Familiar faces lured Morton back to Braves

February 21st, 2021

Long before and worked together as Astros to record the final out of the 2017 World Series, they were part of the Braves’ 2002 MLB Draft class.

They introduced themselves to the professional ranks as Gulf Coast League teammates and were once again together on June 14, 2008, when Morton made his Major League debut with McCann serving as his catcher during a Braves win at Angel Stadium.

So, with this rich history, it made perfect sense when Morton revealed his decision to sign with the Braves was influenced by McCann’s recruiting pitches.

“He was talking to me about the facilities,” Morton said. “The Spring Training facility here is tremendous, and the stadium in Atlanta is awesome. He was encouraging me to sign here.”

Just a few days into Spring Training, Morton remains quite happy with his decision to sign a one-year, $15 million deal with the Braves. His daily commute is a little less than an hour from his Gulf Coast home, and he has enjoyed the chance to reconnect with some former coaches, including Braves manager Brian Snitker.

Snitker was Atlanta’s third-base coach when Morton made the first 15 starts of his career in 2008. The right-hander was sent to Pittsburgh in the Nate McLouth trade the following year.

“[Morton is] the same guy I remembered,” Snitker said. “Nothing has changed him. He’s the kind of guy that is going to bring instant credibility with all that he’s accomplished and the postseason success and what he’s been through in his career. I’ve always liked Charlie. He’s a wonderful young man.”

Morton has also found it easy to reconnect with Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Kranitz was the Phillies’ bullpen coach when Morton spent an injury-shortened 2016 season with Philadelphia.

Before sustaining a season-ending left hamstring injury four starts into that year, Morton made a career-changing decision by heeding the advice of Kranitz and Bob McClure, the Phillies pitching coach at the time.

Per the suggestion of the two veteran pitching gurus, Morton stopped leaning on his sinkerball as heavily and began using his curveball more frequently. He struck out 16 of the 53 batters (30.2 percent) he faced during those final three starts.

Morton’s strikeout percentages over the past four seasons have been 26.4, 28.9, 30.4 and 24.7, respectively. That rate had never been higher than 18.9 percent before the 2016 season.

Morton posted a 4.54 ERA over 158 appearances (157 starts) from 2008-15. He has produced a 3.34 ERA over 97 starts since the start of '17.

“I spent Spring Training and the first month of [2016] with [Kranitz],” Morton said. “It was nice. When you see a familiar face, someone you know and someone who knows you a little bit, it makes it a lot easier to talk. When the Braves called, that was another reason I was excited.”

Chipper set to arrive
Chipper Jones is expected to begin his new role as a hitting consultant before the Braves stage their first full-squad workout on Tuesday. The Hall of Famer is expected to be present throughout most of Spring Training. He plans to be present to work with players for a few hours before most regular-season home games.

“I told him I’ve been trying to get him more involved for years,” Snitker said. “I’m really excited for the players and for me to bounce stuff off of [him]. You talk about a guy who brings instant credibility and a passion for what he does. He’s going to be a great resource for those guys and the coaches and myself.”

EY returns
The Braves have been happy to reunite with first-base coach Eric Young, who returned to his full-time duties last week. Young didn’t work the 2020 season after the team’s medical staff informed him how dangerous it would be for him to work as a high-risk participant.

“I’m sure he’s excited to be back with the guys,” Snitker said. “I know guys are glad to see him. It’s good to have him back. He’s part of what we do here. It kind of makes everything normal when you hear him, because you can hear him before you see him. That’s part of the beauty of the man with the energy he brings.”