DETROIT -- Logan Morrison's 19 home runs are the most this season of any American Leaguer not named Aaron Judge. The Rays first baseman is on pace to double his previous career high in homers, following a difficult 2016 that included surgery on his left wrist. In any other year,
DETROIT -- Logan Morrison's 19 home runs are the most this season of any American Leaguer not named Aaron Judge. The Rays first baseman is on pace to double his previous career high in homers, following a difficult 2016 that included surgery on his left wrist. In any other year, Morrison would be a lock for the All-Star team.
But he's hardly the only AL first baseman with breakout numbers and a compelling backstory. Oakland's Yonder Alonso is second in the AL (to Judge, of course) in OPS. Toronto's Justin Smoak, long renowned for his defense, has nearly identical power numbers to Morrison, and he ranks just ahead of him in OPS.
Morrison, Alonso and Smoak share a number of similarities. Each is playing for his third Major League team. Alonso and Smoak are 30 years old; Morrison will turn 30 in August. Alonso and Smoak played at high-profile NCAA programs in the Southeast -- Miami and South Carolina, respectively -- and were selected in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Alonso went to the Reds at No. 7, Smoak to the Rangers four picks later.
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"It's great to see those guys doing what they're doing," Morrison said Thursday afternoon, before the Rays opened a series vs. the Tigers at Comerica Park. "From the first time I watched Justin Smoak swing a bat in the Arizona Fall League, I said, 'Oh my gosh, this guy's going to be unbelievable.' He hit a home run from the left side and a home run from the right side. I was like, 'I quit. This guy's head-and-shoulders better.'
"I'm happy for him. He was a great teammate [with the Mariners in 2014]. He's a great human being, great family. He and Yonder deserve to be All-Stars. I haven't done what they've done. They're hitting .300 with power."
Morrison's modesty was admirable, especially considering he's yet to appear in an MLB All-Star Game and would love to have the honor of going. But even if he's left off the roster, Morrison could celebrate a major career milestone in 2017: his first postseason MLB game. According to Nate Purinton of MLB Network Research, Morrison has played the fifth-most games of any active player who has yet to appear in the postseason.
Morrison grinned when informed that, had the season ended Thursday morning, the Rays would've been on their way to Fenway Park for the AL Wild Card Game.
"Too bad we have 100 games left," he quipped.
Technically, the number is 93. The Rays are on pace to score 768 runs, which would be their best output since 2010, the year of their most recent AL East title. At their current rate, they will shatter the single-season club record for home runs, set last year. An upgrade behind the plate -- offensively and defensively -- is coming soon, as Wilson Ramos is poised to make his Rays debut before the All-Star break. And Tampa Bay's rotation ranks third among AL teams in ERA, with Chris Archer again among the Major League leaders in innings pitched.
"We have the talent," Morrison said. "We can hit. We can really hit. We can pitch, most days. If we can play defense and make the plays we have to make, we're going to win a lot more games.
"From the beginning of the year to now, defensively, we're way better. But I don't think we're there yet. It's not defensive runs saved -- I don't know any of that stuff -- but we need to make that play."
Turning double plays, you mean? Outfielders throwing to the right bases?
"Exactly," Morrison confirmed. "Little things. But that's what we have to do to be a consistent team. We have all the talent. We can hit the ball out of the yard. We can get on base. We have an MVP offensively in Corey Dickerson. We have a multi-time All-Star in [Evan Longoria]. We have a lockdown closer [Alex Colome]. We have a really good rotation. But we have to play -- not just good -- great defense. And then we'll be where we want to be."
Morrison said he's more comfortable in Tampa Bay than during his first season with the Rays in 2016. Last season, he felt the pressure of playing in the AL East for the first time and became overly conscious of hitting home runs. "In fact, you don't have to try to hit homers -- and they'll go out," Morrison said. "That mental freedom has really helped me."
And Morrison is healthy now, having healed from two issues that plagued him in the second half of last season. In July, he began experiencing pain in his right forearm whenever he gripped a bat. (He was diagnosed with tendon intersection syndrome.) The torn tendon sheath, which required surgery in October, was in the opposite wrist.
Morrison also is benefiting from newfound perspective on his career -- and life -- thanks to Christie, his wife of 3 1/2 years, and their 21-month-old daughter, Ily (pronounced I-lee).
"I had one big league offer, and it was from these guys," Morrison said of going through free agency last winter. "The game's changing. Anybody can play first base now. You don't need a [true] first baseman, so there's less and less jobs. But if you hit 40 homers, they're going to find a place for you.
"I feel I have something to prove. It puts a chip on your shoulder. But as far as my outlook, I have a beautiful kid, a beautiful wife. I'm good. I've made enough money in my career where I'll be OK. I don't need baseball. I love baseball. But I don't need it. It doesn't define who I am. My family defines who I am. It's definitely a perspective that's helped me out a lot, I think, being able to press that reset button."
Regardless of whether he edges Alonso and Smoak in an unlikely All-Star derby, Morrison will begin the second half dreaming of October. He hasn't forgotten how exhilarating the 2014 pennant race was in Seattle -- and how crestfallen he felt when the Mariners were eliminated on the final day.
"It would be a dream come true," Morrison said, "but we're a long way from that."
Jon Paul Morosi is a national columnist for MLB.com.