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Prospect Morris found defense led to best offense

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PHOENIX -- Was it just a coincidence that a singular focus on defense produced a breakthrough season at the plate for Brewers first base prospect Hunter Morris?

He doesn't think so.

"We talked about that at the end of the season," Morris said Saturday, amid his first Major League Spring Training camp. "Playing better defensively took a lot of pressure off offensively. You don't feel like you have to go out there and make up for anything. You didn't just cost your team a run, so let's go get three back.

"That's not the mentality now. It's, 'OK, you did your job defensively. Now let's go hit.' I think they go hand in hand, even if they don't correlate physically. The less pressure you put on yourself, the easier this game is."

Morris enjoyed a dream 2012 season, playing in his hometown with Double-A Huntsville and batting .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBIs. He was the first Huntsville player to win Southern League MVP honors since Corey Hart in 2003, and he also won the Robin Yount Performance Award as the Brewers' top Minor Leaguer. He was just bumped up on MLB.com's list of the Top 20 Brewers prospects to No. 5.

And yet, Morris focused mostly on defense, working daily on improving his footwork and hands with Huntsville manager Darnell Coles, who played all over the diamond during a 14-year Major League career.

"He made it fun to go out and work," Morris said.

The Brewers will give Morris a good look this spring, but he is probably bound for Triple-A Nashville to start the season. The Brewers will have to add Morris to their 40-man roster sometime this year to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, but they will likely push that decision as late as possible to delay the start of Morris' service clock.

How will he follow up last year's MVP season?

"I'm going about this all the same way," Morris said. "I'm not trying to do more. It's going to be hard to repeat. I look back at the year and there were a couple of weeks here and there where I could have made adjustments and done better, but as a whole, it was as good as it could have gotten. I don't feel like I have to go out this year and put up the same numbers. If I go about my business the same way, that will take care of itself."

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.

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