Ever since the Brewers added Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to what was already a very good outfield, plenty have wondered how the Brewers would find time for everyone if no further trades were made. The team said a few weeks ago that Ryan Braun would try his hand at first base, but other than that, we haven’t heard a lot on how they planned to get enough at-bats for everyone -- probably because they’re still trying to figure that out themselves.
When Braun reported to camp yesterday, he said he was eager to get to work at first base, but he didn’t think he’d end up playing much first base at all:
Braun knows lots of things are in flux about who plays where among OF group and also at 1B: "I would think if we go into the season with our current group of players, it’s highly unlikely I will play on the infield at all."— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 19, 2018
It’s possible that was just a diplomatic response from Braun, knowing that the team still has Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar at first base, and he doesn’t want to make it look like anyone is on the outside looking in. It’s also possible the team hadn’t told him anything other than “get ready to play some first base, we’ll figure things out later.”
Today, we got a little more clarity on the situation -- although not that much. After Braun floated the idea of playing some right field this year to allow Yelich to play more in left field, Craig Counsell said that wouldn’t be the case. When Braun’s in the lineup, it’ll be either in left field or first base -- and Christian Yelich will mainly play left field, but will also be capable of playing center and right.
Counsell said Braun will only play LF and 1B. Said Yelich will primarily play LF during season but get some action in RF here.— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 20, 2018
The Brewers will expose Christian Yelich to right field this spring in addition to left and center, Counsell said. Ryan Braun will stick to left field plus his work at first base.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 20, 2018
We probably won’t know for sure how the playing time breaks down until we see the lineups Counsell toys with a few weeks from now, but at first glance that looks like either Braun is facing a drastically reduced role, or he’ll be playing first base much more than originally thought.
That could be bad news for Aguilar and Thames, who both struggled mightily in the second half of the season despite their appealing overall numbers. Thames’ second-half struggles were more of a storyline after his hot start last year, but Aguilar hit just .220/.289/.431 in the second half with just a .303 wOBA and a wRC+ of 81, on a scale where 100 is average. It’s entirely possible Aguilar’s spot on the roster is on jeopardy, especially if Braun takes to first base and plays there regularly. Thames at least has the advantage of hitting left-handed and having a good eye at the plate.
The Brewers still have plenty of time to figure out playing time distribution, and often times these things sort themselves out, whether that’s due to performance or injury. With Braun likely still needing regular maintenance days and Cain’s injury history, odds are the at-bats will open up somewhere.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs