TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle can't help himself. He's still amazed by freshman pitcher Preston Morrison.
Schlossnagle knew from the day Morrison threw his first pitch on campus last fall that the right-hander was something special. But just how dominating he has been still has Schlossnagle pinching himself.
"I shouldn't say he continues to amaze me," Schlossnagle said after Morrison's one-hit shutout Saturday against San Diego State. "But you see even deep into games how bad the swings are, how uncomfortable the at-bats are when he pitches. That's special pitching."
Morrison's success comes from his uncanny command and velocity. But it's not the kind of velocity that attracts scrums of scouts. He changes speeds and tops out at about 85 mph with a fastball that won't make major league scouts salivate.
He works both sides of the plate like his pitching hero Greg Maddux, who was never known as a power pitcher either. But Morrison wasn't drafted coming out of Cuthbertson High School, just south of Charlotte, N.C., and he wasn't recruited hard by any schools in the area, said Bo Robinson, Morrison's former summer league coach.
"I told every Division I college in North Carolina about him and every single one of them said, 'he doesn't throw hard enough,' and they passed him over," Robinson said. Robinson couldn't convince recruiters that they needed to look beyond Morrison's velocity until Schlossnagle saw him pitch at a showcase tournament in Georgia.
"Coach Schlossnagle was the only one who actually looked beyond what other recruiters are looking for," Robinson said. "He sat there and watched him pitch instead of watching the radar gun. There's no doubt about why Schlossnagle has been so successful. He thought outside the box. Preston has always been overlooked a little bit by everybody because of his velocity and his size, but at the end of the day, he's the guy you want on the mound in a big game."
Morrison has continued to baffle opponents at the college level and is beginning to get noticed. He was named the MWC Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year on Tuesday after going 9-0 and ranking eighth in the nation with a 1.55 ERA. It's the first time a player has won both MWC awards in the same year.
As Schlossnagle knows well, Morrison has unbelievable stuff, including incredible command of his pitches.
He leads the nation with a 0.76 WHIP (walks plus hits allowed per inning). He ranks above all the top pitching prospects in the nation, including Texas' Corey Knebel, Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney and UCLA's David Berg. Morrison has issued only eight walks in 92 2/3 innings.
To put that in context, TCU's Andrew Mitchell, one of the nation's top pitching prospects, walked six batters in six innings Friday against San Diego State.
TCU coaches saw Morrison as a clone in the vein of former TCU pitcher Trent Appleby. He was untouchable during fall practice including against professional hitters during an exhibition in the Dominican Republic.
"I never expected to start," Morrison said. "But once I started pitching more, I realized what I needed to do to remain successful, and I haven't gotten away from that. I credit that for my success."
The beauty of Morrison's repertoire is that it's more effective against better-hitting teams. Better hitters pick up Morrison's pitches easier than, say, Mitchell's 95 mph fastball, but it often sinks or dives to one side of the plate, leading to poor contact and harmless ground balls.
"[Good] hitters want to go get the baseball," Schlossnagle said. "They're used to seeing 90 to 95 mph. They're not used to seeing . So it looks bigger, like pitches they can hit. He's got a good sinker and he throws his pitches to both sides of the plate."
Robinson, who played professionally eight years, understands why recruiters and pro scouts are attracted to hard throwers. And like Schlossnagle, Robinson sees a void where pitchers such as Morrison often are overlooked.
"It makes sense because you can't teach velocity; you can teach a kid how to pitch," Robinson said. "But in Preston's case, you can't teach somebody how to pitch like he does. He can throw a changeup and slider in any count, he has movement on all of his pitches. Good hitters can always hit good fastballs."
TCU catcher Josh Elander says Morrison's control is stunning.
"I'll put my glove in random places and he'll hit it every single time," he said. "He's a goofball, but when he gets on the mound, I look at him as an assassin."
Morrison said it took discipline to stay within himself when other pitchers began to throw harder in high school. Robinson told Morrison not to worry about his velocity.
"Other kids were starting to throw harder and had success, and I was still in the low 80s, high 70s. It took a lot of discipline, and I trusted what he was saying," Morrison said. "That's what I've always had to do. I've never thrown hard, so I've had to mix speeds, hit locations, and use my defense."
Schlossnagle said Morrison's best asset is that he understands the kind of pitcher he needs to be.
"If he tried to pitch like Andrew Mitchell, Andrew Cashner or Matt Purke, he wouldn't be any good. If he was able to throw 86-87, that ball would flatten out, and he wouldn't be as good a pitcher. He has effective velocity -- it's just a change in velocity."
Morrison's success out of the bullpen early this season finally forced Schlossnagle's hand. He went 8 2/3 innings in his first start April 7. TCU has won all of his eight starts, including when he took over after one inning in a game postponed a day by rain.
"He's finally proving to people he can do it," Robinson said. "He was probably going to end up at a Division II school and pitch well, but Coach Schlossnagle believed in him and he has proven what we knew he could do at a high level."