Brewers spring training roster battles #4: Backup 1B
Rowdy Tellez has a firm grip on the starting first baseman job. He's coming off a career year and is poised for a bigger year with the ban on extreme shifts. The backup first base job is more of a toss up however.
Keston Hiura has been struggling for three years now. He hasn't found the magic that he had in his rookie year in 2019 and now he's out of minor league options. He's striking out 40% of the time and selling out for power and not getting enough of it. He's a defensive liability and limited to first base only or DH, but doesn't hit enough to be trusted as the DH. His roster spot is in peril and he's fighting to keep it this spring training.
Battling Hiura for his roster spot are non-roster invitees Luke Voit and Jon Singleton. They, too, are first base/DH only types. Singleton was added to the 40 man roster earlier in the offseason but then put on waivers as the roster took shape. He came back on a minors deal but the Brewers clearly saw enough in him to add him before. Voit, meanwhile, has had a lot of success at the big league level and is coming off a bit of a down year.
The 32 year old Voit has hit 20+ home runs in three of the last four seasons. He brings power from the right side and has the potential to hit for a solid average. Voit hit .263 in 2019 and .277 in 2020 before his average dipped the past two seasons.
Voit strikes out a fair amount as well with a career 28.5% K rate, but he's still around 10% lower than Keston Hiura's strikeout rate. Voit and Hiura have similar profiles in terms of the role they play but Voit has a longer track record of success at the big league level while Hiura does not. He fills the role better than Hiura on paper.
This will be a truly fascinating battle to watch. Hiura is the first round pick the Brewers were hanging a lot of hopes on. He had so much value and the Brewers held on, believing he'd come through and he just hasn't. Luke Voit has a track record of success and seems to be a good fit, but is a non-roster invite. To add Voit, they have to admit defeat with Hiura and cut their losses with him, allowing the talent they know is in there to leave, likely for nothing in return. These two can't coexist on the same roster.
Which direction will the Brewers go? It all depends on how these two guys play during spring training. Voit is the one without a roster spot yet Hiura is the one fighting not only for his current job, but potentially his career.