Call him what you will, a pitcher who can hit or a hitter who can pitch, but Brian Morrell may be a vanishing breed. He can do both quite well.
Morrell is well-remembered for his brilliance on the mound when he pitched for Shoreham-Wading River High School, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he could swing the bat pretty darn well, too. As if a reminder was needed, Morrell won the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League batting title this summer while playing for the Riverhead Tomcats.
“This definitely helps being that I’ve had success, like showing that I could hit in this summer league,” said Morrell, who is headed into his red-shirt senior year at St. John’s University and hopes to get signed or drafted by a major league club.
Morrell was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round of the 2017 MLB Draft, but opted to play for Notre Dame instead. Strictly used as a pitcher, he went 0-0 with a 7.11 ERA in eight appearances with the Fighting Irish over two seasons. His bat was put aside during that time.
In 2019, Morrell joined the Tomcats with the idea of getting some swings in. The righthander transferred to St. John’s that fall and started one game before trouble flared up in the form of a torn UCL in his elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020, right before the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Since then, Morrell has transitioned to the outfield. The surgery doesn’t seem to have hurt his batting. The all-star posted a league-best .393 batting average and drove in 14 runs for the Tomcats during the regular season. He went 4-for-18 (.222) in the playoffs as the Tomcats were swept in two games by the Southampton Breakers in the championship series.
“He’s been having, obviously, a big summer,” said Tomcats coach Bill Ianniciello, who called Morrell “an awesome kid.”
Asked what his hitting secret is, Morrell answered: “For me it’s just being aggressive. I mean, I think when you second-guess yourself, that’s when you fall in the holes and you kind of lose it a little bit. When I stay with my approach and be aggressive and trust myself, that ultimately is going to make me successful.”
Morrell enjoyed a celebrated high school career at SWR thanks to both his pitching arm and prolific bat. Two years in a row he received the Carl Yastrzemski Award, which goes to the most outstanding player in Suffolk County. The Riverhead News-Review made him its SWR Athlete of the Year for 2016-17 and he was Newsday’s Long Island Player of the Year in 2017.
Over the course of five varsity seasons, Morrell hurled six no-hitters (recognized as a Long Island record), with 23 wins, a 1.15 ERA and 295 strikeouts in 213 innings. Offensively, he hit .409 with 26 home runs and 124 RBIs.
While pitching is currently on the back burner for Morrell (he did pitch 2 1/3 innings on July 4), he hasn’t given up on pitching and is still doing rehab for it.
Morrell believes his experience as a pitcher helps him as a batter.
“I kind of take my approach as if I’m the pitcher, like what the guy’s going to try to throw me,” he said. “… I kind of understand like what their plan is going into my at-bat. Like I try to see what they’re throwing. Like, when they’re warming up I always check to see what the guy has, what he’s throwing, what’s working for him that day, and I kind of stick to see what his approach is and then attack with my approach.”
Morrell plans one more season of college ball and then hopes a professional opportunity will present itself.
“That’s the whole reason why I’m playing, yeah, and see where that goes and then, you never know,” he said. “You never know. God has a plan.”