Plush redux: Morgan back in Majors with Indians
Speedy and fiery outfielder, now 33, returns after playing one year in Japan
The man known as Tony Plush is heading back to the big leagues. Nyjer Morgan, as he's better known, has his spot in camp, and the Indians have a veteran outfielder to add to their Spring Training mix.
The Indians officially announced Thursday that they've signed Morgan to a Minor League contract to go to camp as a non-roster invite with the Indians, returning the former Brewers star to the United States after a season in Japan.
Morgan, a speedster with three different National League teams, will be one of the oldest candidates vying for a spot in Cleveland's outfield at age 33. It was the chance to compete for a big league job, he said, that drew him to Cleveland.
"Just happy for the opportunity," Morgan told MLB.com in a text message Tuesday evening.
Looking forward for this great opportunity to bring Plushdamental's to the Tribe Nation. TP- Nyjer Morgan (@TheRealToneP) January 15, 2014
Morgan last played in the Majors with the Brewers two years ago after becoming a regular in Pittsburgh and Washington in 2009 and 2010. He was an enthusiastic, emotional sparkplug for the Brewers in their run to the postseason in 2011, batting .304 with a .357 on-base percentage, 20 doubles, 13 stolen bases, 37 RBIs and 61 runs scored in 429 plate appearances. It was the second time in three years that he topped a .750 OPS in everyday playing time.
His energy off the field drew just as much attention, if not more so. He created the Tony Plush name as an alter ego and it blossomed into a Twitter personality, drawing more than 70,000 followers to @TheRealTPlush and quickly making him one of the characters of the game. He added more personalities as his career went on.
His emotion had its drawbacks, including exchanges with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. For the most part, however, his personality seemed to keep teammates and himself loose.
"I just have to be myself," Morgan told reporters during the 2011 playoffs. "I can't sugarcoat it for anybody. This is who I am. I'm going to be out there and I'm going to go out there and have fun.
"I might get under people's skin a little bit. But, as long as it's for the right things, and I'm out there hustling and doing what I'm supposed to do to win for my organization, I'm going to be me."
After his 2012 season, however, he was no longer a Brewer, having ceded center field to Carlos Gomez. Morgan signed a one-year deal with the Yokohama BayStars, then overcame a slow start to bat .294 with 11 homers, 50 RBIs and a .361 on-base percentage. Again, his personality proved infectious in his clubhouse.
He'll try to bring a similar influence to an Indians clubhouse that had a personality boost last season from another free-agent outfielder, Nick Swisher. The Indians already have their outfield speed with center fielder Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley, and they already signed David Murphy this offseason to help fill the other spot alongside Ryan Raburn.
Cleveland's depth, however, could use a veteran boost. That's where Morgan might have a chance to fit in.