Milwaukee's Morris breaks out in '12

Slugging first baseman cranks 28 homers, plates 113 runs

By Ashley Marshall / Special to | November 12, 2012 12:57 PM

This offseason, is honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

With the exception of the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers -- the Midwest League champions -- all of Milwaukee's Minor League affiliates posted losing records in 2012. The organization's combined .454 winning percentage across seven levels ranked 29th in baseball, ahead of only San Diego (.450).

But despite picking up just one title, there were a number of positives to draw from the season. Among the highlights was the breakout year of Topps Southern League Player of the Year Hunter Morris, the emergence of Ben McMahan as a leading outfield prospect and the growth of Puerto Rico-born right-hander Hiram Burgos.

Brewers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Cameron Garfield, Wisconsin (66 games): Garfield led all Brewers full-time catchers in batting average (.298), homers (11) and doubles (18) this year, despite missing almost half the year. The 21-year-old California native, selected in the second round of the 2009 Draft, saw only 225 at-bats in the Midwest League but showed improvement from his last trip through the circuit.

The Brewers first promoted Garfield to Wisconsin in 2010 when he was 18 years old. A knee injury suffered in a collision at the plate in early 2011 forced him to the disabled list, and he needed surgery on the same knee after re-injuring it during his initial rehab in Arizona.

"He missed some time with injuries, but he jumped into the Midwest League and did a great job at the plate with his bat," special assistant to the general manager and director of player development Reid Nichols said. "I think his offense was nice to see; he responded with the bat. He still has some work to do defensively, but he's a more offensive type of guy at this point."

First base -- Hunter Morris, Huntsville (136 games): Morris hinted at a breakout year in 2011 when he blasted 20 homers and plated 69 runs between the Class A Advanced Florida State League and the Double-A Southern League. This year, he lit up the Huntsville scoreboard in a whole new way. His 28 homers, 113 RBIs, 40 doubles and 294 total bases were all No. 1 among Milwaukee farmhands and his .303 average was 29 points higher than his previous career best.

He led the Southern League in a number of categories, including homers, RBIs, hits (158), extra-base hits (74) and slugging percentage (.563). Defensively, his .995 fielding percentage was the most among all Southern League first basemen. Morris made six errors in 1,259 chances, had a league-best 1,198 putouts and teamed up on 112 double plays.

"He was hugely important," Nichols said. "He was the MVP of the league and a Gold Glove winner at first base in the Minors. He struggled defensively a couple years ago, but he put the work in. Even though his offensive numbers were amazing, his biggest accomplishment was that he won a Gold Glove."

Second base -- Scooter Gennett, Huntsville (133 games): Gennett batted .293 with five homers and 44 RBIs -- the second-most among full-time Brewers second basemen -- this season. His 30 doubles, 37 extra-base hits and 66 runs scored ranked first at his position in the organization, and his overall numbers did not seem to take a hit after moving up from Brevard County in the Florida State League. The 5-foot-9 22-year-old was named to the Futures Game, and he was also recognized as a mid- and postseason Southern League All-Star.

"I think that was a good choice. He's a young guy that responded to being pushed to Double-A," Nichols said. "He will be a good big league hitter. He improved defensively which was what we were pleased most with. The main issue used to be that if he made an error, he would let it get him down and he would maybe make another one. But he overcame that and became a good defensive second baseman this year. He expects so much of himself that when he doesn't perform he gets down."

Honorable mention: Gregory Hopkins played 104 games in 2012, although only 60 came at second base. Overall, however, he hit nine Midwest League homers and plated 50 runs for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Third base -- Brandon Macias, Wisconsin (127 games): Macias batted .288 with eight homers and 63 RBIs in Wisconsin in his first full year of professional baseball. Signed as a non-drafted free agent last June, Macias split time between the Rookie-level Arizona League and Midwest League in 2011. This year, solely with Wisconsin, he scored more runs (83) and hit for a higher average than any other full-time third baseman in the system.

While his home runs tally fell behind the likes of Andy Gonzalez and T.J. Mittelstaedt (both 13) and Mike Walker (12), his 35 doubles meant he finished with more extra-base hits (45) and total bases (198) than any of them. Not afraid to crowd the inside half of the plate, Macias was hit by 21 pitches this season. No other player on the Milwaukee farm was hit more than 12 times, and only two other batters racked up double-digit HBPs.

"He was the team MVP and a great utility player," Nichols said. "He has a good arm, he gets on base and he's good at the plate. He's an all-around team player. He was very consistent, he just needs experience. There is no one thing he does not do well. He can play any position, it just depends on the situation. We see his value as a utility guy."

Shortstop -- Yadiel Rivera, Wisconsin (127 games): While Rivera has not displayed the ability to consistently hit for average in his brief Minor League career, his other stats are trending upward. His 12 homers and 49 RBIs ranked first among Milwaukee shortstops, and his .247 average, while not spectacular, was still a career best for the 20-year-old native of Puerto Rico who was selected in the ninth round of the 2010 Draft. Defensively, Rivera posted a .962 fielding percentage, having committed 22 errors in 586 chances.

"Yady is a guy that plays on instincts," Nichols said. "If you watch him play, you'll see he's not a fast runner, but he gets good jumps. He moves well to the ball, and he's similar to the way J.J. Hardy was when he was younger.

"[Jean] Segura came to us late, but it was great to see his tools too. He will be a big league shortstop. People say he will be a very good second baseman, but I think he will be a very good shortstop. He's quick and he sees plays happen. You hear people say that the game is fast for some guys, but he slows the game down."

Outfield -- Ben McMahan, Wisconsin (109 games): Despite playing as many as 28 games fewer than some of the other outfielders in the organization, McMahan led all Brewers outfielders in homers (15), triples (11), RBIs (68) and slugging percentage (.500).

The University of Florida alum, selected in the 23rd round of the 2011 Draft, made the jump from the short-season Pioneer League seamlessly. While he struggled with plate discipline at times (29 walks to 129 strikeouts in 414 at-bats), his raw power and plus speed impressed coaches who hope to see his growth continue in 2013.

"He had a great year. He was a little streaky, but that is something he can work on," Nichols said. "When he's hot, he's really hot. He can still get better. I think experience will bring that, because he's going to get pitches to hit. He just gets a little anxious, but the staff here is aware of that and they will work with him on it.

"He just needs a consistent approach and to stick with that approach. We try to teach the process more than the results, and we tell players not to change their approach if they're not getting the results."

Josh Prince, Huntsville (137 games): What third-rounder Prince lacks in power, he makes up for in speed and aggressiveness, according to Nichols. The 24-year-old, a Louisville Slugger All-American in his freshman year at Tulane University, ranked second in the organization with 41 stolen bases this year.

His 74 walks and 28 doubles were the most of any outfielder in the system, while his 55 RBIs and 74 runs scored were both career highs.

"Josh is an ultra-aggressive player in the outfield and on the bases," Nichols added. "He went from shortstop to center field and did a great job. His range improved, and it's a tough position to learn at the higher level. We thought his range could have been better and his arm could have been better [at shortstop], but he seemed to fit better in the outfield. If you can play center field, you play there until you can't any more. He did a great job."

Chadwin Stang, Wisconsin (127 games): Stang batted .270 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in 127 Midwest League games this year. The 23-year-old, a native of Surrey, British Columbia, missed all of 2010 with a right shoulder labrum tear, and he was limited to 25 games with Wisconsin 12 months ago.

Stang, who had committed to playing at Louisiana State University prior to be selected in the eighth round of the 2009 Draft, also recorded 24 doubles, nine triples and 26 stolen bases in 2011. His 85 runs scored were the most of any Brewers farmhand.

"Chadwin is a little older player who is Canadian," Nichols observed. "He has a lack of playing experience, but it's always up to the individual. He accepted that he had to catch up with some of the other players. I saw him have a more consistent approach at the plate this year, and he stayed on the field even though he had minor injuries. He played a good, full season."

Utility -- Jason Rogers, Brevard County (67 games), Wisconsin (66 games): The first baseman started 2011 repeating the Midwest League, but after hitting .301 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 66 games, the midseason All-Star moved up to Brevard County.

At his fourth level in three years, the 24-year-old adjusted well to the jump, posting a .300/.416/.412 slash line. With five more longballs and an additional 23 RBIs, Rogers set career highs in virtually every offensive category. His 35 doubles were tied for the second-most in the system, while his 83 runs were second only to Stang.

Said Nichols: "I thought he had a good year. He probably was one of the more consistent players. He doesn't give away at-bats, and every at-bat is a quality one. At first base he is a good defensive player, and he runs better than you think he would. He was comfortable in left field, but he will be a better first baseman than a left fielder.

"The one thing in the Major Leagues is that you have to generate power consistently to play a corner infield position, but that will come with experience."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Hiram Burgos, Huntsville (13 games), Nashville (eight games), Brevard County (two games): Burgos ranked first in the organization with a 1.95 ERA, and his 10 wins (10-4) were one short of tying for the most among Brewers farmhands. He also led the organization in innings pitched (171) and strikeouts (153), setting career highs in virtually every statistical category.

Despite jumping up from the Florida State League where he posted a 4.89 ERA in 2011, Burgos appeared unfazed at the thought of Double-A and Triple-A competition. He almost doubled his strikeout tally (from 80 in 2011), improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio (from 80:35 to 153:49) and cut the number of home runs allowed from 13 to eight even though he pitched 50 more innings.

"He has outstanding command. He was able to command four pitches and throw them in any count," said Nichols. "He throws a fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. He's a smart pitcher who reads hitters well.

"He will start for a Major League club. He didn't miss a beat going through the levels; he was right in sync. He stayed within himself. He's a command pitcher, but because his command is so good, it makes his fastball look even faster when he throws it inside."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Taylor Wall, Helena (14 games): Selected in the 22nd round of the 2012 Draft out of Rice University, Wall went 3-1 with a 3.98 ERA in 14 games, including 10 starts, in his rookie year with Helena in the Pioneer League. He struck out twice as many batters (40) as he walked (20), and he allowed three homers over 54 1/3 innings.

"He did a great job," Nichols said. "It's hard to really get a good read on a player in his first year because you don't know if he has had a long amateur season before then trying to adjust to a whole new level. We just have to give him some time.

"I would like to see him get ready and prepared for a long year. Sometimes after they have had a long year in their first professional season, they don't understand that it's now a year-round job and not just a summer job."

Relief pitcher -- Jim Henderson, Nashville (35 games), Milwaukee (36 games): The Tennessee Wesleyan alum saved 15 games and posted a 4-3 record and 1.69 ERA in 35 relief appearance for the Sounds in 2012. He held hitters to a .214 average, and he yielded two homers in 48 innings pitched. A Pacific Coast League midseason All-Star, Henderson struck out more than a batter an inning (56) and recorded a 1.21 WHIP before earning a promotion to Milwaukee.

"He has a power arm and he can get into the mid- to upper-90s," Nichols said. "He throws that slider-type pitch and a hard sinker. He has a funky delivery and he hides the ball well. He has a big future. He was awesome for us like he was in the big leagues."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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