Every Spring Training, the latest crop of up and coming prospects duke it out on the dirt with wily veterans for a cherished spot on the big league club. One such battle is being waged in the Milwaukee Brewers‘ not-so-hot corner, where the unheralded Hunter Morris is hoping to break camp as the Brewers’ starting first baseman. While you won’t find his name on any list of elite prospects, his current career path is one remarkably similar to a certain Arizona Diamondbacks All-Star.
Few saw Paul Goldschmidt‘s 2013 performance coming.
Drafted in the eighth round back in 2009, the scouting report on the former Texas State University slugger was a mixed bag. Despite bringing a big bat and projectable frame to the Missoula Osprey, scouts thought he struck out too much (161 times in 525 at bats in high-A ball back in 2010), wouldn’t hit right-handed pitching at the major league level (career .279 hitter versus righties in the minors, but hit .376 against lefties) but could probably carve out a role a platoon role for the Diamondbacks. He earned a fall cup of coffee with the D-Backs in August of 2011 and hit well enough (.250/.474/.808 with nine home runs in 48 games) to enter the following spring as Arizona’s starting first baseman.
The rest is history. A strong 2012 season preceded a memorable 2013 campaign capped with Goldy’s first All-Star nod and a second-place finish in the NL MVP voting.
Like Goldy, Morris mashed on the amateur level, posting a .386/.460/.743 triple slash line with 23 homers his junior year at Auburn, earning fourth round selection of the 2010 draft by the Brew-Crew. After a relatively disappointing debut for Low-A Wisonsin (.251/.436/.742 and nine homers in 291 at bats), Morris burst onto the national scene with a dominating 2012 campaign which saw him slash .303/.563/.920 and 28 bombs for AA-Huntsville en route to Southern League Player of the Year Honors. The average dropped significantly in the jump to AAA last season, as he hit just .247 battling through injuries and a career-low BABIP mark (.280), but the power stayed and his 23 home runs were good enough for second in the Pacific Coast League.
Still, despite the dearth of talent at first in the Brewers organization, Morris was passed over for a September call-up at the end of 2013 and currently finds himself on the outside looking in this Spring Training. The Brewers brought in Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay over the winter to compete with incumbent Juan Francisco for the 2014 job, which doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement in Morris’s big league potential.
Critics find many of the same weaknesses in the Alabama native’s game as Goldschmidt’s. Despite the big-time power, he strikes out far too much (382 K’s in just over 1,800 career at bats in the minors) and like-handed pitchers can expose the holes in his swing (.287 vs. righties, .249 career vs. lefties). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most talent evaluators see Morris as a future bench bat or platoon player.
Like Goldschmidt, maybe all Morris needs is the opportunity. Despite the clutter that Milwaukee has collected 90 feet down the line, Morris has earned a hard look this spring. While many of the headlines will surround Ryan Braun‘s return from suspension, Jean Segura‘s Jekyll and Hyde 2013 season and Matt Garza‘s return to NL Central, the battle for first might be one of the most intriguing story lines in Brewers’ camp. No one’s suggesting that Morris is a lock to follow in Goldschmidt’s footsteps and become a perennial MVP candidate but maybe the Brewers’ prospect is being somewhat overlooked coming into the 2014 season and beyond.