Brewers Spring Training Preview: The Infield and Banjo Tales


Last season, all eyes were on the new and improved pitching staff.  It was easy to understand why, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum had been acquired through huge off-season trades.  Then there was John Axford, the young Canadian fireballer who would be taking over the closers role, due to the retirement of Trevor Hoffman.  The bullpen was a mess, there were health concerns regarding LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito, paired with Braddock’s inability to get some sleep and Manny Parra missing the entire season before it even began.  Whether you were a half-empty or a half-full, it was all about the pitching in 2011. 

This season, with the pitching staff mostly intact, I suspect many of us will be watching the new and improved infield.  Aramis Ramirez (formerly of the North Side baby bears) will be taking over 3rd base and the clean-up spot in the batting order.  Holes previously filled by Casey McGehee and Prince Fielder who now play in Pittsburgh and Detroit, respectively.  Alex Gonzalez came over from the Braves and will be filling the void left by the worst shortstop in all of major league baseball, Yuniesky BetancourtRickie Weeks will remain the everyday 2nd baseman, but the question with Rickie is always “For how long?”.  First base is tentatively set up to have Mat Gamel running the show.  This could be a very different story come mid-summer, thanks in part to Corey Hart‘s history of playing the position. 
Let’s take a minute to look at each of these players individually and the players who could be backing them up.

3B – Aramis Ramirez 2011 Stats – .306 BA, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 35 doubles, Silver Slugger Award

Aramis Ramirez was the only free-agent that I really clamored for.  I spent weeks wondering if they would pull the trigger and was supremely relieved when they did.  Ramirez is probably about as close to a Prince Fielder offensive presence, as you were going to get in the free agent market, at least for the money you were looking to spend.  Plus, the guy wanted to play in Milwaukee so badly that he deffered most of his contract to the final two years.  We need to all let go of how badly he has stomped us over the years, and be glad that he is doing damage for us now.

Defensively he is adequate.  Makes errors, but also makes most of the plays that he should.  These won’t be Yuni B errors, they will probably look better.  Pretty strong throwing arm.  Overall, probably not much of an upgrade from McGehee or JHJ in the field.

Ramirez will provide veteran leadership and give Ryan Braun some protection in the lineup.  If all goes well, he will collect his 2,000th hit in a Brewers uniform.  I suspect that he is going to become the leader of this team.  Silently he will earn the teams respect and his dedication and emotion will bind them together.  A part of me also thinks that he could be a good influence on our boy T-Plush.   

Probable Back-up: Taylor Green – Green proved to everyone that he belonged last season.  Late call-up who ended up making the postseason roster.  Green will do well to learn under Ramirez.  I believe that Green could be our 3rd baseman of the future, but he needs some more reps.  This season will be great for him. 

SS – Alex Gonzalez2011 Stats –  .241 BA, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 27 doubles, .972 fld %

Gonzalez was not signed for his bat.  Alex Gonzalez is one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball.  The guy gobbles every ground ball and always seems to make the throw.  His  presence will put the starting pitchers a little more at ease.  I firmly believe that Greinke was impacted by having Yuni B playing shortstop behind him last year.  Gonzalez will be a very welcome addition to this infield.

Alex does not hit very consistently, but when he does it is usually a ton.  In 2010, he hit 23 long shots and had 15 last season in Atlanta.  Thanks to Baseball-Reference, in an average season A-Gonz will hit 16 HR’s and 70 RBI’s.  If it was any other player at any other position, I would be disappointed.  But, thanks to Mr. Betancourt, this offensive production will not bother me as long as the glove is there.

I think that we will immediately notice a difference in how the starters throw games.  Gonzalez is a vacuum cleaner and our starter will be pitching to contact with much more ease.  It would not be surprising to see a drop in team ERA in 2012.

Probable Back-Up:  Eric Farris – (maybe not probable, but worth watching) This kid could give his career a monstrous boost, by making the opening day roster as the back-up middle infielder.  If Farris can cover both 2nd base and shortstop, I can guarantee that he will see a nice amount of playing time in 2012.  The only question I have about Farris is, can he hit major league pitching?  To prove that, he has to perform this spring.  If he does, then he could be our shortstop of the future.  Not many better shortstops to watch and learn from than Alex Gonzalez.

2B – Rickie Weeks2011 Stats – .269 BA, 20 HR, 49 RBI, 26 doubles,  All-Star

You know him, you love him…until he gets injured.  Weeks is one of the best hitters on our team.  I suspect that Roenicke will stick with the Hart, Morgan, Braun, and Ramirez as the first four.  That would leave Weeks batting 5th.  It will be interesting to see if he can thrive in that spot.  Last season he seemed to be having some issues, but I believe that was due to…you guessed it, an injury.  If Rickie stays healthy, the sky is the limit.  Problem is, Rickie is almost never healthy the entire season.

Defensively, he has gotten a lot better.  Early in his career he made way too many boo-boos.  Now he seems to be able to stay calm and make the play.  We all know that he will fumble an easy one from time to time, but he is certainly one of the best 2nd baseman in the NL.

Probable Back-Up: Eric Farris –  Same story, different chapter.  Kid plays 2nd base too.

1B – Mat Gamel2011 Stats (AAA Nashville) – .310 BA, 28 HR, 96 RBI, 29 doubles

Look, I can’t talk about Mat anymore.  This is make-or-break time.  No more options left, so you are either on the roster or you are getting traded.  Give me the numbers I see above.  Please, Mat, I want those.  If you can have that type of season…I will write a banjo tale about you, think…Paul Bunyan or the Beverly Hillbillies.  Please hold me to this Mat.  I want to write you a banjo tale.

Probable Back-Up: Corey Hart – This is something that I will be watching very closely.   Hart has said that he does not want to play 1st base, so it will be interesting to see how the team handles this situation.  We will know by early April how confident the team is in Mat Gamel.  This situation is also dictated by the performance of Norichika Aoki AND Ryan Braun’s little situation. 

Corey Hart is the man to watch this Spring Training.  I am calling my shot on this one.

You can quote me.  You can also quote me on the banjo tale.

For the record, I mentioned almost every single Brewer in this article…accept Mark Kotsay.  It’s my first day on the road to recovery.