Thrown into majors, Morban aims to learn

ORIOLES PLUS

Under Perlozzo's tutelage, Rule 5 shortstop breaks old habits, refines game

Orioles

A Look Inside

April 20, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As a small group of Orioles were taking early batting practice before Wednesday's game in Cleveland, shortstop Jose Morban stood in the infield next to bench coach Sam Perlozzo. Ground balls kicked up dirt before reaching his glove. Some of them were aimed at Perlozzo for instructional purposes.

The scene is repeated almost daily at Camden Yards. Morban watches and listens, the attentive student, while Perlozzo dispenses tips.

The Orioles hope Morban is also learning. He hadn't risen above Single-A during six seasons in the Texas Rangers' system. Chosen by the Minnesota Twins this past winter in the Rule 5 draft, Morban was claimed off waivers in late March by the Orioles and required to stay on their roster all season or be offered back to his original team.

Unable to do much besides pinch-run, he basically leaves the Orioles with a 24-man roster. Though Morban has batted only twice, he has scored four runs after being inserted into games late. Yesterday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he got his first major league hit, a home run.

As Perlozzo fills his head, Morban keeps pumping his legs.

By this time next year, he'll likely be playing in the Orioles' minor league system - perhaps as their shortstop of the future, definitely as a prospect worth following. But as long as he's with the club, the Orioles will keep him tethered to Perlozzo.

"He's got a lot of good things going for him," said Perlozzo, who works with the infielders, "but he has a lot of things that we need to smooth out to make him as good as I think he can be."

For starters, the Orioles need to break Morban's habit of sidearming his throws, a technique that's fine for balls hit behind second base, but otherwise frowned upon by Perlozzo. Providing a target for Morban during drills before the last exhibition game in New York, first baseman Jeff Conine was challenged by balls that kept sinking and cutting.

"It was almost like a dry spitter," Conine said. "The ball just kind of tumbled at the end. It wasn't normal-looking. You couldn't see seams or rotation."

On Wednesday, Perlozzo pulled aside Morban and instructed him to throw over the top. That's when a discovery was made that had Perlozzo shaking his head days later.

"I got him over the top, and it's as good an arm as you're going to see in the big leagues," he said. "Jose had some major giddyup. It reminded me of Shawon Dunston's arm. You can't outrun that arm. You're just not going to be able to do it."

"He throws a heavy ball," Conine said. "It feels like you're catching a ball that weighs a couple ounces more than a normal baseball because he has such great carry through it."

The tinkering with Morban, 23, involves more than just his arm slot. He's also prone to letting ground balls come to him, then taking two small hops before throwing. Worse, the last step is short, as if his feet are shuffling.

"I wanted him to just catch the ball, take one step and throw. I got him doing that," Perlozzo said.

When Morban began throwing over the top in Cleveland, he also reverted to doing the two-step. But the second hop was longer, giving him good carry on the ball. Perlozzo checked with Conine later to get an evaluation of the throws. Conine pointed his finger in approval.

Morban committed 34 errors last season at Single-A Charlotte, four more than the previous year. When Perlozzo asked how most of them occurred, Morban said, "Throwing."

"We need to get his mechanics right," Perlozzo said. "This is not rocket science. You get everyone in good position as many times as possible, and good things will happen. What you do is eliminate the chances of making a mistake. He's working on that.

"He's totally receptive. He tries everything. I told him to have confidence in me and let me pick out some things he can do. When he was throwing over the top, I said, `Does that bother your arm?' He said, `No,' so let's stay with it."

Though limited in their exposure to Morban on the field, the Orioles already have noted that he shows pretty good instincts. Pinch-running for catcher Geronimo Gil in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game, with the Orioles trailing by two runs, Morban dashed to second base on a pitch in the dirt to get into scoring position. He came home on a single by David Segui, and the Orioles rallied for a 4-3 win.

"It doesn't look like he's panicking out there by any stretch of the imagination," Perlozzo said. "We're looking for good signs all the time, and so far I haven't seen anything real negative out of him."

Ed Rogers remains the top shortstop prospect in the organization, though he hasn't played at Double-A Bowie this season because of a sore back and reported to extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla. Morban has the better arm, and his hands look pretty good. He just needs more polishing, which will keep Perlozzo's hands busy.

"We've got to take it in small steps," Perlozzo said. "I work on trying to get one thing right and then going on to the other step. He's a very willing worker. We talked [Wednesday] about taking ground balls before games every day. No fooling around.

"I've got to figure that if he's with us all year and we keep doing what we're doing, I'm going to have him in pretty good shape or I'm not very good at what I do."

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