'Round the horn
With the 2013 season less than a month away I thought Iíd take a minute to run down the Brewers probable Opening Day starting nine. Heading into last season there were a few positions to be decided, but after the team ended the year on a hot streak it was assumed that those questions mostly has been answered.
For the most part, in remains that way. But, to quote poet Robert Burns, "The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry." Shortly before spring training we learned that Corey Hart will miss the beginning of the season after having knee surgery. Hart is optimistic about returning before the end of April, but it's probably more realistic to expect him back in the lineup come May.
No problem, right? We still have Mat Gamel, coming back from an ACL injury he suffered after playing in just 21 games in 2012. Hart's injury gave Gamel the chance to prove that he should be in the team's plans. But, as always seems to happen, Murphy's Law kicked in and on the first day of full-squad workouts Gamel again tore his ACL and will miss the entire season.
So whoís left to play first base? We'll begin the conversation there and continue around the horn Ö
First base: After injuries to Hart and Gamel, my guess is that the guy who has the best spring gets the opening-day nod. Taylor Green and Hunter Morris are possible replacements, but Alex Gonzalez is the dark horse. Gonzalez re-signed with the Brewers in the off-season after also being bitten by the injury bug last year when he tore his ACL on a hard slide into second base. He rejoined the Brewers to back up shortstop Jean Segura and has never played first during an MLB game. Still, word from Arizona is that he has impressed Ron Roenicke so far this spring.
Second base: Rickie Weeks has been locked in at this spot for the past 7-8 seasons. While some fans may feel like he has under performed at times, Rickie has done enough to entrench himself at second as long as wears a Brewers uniform. Weeks had a terrible first half in 2012 before rebounding to finish with a .230 batting average while smacking 21 home runs and driving in 63. I hope for big things from Rickie this year, but which Rickie shows up is anyone's guess.
Shortstop: When the Brewers traded Zach Greinke to the Angels last year they received in return a couple of pitchers and a highly touted shortstop named Jean Segura. After the trade, Segura appeared in 44 games for the Crew and batted .264, but got on-base at a .321 clip. Neither numbers are stellar but, to be fair, Segura had appeared in but one big-league game prior to being traded to the Brewers. If you'd like to know a bit more about Mr. Segura check out this post on brewcrewball.com.
Third base: The Brewers signed former Cubbie Aramis Ramirez prior to the 2012 season to provide some offense after the departure of Prince Fielder. Ramirez is a notoriously slow starter and last year was no exception. As usual, he heated up and ended the season with a .300 average with 27 homers and 105 RBI. He also led the National League in doubles with 50 and was tied (with teammate Ryan Braun) for the lead in extra-base hits (80). Ramirez most definitely played up to his three-year, $36 million dollar contract last year and expect him to do the same in 2013.
Right field: For several years this spot was held down by fan favorite Corey Hart until last season when Mat Gamel's ACL tear forced the Crew to move Hart to first base. Hart filled in brilliantly and became the everyday first baseman, which opened up a spot in right for Norichika Aoki. Aoki was signed out of Japan as a fourth outfielder but ended up playing in 151 games, batting .288 with 10 homers and 50 RBI. He also swiped 30 bases. Aoki will be the everyday right fielder this year; the only question is whether Runniní Ron will bat him in the lead-off spot.
Center field: In my opinion, Carlos Gomez is one of the most exciting players in the game. Iím not saying he has the potential; Iím saying he absolutely is right now. Heís had the "potential" tag around his neck since we acquired him as part of the deal that sent J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins. Gomez has amazing speed and to watch him run down balls in center is a thing of beauty. (That reminds me: Why on earth would you start a journeyman player (Mark Kotsay) in center in the most important game for Brewers fans in decades? I know, I know; let it go, right? Iím trying, but still.) Gomez will be a free agent at the end of the season, so Iím thinking he plays himself into some serious money this year. Carlos was scheduled to play in the World Baseball Classic, but backed out to concentrate on the season.
Left field: Barring injury, this spot is sewn up through 2020 and hopefully a year or two after that. Mr. Ryan Braun, the 2012 NL MVP runner-up, will once again be doing his thing out in left field. Even after his tumultuous 2011 off-season, he came out and batted .319 with 41 homers, 112 RBI, 108 runs scored and swiped 30 bases. Love or hate the man, those are good numbers. Also, Iím not sure of the number of urine tests Mr. Braun passed last year, but I do know that he passed 100 percent of them.
Catcher: This is Jonathan Lucroyís spot, although Martin Maldonado filled in more than adequately last year. Maldonado, youíll recall, was called up last season when Lucroy suffered a fluke hotel injury and played well enough to stick with the big-league team. I don't know how it will shake out, but Maldonado will see his share of starts this year. There are worse problems to have than having two big-league-caliber catchers on your roster.
Starting pitchers: Yovani Gallardo gets the ball on Opening Day, with Marco Estrada essentially being the No. 2 starter at this point. Iím not a stat guru, but those in the know seem to think Marco will post some good numbers this year. That leaves three open spots in the starting rotation that likely will be filled by a combination of Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers and Chris Narveson.
If you'd like another take on the starting nine, check out Wisconsin sports guru Andrew Vrchotaís post on Wisconsin Sports Blog. He even went all out and included projected stats for every position player and pitcher. Itís a read that even I enjoyed, and you know how I feel about stats ... :)