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Tuesday, March 27, 2007 - Page updated at 09:06 PM

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Larry Stone

When will Morrow break into the bigs?

Seattle Times baseball reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — What strikes Pat Rice most about Brandon Morrow is his sense of comfort in a major-league clubhouse, which borders on a sense of entitlement. And that's a good thing.

"It's like he's thinking, 'It just seems like this is where I'm supposed to be. I wasn't supposed to be anywhere else,'" said Rice, the Mariners' minor-league pitching coordinator.

"I think he came in here with the impression, 'I'm not just here because I'm here. I'm here because I want to make this team.' "

He couldn't really, could he? Morrow couldn't crack the Mariners' pitching staff a mere nine months after they picked him out of California with the fifth overall pick of the amateur draft?

Reason, and reality, say no. Not with just 16 innings of professional experience, none higher than Class A Inland Empire.

Most likely, Morrow will start the year at Class AA West Tennessee, the Mariners' new affiliate in the Texas League. If they get really giddy, he could even start at Tacoma, a step away from the big leagues.

But Seattle? Not likely, though Morrow has pitched well enough this spring to at least inspire that discussion.

"I don't know what they're planning on doing, but the way he's throwing, he sure is making people think," said Rice.

Rice compares it with Ken Griffey Jr.'s arrival as a 19-year-old in 1989.

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"Here's this kid, 'Hey, he's just going to get some at-bats, and we're going to send him out.' Then he's hitting .500, and you couldn't help but leave him there," Rice said.

"It's a little different situation with Brandon, not ever playing pro ball and having some things to learn. But boy, his stuff sure has been good."

Tell Mike Hargrove about it. The Mariners manager practically salivates talking about Morrow's 98 mph fastball, his killer split-finger, and the poise that belies his age of 22.

"We've always thought this kid had the ability to come quick," Hargrove said. "He's done nothing in this camp to make us think otherwise. Is he real close? Yeah, he's real close."

If Morrow continues to blow away the Cactus League competition — in five innings this spring, Morrow has allowed two hits and no runs while striking out six — would the Mariners have to rethink their plans to farm him?

"Sure," Hargrove replied.

Has he reached that stage yet? "No comment."

Considering that the Mariners' current organizational philosophy is to push their prospects through the minor-league system as rapidly as is feasible, challenging them at higher levels, Morrow's stay in the minors could be brief.

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said that the Mariners' sink-or-swim outlook is no different than that of most teams.

"We're going to move Morrow pretty quickly, but is he going to move any faster than Lincecum [Giants first-round pick Tim Lincecum]? Look around. Look at the premier guys, [Ryan] Zimmerman, [Alex] Gordon.

"Those guys are moving, man. It's not because those are clubs in dire straits and they have to have those guys. They're kids that should be moved."

The competing philosophy, of course, is that prospects thrive on success and need to be nurtured slowly up the system, dominating competition along the way. The Mariners, and many others, no longer see it that way.

"The idea they spend a whole year just blowing a league away ... that doesn't get you anywhere," said Bavasi. "Most all of our young guys, we've kind of pushed. Not in an abnormal way at all. It's more abnormal to hold them back. That's harder on the kids."

Morrow, meanwhile, says he's trying not to think of where he might start — or even end — the season.

"I don't want to get myself excited for one thing, and have another happen," he said.

Then he added with a smile, "Of course, I think I could be pitching in the big leagues tomorrow. But it's all up to them. We'll see."

Kudos for Vidro

General manager Jim Bowden, who consummated the Griffey trade with Seattle in 1999, has moved from Cincinnati to Washington. This past winter, Bowden swung another deal with the Mariners that caused some consternation among Seattle fans.

The Nationals sent Jose Vidro to the Mariners in exchange for outfielder Chris Snelling and reliever Emiliano Fruto, with the Mariners also picking up $12 million of the $16 million remaining on Vidro's contract.

"It was a good trade for both sides, it really was, and that's what trades are supposed to be," Bowden said earlier this spring at the Nationals' training camp in Viera, Florida.

After raving about the potential of Fruto and Snelling, Bowden concluded, "We're pleased to have both, and we moved $12 million. So it worked for us. And for them, they got an All-Star bat.

"Over there, where he can DH, I'm telling you, Vidro has a chance to be comeback player of the year. Guillen [former National Jose Guillen, signed by Seattle as a free agent] may beat him out for that. Between the two of them, I'll bet you one wins it."

Bowden believes that being relieved of his fielding responsibilities as designated hitter will greatly benefit Vidro.

"Oh, absolutely, because he can really hit. That's the one thing he can do is flat-out hit. He's a .300 hitter, and legit. It's too bad he's had the injuries he had with us, because there's nothing like his bat. With the game on the line, any kind of pitching, any part of the strike zone, he could hit. I'm a big Jose Vidro fan."

Notes and quotes

• The catching Molina brothers have many fine attributes, but speed is not one of them. In particular, Bengie Molina has got to be the slowest man in baseball, and Jose is not exactly Carl Lewis.

It was notable, therefore, when the Angels' Jose Molina stole a base Wednesday. It was more notable that the catcher he stole on was ... Bengie Molina of the Giants.

This is nothing new, mind you. Last season, Bengie and Jose each had one steal, and it was off their sibling. Bengie, then with the Blue Jays, stole on Jose (May 16), and Jose stole on Bengie (Sept. 9). Good thing that Yadier Molina is in the other league.

• Oakland shortstop Bobby Crosby talked early in camp about toning down his fierce swing as a means of controlling the back injury that kept him out of action for much of last season. But he's pretty much given up on that notion.

Crosby, recovering from a fractured vertebra, hopes to make his Cactus League debut this week.

"I don't think it will work," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's tough — you can't do something you've done for 20 years and just [finger snap] change it."

• The Angels are ecstatic about outfielder Garret Anderson, who has been plagued by injuries since 2004 but finally seems healthy again.

Anderson averaged .299, 43 doubles, 191 hits, 26 homers and 106 runs batted in from 1998 to 2003, never missing more than six games in a season. But from '04 to '06, he averaged .287, 27 doubles, 149 hits, 16 homers and 85 RBI.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times that Anderson "is running as well as I've seen him in five years."

• It's always a kick to hear from Rickey Henderson, who is in Mets camp as a special instructor. Rickey told reporters that he thinks Mets shortstop Jose Reyes has a chance to break Henderson's record of 130 steals in a season.

Reyes, who stole 64 bases last year, isn't quite as optimistic.

"No chance. I don't get 130 in two years," Reyes told the Newark Star-Ledger.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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