Nationals select SU’s Morse in 16th round of MLB Draft

Phil Morse

Shortly after the 10th round of the Major League Baseball Draft ended last Friday night, Phil Morse Jr., a Shenandoah University reliever with pro baseball aspirations, told his father that he had a good feeling he would be selected by the Washington Nationals before the 40-round draft concluded.

The next morning, after two days of anxious waiting, Morse’s girlfriend decided to get him out of the house to settle his nerves and take his mind somewhere other than the MLB draft. The destination? Washington, D.C.

The two walked along the National Mall and had begun exploring the National Gallery of Art when Morse’s cell phone began exploding with text messages, social media alerts and emails. Then came a phone call from former SU pitcher Vince Claudio, who congratulated Morse on being drafted, which was followed by a congratulatory call from Phil Morse Sr.

But it wasn’t until the third phone call, one from Nationals scout Bobby Myrick, that Morse was finally struck with the reality – Washington had chosen the right-hander in the 16th round with the 484th pick.

“That’s when I knew it really happened,” Morse said Monday morning. Myrick’s phone call came about 10 minutes after the Nationals had made their selection. “… It was really exciting. It was a special moment.”

According to a press release from Shenandoah University, Morse is the first Hornet to be drafted in at least the last 25 years, and he’s the first player selected during Kevin Anderson’s 13-year tenure as head coach at the school. Morse, who served as SU’s closer this spring and went 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA and eight saves in 22 appearances, was one of 20 Division III players selected during the draft.

“It’s something I’ve been pushing forward to since Little League and my entire life. Been working hard to get to this point and it finally happened, and I’m super excited to get started and see what happens in the future,” Morse said.

“The Nationals have been my favorite team since they became the Nationals (in 2005 after moving from Montreal). I love the program that they have over there. It’s such a first-class organization and I can’t be more happy to be a part of it. I look forward to getting started soon.”

Morse said he’s flying to Florida on Wednesday, where he will be picked up by a Nationals representative and likely taken to the team’s spring training complex in Viera, Florida. Once there, Morse said he expects to go over the details of his contract and take a physical examination.

Myrick – who first met Morse during Morse’s senior season at McLean High School in 2012 while scouting former McLean and University of Virginia standout Josh Sborz – told Morse he will likely report to the Auburn (New York) Doubledays, the Nationals’ short-season Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League, after Wednesday’s meeting.

Morse said the Nationals were one of 25 teams that had expressed interest in him since the summer of 2015. The Vienna native said he was invited to “multiple” prospect workouts over the last couple weeks, though he only attended three, including one at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in D.C. on June 3.

“That’s where I kind of raised the bar for myself in front of some other cross-checkers and scouting directors and stuff like that,” Morse said.

He also attended workouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers at LaSalle University in Philadelphia on May 29 and with the Chicago Cubs on June 6 at Wrigley Field.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Morse arrived at Shenandoah as a starting pitcher and outfielder, though he didn’t begin thriving for the Hornets until he made a move to the bullpen prior to his junior season in 2015. After the switch, the right-hander had a 0.74 ERA and averaged 9.24 strikeouts per nine innings over his final two collegiate seasons.

In his last collegiate appearance, Morse pitched the final 6 1/3 innings of Shenandoah’s 10-8 win over Birmingham-Southern that sent the Hornets into the NCAA Division III South Regional championship game. It was Morse’s longest outing since his sophomore season.

“Phil bought in,” Anderson said. “He was a pleasure to coach. He spent a lot of time in the video room perfecting his delivery, using his lower half. He spent time with a personal trainer to get physically stronger. … He just worked his daggone butt off and he deserves every bit of it. And I wanna commend Phil. He graduated on time in four years on the Dean’s List, he has a criminal justice degree in his back pocket and when his professional baseball career is over he is prepared.”

Morse sports a four-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball that sits between 92-94 mph and occasionally hits 96, a slider, cutter and changeup. Anderson said Morse’s fastball topped out in the mid-80s when he arrived at SU four years ago and added that the right-hander’s “best days as a pitcher lie ahead.”

“In today’s baseball he has a legitimate chance of making the big leagues,” said Anderson, who has seen more than 90 of his former players get selected in the MLB draft as a coach with James Madison University, East Carolina, George Mason and in the Valley Baseball League. “Most of the ball clubs have gone to designated one-inning guys and they’re looking for power arms, and he definitely is that. It would not surprise me to see him throwing 98 to 100 one day.”

Since SU’s season ended on May 22, Morse said he’s been training as the days ticked down to the start of the draft.

“I’m just extremely blessed and I look forward to the next step in my pro career,” Morse said. “It’s something I’ve been working for and something my family is very excited for me. I want to thank the Nats for selecting me. It’s a dream come true.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com