Panic at First Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Position review and previews start this week, and coming into spring training I thought first base would be pretty easy to write.  Not so fast.

Right knee surgery will cost Corey Hart a month plus, and yesterday the Brewers announced that Hart’s likely replacement, Mat Gamel, would miss all of 2013.

Someone’s going to have to man first base, though.  So without further ado, here are a few potential replacements.

Carlos Lee
A career .285/.339/.483 hitter, Lee has plenty of first base experience and is currently a free agent.  Lee’s age (36) has really started to catch up to him the last few years; at this point, he’s probably ideally suited for a bench spot, which is where he would find himself when Corey Hart returns.  According to Doug Melvin, though, Lee is still looking for a full-time gig, even if that will be hard to come by as spring training games begin.  If Lee was a little more realistic about where he is in his career, he would be my preference.  Lee’s power would play pretty well on what projects to be a fairly weak-hitting bench.

Hunter Morris
Morris tore it up in the Brewers’ AA system last year, belting out a .303/.357/.563 triple slash line.  That earned him a Minor League Player of the Year award, but it will probably take more than that to earn him a berth as the team’s starting first baseman.  There are plenty of defensive concerns, and Morris didn’t showcase nearly as much offensive talent in 2010 and 2011.  Doug Melvin was careful to note that Morris would cost someone a 40-man roster spot, and he would surely like to delay the start of Morris’s service time.  Toss in the uncertainty surrounding Morris’s capabilities, and the fact that he hasn’t played a single game above AA, and he’s unlikely to win the job unless his case is undeniable.

Khris Davis
The Brewers’ 7th-round pick in 2009 has really come into his own.  An outfielder by trade, fellow BrewCrewBall.com writer Noah Jarosh suggested Davis might be a good fit at first base.  The numbers certainly play, as Davis has carved up the minors with a triple slash line of .294/.400/.513.  Davis has a keen eye at the plate (career 10.2% walk rate that could climb) and plus power (.211 career ISO).  He might be an unconventional choice, but he may be the best in-house option the Brewers have right now.

Taylor Green
3B/IF Taylor Green has had a few opportunities in the major leagues, but hasn’t done much (read: anything) with them.  We have to be careful there, though, because he’s garnered only about 150 plate attempts in his 2 years coming off the bench.  Green has several solid minor league seasons under his belt, and perhaps all he needs is consistent playing time to show his solid hit tools.

Alex Gonzalez
This is apparently Ron Roenicke’s brainchild.  A shortstop for his entire 14-year career, Gonzalez has precisely zero experience at first base.  Gonzalez is such a good defensive shortstop that it’s easy to overlook his offensive shortcomings, but those will be glaring at a corner infield spot: very little pop, and on-base skills that leave a lot to be desired.  There are better options.

Bobby Crosby
A former first-round pick and AL Rookie of the Year, Crosby hasn’t played baseball since 2010.  His triple slash line over 8 seasons wasn’t pretty (.236/.304./.372), and neither were the injury bug and mental struggles that dogged him throughout his career.  But Crosby’s pedigree has garnered him another shot at the bigs, and it’s anyone’s guess where that will go.  Crosby is on a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Mike Carp
Carp, a recent DFA by the Seattle Mariners, is the longest of long shots to even find his way on the Brewers, let alone wind up the team’s Opening Day first baseman.  There are quite a few suitors looking to swing a trade for the 26-year-old, including several AL teams that would have waiver priority over the Brewers, as Kyle Lobner notes.  Carp would be a decent fill-in, but according to Ken Rosenthal, the Brewers aren’t all that interested right now.

Let’s keep in perspective that Gamel’s replacement will be filling in for just a month or two before Corey Hart returns, so despite the post title, this isn’t a crash and burn scenario for the Brewers.  The best case scenario for the team is to find someone who will have value coming off the bench for the remainder of the season.

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