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03/21/09 5:36 PM ET

Pirates high on Morris' prospects

SARASOTA, Fla. -- With all the expectations that have been placed on Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche and Craig Hansen, each acquired in the deal last July that sent Jason Bay to Boston, there's a tendency to forget about Bryan Morris, the other player included in that trade.

Morris is the youngest of the bunch, the only one not to see time in Pittsburgh last year and the only one who likely won't receive a call up this season.

But do not let that fool you. In fact, the Pirates couldn't be more encouraged by his blooming potential.

"[Morris] is a physical right-handed pitcher with an improving delivery," Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark said. "He has power stuff, and he has an aggressive mentality."

And, most importantly, he's healthy.

A first-round pick by the Dodgers in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Morris, who will be 22 in a week, had reconstructive elbow surgery that cost him all of the '07 season. He returned in 2008, but missed short periods of time in both May and August because of soreness in the rehabbing arm. In short, his strength hadn't totally returned.

"Usually, your first year off of Tommy John [surgery], you don't have much of a feel for what you're doing," Morris said. "It's pretty much a battle all year, trying to go out there and compete. My arm strength was good last year, but I feel like there is a little more to gain from surgery. I think this year my arm's going to be more in shape, and it should be stronger. My body should be able to last all the way through the year."

Morris made 17 starts for the Dodgers' Class A club last year, going 2-4 with a 3.20 ERA before the trade. He then went 0-2 with a 5.02 ERA in three starts for the Pirates' Class low-A Hickory club after the trade and with arm soreness having set in again.

"Coming off my first year [after] Tommy John [surgery], I'm pleased," Morris said. "But there is a lot of work to be done from that season. I could be a lot better with my command. I'm happy with it because I got through the year with no injuries, but at the same time, I know there is more there."

Improving his fastball command should come naturally, once Morris establishes a more consistent delivery with greater body control. There will also be a focus this season in having Morris further develop his changeup.

Stark said that the tentative plan is to have Morris begin the season in high Class A Lynchburg, but added that Morris could very well make the move to Double-A quickly, should he accomplish a few organizational goals early in Class A.

"We saw him last year, but we didn't see him healthy," Stark said. "It's hard to put the top-of-the-rotation label on anybody. But when you ask if this guy has the chance to be in the middle of the rotation? Yeah. We're intrigued by the potential with Bryan."

Stark isn't alone in that assertion. Because of his high ceiling, Morris quickly ascended to being the organization's No. 5 prospect, according to the 2009 Baseball America rankings. Along with another 2006 first-round pick, Brad Lincoln, Morris is arguably the most intriguing arm in the system now.

"I guess you can say there is a little bit of pressure, because your name gets thrown around as being one of the better prospects," Morris said. "But at the same time, you use that as a motivation to do what they expect."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.