Rick Heller talks in detail about his two incoming star pitchers
Brody Brect and Marcus Morgan come to Iowa highly decorated
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Other than my landline disconnecting several times, I had a very insightful and informative interview with Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller Friday morning.
There was so much to talk about with the Major League Draft having just been completed, and, of course, one the key topics we discussed was Iowa’s incoming recruiting class, and more specifically, prize pitchers Brody Brecht and Marcus Morgan.
Brecht’s stock has soared this spring and summer as the Ankeny native established himself as one of the top high school pitchers in the country, and one of the best to come out of Iowa in years, while Morgan has been a force on the mound for most of his high school career.
Brecht is also an incoming freshman receiver for the Iowa football team, while Morgan was a four-sport standout at Iowa City West, and was considered a Division I prospect in baseball, basketball and football where he starred as a quarterback.
Hype has been their co-pilot, and the spotlight will shine brightly on both as they compete for the Hawkeyes.
I asked Heller if the hype for two players that have yet to do anything in college might cause him to worry about some of his current players being resentful. But he quickly squashed that concern by reminding me about the culture that he has built as the Iowa head coach since 2014.
“In our program I don’t (worry) because I don’t feel like that’s where our value system is and doesn’t go that way,” Heller said. “That’s just how it is. Our guys are going to welcome them in with open arms because we want to win.
“Our guys want us to go out and get the best players that we possibly can so we have a chance to get to Omaha and compete for a national championship. So I don’t worry about it in our program one bit.”
The phrase “Hellerball” was coined shortly after Heller came to Iowa and started rebuilding the program.
It stands for a number of things, from style of play to mindset to putting team goals above individual goals.
But it also takes individual talent to win, and the 6-foot-4 Brecht and the 6-2 Morgan both possess plenty of that.
Brecht will attend Iowa on a football scholarship, and will be a walk-on in baseball where he now consistently throws his fastball in the high 90s. Brecht’s desire to be a two-sport athlete at Iowa almost certainly impacted his status for the Major League Draft, as did the effects from the global pandemic, and a steep asking price.
“Brody’s situation was one that was fast and furious because he was off to such a good start and made some big jumps with his velocity, and with his strike throwing, just his pitch-ability, and the fact that none of the scouts had really scene Brody pitch in person because they were all off the road with Covid last year,” Heller said. “So a lot them hadn’t seen Brody pitch in person since his sophomore year of high school.
“So you could imagine the mad rush to see him in early June by the scouting community when the draft was coming up in July. They only had a month to try and get all the paper work in order and then try to figure out if he was signable or not signable.”
Brecht wasn’t selected in the 20-round Major League Draft, but that was do only to his desire to be a Hawkeye and to his asking price, according to those familiar with his situation.
But based on just ability, Heller believes that he is adding a right-handed pitcher with first-round stuff.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, recruiting Iowa for about 35 years, and have not seen a high school pitcher throw with the consistent velocity that Brody throws with,” Heller said. “And then throw in the rest of the stuff. He has a really good slider and the ability to throw a good change-up that he doesn’t really need to throw much in the high school situation. He’s got the size and he’s got the athleticism, and there’s obviously more in the tank.
“So if he was a baseball only guy and had been showing flashes of doing that in fall ball or something, and the scouts would’ve had the chance to see him, I honestly believe he would have gone in the first round. And in fact, I’m not so sure that he didn’t get offered first-round money anyway.”
As for Morgan, he doesn’t have Brecht’s velocity on his fastball, but Morgan has something else that makes him special, according to Heller.
“Marcus may not throw as hard as Brody does right now, but Marcus has something that not many people on the planet have and that is the ability to spin the baseball at a spin rate of close to 3,000 on his fastball and his slider that puts him in an elite category, even with Major League pitchers,” Heller said. “And he’s doing it without sticky stuff. He’s doing it within the rules.
“So with that being said, you’re going to see in my opinion, if Marcus comes in and works hard, and we get him in the weight room and get him with coach Lund, man, the sky’s the limit. We’re really excited to have Marcus in the program.”
Heller was referring to Iowa pitching coach Robin Lund, who has to be chomping at the bit to start working with the two incoming freshmen.
Brecht’s fastball has received lots of attention this spring and summer, but it’ll take more than just throwing heat to get batters out at the Big Ten level.
“As good as they are, it’s a different world,” Heller said. “Just throwing hard, even the 97s and 98s, I mean we’re seeing that every weekend. And if you can’t locate and you can’t throw secondary stuff at fastball counts, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw, people are going to hit you.”
Brecht and Morgan both come from instate, and both have a burning desire to be Hawkeye, and that should only strengthen the culture.
And while Brecht and Morgan both know where they’ll be next season, Iowa’s 2022 roster still is fluid and a work in progress, much to the frustration of Heller.
Iowa pitchers Trenton Wallace and Drew Irvine both were selected in the Major League Draft and will pursue professional careers, according to Heller.
However, there are several veteran players, including pitchers Jack Dreyer and Cam Baumann, and infielders Izaya Fullard and Dylan Nedved, that still could sign free-agent contracts after having not been taken in the draft. The uncertainty could last until after the August 23rd start of the fall semester at Iowa.
Major League Baseball moved the draft from early June to mid-July, and cut it from 40 rounds to 20 rounds, due to several factors, including the impact from the pandemic and from numerous minor league teams having been eliminated.
The draft used to be held in early June and had a mid-July deadline for prospects to decide whether to sign with a team or return to college.
“That’s the thing that I’ve talked to all or guys about because you’re looking at Jack Dreyer, you’re looking at Cam Baumann, you’re looking at Izaya; you’re looking at Dylan Nedved, all who could potentially sign as free agents,” Heller said. “I’ve just asked them, I understand it’s going to take a little bit of time, but at some point, kind of make a decision, I’m coming back, or I’m not. Don’t come in and tell us August 15 that you’re going to sign for a thousand to go play when we can’t do anything to try and help us fill that spot at the point in time with school starting on the 23rd.
“Obviously, they have to do what they have to do. But all the guys I’ve talked to, they’re not going to let it string out like that. It could happen that way. But we’re hopeful that we can kind of set a date and they can set a date and then we can at least feel somewhat comfortable that we know who’s going to be back, or if we need to go out and find somebody to fill a hole as quickly as we possibly can.”
Selfishly, Heller would be thrilled if all four of his veteran players chose to return to college, but should the opportunity to sign as free agents present itself, Heller would encourage them to pursue that path.
“You’re trying your best to not be selfish in this,” Heller said. “Of, course, we’d love to have these guys back, for sure. But all of those guys, if they get an opportunity, they need to take it. That’s what I believe and that’s how I’ve always operated. I’m not going to put ourselves ahead of what’s best for the player, or the kid.
“We’ve all talked about that for a long time, if these guys have an opportunity with the Covid year, the great thing about it is they also have a really good option to play if they don’t get it. So it’s a win-win for them. Obviously, they would love to get their pro careers started at their ages. But if it doesn’t work out, they have another opportunity, which is fantastic.”
Frustrated with Major League Baseball
Heller clearly is frustrated with Major League Baseball’s decision to hold the draft in mid-July.
Division I college baseball is now one the biggest feeders to professional baseball, but having the draft in July makes it hard for college coaches to finalize their rosters.
“Their number one source of players right now is Division one baseball, and what they’re doing right now to us is ridiculous,” Heller said. “Try to envision a college baseball coach right now and we’re in a really bad situation; number one, waiting until this point in July for the draft just to find out who’s going to sign and who’s not going to sign, or who’s going to be drafted. It’s very difficult to recruit. What do you do? Are you going to give a kid’s money away assuming he’s going to go? With a certain number of kids maybe you can do that.
“But on the other hand, if you do that and they don’t go, what are you going to do? The situation is real and it puts us in a horrendous situation, and I just think it’s out and out wrong. And all of us are frustrated that Major League Baseball is doing this to us. All of us are hopeful that there is going to be some sort of negotiation where they put the draft back further to where at least we’d have an adequate chance to replace our team and find out who we’re going to have on our roster. Right now it’s nightmare.”
Heller said he’s being told that Major League Baseball likes having the draft to coincide with the Major League All-Star game from a publicity standpoint.
“I haven’t talked to anybody in a power position who can tell me this, but a lot of the guys I’m talking to in pro baseball are saying they think it’s going to stay here,” Heller said. “They like being able to do the draft around the all-star break and kind of make a big event out of it like basketball and football does with the draft. But none of us have really heard.
“But just the draft in general is so different now because prior to Covid we were talking forty rounds. Major League baseball has eliminated about half of the minor league teams and probably close to one-hundred players from each organization are no longer giving an opportunity to play professional baseball.”