From 2009 to 2011, the Brewers had five players play at least 10 innings at first base. Of course, 99% of innings at the position came from Prince Fielder, with just a handful of Mark Kotsay and Casey McGehee and Mat Gamel and Jim Edmonds thrown in.
Since 2011, the Brewers have had 15 players spend at least 10 innings at first base. Most of them played much more than that. Yuniesky Betancourt received 409 innings at the position. Alex Gonzalez saw extended time. Blake Lalli and Brooks Conrad each logged over 30 innings at first. In short, the Brewers have been a mess at first base since Fielder's departure, but I don't really need to tell you that, do I?
This year, 11 first base innings have been given to Matt Clark who, at 27 years old, is in the major leagues for the very first time. Most of those innings came last night, when Clark hit his first career home run while driving in two RBI. Matt Clark, major leaguer is an unknown. It's an obviously tiny sample size. Matt Clark, minor leaguer though? That guy looks like he could potentially be something.
Matt Clark has spent six seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .286/.362/.503 with 128 home runs. He has split 2014 between Double-A with the Mets and Triple-A with the Brewers (he signed with Milwaukee at the beginning of July) and has a 924 OPS in the minors with 26 homers. In short, he has one nothing but hit in the minors. He also spent one year in Japan, hitting .238/.328/.457 for the Chunichi Dragons.
Stat-wise, Clark looks great. He looks like a guy who should have an extended big league shot. That's scouting the stats, though. For some reason, nobody saw him as a major leaguer until this year, and even then the Brewers made him 'just' a September call-up. That should probably give a little hesitance to hedging any bets on Clark, but then, Khris Davis wasn't viewed extremely highly either.
Part of the issue is that Clark has mostly been blocked at first base in his career. He started his career in San Diego and spent 2008-2012 with the organization. In that time, the Padres have had guys like Anthony Rizzo, Yonder Alonso, Jesus Guzman, Adrian Gonzalez, etc either ahead of him on the depth chart or more respected as top prospects. He was then sold to Japan before joining the Mets, who only had him in their minor league system for a few months before granting him a release.
The Brewers might be his first real shot at a team with an opening at the major league level. A big, power lefty could be exactly what they need. He doesn't seem terribly well-regarded defensively, but should be passable. His splits in the minors indicate no huge concerns at the plate statistically, though he is, of course, better against righties.
Is there something else keeping him from the minors? Scouting reports don't indicate issues with breaking stuff, or a hitch in his swing or anything. Is his lack of major league time solely due to lack of opportunity? The Brewers at least saw him as worthy of being a September call-up, and they even have him playing in key games down the stretch. They must like his hitting enough to give him some shot now.
Since Prince Fielder left, Brewers first basemen, as a unit, have a .226/.291./.399 batting line, a .301 wOBA, and -1.8 fWAR, and that's including a decent 2012 season from Corey Hart. In the minors, the team's top first base prospects are Hunter Morris (can't get on base and doesn't exactly seem like a high priority for the front office) and Nick Ramirez (can't get on base, has less power than Morris). After this season, Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay are free agents. The other potential free agents on the market (Billy Butler, Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, etc) don't offer much reprieve.
Once again, the Brewers are going to likely have to piece together random parts in an effort to gain some production from first base next year. Why shouldn't Matt Clark be given a prime shot at being a major player next year? He has nothing left to prove in the minors, and the Brewers have no other real options. They could revisit trade talks for Justin Morneau or find under-the-radar signings like Reynolds again, but there are no obvious solutions.
Putting all their eggs in the Matt Clark basket would be risky for Milwaukee, and it's unlike the team to not have competition. Bringing back Reynolds on a cheap deal or signing someone (or someones) else to a minor league contract would definitely happen. But unless Clark completely fails in this first major league tryout, the Brewers should look to him as a valid player to compete for a first base job in 2015.