Sunday, April 4, 2010

'10 Season Preview: Infielders

If there is a more interesting part of the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers team than their infield, I haven’t found it yet. There are so many unanswered questions regarding these positions. Taking an around the horn approach, we’ll start at first base.

First base: Can Prince Fielder challenge his club records from 2009? This is the only part of the diamond that appears to be rock solid. With all of the questions Fielder has had to answer the past couple of years (i.e. weight, defense, etc.), he’s done nothing but excel.

It would be unfair to expect another repeat of his 2009. Anytime someone posts a 1.000 plus OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) and draws 110 walks, you’re in pretty elite company. Fielder absolutely flourished last year and left fans with little to question regarding his ability.

Second Base: What can Rickie Weeks bring? Weeks was off to an incredible start in 2009 before he was injured for the remainder of the season with a tear in his wrist. Anytime wrist injuries occur, it can be very scary for a hitter. In all honesty, it’s really tough to know what the Brewers have in Weeks. Sure, he possesses a great eye at the plate, but his bat could lose some of its speed.

Regardless of the injury, the most important thing to remember about Weeks is his ability to get on base. After the Brewers parted ways with Mike Cameron, this is a huge asset the team was lacking. Should Weeks rebound well from the injury, the Brewers have one of the premier second baseman in the game today.

Shortstop: Can Alcides Escobar take the reigns? It’s been talked about too frequently. Too many comparisons have been made with J.J. Hardy. Hardy is gone. The burden now rests squarely on the slender shoulders of the 23-year-old.

When I first heard Escobar would be batting in the nine hole, I was surprised and impressed. I really like the thought process behind this. Escobar likes to hit the ball on the ground (56 percent of the time in 2009). Having him hit behind the pitcher allows for him to utilize his speed rather than ground into force outs. Also, those groundballs could also find holes and score some runners who have been moved up via the bunt.

One of the main reasons I like it is it really takes the pressure off Escobar. It’s tough to think Escobar can hit second everyday. It would’ve put him in a very difficult situation. Hitting atop the Brewers order comes with a lot of responsibility. That’s not the place for a young shortstop still developing his offensive game.

Third base: I don’t know is on third? Pun intended. The Brewers have a very tough choice on who starts the hot corner this season. Based on 2009, Casey McGehee is the clear-cut option for Milwaukee. He exceeded all expectations and even garnered some interest in the Rookie of the Year campaign.

Although McGehee was brilliant in 2009, the jury is still out on him. He really never was great in the minor leagues. Good maybe, but not great. His .859 OPS literally came out of nowhere. It was his first .800 plus OPS in his professional career (including minors). Based on history alone, some regression is going to be expected.

The other option is of course Mat Gamel. Gamel struggles defensively, but could provide some much needed offense with the bat. But that all hinges on him being used correctly. Gamel is a rare instance of a lefty who kills southpaws. Problem was, in 2009 he faced mainly RHP. If used correctly, Gamel could be a much-needed piece in Milwaukee’s arsenal.

My biggest fear is the Brewers using a platoon at third. For some reason, I don’t think Ken Macha has figured out Gamel’s ability against lefties. If he is used against right-handed pitchers, it could be a huge mistake.

It’s going to be fun to watch these stories play out. Other than Fielder, there are so many questions that need to be answered. If they are answered in the Brewers favor, they could close the gap in talent between them and the Cardinals.

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