2013 Position Review & Preview: First Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of our 2013 review & preview series.  You can read the rest here.

Despite a tumultuous season at the position, first base actually turned out to be a pretty productive spot for the Brewers in 2012.

Last season was supposed to be Mat Gamel’s time to shine.  Things hadn’t gone so well in his smattering of prior opportunities as a utility player, but this was the first time Gamel could finally claim a position as his own.  We were bullish based on his minor-league success, projecting him at a .284/.346/.500 triple-slash line over a full season of work.  That, of course, all went out the window when he shredded his ACL in early May, ending his season after just 70 at-bats.  Practically a full season removed from this disaster, I often hear people speak glowingly of Gamel’s brief starting stint in 2012.  This is almost certainly a case of rose-colored glasses; over 21 games, Gamel hit just .246/.293/.348, a far cry from his much healthier minor league .304/.376/.498.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Fortunately, a relatively obscure offseason signing provided the perfect contingency plan. When the Brewers brought Norichika Aoki over from Japan, they thought they were getting a fourth outfielder.  But Aoki’s play begged for more opportunities, which Gamel’s injury provided by allowing RF Corey Hart to shift to first.  Defensively, this move should have accommodated Hart just fine, as he had always been at- or below-average in RF. And Hart looked fine at first, from what I saw.  But the numbers paint a different picture, suggesting his only positive value defensively came from his ability to prevent errors.  Offensively, Hart put up one of his typical Hart seasons, batting .270 with 30 home runs and an .841 OPS.  Put together, Hart was a solid 3-win player in 2012.

Position Depth

Unfortunately, neither Gamel nor Hart will be manning first base on opening day.  Both are recovering from injuries; Gamel’s was season-ending.  Hart is slated to return from knee surgery sometime in May.  Until then, you’ll see plenty of Alex Gonzalez (who doesn’t like the position, hasn’t often played it, and doesn’t have a great bat) and Martin Maldonado (who also has not played it and doesn’t have a great bat).  Yikes.

Hart will be a free agent after the season.  Rumors of an extension have been thrown around for years, but this is probably not likely given the recent Carlos Gomez extension and Kyle Lohse signing.  It will be interesting to see what the team’s plan for first base is this offseason.

Corey Hart’s Projected Stat Line (ZiPS)

141 G, 589 PA, 27 HR, 78 R, 80 RBI, 6 SB, .265/.330/.485

Corey gets his own bobblehead in 2013, which looks nothing like him.

Corey gets his own bobblehead in 2013, which looks nothing like him.

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2013 Position Review & Preview: Shortstop

AP

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of our 2013 review & preview series.  You can read the rest here.

Review of 2012:

When Milwaukee found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline in 2012, the Brewers faithful knew they had seen the last of Zack Greinke. Greinke, who had never lost a game at Miller Park, was about to become a free agent at the end of the year, and one way or another was about to get a huge payday for his services, most likely from a major market team. So, to get something out of his departure, the Brewers traded him to the Angels in late July for some top quality farmhands in Double-A pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, as well as shortstop Jean Segura.

While Helwig and Pena would see minimal playtime in 2012 with Milwaukee , Segura would get the opportunity to fill in as the teams starting shortstop thanks to a hole at the position left by an early season injury to Alex Gonzalez. The gamble would pay off for Milwaukee as Segura took to the big league level of play right away.

As mentioned on the back of his 2013 Topps Spring Fever card: “Soon after the Brewers acquired Segura in a trade with the Angels last July, he was tossed into the Major League fire for the first time. By September, the 22-year-old was thriving, batting .375 in one 20-game stretch and finishing with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Those were credentials enough to make the shortstop job his to lose this spring.”

Segura finished his 2012 season with Milwaukee with a slash line of .264/.321/.331 over 163 plate appearances in 44 games. He recorded 39 hits, 14 RBI, 7 stolen bases and walked 13 times.

Projected 2013 Stat Line (according to Baseball Info Solutions):

139/477 over 147 games, 6 HR, 50 RBI, 35 BB, 69 K, .291/.340/.388

The above numbers should come as no surprise to anyone that followed Segura’s offseason. He won the Dominican Winter League batting title, hitting .325 over 35 games and ranked 2nd in stolen bases with 11. Similar numbers were shown in his 18 Spring Training appearances in which he hit 19/52 with 3 stolen bases and a slash line of .365/.377/.577.

Depth of Position:

Behind Segura at short is the man that he replaced at the position last year, Alex Gonzalez. Initially released by Milwaukee in the offseason, Gonzalez eventually re-signed with Milwaukee where he figures to start the season at 1st base filling in for the injured Corey Hart.

Behind him, there is one more shortstop, a name that sends shivers down the spines of the collective fan base. A name so polarizing, that it made those opposed to the Kyle Lohse acquisition question if Doug Melvin had finally lost his mind. That man: Yuniesky Betancourt. Luckily for all of us it sounds like the plans for Yuni is as a utility bat, not a utility infielder.

With Yuni fresh on everyone’s minds, I’ll leave you with the following:

YuniB

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

2013 Position Review & Preview: Second Base

Rickie Weeksby Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of our 2013 review & preview series.  You can read the rest here.

Since 2006, Milwaukee’s Opening Day lineup has had one constant: Rickie Weeks at second base.

Review of 2012:

Projected by Baseball Info Solutions to carry a slash line of .262/.355/.453 in 2012, Weeks slow start to the season led to a career worst .230/.328/.400 over 157 games, but his season was really a tale of two halves. Coming into the All Star break, the 2011 NL All Star was batting just .199/.314/.343. With few options available for replacement, due to an already decimated infield, Ron Roenicke stuck with Weeks and was rewarded for his patience. Weeks batted .261/.343/.457 during the second half of the season (almost identical to his projected line).

If there is a silver lining to his dismal 2012 campaign, it has to be in regards to his plate discipline. Never know for being particularly patient at the plate, Weeks showed signs of improvement in this area walking 74 times in 677 plate appearances or roughly 1 in every 10 appearances.

Weeks two biggest shortcomings are his defense and his free swinging nature. This is where the unfortunate joke of “You can’t spell Weeks without 2 Es and a K” springs from.

Defensively, Weeks is detrimental to Milwaukee’s middle infield. Errors have plagued Weeks career in the majors, a downfall evident in the fact that Weeks has led the majors in errors by a second baseman 5 times in the past 8 seasons (’05, ’06, ’08, ’11, ’12), and taken 3rd twice (’07 and ’10). In 2009, an injury saw Weeks only appear in 37 games, thus not giving him enough “opportunities” for this dubious distinction.

Additionally, despite his newfound patience shown in the statistics above, Weeks still struck out 169 times in 2012. Based on 677 plate appearances, that’s 1 strikeout in every 4 appearances. Ouch!

Projected 2013 Stat Line (according to Baseball Info Solutions):

147/592 over 152 games, 23 HR, 66 RBI, 74 BB, 164 K, .248/.345/.429

Depth of Position:

So, what happens if Weeks struggles again this year, or goes down with an injury? Now that back up Eric Farris was acquired by the Seattle Mariners in this years Rule Five Draft, it appears that the next in line for the spot would be Scooter Gennett. Ranked 7th in the list of Milwaukee’s top 20 prospects, the undersized Gennett isn’t known for his power, but makes up for it in consistency. A career .300+ hitter in the minors, Gennett makes up for his lack of power with speed on the base paths and should be an adequate replacement should his services be required.

Come on back tomorrow for a review of the shortstop position and the return of a former Brewer to the fold.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

2013 Position Review & Preview: Catcher

By Nathan Petrashek

lucroy3Jonathan Lucroy showed such promise in 2011 that the Brewers extended him for five years last spring, buying out his arbitration seasons and securing a club option for 2017.  Lucroy rewarded the team’s faith with the hottest start of his career, hitting a ridiculous .345/.387/.583 through the first two months.  That torrid pace would be put on hold in late May, as a freak accident cost Lucroy nearly the next two months.  When he returned at the end of July, though, Lucroy showed no ill effects from the hand injury, hitting .299/.354/.458 the rest of the way.

All told, Lucroy ended the year with an incredible .320/.368/.513 triple slash line, well in excess of our projected .274/.328/.382. Needless to say, there’s reason for caution.  Because Lucroy collected just over half a season’s worth of plate attempts, the usual small sample size alert applies.  But more importantly, Lucroy’s power and hit tools shouldn’t be mistaken for Buster Posey’s.  Lucroy’s .193 ISO exceeds his historical power indices, and even if he is developing a bit of a power stroke, 15 dingers over the course of a full season is probably as good as it will get.  In addition, Lucroy’s average was supported by a likely unsustainable .338 BABIP.  His more aggressive approach at the plate (and increased contact) might explain a bit of that, but an average in the .280s is probably more realistic.

While Lucroy’s hand injury derailed an otherwise banner year, it did give the Brewers an opportunity to look at the 26-year-old Martin Maldonado.  Historically, Maldonado has been a bit of a liability with the bat, and that trend continued as Maldonado hit just .198/.270/.347 to start the year in AAA.  But thrust into major league service thanks to Lucroy’s injury, Maldonado went on to slug a serviceable .408 on 8 home runs, though his batting average (.266) and on-base percentage (.321) were just league-average.

Though Maldonado isn’t going to wow anyone with his hit tool, the same is not true of his defense. Maldonado, like Lucroy, is excellent at framing pitches.  He also threw out just under 50% of would-be base stealers last year.  If last year’s offensive showing is a sign of true development, Maldonado could eventually be a tantalizing trade piece with Lucroy locked up long-term.

Defensively, Lucroy is the first to admit he doesn’t have the strongest arm, and it shows.  Opposing runners took full advantage of that weakness, as Lucroy managed to throw out less than 30%.  However, Lucroy is one of the best in the league at pitch-framing, and he’s often able to snag wild pitches that others would miss.  Overall, Lucroy is a serviceable defender, but he’ll need to control the running game much better in 2013.

With heavy turnover the past few years at most of the infield positions, it must be nice for the Brewers to have two reliable options in Lucroy and Maldonado.  There isn’t any starter controversy here; as long as Lucroy is healthy, he’ll get the lion’s share of starts.  But Maldonado will see plenty of time at backstop, probably starting close to once every fifth day.

And don’t be surprised to see both Lucroy and Maldonado on the field together early in the season.  Maldonado is expected to fill in occasionally at first base until Corey Hart returns in mid-May.