Morris looks to climb back into Brewers' first-base mix

Non-roster player's solid Triple-A campaign last season derailed by forearm fracture

Morris looks to climb back into Brewers' first-base mix

PHOENIX -- Hunter Morris, once the Brewers' heir apparent to Prince Fielder at first base, finds himself exiled from the 40-man roster and sliding down the depth chart. He knows exactly what's at stake this spring.

"There's still an opportunity to go out and change the team's mind," said Morris, who is now 26. "I certainly haven't slid completely out of the picture, but it's going to take some work to get back to being in that mix at first base. I'm fine with that at this point."

Just two years ago at this time, Morris was poised for a big league breakthrough. Playing in his hometown of Huntsville, Ala., in 2012, Morris won Southern League MVP honors and was named Brewers Minor League Player of the Year. With a solid Spring Training the following year, Morris might have jumped to the Major Leagues.

Instead, he went 3-for-26 and was sent back to the Minors. In 2014, Morris was 3-for-18 in the Cactus League and again was sent down.

After a season cut short by a broken arm, the Brewers designated Morris for assignment last month in the wake of the Yovani Gallardo trade.

"[Morris] needs to have a good year this year, get back on that right track," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He hasn't performed well in Spring Trainings for us. That's the hard part, is we don't get to see him when he's really good. All I get is what I see in spring, and he hasn't had good springs. It's really hard for me to get a good read."

What's most maddening to Morris is that he believes he was back on track last season at Triple-A Nashville. That changed in late June, when he was hit on the arm by a pitch from former Brewers prospect Jesus Sanchez.

At the time, Morris owned a respectable .761 OPS and had 28 extra-base hits in 288 at-bats.

"It could have been a really good year," Morris said. "One pitch changed the year for me."

The implications are still being felt. With two other left-handed-hitting first basemen on the roster (Adam Lind and Matt Clark), the Brewers felt comfortable exposing Morris to waivers last month. He will also have to compete with the likes of Luis Jimenez, Jason Rogers, Martin Maldonado and Jonathan Lucroy for looks at first base in camp. Those other players are all on the 40-man roster from which Morris fell off.

"The thing is to not change my game plan because of the move," Morris said. "I still know I'm capable of being the player they thought I was at one point. If I don't get it done, it's on me. It's not on anyone else. This is a big bounce-back year for me."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.