by Kevin Kimmes
A few weeks back I wrote an article titled “A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup” in which I tried to predict what the Brewers Opening Day lineup might look like. At the time, I was convinced that Braun would be missing time due to the charges that he was facing. Let’s face it, until last week no one had ever beat the rap when accused of having violated the league’s banned substance policy, so realistically it was a safe assumption to make at the time.
Since then, Braun has been exonerated of the charges meaning that he will now be available in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. The more that I thought about it, the more I started to wonder about what will wind up happening in the outfield now that there are way more potential starters than there are positions, and the possible implications that this may have on the vacancy left at 1st base with the departure of Prince Fielder.
Playing Right Field, It’s Easy You Know…
I’ve joked with friends over the past year that I will some day find the time to put together a YouTube clip combining Corey Hart’s fielding “lowlights” and the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Right Field“. If you don’t know the song, here’s a snippet of the lyric:
Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow
Now, to be clear, I am not anti-Corey Hart, in fact, I think his bat will be crucial this year in assisting with making up the run production lost due to Fielder’s departure. However, I am a realist when it comes to Milwaukee’s current overabundance of outfield talent. For starters, all 4 of the starting outfielders from last years NL Central Championship squad are returning (Braun, Morgan, Gomez, and Hart). Add to this that Milwaukee acquired two time Japanese batting champion Norichika Aoki (a left fielder), and it quickly becomes obvious that we have more players than we have positions.
Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play
Now, I am going to make an assumption that Aoki will take to the American version of the game quickly, thus leaving Brewers management with the hard decision to make of what to do with 5 guys for 3 positions. Braun is the everyday left fielder hands down, and the platoon of Morgan (L) and Gomez (R) will own center. So now we get to right, which has been Corey Hart’s primary position since he was placed there in 2002 while with the Huntsville Stars due to problems defensively at 1st base.
Now, Ron Roenicke could choose to platoon Aoki, as he is a lefty, which would add some versatility to the lineup and allow Milwaukee to play the advantage when it comes to pitching matchups, or you could potentially have both bats in the lineup on a daily basis. How you ask?
Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to use Corey Hart in a flex role this season having him spend time at both 1st base and in right field, due to questions regarding Mat Gamel’s ability to play everyday at 1st. Gamel, while productive in the minors, has struggled to settle in when given major league assignments over the last several seasons. If this appears to again be the situation in spring training, then I feel like the best option may be to move Hart to 1st to begin the season and position Aoki in right where he can ease his way defensively into the game.
With that said, I now present 2 versions of the potential opening day batting order. The first assumes that Gamel struggles and Roenicke goes with Hart at 1st and Aoki in right:
1) Corey Hart – 1st Base
2) Nyjer Morgan – Center Field
3) Ryan Braun – Left Field
4) Aramis Ramirez – 3rd Base
5) Rickie Weeks – 2nd Base
6) Norichika Aoki – Right Field
7) Alex Gonzalez – Shortstop
8) Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher
9) Yovanni Gallardo – Pitcher
In this version of the lineup, Milwaukee has itself a formidable 1-6 which should give opposing pitchers fits when it comes to developing a plan of who to pitch to and who to pitch around. This is very similar to last seasons batting order, which worked well for Milwaukee, but with Ramirez in the cleanup role and Aoki and Gonzalez replacing Betancourt and McGehee at 6 and 7 respectively.
Assuming that Gamel does have a good spring, the only major changes for the second version of the lineup would be at the 6 hole where Gamel (reporting at 1st) would replace Aoki, and in the lead off spot where Hart would be listed in right field.
With the Brewers first Cactus League game coming up this Sunday (March 4th) against the San Francisco Giants, we will soon get our first glimpse of Aoki, and with any luck, begin to clarify just which opening day lineup we will be looking forward to.