Morris’ role unclear; Cantillo makes debut

10:30 PM UTC

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Where does Cody Morris go from here?

Coming into Spring Training, it was easy to start picturing the 26-year-old right-hander as the Guardians’ sixth starter, waiting to get a callup to the big leagues from Triple-A Columbus. Morris battled back and shoulder injuries the past couple of years and he finally was able to get back by the end of the 2022 season to work out of Cleveland’s bullpen.

At that point, Morris wouldn’t have had enough time to build himself up to a starter’s pitch count. He settled for working out of the ‘pen just to get back into regular game activity. His rehab assignment went so well that he was immediately called up to the big leagues for the first time at the beginning of September.

Morris has been ranked (No. 16 this season) on Cleveland’s Top 30 Prospects list by MLB Pipeline for the last two years. His velocity went up in 2022 (peaking at 98 mph), his changeup was more than effective against big league hitters and his command is excellent. Morris has the tools to be a decent mid-rotation starter, which made it seem like he’d be the obvious choice to be the next man up if the Guardians had any issues with their rotation.

Now, that’s not so clear.

Morris had a flare-up with similar shoulder/back soreness that he’s dealt with the last two seasons. Let’s not forget that he had Tommy John surgery just before his collegiate career began at South Carolina. Having procedures in the past is one thing, but now that his shoulder has been a consistent problem, it’s more concerning.

“This is a kid now where this is the third year in a row that he’s had kind of the same injury,” manager Terry Francona said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s best for him. Quite frankly, I don’t know if we truly know. We’re trying to work through that.”

What may end up being best for Morris is shifting to the bullpen. If he’s susceptible to injury the way he’s shown the last three years, imagining him handling a starter’s workload is difficult. If he’s able to bounce back from the upper back/shoulder soreness quicker this time, maybe there’s still one last chance to attempt to stretch him out.

Morris is already throwing over 100 feet, working with weighted balls and will soon (assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks) get back on a mound. Maybe he can make one last effort to prove he can handle a starting job.

But the Guardians have some questions in their bullpen. Even before Sam Hentges started dealing with left shoulder inflammation, there was still an empty spot to fill. If this remains a need for Cleveland as the regular season gets underway, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Morris shift into that role.

“You don’t want to be — I don’t know if it’s close-minded. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to say it,” Francona said. “But we talked to him about, one, as he’s getting healthy, we need to kind of see where we are. But at the same point, like even if we look great in April, we’ve all seen where you could be a couple weeks later and you’re short a couple pitchers. So, that’ll be an ongoing conversation. I think the biggest thing is how he’s doing. That will probably dictate more than anything what we do with him.”

Cantillo makes spring debut

The Guardians wanted to be cautious with No. 19 prospect Joey Cantillo, after he dealt with some late-season shoulder problems in 2022. Cantillo has had a history with injuries, which has caused concern about his durability, but that hasn’t affected the excitement over what he could bring to the table.

Cleveland kept him out of game activity until Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the A’s at Goodyear Ballpark, where his fastball touched 96 mph and his offspeed pitches registered in the upper 70s. He tossed a scoreless frame with one walk and one strikeout.

Millsy in town

For the first time since he entered retirement, former bench coach Brad Mills is back in Guardians camp. He rolled into Goodyear after the team’s off-day on Tuesday and he will spend two weeks helping out Francona and his staff.

“It’s been so nice,” Francona said with a big grin. “Just watching like when he walks out into the hall, seeing people who haven’t seen him for a while, seeing how excited they are to see him. It’s been nice. And I think he’s really enjoying it.”