For Josh Morgan, 2019 was almost a lost year.
The highly-touted Texas Rangers infield prospect was poised to take the next step on his road to Major League Baseball in his first full season of the second-tier minor league competition. Instead, he played just one game.
Morgan broke a hamate bone in the opening game of the season for the Frisco RoughRiders. He was kept in good company while recovering from the broken bone in his hand, with Rangers big league slugger Joey Gallo suffering from the same injury, with the two speaking to one another about the injury, pain and rehabilitation process.
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It wasn't a season-ending injury, but the young prospect tore ligaments in his wrist as he neared a return. Unlike the broken hamate bone, the torn ligaments were season-ending.
Limited to three at-bats in the 2019 Double-A season, when the opportunity to join the Auckland Tuatara in the Australian Baseball League was presented to him by Tuatara manager and Rangers minor league coach Steve Mintz, it was an easy decision for the 23-year-old.
"I was hurt a lot this season, but once Mintzy brought me the opportunity to come to New Zealand to play, I was all for it," Morgan said.
"Just to come to New Zealand period, but to come here to play baseball, I bought in right when he brought it up.
"I'm 100 per cent right now; my wrist, my hamstring, everything that was hurt in the past is all back to 100 per cent so I'm itching to get on the field again."
The 23-year-old Californian will be one of 11 MLB prospects playing for the Tuatara this season, five of whom have been sent down by the Rangers.
For Morgan, not only is it an opportunity to experience a new part of the world, but he'll be making up for lost time on the diamond. Morgan will return to a role in the infield during his time with the Tuatara, after the Rangers looked into converting him into a catcher in recent seasons.
The franchise looked to move both Morgan and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who played in the level above Morgan, to catcher to add depth to the position in their system in 2017. Both players transitioned into the role well from a performance point of view - Kiner-Falefa has since gone on to catch for the Major League team – however the increased demand that came with learning the new position took its toll on Morgan.
"I think I should do anything just to get to the big leagues, honestly. When they brought catching up a couple of years ago I was all for it because that's what we needed at the time. I wasn't able to stay healthy too much, so now I'm going back to the infield which is exciting."
In 472 games across five levels of the minor leagues, Morgan has flashed plenty of talent with the bat and is a smart hitter very capable of working a count. He's walked 174 times while being struck out 242 times in 1738 plate appearances, and has a batting average of just under .300. He's a strong defensive fielder too, with the tools to play catcher, second base, third base or shortstop. In 3929.2 innings in the field in the minor leagues, he's committed just 71 errors.
While he was open to donning the gear behind the plate on occasion for the Tuatara, it wasn't the position the Rangers wanted to see him play in, and he was excited about getting into the infield to make up for lost time. Before being sidelined by his recent run of injuries, Morgan had been among the top ranked prospects in the Rangers organisation since they selected him in the third round of the 2014 draft.
"Once you miss time, the more and more reps you get the better…the in-game reps are going to be super important for me and just to be on the field again, on the dirt in a game situation, I'm just excited to do everything."
MLB prospects lining up for the Auckland Tuatara's 2019-20 campaign
Catchers: Jonny Homza (San Diego Padres)
Infielders: Jeremy Vasquez (New York Mets), Josh Morgan (Texas Rangers), Yonny Hernandez (Rangers), Ryan Costello (Minnesota Twins), Jared Walker (Los Angeles Dodgers).
Outfielders: Hansel Moreno (Mets)
Pitchers: Kyle Glogoski (Philadelphia Phillies), Hever Bueno (Rangers), Lucas Jacobsen (Rangers), Emerson Martinez (Rangers).