The Milwaukee Brewers got some bad news after their game on Friday, a 3-1 loss to Arizona. That game saw third baseman Aramis Ramirez exit after an awkward slide into second base. The post-game comments were not encouraging, with Tom Hardicourt reporting that the knee sprain was worse than the one that kept Ramirez out for two weeks during Spring Training.
The already thin corner infield situation for Milwaukee just got thinner.
Former shortstop Alex Gonzalez has been manning first base for the Crew, but he’ll likely move over to the hot corner in absence of Ramirez. That would leave only Yuniesky Betancourt as a plausible option to slide into the starting lineup for Milwaukee. If you’re a team, like Milwaukee, that expects to contend in 2013, you don’t want Yuni anywhere near the starting lineup. Not at any position.
The problem is that Gonzalez had been forced into action at first base because he was the last man left. Corey Hart had off-season knee surgery and is out until May at the earliest. Mat Gamel tore an ACL for the second time in a year and will miss the entire campaign. Even prospect Taylor Greenwent down with a hip injury.
With almost literally no other option left, the Brewers may turn to first base prospect Hunter Morris, their fourth-round pick from the 2010 draft and a guy Jonathan Mayo ranked as the organization’s fifth-best prospect.
Morris was selected out of Auburn after opting not to sign when Boston made him a second-round selection out of high school. He’s sturdy at 6’2″ and 225 lbs and at age 24, he doesn’t look like he needs much more seasoning.
Morris is playing this season at Triple-A Nashville after taking home MVP honors in the Double-A Southern League in 2012. Not only did he put up monster offensive numbers for Hunstville, but Rawlings named Morris the top defensive first baseman in the Minor Leagues.
There are some that have concerns about Morris’ approach at the plate. In his first two seasons of pro ball, he posted on base percentages of .306 and .301. Of course, neither Betancourt nor Gonzalez are known for being high OBP guys either, but there is a difference between a .300 OBP at High-A and one while playing in the Show.
Last season, however, Morris seemed to put it together at the dish and after walking a combined 38 times in 2010 and 2011, amassing over 850 plate appearances in that time, he exceeded that number in 2012 and posted a very respectable .357 OBP in 2012.
Morris flashed plenty of extra-base power as well, posting 40 doubles and 28 long balls for Huntsville last year. Almost as if to show it was no fluke, Morris’ Triple-A debut on Thursday included a double and a home run for the Sounds.
Morris certainly won’t be the impact bat that Ramirez is for the Brewers, at least not right away, but he does have the potential to get there and he won’t hurt the club defensively, either. The only logical reason to keep him down on the farm is to control his Major League service time. The big club would certainly like to hold off on promoting Morris until June, just to make sure they control his rights for an extra year. In a division where Milwaukee was probably only the third-best team to begin with, however, GM Doug Melvin may not have the luxury of time.
Morris isn’t on the club’s 40-man roster and Milwaukee’s is already full, so adding a player will mean making a move to free up a spot. Journeyman infielder Blake Davis is also on the roster in Nashville and has seen some big league time with Baltimore in 2011. Like Morris, Davis is also not on the roster. If you’re gonna have to make a move to add a player, it almost seems silly to risk losing one guy to bring up a guy who will sit behind Betancourt. And Davis wouldn’t be threatening anyone for regular at bats.
If Hart can make his way back to the everyday lineup next month, Morris can always be optioned back out. Doing that will likely limit his service time enough to avoid Super Two status down the road. Bringing Morris up and allowing him to play for a while seems like the best of a bad situation for the Brewers, and a tremendous opportunity for the young hitter.
And the way it looks, Milwaukee just doesn’t have any other good options left.