Not many baseball players had it as nice as Hunter Morris in 2012.
The Brewers' No. 7 prospect started out the year in his hometown of Huntsville. The home cooking was apparently good for him, as he put together the best season of his short three-year career in the Minors.
Morris owned a .303/.357/.563 slash line and led the Double-A Southern League in homers (28), RBIs (113), hits (158) and total bases (294) en route to taking the circuit's MVP award. On top of that, he earned a Rawlings Gold Glove as the best defensive first baseman in the Minor Leagues.
With those in hand, he moved onto the Arizona Fall League, where he regressed slightly to a .256 average with only one homer in 21 games. Recently, he earned a spot in Major League camp for next month's Spring Training.
We caught up with Morris to talk about his big breakout season, what it was like to play in his own backyard and what the future could hold for the sure-handed slugger.
MiLB.com: First things first. As an Auburn guy, were you rooting for Notre Dame in the college football national championship, or could you bring yourself to cheer for Alabama?
Morris: You know, it was tough. It's obviously hard seeing Alabama do well, especially when it was such a tough season for Auburn football. Seeing Alabama dominate in the regular season, get to the national championship game and then dominate that as well, it's a tough spot to be in for sure. But at the same time, it's my home state, and even though it's my rival school, you can't take anything away from what they accomplished.
MiLB.com: OK, now that we have that out of the way, how has the rest of the offseason been going?
Morris: It's been great. I've been trying to prepare physically for a long season, you know, spending a lot of time in the weight room and stuff. You have to continue to work for 12 months. There really is no time off if you want to keep getting better in this game. But on the other hand, I've been able to spend a lot more time with my wife and son and enjoying what little time I get away from the ball field with them.
MiLB.com: You said you have to continue to work. What in particular are you focusing on?
Morris: On the baseball side of it, I'm really just trying to stay in the same routine as far as what I do day in and day out. Hitting-wise, I want to make sure my mechanics stay the same, make sure my hands work the way they should so they're ready when they need to be. Also, I've been trying to get my footwork better because that helps defense a lot. On the whole, everything I do in the weight room eventually plays into everything I do on the field. Still, I don't think anything really beats going out and actually playing the game with a bat or ball in your hand and going to work.
MiLB.com: Now go back to last year a little bit. How would you evaluate last season at Huntsville?
Morris: It was a great year, absolutely. Of course, you look back and there were certainly little stretches I wished I could have cleaned up a little and had more success. There were definitely some pitches, some at-bats given away, little things like that. It was definitely a good season though, and as a whole, I can't really complain. But it's still my job to look at what I did badly and how I can make adjustments, get rid of the holes in my swing. It'd be great to not have to deal with week-long stretches where I didn't swing the bat. So right now in the offseason, it's my job to pinpoint things I didn't do well and go from there.
MiLB.com: So with that in mind, what are you looking to improve upon in particular?
Morris: Most of it has been honing on being aggressive at the plate. I've always been aggressive, but it's now more about being more selective with what pitches I'm aggressive with. It's not just about trying not to put the ball into play early in the count. It's about forcing the pitcher to make a mistake and capitalizing on that.
MiLB.com: Going back to the season, what was the biggest highlight for you?
Morris: Getting to play a whole season was a big one. Few guys get that kind of opportunity. I was blessed to do that and be home with my family, my wife and son. As far as one single moment though, I'd have to say a game where we were playing Pensacola at home. The game was tied going into the 11th inning, but they put up four runs in the top of the inning. It didn't really look good. But we got up, and guys started getting on. Eventually, it came up to me with two runners on, down two. First pitch, I hit a walk-off to left-center field. You couldn't have written it any better. To do that in front of the home crowd like that, it was really special.
MiLB.com: You kind of talked about a little bit, but what was it like to play a whole season in your hometown? Was it like you'd imagine a regular Double-A season to be or was it something completely different?
Morris: It was definitely a pretty normal Double-A, Minor League lifestyle. There's not a whole lot of lavishness to the stadium here in Huntsville or anything like that. The Southern League is a great competitive league. Year after year, guys are coming out of here with great Major League careers. But other than, being able to spend months with my family -- my whole family is from North Alabama. My wife's family is all from North Alabama. So everyone's at every game. The people who have supported me for a long time, I got to play in front of them every day.
MiLB.com: Even with that success, it seemed like you had a much better second half.
Morris: Yeah, I went through the first couple few months, and my power numbers weren't great. I went into the All-Star break with seven homers, which if you double that is 14 homers for the year and that's not horrible. But as I went along, I stayed with my approach and didn't change anything. Everything kind of clicked though, and at the same time, I matured as a hitter enough to understand what I had to do to up my power numbers. That was a product of me getting more comfortable with everything as the season went along. I began to understand when I can take that "A" swing and drive the ball out rather than just taking pitches and trying to find the gaps in the outfield.
MiLB.com: Have you always been a second-half guy or was this year odd in that way?
Morris: My power numbers have always gone up in the second half. [In 2011], I had five in the first half and finished the year with 20 after getting called up to the Southern League. My junior year at Auburn, I played the first 15 games of the season without hitting a home run and eventually finished with 23 that season. It just tends to go that way for me. It's another one of those adjustments that I need to make. From pitch one of the season, I need to get into that mentality. If I could sustain those second-half numbers from the first game of the season, there's no telling how much better the year could be.
MiLB.com: Moving away from the offense for a second, you also earned a Minor League Gold Glove Award. How much did that mean to you?
Morris: Honestly, of all the awards I won, that one means the most to me because it's where the most work went in. I committed 21 errors in the Florida State League in 2011. ... I kept putting in the work and was frustrated because I was never was as comfortable over there as I should have been. So I kept putting in the work in the offseason, Spring Training, and in the 136 games I played in, I think I did early defensive work in 130 of them.
Even our 10:30 a.m. morning games, I was out there doing early work for defense. Once I realized everything was coming together, it took the pressure off of me and was a big boost to my offense. I didn't have to worry so much about what's going to happen. Am I going to make an error? Am I going to make three? Those didn't enter my mind anymore, and I was able to relax at the plate.
MiLB.com: Everybody talks about great defenders at shortstop or center field, but what does it take to be a great first baseman?
Morris: To me, it's all about making the routine plays. No one expects you to have unbelievable range, so a lot of it is positioning. It's a lot like third base. You're playing down the line where balls are coming at you quickly. You need to know what the batter's tendencies are, know where your second baseman is, what his range his and what he will do. What I think puts you beyond though is how many throwing errors the rest of your infield has. If I can save them some errors by picking a bad throw, that looks better on me. The fewer errors we make as a team, the happier I am. I want the infield to have the confidence in me that they make any throw and I'll get it.
MiLB.com: And because of your offensive and defensive improvements, you've earned an invite to Major League Spring Training with the Brewers next month. What are you looking to get out of that experience?
Morris: It's going to be a great opportunity. Obviously, I'm going to work as hard as I ever have but go about my business the same too. ... I know [my chances of] making the team are slim. I mean, it's a non-roster invite. But it's a chance for me to get my feet wet and give the coaching staff and the front office, for everything that's worth, to see how I perform at that level and to prove to them, now or in the near future, that I'm ready and can handle situations in the big leagues.
MiLB.com: Once Spring Training is over, wherever you may be, how do you see the season playing out?
Morris: I've never played at the Triple-A level, but I have a good idea based on what I saw at Double-A. That said, I'm not going to change my work ethic or my approach to the game because those are what got me this far. I'll let the rest of that be dictated for me. When weaknesses becomes exploited, I'll get rid of them.
MiLB.com: Going even further into the future, where do you see yourself in five years?
Morris: I'd like to think that I'll be an everyday first baseman in Milwaukee. I'll have to stay healthy, of course, once I'm at that level, but that's the goal. It could be with the other 29 teams because you never know what's going to happen in five years. But I'd like to be an everyday first baseman, trying to get toward an All-Star, MVP caliber year.
MiLB.com: Circling back to this year, you participated in the Arizona Fall League. What did you think of your time down there?
Morris: It was great. I'll be the first to admit that I struggled. I, by no means, put up the numbers I hoped for or should have. At the same time, it was an opportunity to push myself as far as the goal is not to play just 140 games. It's to play 162 or even 175 into the playoffs. This was my first truly long season, longer than it normally should have been.
MiLB.com: Last one before we let you go, any first basemen you looked up to or tried to model yourself after in your career?
Morris: Not really, although there are plenty of great ones. I grew up understanding what I did that made me successful, not watching people on TV and trying to do stuff like them. Still when Prince Fielder was with us, his work ethic, hustle, attitude in the clubhouse were all unbelievable. There are not too many guys who are better teammates. I like to take that stuff away from seeing those guys. But it's all about what works for you, not making yourself into someone else.