The Milwaukee Brewers have an abundance of quality outfielders, and Ryan Braun is moving to the infield. First baseman Eric Thames may not have a clear path to a starting role in 2018.
Eric Thames in 2017
Last off-season Eric Thames signed a 3-year deal worth $15 million with the Milwaukee Brewers in an effort to fill a void at first base. Thames started the season with a bang, hitting 11 home runs in his first 20 games. After his tremendous start, people started to ask, half-jokingly, if this guy could possibly hit 80 home runs in a year. He even had his own t-shirt night at Miller Park. Signs that said: “Fear the Beard,” started appearing.
As the season wore on, Thames began to wear down. He finished the season with 31 home runs, 63 RBI’s and a .247 average. By the second half of the season, he was platooning with Jesus Aguilar. The hype that surrounded him during the first month of the season had turned to criticism by the end of the year. Some even felt that first base was once again a position of need for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Eric Thames in 2018
Following the acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, the Milwaukee Brewers found themselves in the position of trying to figure out what to do with four quality starting outfielders. The team decided that a possible solution is to try Ryan Braun at first base.
If Braun, Yelich, Cain, and Domingo Santana remain relatively healthy, Thames may not have a path to full-time at-bats. However, the premise of Braun staying healthy all year is a big “if”.
There seems to be some debate as to whether or not Santana will start. It’s hard to imagine the Milwaukee Brewers not starting him in right field even if his defensive skills need work. He is reaching his prime and had a breakout year last year.
The Brewers gave up way too much for Yelich not to be in the starting lineup every day. Cain was promised the starting center field spot, and Braun is still the face of the franchise. It makes sense that the Brewers would try to give Braun every opportunity to play first. If it works, it would relegate Thames to a part-time role.
Thames fans shouldn’t give up hope just yet. Braun usually needs at least one or two trips to the disable list during the season. He will also continue to get a day or two off each week. Braun has played an average of only 119 games over the last two seasons. Thames will find playing time eventually, but it may not be at the start of the year. This situation could also change if the Brewers make a trade that includes one of their outfielders.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in baseball. Last April, Thames was the hottest player in the game. The following year we are questioning what type of role he will have with the team.