To start the season, my guess is fans will be hearing Eric Thames as the first baseman. The man who posted a 124 wRC+ in his first season back in the majors, along with a WAR of 2.1, seems like quite an obvious pick. Yet there is buzz throughout the league that the Brewers will move away from the breakout slugger at the position.
Is it weird to predict that a player who hit 31 home runs and recorded a .359 on-base percentage will be even better in 2018? Thames came to the majors after taking a hiatus in Korea and studying the mental aspects of hitting. He represented the Brewer’s big signing at the time and seemed to pay off as he took the league by storm with his unheard of .464 isolated power in the first month. Anytime you have the MLB investigating you for steroids as closely as the FBI keeps an eye on slick Rick, you’re doing something right.
The former Korean star burst onto the scene with a patient approach and juice in his bat. However, as the grueling 162 game season does to so many inexperienced hitters, the dog days of summer took its toll on Thames. He struggled from June through August, recording strikeout rates above 30 percent and seeing his walk rate crumble. But he recovered a little, gaining some semblance of plate discipline in September and October.
Eric Thames won’t be the MVP-caliber hitter the league saw in March and April. He also won’t be the below average first baseman in the summer that pitchers seemed to figure out. My guess is Thames shocks the league yet again when he returns to the patient hitter he was with a full year of experience.
The main focus of spring training is getting Ryan Braun reps at first base. This makes sense for a lot of reasons.
Braun is entering his age 34 season and his body is showing that. He struggled defensively in the outfield last year and has spent enough time on the injury report that he should be paying rent. Braun has never been a wizard in the field, but he still produces offensively. Considering Thames wasn’t the greatest defender at the position (that’s a blatant lie, he was truly awful), the Brewers wouldn’t be missing much moving their left fielder to first.
Moving Braun will also clear up the logjam that has become Milwaukee’s outfield. This will open up a spot for Domingo Santana in the lineup and allow the Brewers to put out arguably their best team. With center fielders Cain and Yelich manning the other two spots, Santana’s lack of range will be minimized. Additionally, the Brewers could try out an all-defensive team to help the rotation, putting in a third center fielder in Brett Phillips.
Ryan Braun getting in practice at first allows the Brewers some creativity with their squad. It will also give the team more options for resting guys, hopefully having everyone healthy and ready for a postseason run.