In the most recent episode of the podcast, my esteemed co-host Ryan Topp said Hunter Morris was a player who could disappoint this season. He elaborated and said the expectations surrounding Morris are so lofty that anything other than an outstanding season would be dubbed a disappointment. Understandable, but I immediately voiced my displeasure with his assessment.
Old adages say only death and taxes are certainties in life, but we can also be sure of one other thing: whoever plays first base for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds will unfailingly post huge offensive numbers.
Since Prince Fielder permanently joined the big-league club in 2006, the Brewers have employed a grab bag of first basemen in Triple-A Nashville. None of them have enjoyed successful big-league careers. Some are journeymen, while some were top prospects. The one commonality, however, is that every one of them have either hit for massive power or posted impressive slash lines — and in some cases, both.
The primary first basemen for the Nashville Sounds since Prince Fielder joined the Milwaukee Brewers on a full-time basis are listed below.
Other than Brad Nelson and Mat Gamel, this isn’t exactly a who’s-who list of first base prospects. I needed to look up Andy Abad to make sure he actually played for Nashville — turns out he briefly saw some time in the majors with Oakland, Boston and Cincinnati between 2001 and 2006. He was 34 years old when he played for the Nashville Sounds, and even he compiled a .368 wOBA and hit double-digit home runs in 83 games before Brad Nelson supplanted him. The next season, he went to the Mexican League and only hit .196/.283/.243 in 30 games before retiring.
The point, however, isn’t to sit here and giggle over guys like Joe Koshansky and Graham Koonce dominating the Pacific Coast League. Instead, it’s important to put this offensive environment into proper context regarding Hunter Morris’ development.
From 2008-2012 the average slash line in the Pacific Coast League has been .278/.348/.434, and the PCL owns the highest HR% (2.8) in the minors. The league is simply a hitter’s paradise. Thus, when judging Morris’ performance this season, keep in mind that high benchmark for averageness. An impressive statistical season does not necessarily mean it will translate to the big-league level. Pay more attention to the reports and tidbits of information coming from scouts throughout the year. If he’s raking — which he almost certainly will — and it’s not paired with glowing scouting reports, the excitement surrounding Morris as the future first baseman of the Milwaukee Brewers should be severely tempered.
Park factors have become increasingly valued amongst front offices across Major League Baseball. It helps put individual performances in context. In fact, Doug Melvin recently said he’s a huge believer in park factors. League factors also matter, though, and the Pacific Coast League is one of the friendliest offensive environments in all of the minors. Calibrate yourself accordingly.