Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’14 – #25 Hunter Morris

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Who knows how many days there are until Opening Day? Well, if you know how “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” works — and you’re reading this on March 6 — you know that we’re only 25 days away!

Last year that meant taking a look at recent 40-man roster addition Josh Prince. Unfortunately for Prince, he was outrighted off of the 40-man roster due to space limitations. That worked out well for the new 40-man rosteree who has been wearing #25 in big league camp so far this spring…

Hunter Morris.

HunterMorris

Jeffrey Hunter Morris (6’2″, 226 lbs) turned 25 years old after the end of last season, a year which he played as the reigning Minor League Player of the Year for the Milwaukee Brewers. He won the Minor League Gold Glove for first basemen in 2012 as well. All of that happened at Class-AA Huntsville, which just so happens to be Morris’ hometown. Few players get to sleep in their childhood home most night while they play Double-A baseball (or any level of minor league ball, for that matter).

Morris posted numerous career highs in 2012 and was rewarded not only with the organizational accolades, but also with an invitation to big league camp last spring. While he looked overmatched on Field #1 at Maryvale Baseball Park, it didn’t change the fact that he was ticketed to take over as the primary first baseman for Class-AAA Nashville when camp broke.

The Pacific Coast League proved a tougher circuit than the Southern League for Morris, as it does for pretty much all players. Morris dipped 56 points in batting average, lost 47 points in on-base percentage, and saw his slugging percentage plummet by 106 points.

All was not terrible though. Morris got off to a slow start in April (slashing .212/.287/.400), rebounded in May (.311/.402/.645), limped through June (.212/.316/.434) and July (.226/.235/.391), and finished stronger in August/September (.282/.341/.468). Morris did struggle against lefties pretty much all season (.211/.256/.411), so he certainly has plenty to work on.

Despite his better August in Nashville, having the roster space, and the opportunity for plenty of playing time in a lost season, general manager Doug Melvin opted not to call up Morris in September of last year for a taste of the big leagues. It was a decision Melvin has since said that he regrets.

Still, Morris was seen as valuable enough this last off-season to protect him from the Rule V Draft by placing him on the 40-man roster. It’s a vote of confidence in Morris by the franchise, but he’s certainly not guaranteed anything going forward. He needs to prove that his performance last season was an abberation and that he’s much more the 2012 version of himself.

After all, despite the minor-league contracts signed by Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, and the raw Juan Francisco, first base is not a position that’s got an obvious long-term solution as this point. The Brewers have a group of borderline guys at the position, none of whom are exactly demanding the full-time job with their play. Lots of guys that can back up the position and provide some value off the bench, but nobody has yet taken the necessary step forward.

Could that be Morris? He won’t be on the 25-man roster when camp breaks, this much is certain, but he has the chance to go to Nashville, tear up the PCL (the league, not his knee ligament), and put himself into prime position entering 2015.

Then again, 2014 will only be the first of three minor league option years for Morris so flexibility remains.

Though patience won’t last as long.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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