Neither Jordan Norberto nor Ty Morrison played a game in 2014. In 2013, Norberto made 3 disastrous Triple-A relief appearances while Morrison’s 80 plate appearances featured few bright spots. Both players are far removed from being an impact player at any level of professional baseball, and their odds of returning to their previous promise are dwindling. However, the Tampa Bay Rays are giving them one last chance each for a simple reason: when you have nothing to lose, even players with low probabilities of success deserve opportunities.
Matt Eddy of Baseball America reported that the Rays have re-signed Norberto, Morrison, and Eduar Quinonez to minor league contracts. Details of Quinonez’s injury from 2014 are not available, but both Norberto and Morrison are recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
In 2012, it looked like Jordan Norberto was well on his way to becoming an effective big league relief pitcher. He was a lefty with electric stuff, reaching the mid-90’s with his fastball to go along with a pair of swing-and-miss secondary pitches in his slider and changeup. That season for the Oakland Athletics, Norberto went 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 46 while walking 22 in 52 innings. Norberto twice missed time with shoulder injuries and was inconsistent with his control, but he showed promise against hitters from both sides and showed the potential to be a late-inning arm.
Norberto is now 28 years old and hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since that year. But the Rays have actually had a pitcher in a nearly identical situation pitch for them this season. Juan Carlos Oviedo had also pitched in just three games the previous two seasons before he found a place in the Rays’ 2014 bullpen. Norberto will hope to pull off the same feat, and his lack of Oviedo’s track record actually helps everyone in this case.
Norberto won’t get much guaranteed money for the Rays in this deal, but the fact that he received a minor league deal means that the Rays can keep him at Triple-A until he’s entirely ready to contribute. In addition, while the Rays had to release Oviedo when he began to struggle, Norberto has options remaining and could give the team flexibility if necessary. If Norberto’s stuff is anywhere near what it once was, he could soon find himself with a 40-man roster spot and just maybe a spot in the Rays’ future bullpen plans.
Ty Morrison carries even more risk than Norberto. Even before his injury-riddled 2013, Morrison had to address concerns about his ability to hit the ball with authority and about the strikeouts in his game despite his lack of power. However, as the Rays bring Morrison back, they clearly see some of the promise that caused them to give him a $500,000 bonus as their 4th round pick back in 2008.
Morrison’s biggest strengths have always been excellent speed and strong defense in centerfield. While his performance at the plate will be the most important thing for him moving forward, having those secondary skills give him a higher chance than most at carving out a big league role. The Rays see a lefty hitter who does the little things well and ask themselves why he isn’t worth a chance.
Another thing that could be interesting is whether Morrison enters 2015 as the same player he was physically in previous seasons. Part of Morrison’s issues stemmed from the fact that he was a lean 6’2″, 170–with more muscle, maybe he could deliver more extra-base hits. How did Morrison use his time off? Was he moping around or was he working out as much as possible given his elbow to add a few pounds of muscle and not make the last two years a complete loss?
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The Rays’ dream scenario with Ty Morrison is what happened with Brandon Guyer. Coincidentally, Morrison will turn 25 in 2014 just like Guyer did in 2011, his first season in the Rays system. That year, Guyer saw his first time at Triple-A and wound up making his major league debut. Several parts of the story are different–Guyer had a better track record of hitting and didn’t have Tommy John Surgery until 2012–but Morrison’s destination could be similar to Guyer’s. This season, we saw Guyer turn into a backup outfielder who didn’t hit for power but did everything else well enough to have a place on the Rays for 2015. Even if the odds are long, Morrison still has the potential to carve out a similar role.
The Rays saw Jordan Norberto and Ty Morrison become minor league free agents and couldn’t come up with a good reason to let them walk away. Past promise means something even when injuries compound all the on-field concerns that come with baseball players. The Rays will give Norberto and Morrison one more chance to turn their abilities into results prove that they have futures in the major leagues.