There is no question one of the most important slots in a batting order is the player who bats second. They have to take pitches, watch the leadoff man (if on), and get on base for the run producers. It just so happens this is also a huge question mark for the Brewers next season.
The Brewers have one of the best 3-4 combinations in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. On top of that, Rickie Weeks, if healthy, has developed a great eye at the plate and has shown the ability to get on base in front of Braun and Fielder. Still, there seems to be a void after Weeks with the current players on the team.
The Brewers have a lot of different options for the two spot in the lineup. The current candidates for the slot have been named as Alcides Escobar, Corey Hart and Carlos Gomez. While looking at each player, there really seems to be a clear cut option out of that group.
Since J.J. Hardy was demoted to the minor league last season, the Brewers made it apparent Escobar was the future of the team. Over the remainder of the season, Escobar made 38 starts and received 125 at bats. In those at bats, Escobar posted a .301/.333/.368/.701 line. While the .301 batting average was nice to see, there is little to suggest Escobar can accomplish it while playing a full season. His .349 BABIP would suggest some luck was involved.
Nevertheless, while the raised batting average was nice to see, Escobar continued to show he has a lot of work to do. In his 125 at bats, Escobar walked just four times. That equates to an awful 3.1 BB%. Combine Escobar's low BB% with his 14.4% K% and some would wonder about his ability to handle the two spot next season.
To be fair to Alcides, he has shown a consistent rise in his walk totals throughout his career. Before being promoted to the major leagues, Escobar saw his BB% climb to 6.9 in Nashville last season. While that number is still a little low, there's evidence to show Escobar is beginning to head in the right direction.
This was one of my biggest problems with the Hardy trade. I feel the best option for this season was to let Alcides play everyday in AAA, while letting Hardy rebound and raise his trade value. Hardy would've been a better option for the two hole and the Brewers could've saved Escobar's service time by letting him mature in the minors.
Corey had another disappointing season in 2009 after his horrible second half in 2008. In 419 at bats, Hart posted a .260/.335/.418/.753 line, while playing RF. The most troubling part about 2009 for Hart was his huge dip in power. His .418 slugging percentage is not what the Brewers are looking for out of a corner outfielder. He hit just 12 home runs and saw his isolated power (slugging minus batting average) drop to .158.
Even with his dip in power, 2009 saw Hart regain his eye at the plate. In 2008, Hart's OBP dropped to .300. That season, Hart walked just 4.2% of the time. Last season, Hart's OBP raised 35 points, even though his batting average dropped eight points. His walk rate increased from 4.2% to 9.3%, which was much more along the lines of his career averages.
Where Hart should bat in the lineup really depends on what kind of production he is capable of. If Hart is able to regain his power, the Brewers really don't see him batting in the two hole. However, if Hart's power continues to elude him, he might be the Brewers best option batting second. He has shown an ability throughout his career to get on base and is one of the fastest players on the team. With Ken Macha stating he is going to run more, Hart's ability to take pitches will help Rickie Weeks.
While Gomez is the fastest player on the club, he has no business near the top of the order. When the Brewers acquired Gomez, many casual fans suggested he was the new leadoff hitter. This could not be further from the truth. For Gomez to succeed, and bat anywhere near the top of the order, he needs to develop more patience at the plate.
Since Gomez began playing in the major leagues, he has continued to swing at pitch after pitch outside of the strike zone. This lead to the high strikeout and low walk totals that sent Gomez out of Minnesota. In his 1017 major league at bats, Gomez has posted a .246/.292/.346/.638 line. That is not the line of a two hitter in the major leagues.
Obviously, Gomez' main problem is his free swinging approach at the plate. His walk total percentages in the major leagues are 6.0, 4.2, 6.5. His strikeout totals have continued to remain well above league average (21.6, 24.6, 22.9). Until Gomez is able to show improvements in both categories, he should remain near the bottom of the Brewers lineup.
Right now, Corey Hart looks to be the best option for the Brewers two hitter. However, if Hart bats second, the bottom of the order cannot generate anywhere near the amount of production it needs to. If Hart batted second, the 6-7-8 batters would be a combination of Gregg Zaun, Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez. Follow that with the pitchers spot and the Brewers can't expect much production other than the first five in the order.
With this being the case, Alcides Escobar will need to take over batting second. As I stated earlier, this spot comes with a lot of responsibility, which is a lot to put on the shoulders of a 23 year old learning on the go.