How will the Brewers handle first base in 2020?
The Milwaukee Brewers traded away Jesus Aguilar in July, and cut ties with Eric Thames in November. The team has added several new options to handle first base, but how will the platoon really shake out?
Every player who spent time at first base for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019 is off the current 40-man roster. Jesus Aguilar, Eric Thames, Yasmani Grandal, and Tyler Austin have all found new teams for the 2020 season. The Brewers have added Justin Smoak, Ryon Healy, and Logan Morrison, and still have Ryan Braun available to handle first base.
How will they figure out how to manage first base in 2020?
Who starts against right-handers?
In 2019, Smoak bashed 19 of his 22 home runs and managed a .783 OPS against right-handers. He should be the unquestioned every day starter for the Brewers when a right-hander is on the mound. However, he may end up in a time share with Braun.
The Milwaukee Brewers will roll with an outfield combination of Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Avisail Garcia more often than not. Braun will crack the outfield to allow the other three to stay fresh, but he’ll also pick up at-bats at first base against right-handers when there’s an opportunity. He posted an .805 OPS against right-handers 332 plate appeareances in 2019.
How about against left-handers?
While Smoak is a switch-hitter, he’s not nearly as effective against lefties as he is against righties. He only hit three homers off of left-handed pitching in 2019, and his OPS against lefties was just .672.
Braun battered left-handers to the tune of a .933 OPS against in 2019, and should pick up a lot of starts in the outfield and at first against lefties.
What about Ryon Healy?
It’s getting hard to see a path to regular playing time in Milwaukee for Healy since the Brewers added Jedd Gyorko to play third base, but he could work his way into the 26th roster spot.
Healy doesn’t have a platoon split for his career. He owns a .751 OPS against righties, and a .749 OPS against lefties, but he’s also essentially a ‘first-base’ only option with two better options ahead of him on the depth chart.
There’s a non-zero chance that his back acts up again during Spring Training and the Brewers are forced to place him on the Injured List to start the year. Such an injury would allow Morrison to potentially make the roster.
Morrison is lefty who has hit righties fairly well for his career. He owns a .773 OPS against right-handing pitching in his time at the Major League level, and could push Smoak for at-bats if he’s fully healthy.
The Brewers will likely start the season with a Smoak / Braun partnership at first base, but there may be opportunities for a few of the other options to find playing time.