With spring training now under way, many top prospects are getting a taste of big league action. The majority of them will be optioned to some minor league level in a few weeks, but a few of them have a chance to break camp with their respective Major League teams. Today, we take a look at one of the more unlikely players with a shot to open the season in the majors, Milwaukee Brewers' first baseman, Hunter Morris.
Weight: 210 lbs.
DOB: 10/7/1988 (Age 24)
40-man roster: No
The Boston Red Sox made Morris a second round pick out of high school in 2007, but he opted to attend Auburn rather than sign. Three years later, he signed for $218,700 as the Brewers' fourth round pick (129th overall) in 2010. After two underwhelming seasons in the minor leagues, hitting just .266/.303/.457 across three levels, Morris was an afterthought in the prospect world. All of that changed in 2012 when Morris was named MVP of the Double-A Southern League, leading the league in hits (158), extra base hits (74), home runs (28), RBIs (113), total bases (294), and slugging percentage (.563).
The Scouting Report
Applying the cardinal rule for first base prospects, Morris will need to be well above average with the bat to have value at the big league level. As expected with a name like Hunter, he does have thump in his bat, evidenced by his 57 home runs and .219 isolated power in 337 minor league games. Questions remain if his aggressive approach will limit that power as he moves up, but he did walk more times (40) in 2012 than the prior two seasons combined (38). He will need to continue that improvement to translate all of his power in the big leagues. He will always have some swing and miss in his game, but it seems promising that Morris won't be a batting average liability in the big leagues. The other tools are not nearly exciting as the bat. Despite winning a Rawlings Gold Glove last season, Morris does not project as an above average fielder at first base, and he has below average speed.
What's Stopping Him From Contributing Now?
It looked like Morris would be ticketed for Triple-A to begin 2013 before injuries to Corey Hart and Matt Gamel opened the door for the 24 year-old to earn a starting spot in the big leagues. His competition includes Bobby Crosby (yes, that Bobby Crosby), Taylor Green, and possibly Alex Gonzalez, so I think it is safe to say there is little standing in the way of Morris opening the season as the Brewers' first baseman.
What Should We Expect When He Arrives?
It's difficult to predict immediate success for any prospect, let alone one with just one strong Double-A season to his credit. That being said, Morris is in a good situation to succeed. Miller Park, which rated the number one park for home runs in the major leagues last season, is the perfect park for a hitter with his skill set. He also shouldn't feel a ton of pressure in Milwaukee because he knows he will more than likely be sent to Nashville once Hart returns 6-8 weeks into the season. Morris reminds me a bit of Angels' DH Mark Trumbo, and I think Trumbo's 2011 season (.254/.291/.477) is a good baseline for what we should expect from Morris this year.
Hunter Morris is extremely difficult to value for leagues in 2013. While he does offer more upside than players like James Loney, I think the probable expiration date on his playing time limits his value to deep mixed leagues and NL-Only formats. The future is murkier for Morris because his value lies somewhere between a borderline top-10 first baseman and a 4A player. If he cannot continue to refine his approach he may go the way of many first base prospects before him, but I feel cautiously optimistic that he can develop into a usable player for fantasy leagues.