PHOENIX -- Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez told Brewers officials that he would pass on playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, and pitching prospect Nick Bucci withdrew from Team Canada because of a minor shoulder issue, dropping to 13 Milwaukee's Major League-leading contingent to the tournament.
Gomez informed Brewers manager Ron Roenicke of his decision upon reporting to camp. After setting career highs in 2012 with 19 home runs and 37 stolen bases, he will focus instead on the Brewers and his final season before free agency.
"You know, he's got a lot of energy, and he wants to help us play," Roenicke said. "It's a big year for him, what he does this year. That was part of the reason."
Bucci, meanwhile, withdrew from Team Canada after his pre-camp physical exam revealed what he called a minor shoulder injury. Bucci characterized his decision to skip the tournament as precautionary.
"Definitely, my passion is with Team Canada, but honestly, having it nipped now is the best thing for me so I can start the season healthy and go from there," the 22-year-old said.
Bucci said he felt similar aggravation in his shoulder at this time last year, and he eventually developed a lat injury that delayed his debut until July 18.
He was not sure when he would be cleared to return to the mound.
"It's starting to progress; we're just taking it day by day now," Bucci said. "Being shut down for five days now is better than the season."
Bucci did not crack MLB.com's list of the Top 20 Brewers prospects, but he is considered one of the team's promising young pitchers. Drafted in the 18th round in 2008, he already has parts of five Minor League seasons under his belt (with a 3.76 ERA) but will not turn 23 until July 16. He had a 1.90 ERA in 10 appearances during his abbreviated 2012 regular season.
Morris a leading contender to replace Gamel
PHOENIX -- Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash characterized 24-year-old prospect Hunter Morris as a "strong candidate" to begin the season in the Majors after losing another first baseman to a significant injury Monday.
With Corey Hart already sidelined for at least the first month by a right knee injury, the Brewers lost Mat Gamel for the 2013 season when he re-tore his right ACL over the weekend. Ash and GM Doug Melvin said they would examine a list of internal candidates that includes Morris, shortstop Alex Gonzalez, utility man Taylor Green and non-roster invitee Bobby Crosby before looking outside the organization.
"Clearly it's Plan C, and the good news is there are enough individuals in camp that can and have played first base," Ash said. "Of course, one of our players of the year last year, Hunter Morris, had a great year in Double-A, and he'll be a strong candidate. I know [manager Ron Roenicke] has talked to Alex Gonzalez about playing some there, and Taylor Green has played some there. I think our internal options are still pretty good, and we'll go that way, at least in the short term."
A humble Morris vowed to go about his business as usual.
"It's a big jump [from Double-A to the big leagues], and us talking about it doesn't mean I'm going to get the job," Morris said. "I have to go out and I have to earn it and I have to do a lot of things extraordinary. Doing that also comes with not putting too much pressure on myself. I'll be playing baseball somewhere this year, I don't know where it will be."
He added: "Opportunities arise in the game all the time, and it's up to me to take advantage of it. But you don't wish [injury] on another player -- ever."
Going with Morris, ranked by MLB.com as the Brewers' No. 5 prospect, would require adding him to the 40-man roster, a move the Brewers would have to make after the season anyway to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He had a breakthrough season both defensively and offensively last season at Double-A Huntsville, where he batted .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBIs to win the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award.
Gonzalez has only played shortstop in 1,559 Major League games and does not even have a first baseman's mitt, but he has seemed open to Roenicke's request to try the position this spring.
"I don't want to tell you, 'Yeah, I'm going to be an everyday first baseman.' I just want to wait and see what happens when they make a decision," Gonzalez said.
He knows better than anyone what lies ahead for Gamel. Gonzalez also tore his right ACL last season and had surgery.
"I know it's going to be hard for him," Gonzalez said.
Crosby is the most experienced of the internal options, having appeared 61 times at first base for the A's and Pirates, but he has not played in the Majors since 2010. Green has manned first in 18 Major League games and 27 Minor League games.
"We'll look at them early in the games here and determine [whether to adjust] later," Melvin said.
Had the timing of the injury been different, the Brewers might have looked at free agent Casey Kotchman, but he signed a Minor League deal with the Marlins just last week. Brewers officials don't think another notable free agent, Carlos Lee, would be willing to fill in on a temporary basis, considering Hart is expected back relatively early in the season. Veteran Aubrey Huff is also a free agent, and if the Brewers go the trade route, they could look at Mike Carp, who was designated for assignment by the Mariners last week, or Daric Barton, who is in A's camp on a non-guaranteed contract.
The Brewers added first baseman Sean Halton and catcher Robinzon Diaz to Major League camp on Monday as non-roster invitees, and returned injured infielder Hector Gomez to Minor League camp. Halton will help cover in defensive drills for the injured Gamel, and Diaz will eventually help cover the World Baseball Classic departures of regular catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.