By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan – Things are finally starting to fall into place for Gareth Morgan.
After three seasons in the rookie-class Arizona League to start his professional career, the 21-year-old outfielder broke camp out of spring training this year with the Class-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, the Clinton LumberKings.
“It is nice to finally break with a team and get a full season under my belt,” Morgan said. “We’re  games in, and this would be halfway through an AZL season. It’s nice to experience what a full season feels like, and the wear and tear on the body. This is just the beginning but I’m getting after it and I’m happy to be here.”
Making some early adjustments to both the Midwest League and to his own mindset, Morgan has found his bat in a big way of late. Over his last 10 games, the Toronto native is 16-for-43 with three of his four home runs on the season, four doubles, 11 runs scored and 12 runs driven in. Over his three most recent games, the Canadian slugger has nine hits, including a multi-homer day on Tuesday, and 16 total bases, plus his first two swiped bags of the year.
Morgan believes that what has led him to find more success at the plate comes down to being confident in the process, and understanding that learning and implementing changes takes more than a little bit of time and patience.
“I’ve evolved a lot,” he said. “The first year, everything was about results, and I wasn’t really getting many, so it was very frustrating, for a couple of years. I’ve matured a little bit since then and I understand that I’m not going to hit every time. There have been some struggles, but if I just stick with what I’m doing now, it should be good.”
Playing for the LumberKings has been an adjustment in a multitude of ways for Morgan, but so far he’s found that his belief in what he’s being taught, and a newfound personal understanding of the development process and its effects have helped him along the way.
“There are a lot of games left,” the 6-foot-4, 220-pound outfielder said. “You can’t get too caught up with the results. You have to stick with your process, and everything will work itself out. It’s mostly happened for me. I’ve had a couple hiccups, but I try to stick to the plan and I’m trying not to get too far away from that. Of course, there are always a few tweaks here and there, but it’s a long season so I’m going to stick to it and let it play out.”
Among the methodology, Morgan has tried many things. Even while the 74th overall pick in the 2014 draft – after which he solicited a $2M signing bonus – is finding an increased amount of success, he understands that every day he has to continue to work on what made him successful in the first place, focusing on areas he hasn’t dedicated as much time to in the past.
“I try to keep it simple and easy,” the longtime Team Canada member said. “I try to slow the game down and not rush too many things, with hitting and my defence. I just find myself speeding up during game time, and so now I’m trying to tell myself to slow it down and relax, and to not try and do too much...
“The biggest thing I’ve worked on throughout my entire career is just hitting. My defence has always been pretty good, and of course I’m still working on it, but I feel like hitting is the most important part of my game, and staying consistent and being able to do damage on a daily basis.”
Swinging for the fences on a daily basis makes for some fun entertainment when it works, with the opposite results when it doesn’t. Now with 12 career home runs, and a quarter of those over the last week, Morgan understands that his power profile has led him to some big swing-and-misses on the other end of the coin, with 273 strikeouts over his 167 minor league contests.
“Strikeouts come with it,” he said. “I’m trying to cut back on those, but the strikeouts are going to come. I try not to get my head wrapped around that, but it’s never fun to strike out, and walking back to the dugout not helping your team. But it’s part of the game and you’ve just got to live with it. Hopefully I can cut back on a few of those…
“It helps when I can start early and easy. I feel like whenever I start late, everything is rushed. I’m chasing pitches. When I’m early, I feel like I can lay off of the off-speed [pitches] down and look for a pitch I want to hit and be ready to hit it. I just need to work on it every day until it becomes a habit.”
Aiding Morgan as he continually works on taking a better mindset into each series, game, at-bat, and more is fellow Canadian Jimmy Van Ostrand, currently in his first season working as a Peak Performance coach for the Mariners, roving among the organization’s affiliates throughout the year.
“I’ve worked with Jimmy a little bit,” Morgan said. “He’s on the mental side, so I’ve been in constant contact with him and he’s helped me out tremendously. He works with me on cues, on not getting too frustrated, and just keeping the game simple, trying not to fill up my head with too many thoughts all at once.
“What’s helped the most is learning to control the mental game, which I’m still working on. I still get pretty frustrated sometimes, but that’s natural. Keeping it simple is what I’m trying to do, not trying to hit home runs every at-bat, just trying to make solid contact, and with natural power the ball is going to go places.”
A lot of what Morgan has been able to implement in his game lately are things that he learned as he grew into being the player he is, with the Toronto Mets, Ontario Blue Jays, and Canadian Junior National Team programs, and during his early time in pro ball, but never really hit home.
With the patience and assistance of the Mariners, the young hitter is relearning some of the lessons he got along the way, and though there are some moments when he would like to turn back the clock, he understands that there is no time like the present.
“I wish I could go back and start all over again with the Junior National Team now,” Morgan said. “I feel like I would have a new mindset, and maybe I wouldn’t get too frustrated.
“Greg [Hamilton, Baseball Canada’s director of national teams] worked with me on not worrying about failure and not worrying about striking out, which is just beginning to set in now. I guess I was just young and not many things were processing in my head until now. Now I’m thinking back to what Greg and the other coaches said, and it’s sinking in now. It just took some time.”