goes yard and we are tied!#DirtyTerps https://t.co/wzUKYwIslv
— Maryland Baseball (@TerpsBaseball) May 25, 2017
Outlook: Throughout his time in College Park, Morris established himself as a premier defensive catcher, both in his ability to limit the running game and block behind the plate, but for the most part could not find a consistent rhythm at the plate.
He seemed to figure things out at the dish late in his junior season though. The lefty-swinging Morris has always been pull happy, which can limit him, especially when he hits the ball on the ground, and his high strikeout rate can be worrisome. However, if he cuts down on the whiffs and hits the ball in the air more, as he did throughout postseason play, he can provide solid offensive punch.
For now, Morris’s value relies more on his defense, but his timely hitting and power should not go unnoticed. His combination of solid blocking behind the plate, his ability to throw out base runners and his power from the left side is something that scouts will like to see from the catcher position. If teams look at the offensive spark he provided as an every day player late in the season, Morris will be a solid middle to late round pick in the upcoming draft.
Terps signee Drew Wilden flourishes after recent transition to mound
Until his sophomore year of high school, Drew Wilden was a center fielder. He started pitching only when his coach put him on the mound to see what would happen. His velocity and accuracy have increased since then, and now, two years later, he’s a talented southpaw with a 90 mph fastball and a filthy slider. Perfect Game’s No. 1 left-handed pitcher in New Jersey, Wilden signed his national letter of intent Nov. 9 to continue his career as a member of the University of Maryland’s pitching staff.
Wilden started playing baseball when he was five, and has played every spring and fall since then. As a New Jersey native, he grew up a Phillies fan and has always looked up to Cole Hamels. Now that he’s a pitcher, Wilden says he strives to be the same kind of pitcher as Hamels and works off his style.
In addition to playing for West Deptford High School, Wilden plays summers and falls with All Out Baseball, an elite South Jersey college prep baseball program. He said his experience with All Out challenges him in a way that high school baseball can’t, as they travel more extensively and he’s faced some of the best players on the east coast.
Entering his final season before college, Wilden would like for his high school team to replicate what they did last season.
“We won the state championship last year, that’s a huge goal,” he said. “But we take the season one game at a time.”
When Wilden visited Maryland, he knew it was the place where he wanted to spend his college career. He said he instantly made connections with the coaches and Maryland’s baseball program is “on the rise.” He also said he appreciated the beautiful campus and it immediately felt like home. In his time at Maryland, he anticipates having teammates he can rely on and making sure his teammates know they can rely on him.
“Winning the College World Series is definitely on my bucket list,” Wilden said. But for now, he said, the most important thing is to work and hard and win games as a team.