Ex-Moses Lake Pirates ace A.J. Morris leads Kansas State to #11 ranking

Junior right-hander A.J. Morris (pictured) of Kansas State has been masterful this spring, setting a school wins record and leading the Wildcats to a 38-13-1 overall record (13-9-1 record in Big 12) and #11 ranking in Baseball America.

Morris is 11-1 over 13 starts and 91 2/3 innings pitched. He’s posted a team low 1.67 ERA while striking out 83 and is the odds-on favorite to win Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honors.

Morris began opening eyes last summer pitching for the Moses Lake Pirates. A.J. (1-3, 3.21) started the 2008 WCCBL All-Star Game for the East at Larson Playfield in Moses Lake, was named the #4 prospect in the league by Baseball America, led the West Coast League in strikeouts with 57 and earned first-team All-West Coast Collegiate Baseball League (WCCBL) honors.

We caught up with A.J. over the weekend and he was kind enough to deliver the following online interview.

westcoastleague.com: Congrats on your record setting spring. What to do you attribute to your resounding success this season?

A.J. Morris: I just continue to work on every aspect of my game, and I’m never satisfied. When it comes to pitching, I am a perfectionist and always try to get better.

westcoastleague.com: What did you work on this off-season that has made you a better pitcher this spring?

A.J. Morris: I changed from a curveball to a slider which really helped my control and is easier for me because it has the same release point as my fastball.

westcoastleague.com: What is the pitch you are most comfortable with and the pitch you feel has improved the most from last season?

A.J. Morris: My fastball is my most comfortable pitch right now because I feel as though I have complete control of it. I started to develop a slider over the summer and it really improved over the season.

westcoastleague.com: What was your fondest memory of pitching in the West Coast League? How was the competition, and ballparks?

A.J. Morris: My best memory was getting to start the All-Star game. It was in front of the home crowd and was a great experience. The competition was great. I got to face a lot of great hitters from the West Coast and it really helped me prepare for the season.

westcoastleague.com: Did you enjoy the Pacific Northwest and what will you remember most from your time there? Did you get a chance to go boating in Moses Lake last summer?

A.J. Morris: The Northwest was a great experience and I couldn’t have asked for better weather. Moses Lake was a great town with tons of nice people. We did go fishing occasionally on our off days. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better summer league.

westcoastleague.com: Are the Kansas State Wildcats poised for a postseason run? What are your team’s strengths?

A.J. Morris: Right now we are trying to stay focused on the season and what we have to get done still. We don’t want to look too far forward because we have a lot of work to still take care of. The difference this year is our team is just sound in all aspects of the game. Everybody brings something to the table and we can count on every player to get the job done.

westcoastleague.com: Thank you for your time, A.J. Keep up the great work.

While A.J. Morris is the leading contender for Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honors, he may well be joined by two other West Coast League alums as Pitcher of the Year honorees as junior southpaw Daniel Bibona of UC Irvine and senior Matt Fields of Gonzaga appear to have the inside track in the Big West and West Coast Conference, respectively. Bibona is 9-1 with 2.14 ERA for the #1 ranked UC Irvine Anteaters (37-11, 17-1) and leads the Big West in strikeouts with 80. Fields leads the WCC in ERA (2.72) and is 6-1 with 63 strikeouts over 62 2/3 innings pitched. Fields main competition for the honor is another West Coast League alum junior Lee Roberts of Loyola Maramount. Roberts is 7-1 with a 3.69 ERA and has struck out 74 over 85 1/3 innings pitched. Gonzaga and LMU are tied for first place in the WCC with 12-6 records.

Bibona (2-2, 2.19) earned All-WCCBL honorable mention honors pitching for Corvallis in 2007. Fields (5-2, 1.92) was named second-team All-WCCBL hurling for Wenatchee in 2006. Roberts (3-1, 0.30) pitched in relief for the 2007 WCCBL champion Moses Lake Pirates and was named second-team All-WCCBL.

SEC Flame Thrower

Ex-Kelowna Falcons junior southpaw James Paxton of Kentucky is 5-2 over 12 starts for the Wildcats. The native of Ladner, British Columbia has struck out 109 batters, second most in the SEC, over 73 innings pitched. That’s an average of 13.43 Ks per 9 innings. Paxton (3-5, 2.94) pitched for Kelowna in 2007.

Zags in First Place in WCC

The Bulldogs are led by West Coast League alums senior catcher Tyson Van Winkle, junior outfielder Drew Heid and junior starting pitcher Steve Ames. Van Winkle caught for Spokane the past three summers and leads GU in batting with a .378 average, hits with 70 and doubles with 21 and was named 2009 WCC/Rawlings Player of the Month for April. Van Winkle earned first-team All-WCCBL honors in 2007. Heid, the 2008 WCCBL MVP and league batting champion, is hitting .342 (second on the club) with a team leading 193 at bats and 6 triples. Drew played for Wenatchee in 2007 and Bend in 2008. Ames, who pitched last summer for Wenatchee and earned first-team All-WCCBL honors, is 7-1 with a 3.79 ERA and leads the Zags in wins and innings pitched (73 2/3).

Cougars in Second Place in Pac-10

Washington State (24-20, 13-7) senior catcher Greg Lagried leads the Cougs in hitting and RBI with a .374 batting average and 36 RBI. Lagried (.292, 1, 19) caught for Spokane last summer. Senior ace Matt Way is 7-4 with a team low 2.16 ERA and team-leading 95 strikeouts over 87 2/3 innings pitched. The southpaw from Sitka, Alaska pitched for Corvallis (4-1, 2.93) in 2007 and earned first-team All-WCCBL honors. Senior first baseman Alex Burg is hitting .355 with 34 RBI. Burg caught last summer for the 2008 WCCBL champion Corvallis Knights and was named first-team All-WCCBL.

Pac-10 Batting and HR Leaders West Coast League Alums

Former Wenatchee stars Dillon Baird of Arizona and Kyle Conley of Washington lead the Pac-10 in hitting and home runs, respectively. Dillon leads the Wildcats in hitting (.429) and RBI (44) while Kyle leads the Huskies in HR (17) and RBI (48). Baird, a junior third baseman, won the 2007 WCCBL All-Star Game Home Run Derby. The left-handed hitting slugger hit .299 with 3 HR and 19 RBI for the Sox and was named second-team All-WCCBL. Conley, a junior outfielder from Richland, Washington, was a member of the Sox 2006 WCCBL championship team.

Ryan Lee Sets Cal Poly Hitting Streak Record

Former Kelowna Falcon senior outfielder Ryan Lee set a new Cal Poly (33-15, 11-7) consecutive game hitting streak (26 games) this spring, which was previously held by current Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts. Lee is hitting .323 and leads the Mustangs in runs scored with 57, hits with 70 and stolen bases with 23. Lee played for Kelowna in 2006 (.272) and 2007 (.303, second-team All-WCCBL) and set a West Coast League single season record with steals with 27 in 2007.

Senior Pitcher Eric Massingham of #18 Ranked Cal Poly Named to Watch List

Former Corvallis Knights right-hander Eric Massingham has been placed on the watch list for the College Baseball Foundation and Mizuno’s Pitcher of the Year Award. Massingham has made 18 appearances in relief and is 7-1 with 4 saves for the Mustangs. His 1.85 ERA is a Cal Poly staff low. Eric pitched for the Knights in 2006 (3-1, 5.10) and 2007 (1-1, 2.32) and was named All-WCCBL honorable mention both summers.

2007 West Coast League Pitcher of the Year Paul Applebee of UC Riverside Keeps Highlanders in Big West Race

Staff ace Paul Applebee of UCR (29-16, 8-10) kept the Highlanders postseason hopes alive by beating UC Davis 11-1 this past Sunday to salvage the series finale, improving his record to 8-2 and lowering his ERA to a team best 3.55. The junior southpaw pitched for Bellingham (4-1, 0.60) in 2007, posted the league’s lowest ERA and was named WCCBL Pitcher of the Year. The Highlanders offense is led by junior outfielder Michael Hur who leads UCR in hitting (.373), home runs (6) and RBI (41). Hur (.229, 1, 5) played for Spokane in 2007.

West Coast Conference Stolen Base Leader is 2007 WCCBL MVP Zach Kim

Former Moses Lake Pirates utility man Zach Kim is leading the WCC in stolen bases with 35. The senior outfielder is hitting .349 and leads the University of San Francisco Dons in steals, runs (46), at bats (212) and hits (74). Kim (.327, 32 runs, 16 sb) earned West Coast League MVP honors and led the Pirates to a league championship the summer of 2007. Zach’s USF teammates junior shortstop Derek Poppert and sophomore infielder Stephen Yarrow are also West Coast League alums and lead the Dons in batting, RBI and home runs. Poppert is hitting .350 with 46 RBI and Yarrow has slammed 11 homers. Derek Poppert (.321) played for the Bend Elks in 2007 and earned first-team All-WCCBL honors. Stephen Yarrow (.308, 2, 17) played for the Wenatchee AppleSox last summer and was named All-WCCBL honorable mention.

Ryan Platt Named Big West Pitcher of the Week (May 5)

Ex-Corvallis Knights pitcher Ryan Platt of UC Riverside was named Big West Pitcher of the Week April 27-May 3. Platt earned the award for beating San Diego on April 28. Ryan is 4-0 with a 4.50 ERA and has struck out 45 over 46 innings pitched. Platt (2-0, 1.32) pitched for Corvallis last summer. The senior right-hander was the starting pitcher for the West in the 2008 WCCBL All-Star Game and earned second-team All-WCCBL honors.

Jason Erickson Named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week (May 5)

Former Bend Elks hurler Jason Erickson of University of Washington was named Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week April 27-May 3. Erickson (3-2, 3.00) pitched for Bend in 2006 and was named All-WCCBL honorable mention. The senior right-hander is 4-4 with a 4.19 ERA. The Huskies (23-24, 12-9) leading hitter is Jake Rife. The senior outfielder is batting .338. Rife (.292, 14 sb) played for the Bend Elks in 2006 and was named second-team All-WCCBL. UW closer Brian Pearl has posted the Dawgs lowest ERA at 2.67 and has collected 8 saves over 20 appearances. Pearl (2-1, 2.35, 4 svs) also played for Bend in 2007.

Leading Hitters for Kansas and Long Beach State are Former West Coast Leaguers

Sophomore outfielder Brian Heere of Kansas and junior outfielder Steve Tinoco of Long Beach State lead their college teams in hitting and both played in the West Coast League for Kitsap and Moses Lake, respectively. Heere is hitting .365 with 11 doubles, 5 HR and 36 RBI; and Tinoco is batting .359 with 9 doubles, 4 HR and 29 RBI. Heere (.256) played last summer for the Kitsap BlueJackets. Tinoco (.331, 12 sb) played for the 2007 WCCBL champion Moses Lake Pirates and was named first-team All-WCCBL.

Nick Freitas Breaks Southern Utah HR Record

Ex-Kelowna Falcons star outfielder Nick Freitas broke the Southern Utah all-time home run mark May 8, 2009 vs. Centenary. Freitas, a senior, leads the Thunderbirds of the Summit League in HR with 14, RBI with 58, total bases with 117 and stolen bases with 14. Nick (.282, 6, 22) played for Kelowna last summer, led the league in homers, led the Falcons in stolen bases with 12, earned first-team All-WCCBL honors and won the 2008 WCCBL All-Star Game Home Run Derby. Southern Utah (25-19, 14-4) junior first baseman Bucky Aona is tied with Freitas for the team lead in doubles with 13 and is second to Freitas in home runs with 10 and RBI with 40. Aona played for Kitsap last summer and led the West Coast League in RBI with 39. Bucky hit .315 with 10 doubles and 4 HR with the BlueJackets and was named second-team All-WCCBL.