10/30/14

INTERVIEW WITH AKEEL MORRIS, MILB RELIEVER OF THE YEAR - Tom Brennan

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INTERVIEW WITH AKEEL MORRIS, MILB RELIEVER OF THE YEAR by Tom Brennan

I’d like to share with you a recent interview with Akeel Morris, who overwhelmingly won the fans' vote in this year’s “MILBY”, an award designation from MILB.com (which is “the official site of Minor League Baseball”) as minor league reliever of the year, an incredible honor. 

First things first: Akeel Morris put up some incredible pitching numbers in 2014 in Savannah, after a terrific season in 2013 in Brooklyn.  In 2014, he relieved in 35 games, saved 13 of 14 save opportunities, allowed a miniscule 19 hits (3 hits per 9 innings, folks!), and 89 Ks (14 per 9 innings, in case you’re counting).  Akeel, the Man of Steel.
It wasn’t all Superman stuff though….he did have one month (July) where he gave up 3 earned runs – of course, that was all on a 3 run homer (won the game anyway, and it was his only homer allowed for the year, and heck, in that worst of his months, he gave up just 2 hits in 9 1/3 innings and struck out 15 – a month most guys would love to have – and most never will. 

An ERA of 0.00 in April, 0.64 in May, 0.00 in June, 0.00 in August – ahh, you get get the picture.  Just plain awesome, and an amazing season to watch unfold.

Heck, I’m gonna pause for a minute and reflect, as I do what many people do, rush past amazing things.  If not for one pitch, that led to the 3 run homer, Akeel would have given up just ONE earned run the ENTIRE SEASON!  UNO.  How special is that?

That tells me a guy has something special, a bulldog mentality perhaps. A will to hold down the fort for his team and not bend.  The "Buck Stops Here" when Akeel takes the mound.  The door is shut.  Somebody get ready to flip the light switch off, we’re about to go home winners.

So, let's move on to my interview with Akeel.  Here goes:

Akeel, thank you for taking the time to be interviewed.  I have several questions for you that I would like you to answer for the fans of Mack's Mets (and Met fans everywhere):

I see you grew up in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands, a beautiful place.  How did you come to play baseball as a youngster there, when did you realize you might be able to really pitch well, and how did you come to get signed by the Mets?
Starting to play baseball was actually a decision of my parents. They got me into the sport from a young age. I realized what I can do as a pitcher when I played summer ball with the prep baseball 16u Florida Bombers travel team.
The first tournament I played with them I won an award for most outstanding performance, and I really thought about that because I was only pitching for about 3 weeks at that time. I wondered what I could do with a full time commitment to pitching and that where it all started. 
How I got signed specifically by the Mets was after summer baseball and doing showcases. Some guys persuaded me to go to the D.R. and get teams to look at me and others directly at a facility.
They told me to choose any team I wanted to and I chose the Mets. I had a workout there and returned home. I wasn't able to sign, of course, because I was in a U.S. schooling system and was told I had to be drafted.
Weeks later a representative from the Mets came to St. Thomas to see me before the draft. Then I was drafted by the Mets. 
Regarding your pitching repertoire, how would you describe your fastball, curve, slider, and change up, in terms of speed; which of the pitches you feel are the most advanced; which are the pitches you need to work on most; and which pitch or pitches you most rely upon?
My repertoire consist of a Fastball, change up, and a slider. 
My Fastball sat at 93-95 mph most games this season. Change up is in the 78-81 mph range and Slider was around 80-81. I have grown to be real comfortable with all three pitches. I have seen a lot of improvement with my slider this season, but I would say that is the pitch I need to work on most. 
You struggled  as a starter and reliever in 2012, and then turned it around dramatically when converted to mostly a reliever's role in 2013, and even more so in 2014.  What changed to allow you to go from a struggling pitcher in 2012 to such a dominant pitcher in 2013 and 2014?
After the 2012 season is when I definitely realized the game is a lot more mental than people think and I began to really learn about myself as a pitcher and develop more of a mental approach that works for me, and to be consistent with that approach.
I feel like that was the difference in 2013 and 2014, along with me understanding and feeling better with my mechanics.
It appears to me that when you were moved for the first time to the closer's role in mid-2014 when Robert Coles was promoted to St Lucie, you absolutely thrived in it.  Jennry Mejia only wanted to start, but when they made him a closer, it is clear he loves it.  How do you like being a closer, and if you could choose now, would you choose to start or close? Why so?
I love closing. I would choose to close because I love the feeling. After seeing your starter work so hard and your teammates play a long game that's not over yet.
 Your team is winning and then you’re the guy they call on to close out the game for your team to get the W – that is what stirs up the adrenaline rush out there for me. You have to be ready every time. 
Who did you learn the most from in refining your pitching skills?  How so?
In refining my baseball skills I took in different things from all the pitching coaches, and managers I had since day 1. I learned that it's good to see the different perspectives of the game that people have, and it's good to listen and question them about it.
Miguel Valdes, the NY Mets’ Minor League Short Season Pitching Coordinator, helped me out a lot with my mechanics. That helped a lot. 

I love it – a guy who embraces the joy of competition and the challenge of closing games. I’d certainly imagine Met brass saw that when they made him Savannah’s closer.

Guys that sit at 93-95 on the fastball typically have another notch higher when the going gets tough, too, so he’s got the giddy up on the fastball that is a precursor to real major league pitching success.

It is great that Akeel’s parents encouraged him towards baseball and that he stepped up and pursued the gift the way he did, even going to a try out all the way in a different locale, as he did.  How many of us can look back on something we aspired to, but did not pursue? 

And - greatest of all – he picked the Mets!!

So, after a terrific 2013 and a jaw-dropping 2014, I like to speak for Met fans everywhere to say that we look forward to seeing Akeel’s continued progress in 2015.  Hopefully, we'll see Akeel pitching in Flushing for the Mets very soon. 

Personally, I hope he skips St Lucie and heads on to Binghamton in 2015.  If fellow Savannah Sand Gnat Dario Alvarez could be a September call up in 2014, maybe Akeel can be a September call up in 2015. 
I'd love to see it. How about you?

(Note: As a point of clarification, MILB staff voted for Cam Bedrosian, not Akeel, as its minor league reliever of the year, but in  MILB's fan voting, Cam, who pitched in the majors late in 2014, fell well short of Akeel's vote total.  I'm a fan, and I vote for Akeel!  And no, I did not stuff the ballot box!)

3 comments:

Hobie said...

Thanks, Thomas. Great interview.

Any Elroy Face comparisons? :-)

Mack Ade said...

You love reading how much HE loves closing

Thomas Brennan said...

Hey, Hobie, if Akeel wants to join the Mets and go 18-1 like Elroy Face did in 1959, I have no problem with that. (On a side note, I glanced at Elroy's stat page, and saw he was 5'8", 155. Pre-steroids for sure!)

And with him, it was Face Saving, not saving face. Sorry, bad one.

Yep, Mack, I love that he loves to close. Bumgarner was dying to get out there last nite - that is what you want in a guy.

Mack's Mets © 2012