Going pro: Colby Morris ’19 continues post-grad baseball career

By DAN MIGUEL ESPINOSA

Colby Morris ’19 owns the record for most career wins in Middlebury baseball history (18).

Middlebury isn’t known for sending athletes to major professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, or MLB. Such is the case for all Division III athletic programs. However, if anyone were to wager on a potential big-league Panther, one should consider placing their bets on baseball standout Colby Morris ’19. 

The right-handed pitcher just completed a season with the Milwaukee Milkmen of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball (AA). The Milkmen didn’t make the AA playoffs, but Morris’ legacy with Middlebury baseball remains outstanding.  

His name is scattered throughout the program’s pitching records. Morris owns the most career wins in Middlebury history (18), is first in career innings pitched (256), career starts (39) and is second in career strikeouts (174). The right-hander earned the NESCAC Pitcher of the Year Award in 2018, as well as First-Team All Conference honors. His last season saw Morris win Second-Team honors. 

These stats and accolades should be unsurprising; Morris had served as the team’s workhorse and go-to pitcher throughout his four-year tenure. His 2016 freshman campaign saw him pitch the most innings amongst all his teammates. The amount of responsibility shouldered by Morris early on in his collegiate career spoke to his coaches’ confidence in his ability to deliver. 

His edge comes from his composure on the mound and a competitive pitching style. “I love pressure,” Morris said. 

Morris’ most reliable pitch is the change-up. As he matured and grew stronger in college, his fastball gained more velocity, improving from 83–85 miles per hour as a first-year, to reaching 93 miles per hour after graduating. 

Morris’ talent was noticed around the country. Hailing from the San Francisco area, Morris played in the local Golden State Collegiate Baseball League in the summer of 2016. The hiring of current Middlebury baseball coach Mike Leonard before the 2017 season allowed him to connect with other summer league coaches. 

For Morris, Leonard is much more than a baseball resource.

“Coach Leonard and I are very close. He reminds me in a lot of ways of one of my older brothers,” Morris said. “We talk all the time, and I might even get on his nerves sometimes from all the questions I have but he has been extremely helpful to talk to this summer.”

The connections provided by Leonard surely paid off. The summer after his sophomore year, Morris signed a contract with the Seacoast Mavericks of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) based in Portsmouth, N.H. The FCBL requires that 15 out of 30 players on each team have connections to New England, and the San Francisco-based Morris, having attended college in Vermont, was able to participate. 

Playing in summer leagues is a different animal when compared to the NESCAC.

“NESCAC has a lot of skilled and smart players who scrap together at bat, don’t hit for power and play small ball,” Morris said. “In pro ball, the hitters try to do more damage at the plate and care more about their own numbers since their jobs are on the line. They’re also far more talented in general and are more capable of hitting the ball out of the park.”

Morris also acknowledged that playing baseball wasn’t how Middlebury athletes typically spent their summers. Such an experience proved valuable for Morris.

“Summer ball allowed me to play without the commitment of school and I got to play against better talent, improving before getting back to Vermont each year,” he said.

The summer after Morris’ junior year was more hectic. Coming off a career season in which he won NESCAC Pitcher of the Year, Morris signed a temporary, 30-day contract with the Green Bay Bullfrogs of the Northwoods League in Wisconsin. The pitcher then spent time in Seattle to train extensively after the contract expired. 

But in the midst of training, Morris was contacted by the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL), which was rare for DIII players such as himself. The Cape Cod League is amongst the most competitive summer collegiate leagues in the United States, since it showcases many MLB prospects. Some CCBL alumni include Hall of Famers Craig Biggio, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Boston Red Sox legend Carlton Fisk. 

Morris went on to sign with the Angels, contributing to their bullpen’s depth. Getting appearances in Cape Cod was difficult, because other pitchers had spent more time on the team and so had more opportunities to prove themselves. By season’s end, Morris made only one appearance for the Angels, throwing two innings and allowing one run. 

“Cape Cod was one of the best experiences of my life,” Morris said. 

To Morris’ disappointment, he didn’t get drafted by an MLB team, and signed a short-term contract with the Trois-Rivières Aigles in Quebec of the Canadian-American League just weeks after graduating. 

After that contract expired, Morris signed with the Gary SouthShore Railcats of the AA league in Gary, Indiana. Talent-wise, the AA is similar to the upper levels of MLB minor league systems. Many of Morris’ teammates were on MLB minor league rosters, had played for MLB teams, or were just released by those teams. Unlike MLB farm systems, the AA is an independent league. Thus, teams prioritized winning rather than developing prospects.

Morris was released by the Railcats because his fastball velocity dropped to 88 miles per hour, despite throwing 3.2 scoreless innings in his last outing. The Railcats overused his arm, thanks to the AA’s “win-now” environment. 

Once released, Morris walked over to the Railcats’ opponent that day, the Milwaukee Milkmen, and asked to perform a bullpen session. He was signed on the spot. 

The Milkmen finished their last month and half of the season with Morris, and managed to return his fastball to 92 miles per hour. Morris was re-signed, and the recent graduate still has his future sights set high. 

“I’m hoping and expecting to sign with an MLB team this offseason,” Morris said. “My long term goal is to make it to the major leagues, however, in the short term I just want to get into an MLB system to work my way up the ladder.”

Morris hopes to play winter ball in Australia as his next step. 

“For the time being I’m just enjoying the ride and the adventure of living day by day,” Morris said.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.