Sunday, January 31, 1999

REDS NOTEBOOK


NL style more to Morris' taste

BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hal Morris appreciated his season in the American League. It was a treat to play against the likes of Nomar Garciaparra and Ken Griffey Jr. to see Fenway Park and Camden Yards.

        But after spending 1990-97 with the Reds, Morris truly missed Cincinnati. The city had grown on him, along with teammates such as Barry Larkin and cronies such as clubhouse manager Bernie Stowe and his sons, Mark and Rick.

        Maybe Morris didn't have a lot of options after Kansas City, where he played last year, declined to offer him a contract. But he hardly considered Cincinnati a last-ditch alternative.

        “I think I'm going to enjoy myself more this year than I did the last year I was (with Cincinnati), because I have a frame of reference,” said Morris, who signed a one-year, $400,000 contract with the Reds on Jan. 14. “I enjoyed my time in Kansas City, but it made me realize how much I like Cincinnati. ”

        Echoing many players who have performed in both leagues, Morris stated his clear preference for the Senior Circuit.

        “I was able to contrast the two styles, and the National League is a crisper style of baseball,” he said. “There's more managing involved and the games move along better.”

        Morris' NL return may not be an adventurous one, however. The Reds signed him with the mutual understanding that he would back up Sean Casey at first base. But just because Morris agreed to this role doesn't mean he has to accept it passively. He has the competitive pride expected of a .306 hitter.

        “You never know what's going to happen,” Morris said. “Evaluations of you change every day. There are injuries and trades. I've prepared myself this winter to get ready to play every day. There shouldn't be anyone on that club who doesn't want to be out there on the field. You don't know what your role is going to be from one day to the next, but you have to prepare yourself as if you're going to play a lot.”

Bolstered bench
        Morris complements a bench corps that should be vastly improved. Already, manager Jack McKeon anticipates having more flexibility with personnel moves .

        “We have a little more speed on the club, so you can pinch run for guys in certain situations,” he said. “For example, if you wanted to pinch-run for (Sean) Casey or Dmitri (Young) or (Eddie) Taubensee late in the game, you have guys like Morris who can pinch hit and then you have guys like (Mike) Cameron or (Chris) Stynes who can run, if they're not playing.”

        The Reds' reserve contingent now includes infielders Morris and Hamilton native Mark Lewis, who are former regulars; Jeff Branson, a Reds utilityman from 1992-97 who batted .300 (6-for-20) with six RBI as a pinch hitter last year for Cleveland; and, barring a trade, whoever doesn't start among outfielders Cameron, Jeffrey Hammonds, Reggie Sanders and Michael Tucker.

        Cameron, Sanders and Tucker each played at least 130 games last year, while Hammonds has been effective when healthy.

Sneak preview
        Baseball America has offered its opinion of the Reds' top 10 prospects in its current edition. Predictably, the No. 1 prospect was Rob Bell, the right-hander obtained from Atlanta in the Bret Boone trade.

        Outfielder Austin Kearns, last year's first-round draft choice, was ranked second in the organization, followed by right-hander Scott Williamson. Catcher-in-waiting Jason LaRue was rated fourth.

        The rest of the top 10, in order, are infielder Damian Jackson, outfielder Adam Dunn, shortstop Travis Dawkins, outfielder Mike Frank, right-hander Pedro Minaya and right-hander Jacobo Sequea.

       



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