On Hunter Morris’s Development | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Hunter Morris is having a rough go of it at the Arizona Fall League. Morris turned in a 1-for-4 day with a run scored for the Phoenix Desert Dogs on Monday, putting his overall line at 15-for-55 with two doubles, five walks and 12 strikeouts. Zero triples, zero home runs. Overall, it comes out to a brutal .273/.333/.309 triple-slash.

Of course, it’s only 60 plate appearance, far too little to outweigh Morris’s tremendous season with Double-A Huntsville. In his age-23 season (he turned 24 on Oct. 7) Morris hit .303/.357/.563 in 571 plate appearances for the Stars, with his power production — 28 HR, 6 3B, 40 2B — providing some much-needed life to the Brewers’ minor league system.

But the watchful eye will notice we’ve seen this kind of performance before. It’s a remarkably similar season to what Mat Gamel did in 2008 for Huntsville — .329/.395/.537, 19 HR, 7 3B, 25 2B in 572 plate appearances. Gamel had more singles and fewer extra-base hits, but the peripherals were uncannily close — particularly in terms of contact and plate discipline. Gamel struck out in 19.4 percent of plate appearances and walked in another 9.6 percent compared to 20.5 percent and 7.0 percent respectively for Morris.

Another one to throw in there: Brett Wallace: .281/.403/.438 in Double-A in 2009, 11.7 percent walk rate, 22.1 percent strikeout rate.

Differences exist, to be sure, but these three players fall into a distinct family of prospects: promising power-hitting first basemen with contact issues. All three struck out roughly twice as much as they walked, all three still managed to hit very well compared to other Double-A hitters. All three have zero value if the don’t hit significantly above average at the major league level due to defensive issues — at least, assuming Brett Wallace doesn’t make a permanent home at shortstop after this season.

We’ve seen both Gamel and Wallace fail to develop into anything worthwhile at the major league level, although Gamel’s path to consistent major league at-bats has been blocked by Prince Fielder and an ACL tear. Wallace owns a career .250/.323/.377 line (-0.4 fWAR) in 792 plate appearances; Gamel has a .229/.305/.367 line (0.0 WAR), albeit in just 269 plate appearances.

In both cases, they needed to develop something on top of what they showed in the minors and failed. For both Gamel and Wallace, it was more than just average pop from a first baseman — they can’t hit just 15-20 home runs and succeed in the majors. For Morris, the hurdles are plate discipline and contact — he almost surely won’t be able to walk at a below average rate and strike out at an above average rate and be a productive major leaguer. The other first basemen are too good at hitting; Morris’s defense and speed are too poor.

From Mike Newman, prospect expert at FanGraphs:

Morris has excellent bat speed and impressive power potential, but his swing-and-miss tendencies are a bit concerning. Improved plate discipline would help tighten Morris’ strike zone judgment, but one has to wonder if a player with three years of major college baseball and 1500+ professional plate appearances has much room for growth in that area if it hasn’t improved already. Additionally, Morris is downright bad defensively so the bat will have to carry him.

The emphasis is mine. Gamel and Wallace were both roughly the same age as Morris during the Double-A seasons in question and both failed to develop their secondary skills.

But that’s enough negativity. Morris went from just another guy in the Brewers system to a legitimate bright spot with his 2012 season. Just remember: the road is still long for him. At 24 next year, he likely will have to begin the development of his secondary skills next season with Triple-A Nashville. If he starts out strong and shows better plate discipline or contact skills in the early part of 2013? Then, just maybe, we can get truly excited about a Brewers hitting prospect again.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Corey says: October 30, 2012

    How bad are the rest of the southern league first basemen defensively if Morris is “downright bad” and was still voted best defensive first basemen by baseball america? not saying defensive awards are not flawed (see gold glove, jeter), but what is the truth? I assume somewhere in the middle of that….

    • Luke says: October 30, 2012

      Wondering the same, I’ve seen several contradicting reports of his defense. Has anyone actually seen him?

      • Ross B says: October 30, 2012

        I have never seen him, but from what I have read the current opinion on his defense is that it has gone form downright bad to below average(roughly). And as they have often said on this site, he hit well enough to win the GG.

  2. Tom says: October 30, 2012

    Breen, I thought you dont like to compare players and “like to judge them on their own skill-set”? I have heard you say that over and over again on Twitter and now here is a whole article comparing prospects. Which is it?

    • J.P. Breen says: December 1, 2012

      I didn’t write this article.

  3. Dan V says: October 30, 2012

    It’s worth noting that Morris was able to make adjustments to his game at a higher level this past season. His ability to learn and adjust gives a bit of excitement to next year. If he wasn’t making adjustments that would be the concern. If he can build on the good things he’s done and improve on areas he knows he’s lacking he could be a real legit prospect. Good luck Hunter!

  4. drwood says: October 30, 2012

    he improved as he went up to AA and his defensive must have gotten better–he doesn’t make errors, and won a fielding award for all of baseball, not just the Southern League. I think scouts think that once a guy is a hack in the field he always is, but Morris seems to have made a monumental stride this past season.

    • drwood says: October 30, 2012

      also his power in the second half of the season was beastly–20+ HR in the second half.
      and a guy hitting .700 OPS in 60 AB should be given NO CREDENCE imo.

  5. CJ says: October 31, 2012

    Brett Wallace will be playing SS? I thought he was fat, for a first baseman.


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