With GM David Stearns poring over options to fill holes on the Milwaukee Brewers roster, one of the few positions he doesn’t have to worry about is first base. But there may be a position battle for Manager Craig Counsell to deal with.
When the Milwaukee Brewers signed Eric Thames in the winter of 2016, no one was really sure what they would get. He was a tremendous player in Korea but his stats in MLB weren’t that impressive. On the flip side, Jesus Aguilar was put on waivers by Cleveland, and the Brewers claimed him.
Both of these players were productive in their first seasons in Milwaukee. But which player is better and which one deserves to start at first base in 2018?
Thames hot start bought him a lot of leeway the rest of the season. Let’s look at his stats by month:
April: .345/.466/.810, 11 HRs, 19 RBIs, 18 BBs, 23 Ks
May: .221/.375/.416, 3 HRs, 9 RBIs, 16 BBs, 22 Ks
June: .163/.267/.402, 6 HRs, 12 RBIs, 13 BBs, 39 Ks
July: .284/.361/.500, 4 HRs, 5 RBIs, 8 BBs, 28 Ks
August: .173/.272/.420, 4 HRs, 8 RBIs, 10 BBs, 31 Ks
September: .328/.431/.574, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs, 10 BBs, 20 Ks
As you can see, Thames regressed in May and June. His strikeouts climbed during the summer and his power and batting average severely declined. He was below the Mendoza line in both June and August.
In April, July, and September, Thames hit for a solid average, and put together a quality month. But in the other three months of the season Thames struggled to make contact, and put up horrid numbers.
So what is Eric Thames? Is he a hitter who can consistently hit for power and get on base, or will he regress back to his 2012 form before he went to Korea? Pitchers now have a full year of film on Thames, but he will have a full year of knowledge on taking advantage of those pitchers. Baseball is a game of adjustments. Thames is going to have to make changes to become a consistent producer in this lineup.
He still has two more guaranteed years on his contract with a club option for an extra year. His $11 million remaining over those two years isn’t an exorbitant amount, but it’s more of a guarantee than Jesus Aguilar has.
Aguilar was a big surprise in Spring Training. Claimed off waivers right before camp, Aguilar knocked seven home runs and powered his way onto this roster despite being limited to first base.
He had about half of the at-bats that Thames did, and finished with about half the home runs. Aguilar had a batting average 18 points higher than what Thames finished with. He was more consistent than Thames, but he doesn’t have the on base ability that Thames does. Aguilar has just as much power as Thames and has the ability to be more consistent in the lineup than Thames. He hit 16 homers in 2017. 12 of them came on the road.
Aguilar had his ups and downs this season just like Thames. His ups weren’t as high, but his downs weren’t as low. If he can provide a more consistent option in the lineup than Thames without taking away any power, why shouldn’t the Milwaukee Brewers start Aguilar instead?
Who Should Start?
We’ve seen that Thames has the chance to be an incredible threat in the lineup. However, we’ve also seen that he can be a strikeout machine when he’s counted on to produce the most.
Aguilar could provide the 30 homer season that Thames did. He could also just be a flash in the pan. He could also be a great player that’s finally getting a chance to prove himself.
Thames will likely get the starting gig at the beginning of next season. But if he goes into another prolonged slump, Aguilar could get the job and if he has success, he may keep it. One or both of these two players could be trade bait in the near future but as things stand now, Thames hot start is still buying him a little wiggle room on this team. He will start, but Aguilar is not that far behind and could earn the starting job in short order.
With so much still to happen this off season, the Milwaukee Brewers still have some moves to make. The Thames and Aguilar debate is not one for Stearns to decide, but rather Counsell.