By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
It takes a special player to earn a starting job as a true freshman at one of the nation’s elite college baseball programs.
Trever Morrison is just such a player.
Less than nine months after graduating from Everett’s Archbishop Murphy High School, the 18-year-old Morrison is the starting shortstop for the Oregon State University baseball team. And the Beavers are indeed an elite program, having won NCAA championships in 2006 and 2007. They are currently ranked third nationally by USA Today, fifth by Baseball America, and seventh by the National College Baseball Writers Association.
For Morrison, the experience sometimes feels almost too good to be true.
“I’ll have moments where I’m like, ‘Wow, this is really happening,’” he said, speaking by telephone from Corvallis, Ore. “But then you have to settle in and accept that it is happening, and you have to know that you’re good enough to compete with these guys. Because if you don’t you’re going to get run over.”
After training with the team through the fall and early winter, Morrison was in the lineup on Feb. 14 when the Beavers opened their season against Gonzaga at a tournament in Tempe, Ariz. He went 1-for-4 with two runs scored, and his first college hit was a line drive to left-center field that Morrison, with his exceptional speed, stretched into a double. He ended up scoring the go-ahead and eventual winning run in a 4-3 OSU victory.
Getting a hit in his first college game “was amazing,” said Morrison, who lives in Bothell. “I was very, very excited. It was kind of a surreal moment. It was amazing that we were not just scrimmaging, but actually playing against another team in a game in Arizona in a really nice stadium. It was really awesome.”
Exactly one year ago Morrison was getting ready for his senior season at Archbishop Murphy, and what a season it turned out to be. He batted .550 for the Wildcats with five home runs and 46 runs scored, and his on-base percentage of .664 meant he was reaching base in nearly two out of every three plate appearances.
Before the June major league draft, Baseball America ranked Morrison as the 139th-best prospect in the country. He told scouts he was going to attend college, but the Boston Red Sox still drafted him in the 38th round, hoping to change his mind.
Instead Morrison enrolled at Oregon State, where he had committed the summer before his senior year at Archbishop Murphy. He had previously decided to attend Washington State, but a visit to Corvallis for an infielder camp in the summer of 2012 — it gave him a chance to check out the campus and spend time with the coaches — convinced him to switch his commitment to Oregon State.
Longtime OSU head coach Pat Casey, who has coached a number of outstanding players over the years — among them, current major leaguers Jacoby Ellsbury (New York Yankees) and Darwin Barney (Chicago Cubs) — sees Morrison as a player with “a huge upside. … In my opinion, there’s no limit to what this guy can do as long as continues to (develop). And the other thing is his confidence level. He really believes he can play.
“As I told him, ‘We brought you in here to play and we need you to seize the opportunity.’ And he’s done that.”
Morrison has started all 12 games for the Beavers, who won three of four over the weekend to improve to 9-3. He began the season batting ninth, but was in the leadoff spot for several recent games because, as Casey explained, “he’s kind of forced our hand a little bit. He’s a guy that’s making it happen.”
And although Casey has no plans to move Morrison away from shortstop, “this kid could play center field with the way he runs.”
Morrison grew up a Seattle Mariners fan, often going to games at Safeco Field, and from his seat he would imagine himself someday playing in that same stadium.
“Even (watching games) on television, I’d think about that,” he said. “Ever since I realized I could play sports, I knew I’d really love to be a professional baseball player.”
If he eventually reaches the major leagues, “it would be the greatest moment of my life, I’m sure about that,” he added. “I think I’d take a day to appreciate all the work that I’ve done and all the people that’ve helped me, but then I’d wake up the next morning and just try to be the best player I can.”
It is a terrific dream, and one that his coach thinks has a good chance of coming true.
“I see this guy playing the game of baseball for a long time,” Casey said.