PHOENIX -- Brewers prospect Scooter Gennett has a quick answer for those who say he's too small to star in the Major Leagues.
"If you're in infielder," he said with a smile, "the shorter you are, the closer you are to the ground to field the ball, right?"
He laughed. Gennett, all 5-foot-9 of him, has answered these questions before.
The 21-year-old answered with his bat earlier this week, when a surprise Sunday start in Surprise, Ariz., turned into one of the best days of Gennett's career. He hit for the cycle against the Royals, capping the feat with an eighth-inning, two-run home run into the visitors' bullpen, where Brewers relievers gobbled up the baseball for Gennett's memorabilia collection.
Gennett gave the ball to his dad for safe transport home to Florida. He and Scooter's sister happened to be visiting Spring Training and were in the stands, along with an uncle and an aunt. Scooter's mother was back East, and had to offer her congratulations via telephone.
"She was all emotional about it," Gennett said. "She was a little jealous that my dad and sister got to see it."
Gennett was not supposed to start at all. He was originally slated to be a backup at Maryvale Baseball Park, where another Brewers split squad was hosting the Dodgers.
It was Gennett's second Cactus League start. He played a home game last spring.
"It was a good day," Scooter said.
The Brewers believe more good days are to come for Gennett, who is trying to add his name to the list of small-framed players to break into the big leagues.
He's listed at 165 lbs. "But he's a solid 165," outfield prospect Logan Schafer said. The Brewers liked Gennett enough to make him a 16th round Draft pick in 2009, and paid him an over-slot signing bonus of $260,000 to keep him away from Florida State University.
He hit .309 at Class A Wisconsin in 2010 and .300 at advanced Class A Brevard County in '11, and enters '12 as the Brewers' No. 6 prospect, according to MLB.com.
"I've always been told I can't do certain things, and I like when people tell me that," Gennett said. "It helps my work ethic. I work harder. I think I just need to work as hard as I can to get better out on the field, and then the outcome is all the same no matter what size you are. It's kind of nice 'repping' the small guys out there."
Fifty-two players Gennett's height or shorter stepped to plate at least once in a Major League game last season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. The list includes the Brewers' own 5-foot-9 second-base prospect, Eric Farris.
The shortest was in the Brewers' own division, Jose Altuve of the Astros, who apparently shrunk over the winter. He's 5-7 in the record books, but 5-5 in the Astros' 2012 media guide.
Only one of the vertically-challenged 52 topped 20 home runs: Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, the big dog of the little guys. He's 5-9 in the Baseball-Reference system, 5-8 in the Red Sox media guide and has more awards than guys twice his size. Pedroia was the 2007 American League Rookie of the year, the '08 AL MVP and an All-Star three times.
"You see a guy like Pedroia out there doing it, and it gives you a good feeling," Gennett said. "It's like, 'I can do it, too.' So what if they think your ceiling's not as high?"
Altuve knows the feeling. He started last season in high Class A, went to the All-Star Futures Game and wound up in Houston, where he started his first 51 big league games.
He's penciled in as the Astros' Opening Day second baseman in 2012.
"I know that everywhere that I go, people talk about [my size]," Altuve said last year at the Futures Game. "But that's something that doesn't bother me a lot. It just pushes me to keep on playing. We have a lot of short guys in the big leagues, and I want to be one of them."
So does Gennett, who is slated to begin the season at Double-A Huntsville. General manager Doug Melvin said players at Double-A are squarely on the radar for big league callups, though Gennett appears blocked by two players. Farris will be at Triple-A again this season, and second base in the Major Leagues is locked down by All-Star Rickie Weeks, who last spring signed a contract extension that, if he stays healthy, will extend through 2015.
Gennett said he's not worried about where he stands in the organizational line, and will focus on defense in 2012. He played shortstop for 13 games in 2010, but profiles as a second baseman and stayed there in 2011.
"He's got a better arm than you think he does," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "His range is average, but he can get better. He knows defense has been a priority for us. There's times when he made a mistake, the rest of his game was gone defensively because he was thinking about the mistake. He didn't have the 'reset.' We're working on that with him."
One thing they don't need to work on is getting Gennett to the ballpark. He's a classic yard rat, one of the first players to arrive every morning. Schafer said Gennett reports to the batting cage alone to hit off a tee.
"He loves being at the ballpark more than anybody," Nichols said. "I like all our guys, but I really like him. I've been saying that for years."