There might not be a single player the Milwaukee Brewers want to watch succeed more than Hunter Morris.
This may sound like a bold statement, but think about it. Which position has haunted the Brewers more since the departure of Prince Fielder than first base? Corey Hart provided a brief stint of relief, but Milwaukee trudged through the 2013 season starting anyone and everyone at Fielder’s former stomping grounds.
Everyone, that is, except for Morris. And why not?
Wasn’t Morris the Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year the previous season? With Double-A Huntsville, Morris put up a .303/.357/.563 split with 28 HRs and 113 RBIs in 2012 and emerged as one of the organization’s top prospects as a result (via Baseball America).
So as we entered the 2013 season, it was obvious Morris would make the jump to Triple-A Nashville, but then Hart re-injured his knee in January, as did Mat Gamel, re-tearing his ACL in February. Who exactly was left to play first base?
Even with Morris receiving his first invite to big league spring training, he evidently wasn’t the answer, as Milwaukee decided to move Alex Gonzalez over to first base. After all, Hart would be back in May—maybe even April based on how quickly he was able to return the previous season. Gonzalez would simply bridge the gap, so there was no reason to even consider Morris for the opening if he were to spend only a handful of games with the parent club before joining the Sounds. Morris didn’t make the Brewers think twice.
As the veteran Gonzalez went on to have a respectable spring both at the plate and while making the adjustment in the field, Morris stumbled, hitting .115 in 26 at-bats. Had Milwaukee known that Hart would miss the entire 2013 season due to multiple knee issues, would Morris have gotten a shot? Based on his performance last spring, you wouldn’t think so. Perhaps it was nerves knowing he had an outside chance at earning the job. Or perhaps it’s because he just isn’t good enough.
A year went by, and Morris failed to take the next step. While the power was still there at Nashville, the 25-year-old needed a late surge just to nudge his on-base percentage above .300. It wasn’t the kind of season the Brewers wanted to see out of Morris if he wanted a realistic shot at playing for them in 2014, thus leading to the signing of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay this winter.
Now, Morris isn’t second, third or even fourth on the pecking order at first base. Last season it may have been nerves, but this time around, Morris is likely suffering from a severe case of discouragement. If it’s possible, Morris has even less of a chance to make the big league squad, and it’s showing in his numbers. In 12 ABs this spring through March 7, Morris had yet to register a hit.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite punching bag Juan Francisco—well, besides Yuniesky Betancourt—is hitting the cover off the baseball as Reynolds, Overbay and Sean Halton each are having respectable showings in the Cactus League. Granted, you never want to put too much stock into spring training, but then again, it’s where position battles are won and lost. Maybe it doesn’t matter that a player like Jonathan Lucroy can’t hit his way out of a paper bag in the spring, but it matters for someone like Morris.
Well, Morris is all but slated for another season in the Minors, and he isn’t getting any younger. Entering the 2015 season, he will be 26, which isn’t old by any means, but for a player that spent four years in college before being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft, the clock is ticking on Morris. And yet, as bad as this sounds, there are people who don’t want Juan Francisco, who is 26 himself, to succeed and be the first baseman of the future in Milwaukee. Neither Reynolds or Overbay are signed beyond 2014.
People want Morris to get over the hump and apply that 2012 season in Huntsville to the big league level. He’s shown promise, swings from the left side of the plate and would fill a position of desperate need.
Let’s just hope we aren’t singing the same old song next spring.