2020 has been a season of platoons for the Brewers. But those have been nothing compared to what the team apparently has in store for first base.
The Brewers lost their primary first baseman for 2020 when Justin Smoak was designated for assignment on Thursday. With him gone, fans probably had a relatively reasonable assumption as to who would man the position going forward.
One name that could come to mind right off the bat would be newly-acquired left-handed slugger Daniel Vogelbach, who was claimed off waviers from the Blue Jays at the same time Smoak was DFA’d. While the big lefty had only appeared as a designated hitter so far in 2020, he played at first in 57 of 129 games during his breakout 2019 campaign.
Another logical candidate for the job could be right-hander Ryan Braun, who is set to return to action this weekend after missing some time with back issues. Braun was originally set to see time at first this season before the shortened season created a change in plans.
Vogelbach and Braun would create the type of lefty-righty platoon that has been used all over the diamond by manager Craig Counsell, so to think the Brewers might try this strategy at first as well would make total sense.
That does not appear to be the direction the Brewers will be taking with the position, however. In Vogelbach’s case, he will play at the same position that he did while with the Mariners and Blue Jays earlier this season.
So Vogelbach won’t be seeing any action at first base any time soon, but what about Braun? According to Counsell, he won’t be the answer to the question of who fills in at first base either.
So instead, it’ll be the aforementioned combo of Jedd Gyorko, Jace Peterson, Mark Mathias, and Keston Hiura who will likely be featured at the position going forward. In a year of platoons being used at other parts of the field, first base will apparently instead by manned by a small army.
While not providing much experience at the position, the four-man group could provide a needed boost to an inconsistent offense.
The departure of Smoak from the Brewers also meant the loss of 1163 career games of experience playing at first base. The four new primary candidates to play the position have, well, quite a bit less history there.
Gyorko and Peterson are the only players of the four to have ever played a game at first base while in the majors, and even those appearances don’t total up to many. Gyorko has played at first 44 times over parts of seven seasons while Peterson has played there just seven times, all back in 2017 with the Braves.
But while the four may not bring much experience to the position defensively, having one or more of their bats in the lineup would be a plus for a Brewer offense that is just 27th in the league in runs per game going into Friday.
Hiura, who is certain to receive the least amount of playing time at the position per Will Sammon of The Athletic, has played in every game for the Brewers this season and will get his at bats regardless of whether he sees time at first. That isn’t surprising since he leads the team in both homers (9) and RBIs (21).
But the other three could provide some important offensive value with more regular at bats as well. Gyorko, who many fans have been begging to see get more playing time, has an outstanding .955 OPS and 148 wRC+ in 2020. Meanwhile, Mathias is hitting over .300 in his first year in the big leagues (.303) while Peterson has reached base in exactly half of his 18 plate appearances.
So while you wouldn’t have been blamed to think that a Vogelbach-Braun first base tandem would have been the way to go, it looks like Counsell with go with a much different strategy for the position, one that should benefit the team offensively.
Time is running out for Counsell and the Brewers so it’s not surprising to see Milwaukee’s skipper coming up with unique solutions to put the team in a position to succeed. Let’s just hope that it works in time to see them make the playoffs.