By Desirée Keegan
It has been quite a month for Shoreham-Wading River senior Brian Morrell.
After the right-handed pitcher helped lead his team to a 24-2 record and Suffolk County title to close out May, he performed in the Blue Chip Grand Slam Challenge, leading Suffolk County to that win, too. Last week, he became the second player ever to receive the Yastrzemski Award twice in the distinction’s 50-year history. The honor is awarded to the top player in Suffolk County, which Morrell also became just the fourth junior to receive.
To top it off, now he’s also a Major League Baseball draftee.
The small-town star was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 35th round, with the 1,043rd pick, just after 5 p.m. June 14.
“An absolute honor to be drafted by the Phillies today,” Morrell posted on Twitter. “Thank you to all of the people who have supported me over my baseball career.”
The feared slugger batted .500 with seven home runs and 39 RBIs while scoring 37 runs this season, and had a 10-1 pitching record with 93 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings. His first loss didn’t come until the Long Island championship game against Wantagh. The senior set numerous school records, including hits in a season (44), career home runs (27) and career wins (29). Morrell threw six no-hitters in his varsity career, including three this season.
Shoreham-Wading River head coach Kevin Willi had his iPad close by at all times once the draft was underway. He cleaned out his coach’s office at the high school, did chores around the house, and finally, his young sensation’s name came across the screen. He gasped.
“This is awesome,” he shouted.
Willi was supposed to be having a birthday dinner with his family, after foregoing a birthday celebration the night before to attend the player awards dinner, but it had to be put off for at least another night. He immediately picked up the phone to call all the coaches he knew.
“It was a good birthday present,” Willi said of the back-to-back historic days for Shoreham-Wading River and for his 6-foot, 1-inch right-hander. “With each name that was posted I was keeping tabs. It’s exciting for him and it’s exciting for the program.”
Although Willi said it was expected, he added how interesting it was to see how the draft process works with a Notre Dame University-commit like Morrell, who has almost a full scholarship valued at nearly $300,000, according to Willi. Along with the Phillies, other teams that scouted Morrell closest included the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets.
After seeing about five scouts at each game, Willi was waiting with anticipation for that special moment for his senior, but he didn’t expect that to be the case for Morrell, since the hurler has always stayed cool under pressure.
“Brian works his tail off, and he does the right thing,” Willi said. “The first couple times the scouts were out, the guys were a little awestruck, but Brian has always been team-first.”
Morrell had one of his biggest showings in a no-hitter against Bayport-Blue Point April 27. At least five scouts were in the stands to see him nail down 15 strikeouts with three walks while tossing the seven scoreless frames. He topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun. A scout who came from Massachusetts and got caught in traffic, according to Willi, only caught the last inning, though he still got to see Morrell comfortably throwing each pitch at 92 mph late in the game.
“It was good for the scouts to be there and see some of his best stuff,” Willi said. “[Being drafted had] been on his mind all season, but he never let it reflect on his performance or how he treated anyone. He didn’t try to throw 100 mph and not care if he wins the game — he never had that attitude. He always did what he needed to do to win the game. He was never selfish. He never tried to impress. He just wanted to win.”
Scouts were also impressed with his body of work.
Jarred Carrier, New York’s scouting director for Prep Baseball Report, dubbed Morrell New York’s Baseball Player of the Year.
“The 2017 high school season yielded many stellar individual performances across all corners of New York, but one player stood above the rest,” he said. “He delivered a statistically dominant season.”
Despite Morrell’s success, the 10-year coach and three-year varsity leader in no way takes credit for what his player has become.
“One of my coaching philosophies is that a player should be coached by many coaches,” Willi said. “One guy doesn’t have all the answers. There’s different strokes for different folks. Everybody had different body types, different talents, different skills in the game, and I think they should be exposed to many coaches. There’s a couple of things I taught Brian that he can take to the next level, and that makes me proud as a coach.”
An hour after Morrell went, 2014 Shoreham-Wading River graduate Tyler Osik was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 40th and final round. Tyler’s father Keith played seven seasons for the Pirates from 1996 through 2002. Tyler Osik played infielder and catcher, most recently for Chipola College in Florida.
“It’s sweet,” Willi said immediately upon hearing the news. “It’s really cool. To have coached six years total of varsity including assistant and head coach, I’ve had three players during that time get drafted that I’ve had the pleasure of coaching.”
This is the second time that two Shoreham-Wading River graduates have been selected in the same draft. The first time, coincidentally, was in 1990 when Osik’s father was drafted by the Pirates and Julio Vega by the San Francisco Giants.
“He was a leader on the field,” Willi said of Tyler Osik, who played third base for the Wildcats. “He switched to catcher, which is interesting, because he’s followed the run of his father. He’s one of the Shoreham die-hard baseball kids. He loves the game, puts tons of effort into being the best and he did a good job listening to his coaches. I’m really happy to see his success.”
Other Suffolk County players to be taken in this year’s draft included Mount Sinai’s Michael Donadio, a senior outfielder at St. John’s University, who was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 30th round, and Commack’s Jesse Berardi, a St. John’s junior, who was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 10th round with the 312th overall pick.
St. John’s appeared in the NCAA regional this year. Donadio posted a .374/.473/.547 with 24 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 38 RBIs starting in all 55 games this season.
Players drafted have until July 15 to sign a contact, but Morrell is already settling in as part of the Fighting Irish.
“To have that kind of recognition, us coaches are proud of any kind of professional looks that we get,” Willi said. “Brian got the opportunities that many kids dream of. It’s a big decision on what path you’re going to take, but I reassured him whatever path he takes, it’s going to be a fun one. If he keeps working hard he’s going to be successful.”