The Milwaukee Brewers will begin their 2014 spring training three days from now against the Oakland Athletics at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Arizona. This season the first base position is a major concern for the Brewers.
In the offseason Corey Hart left for Seattle in free agency and the Brewers cut Yuniesky Betancourt, leaving them with a sizeable void at first base. To counter those moves the Brewers picked up Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds.
It’s really not clear who is going to play first base on an every day basis at this point so it’s going to be critical to see who stands out over the next month in Arizona.
As it stands now, here are the most likely contenders to start at first:
Juan Francisco: Juan Francisco played 67 games at first base last year. While he wasn’t an all star by any means, he was able to provide somewhat consistent play in his first experience at first (he had only played third base with his previous two teams, Cincinnati and Atlanta.)
Francisco posted a .983 fielding percentage, which isn’t terrible, but with so little playing time it’s hard to tell how efficient he will be this year. Looking back, Francisco had a .935 fielding percentage playing third base for the Braves in 2012. I really don’t think that fielding ability at third translates to fielding ability at first but Francisco’s defensive ability is certainly something to think about.
Offensively Francisco faired much better. He had a plate appearance in 89 games (with the Brewers) last season Francisco and was able to acquire a .300 on base percentage and knocked in 32 RBI’s.
With Aramis Ramirez fresh off his injury it’s possible that Francisco could see time at 3rd for some part of the season, but I imagine that he will be used primarily at first this year like he was last season.
Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds: I’ve already written about these two in the past so I’m not going to get too involved here. I will say that it appears that one of these two players will be the opening day starter at first. Ron Roenicke recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Overbay and Reynolds would have an advantage over the younger first baseman on the roster.
Hunter Morris: I included Morris in my reasons to watch the Brewers article I wrote a while back. I am incredibly excited about his potential and his ability to contribute to the young nucleus that Milwaukee is building right now. That said, he isn’t ready to contribute in the bigs right now and I don’t think he’ll start on the roster (unless of course he has a huge spring training.)
That said, Morris is one of the most exciting young players in Milwaukee’s organization right now so be on the watch for him in the near future.
Sean Halton: Given the sudden proliferation of players at first base, it’s hard to imaging Halton getting solid playing time this season. Last year he started 19 games at first base and platooned around the diamond, staring games at right and left field and playing a game at 3rd.
Offensively Halton was actually pretty decent last year, he hit a game winning home run over the Cincinnati Reds and had an on base percentage of .291. Like Francisco, it’s hard to gauge Halton just due to pure lack of playing time, but he does have some major league experience so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Halton at least get a few games in at first next season.
My choice: Given the options, I would have to advocate for either Overbay or Reynolds to start the season at first. Obviously this statement comes before spring training so it’s hard to say, but to me it would be a wise move to go with experience.
None of the current first baseman are eye-catchingly good (with the exception of Morris, but that’s in the minors) so it makes sense to me to go with the option that has more experience, at least to start the season off. Granted, neither are fantastic players but they will at least know how to deal with the grind of everyday major league baseball.