Hey y'all, welcome back to our second installment of Micro Brewers. We covered the state of the organization behind that plate last week, and today, following in Jonathan Lucroy's illustrious footsteps, we're moving to first base. It's a position that Milwaukee has tried a number of different strategies to fill since the departure of Prince Fielder in 2012. Personally, I'm disappointed that the organization has moved away from throwing horrible shortstops at the position, which I really feel was eventually going to be a viable solution.
Alas, while the Brewers have strayed from that plan, they've still not been able to find their long-term solution for the position. Adam Lind performed well in 2015, but his days with Milwaukee are (almost certainly) numbered, and there doesn't yet appear to be a viable answer in the system. Let's take a look:
1) Adam Lind, 32
Contract Status: Optioned for 2016 (1 year, $8 million)
2015 with Milwaukee: .277/.360/.460, 20 HR, 119 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR
2) Jason Rogers, 27
Contract Status: Pre-Arbitration, earliest eligibility in 2018 (Free Agent in 2022)
2015 with Milwaukee: .296/.367/.441, 4 HR, 121 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR
Well, well, well. This is quite interesting. In limited duty (169 plate appearances for Rogers, compared to 572 for Lind), Rogers was actually slightly more effective offensively on a rate-basis. Just some facts for y'all, apropos of nothing.
It's probably a foregone conclusion that Lind will be moved, if not this off-season, then at some point before the July 31st trade deadline (barring injury). He's on a very team-friendly contract for 2016, and the rebuilding Brewers will probably be seeking a bigger ROI than a compensatory draft pick based on a qualifying offer. Should a Lind trade come to pass, Rogers has probably at least earned a shot to be Milwaukee's everyday first baseman (Derek, please let my family go now, okay? This has gone too far) -- however his .360 BABIP in 2015 is, optimistically, on the very high end of sustainable, so he's likely to experience some regression in his first full year in the big leagues. Barring a trade for an MLB-ready prospect, however, we're likely to see Rogers get his shot at some point in 2016.
3) Garrett Cooper, 24
Acquired: 6th round of the 2013 draft
2015 with Brevard County: .294/.356/.436, 8 HR, 142 wRC+
4) Nick Ramirez, 26
Acquired: 4th round of the 2011 draft
2015 with Biloxi: .243/.339/.391, 14 HR, 108 wRC+
5) David Denson, 20
Acquired: 15th round of the 2013 draft
2015 with Wisconsin: .226/.311/.361, 3 HR, 98 wRC+
6) Tyrone Perry, 20
Acquired: 14th round of the 2015 draft
2015 with the AZL Brewers: .278/.400/.426, 3 HR, 146 wRC+
Cooper had a great year in the run-depressing Florida State League, then put up absolutely absurd numbers in a brief cameo with the Shuckers: .552/.639/.690 with nearly four times as many walks as strikeouts (I know it was only 36 plate appearances, take your #SSS and shove it, I'm not interested). I'm quite high on him, and am excited to to see what he can do with a full season at Double-A, traditionally the most difficult jump for prospects to make. Ramirez is still striking out too much, but his 23.0% K rate was his best since his opening season with Rookie-level Helena in 2011, so at least he's trending in the right direction, and the 12.8% walk rate he posted is outstanding . He's putting up okay numbers, but you'd like to have seen some more improvement from the 26-year-old spending his second consecutive full season at the Double-A level.
Denson is ranked as the #26 prospect in the Brewers system by MLB.com. He made headlines over the summer when he became the first active minor league to come out as gay. However his placement there is not as narrative-driven as you might think – he was actually higher on the list in the preseason (#21), so he's been considered among the Brewers top 30 for a couple of years now. I’m rooting for Denson and wish him the best, but he owns a .235/.328/.390 career slash line over three years, most of which have been spent with the Brewers’ rookie level leagues. That'd be fine for a slick-fielding shortstop -- Denson is not that. Still, he’s only 19, and while his production is nowhere near where it needs to be for him to stick as a major league first baseman, he’s got some time to turn things around, and perhaps the personal burden he was carrying was affecting his play negatively.
Potential Positional Changes
Milwaukee has a number of quality corner outfielders both in the high-minors and on the big league roster that for any number of reasons (bats that are too advanced to keep out of the lineup, gloves/arms that are too far behind to leave in the outfield, both ... whatever, let's move on) could end up making the switch to first. You'll read about them when we make our way to the outfield later this month, but among the players who could find themselves at first base, the best prospect is Clint Coulter. It'd be a shame to waste his plus arm at first, but reports on Coulter's ability to play in the outfield are mixed, and his bat will probably play anywhere. Rumors (mostly fan-fueled) have also been flying for the past year or two that Ryan Braun could be moved to first at some point as well to make room for both Khris Davis and Domingo Santana to play in the corners.