Nyjer Morgan

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Nyjer Jamid Morgan
(Tony Plush or T-Plush)

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Biographical information[edit]

At the age of 16, Nyjer Morgan left home to play junior hockey, which he did four years, reaching as high as as the Western Hockey League. He was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 42nd round of the 1998 amateur draft out of high school but did not sign. Nyjer was picked then by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a draft-and-follow selection in the 33rd round of the 2002 amateur draft. He was signed by scout Kevin Clouser and made his pro debut in 2003.

In 2003, Morgan debuted with the Williamsport Crosscutters and hit .343/.439/.399 with 26 steals in 43 tries. He made the New York-Penn League All-Star team as an outfielder and was picked as the league's #8 prospect by Baseball America. He had finished second in average behind only Vito Chiaravolloti and led the league in hits (92) and sacirifce bunts (10) as well as times caught stealing.

In '04, the 23/24-year-old batted .255/.357/.337 for the Hickory Crawdads, struck out 120 times, scored 83 runs and stole 55 in 71 attempts. He was plunked by 32 pitches, leading the South Atlantic League. He was three steals behind league leader Michael Bourn.

A shoulder injury delayed Morgan's 2005 season debut. He returned to hit .286/.357/.328 with the Lynchburg Hillcats, stealing 24 of 34 and was fourth in the Carolina League in steals. The next year, he had a .303/.390/.360 line with Lynchburg and .306/.353/.393 with the Altoona Curve. Overall, he swiped 59 bases in 81 tries and scored 82 runs.

Morgan was hurt by the presence of many similar singles-hitting speedy outfielders in the Pirates system, including Chris Duffy, Rajai Davis, Vic Buttler and Rich Thompson.

He was assigned to play in the Hawaii Winter League in 2006 and did a fine job for the Honolulu Sharks, producing at a .294/.368/.425 clip while stealing 20 in 25 tries in 32 games. He was 5th in the HWL in average, led in hits (35), steals, runs (25) and triples (5). He made the HWL All-Star team along with fellow OF John Mayberry Jr. and Dexter Fowler. Pittsburgh added him to their 40-man roster late in the HWL season.

Morgan started 2007 by hitting .308/.379/.338 for the Indianapolis Indians in 34 games, stealing 22 bases in 26 tries and scoring 24 runs. He was leading the International League in stolen bases at the time. In mid-May, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb while sliding into a base. On May 15, he had surgery and was expected to miss 8-10 weeks. He returned late in the year, batting .308/.438/.538 in a 4-game rehab stint with the GCL Pirates and finishing with a .305/.374/.354 line in 44 games for Indianapolis, stealing 26 in 33 tries. He joined the Pirates as a September call-up and debuted the same day as Steve Pearce. Morgan entered in the 6th inning as a defensive substitute in center field, with CF Nate McLouth moving to left field to replace Jason Bay. Nyjer had an infield single the next inning against Matt Wise and scored on a hit by Freddy Sanchez. He drew a walk later in the game. The next day, Morgan started in center, batting leadoff.

Morgan dazzled defensively on September 9 with a catch against ex-Pirate Aramis Ramirez. Starting from 15 feet into left-center (playing Ramirez to pull), he ran all the way to the left edge of the Roberto Clemente Wall in right field, dove into the air and backhanded the ball in mid-air. Pitcher Matt Morris said it was better than any catch he had seen Jim Edmonds make when they were teammates St. Louis and added "The speed Nyjer showed to close like that...the way Ramirez's ball was tailing away from him the whole time, the full extension...That play justy doesn't get made. It's one of the best catches I've seen." Ramirez said "I never thought he'd get it." The fans reacted with a roar of approval that lasted several minutes.

Morgan led off games on September 19 and September 20 with a triple. It was the first time a Pirate had done that since Omar Moreno in 1980. No National League player had done it in the past five years. He hit .299/.359/.430 with 7 steals in 10 tries as Pittsburgh's starting center fielder after his call-up, with a 105 OPS+.

When manager Jim Tracy was let go by Pittsburgh, Morgan lost a key supporter. He battled with Nate McLouth for the center field job in spring training of 2008, losing the competition. While McLouth was hot in April, Morgan saw little playing time and played poorly, only hitting .161/.257/.194 with 1 steal in 3 tries. He was sent down in early May and replaced on the roster by Jason Michaels.

Morgan had a very good season for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, hitting .304 as the Brewers won the NL Central title for the first time. However, he started the 2012 season with 138 plate appearances without a RBI, until he hit a homer off Kevin Correia of the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 1st. He set a record for most plate appearances without driving in a run at the start of a season, beating the 125 by Herb Adams in 1950. He finished the year batting .239 in 122 games, with only 16 RBI. He was clearly eclipsed by teammate Carlos Gomez, who had shared duties in center field with him for two years and who finally had a season that reflected his great tools. As a result, the Brewers showed little interest in keeping him after the season. He chose instead to head to Japan.

On January 24, 2013, Morgan signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama BayStars of the Central League for $1.6 million. He played 108 games that season, hitting .294/.361/.434, with 11 homers and 50 RBIs. After the one-year hiatus in Asia, he returned to the U.S. in 2014, signing a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians.

Sources: 2004-2006 Baseball Almanacs, Altoona Curve website, Hawaii Winter League site, MILB.com, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports

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