Ryan Braun’s transition to playing first base apparently hasn’t gone as smoothly as he (and of course, by extension, us) thought it would.
In yesterday's contest when the Brewers played the Colorado Rockies (won by the Brewers 9-2), Braun played left field. He had an RBI double in the first and also scored, ending up 1-3. Answering queries on how the transition was going, Braun voiced some concerns, as he discussed with the assembled media - including this Associated Press report.
Braun’s move to putting in some time at first is in response to the additions of Christian Yellich and Lorenzo Cain to the Brewers roster this off season. That gives Milwaukee four starting caliber outfielders along with breakout right fielder Domingo Santana (or five, if you count last season’s regular center fielder Keon Broxton). The Brewers plan to rotate players through those outfield positions and first base, which was occupied last season by Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar. Excluding Aguilar, Brewer manager Craig Counsell figures he can get each of the other five 500 plus plate appearances.
Concerns about HOW to play the position are not too surprising, as he has played all of four games there and only had a few weeks of spring training to work on the new position. But Braun’s other issue is more concerning.
Braun was quoted as saying that infield drills and playing the position have been harder on his back than playing the outfield. Back issues have been a major problem for Braun and were one of the big reasons he only appeared in 105 games last season. If playing first causes more flare-ups, then he may be limited to about the same in 2018.
There has been conjecture this offseason that the additions to the outfield would lead to a trade of one of the current Brewers, with rumors pointing to Domingo Santana as a likely suspect to be traded. Those rumors have cooled, however. More recent reports tell us that there is more interest in Broxton than Santana from other teams, due to his ability to play center field well, his minor league option, and the considerably lower cost to acquire him. But a trade of Broxton would do nothing to reduce the logjam in the outfield if Braun can’t remain at first.
It remains to be seen if these issues are enough for the Brewers to shelve the Braun-to-first experiment. It’s still early, and Braun still has a couple of weeks to adjust to the new digs before Opening Day. There are players that would have kept these thoughts to themselves, but Braun has been quite open in discussing his opinions, and his stature as one of the best Brewers ever gives said opinions some weight. His salary and the length of his contract make it imperative that he contribute if the small-market Brewers are to compete.
Stay tuned for further developments!