In Milwaukee, Hunter Morris will battle former shortstop Alex Gonzalez and fringe big leaguer Taylor Green for the opening day nod at first base. On paper, it seems like the odds are in his favor. However, Morris’ arbitration clock and Corey Hart‘s timetable for returning to the lineup will weigh heavily in the Brewers decision. For a three-to-four week stopgap, it might not be worth it to the organization — Especially when the Brewers are projected to finish with a .500 record.
Recently, Marc Hulet ranked Morris as the 11th best prospect in the Brewers system. He was the third best first baseman I scouted in person in 2012, but this was more indicative of a weak group at the position than Morris being a top prospect. Oliver projections have the left-handed hitter posting a .256/.302/.476 triple slash line and 1.7 WAR if given everyday reps, but this strikes me as generous. While Morris’ power is not in question, the rest of his skill set is.
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From a physical standpoint, Morris is the prototypical first baseman. Listed at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Morris is strong without being bulky. A lack of size through the shoulders leaves him with a loose swing and more fluid baseball movements than expected. He’s a fringe average athlete at present and is likely to add additional size at full physical maturity.
In batting practice, Morris keeps his hands inside the baseball well. When he lets the ball travel deep into the hitting zone, Morris’ raw power is impressive. However, his swing plane does not have the natural lift expected from a power hitter. Balls which left the park were screaming line drives, not towering fly balls. This led one scout in attendance to comment Morris hadn’t fully tapped his power potential and a handful of his 40 doubles would turn into home runs.
Over two games, Morris proved to be the aggressive hitter his 7% walk rate would indicate. His “grip and rip” approach led to a handful of batted balls early in counts. He barreled the baseball consistently for a hitter with an expanded strike zone and 20% strikeout rate. And while it’s easy to assume his walk rate will stabilize or regress at the Major League level, it was 3.4% in High-A in 2011. Morris has made progress in the area of plate discipline.
Against Tony Cingrani, Morris chased multiple sweeping sliders away forcing me to question whether platoon splits will become an issue. Additionally, how does Morris adjust against Major League pitchers who are able to pitch backwards against him early in counts? He’s the type of hitter who’ll feast on fastballs the first time through the league before he’s thoroughly scouted. If pitchers adjust and Morris doesn’t, his production will plummet.
When discussing Morris’ defense, a scout put it best when he commented, “The Brewers organization is full of designated hitter prospects and they play in the National League.” Around the first base bag, Morris presents as a clumsy with his footwork. In fielding position, Morris stands too tall causing him to field balls close to his body. It’s as if he fielded balls with the palm of his glove. This lack of defensive ability muddles the profile as first baseman with little defensive value need to mash.
First Corey Hart, now Mat Gamel. The Brewers are quickly running out of first base options paving the way for mid-level prospect Hunter Morris to open the season in Milwaukee. Morris is coming off a .303/.357/.563 triple slash line in Double-A, earning the Southern League’s Most Valuable Player Award. The numbers are impressive. Morris is at an age when many Major League regulars surface. Opportunity is knocking for the former Auburn Tiger.