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Milwaukee Brewers 2022 preview by position: First Base

It’s Rowdy Tellez’s position to lose with a handful of right-handers competing to back him up.

MLB: NLDS-Atlanta Braves at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers have struggled to find a long-term fixture at first base since the departure of Prince Fielder. In the 10 seasons since the Fielder era, 11 players have received at least 200 plate appearances at the position. Just two of them, Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar, have exceeded 1,000 plate appearances with the team, both of whom moved on after the 2019 season.

There has been plenty of flux at first base over the last decade in Milwaukee, but their depth chart features a few returning members of last season’s roster. There will also be new players vying for time at the position.

Rowdy Tellez

Tellez took the lion’s share of plate appearances at first base after the Brewers acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays last July. He posted a productive .272/.333/.481 line (112 wRC+) in 56 games and was one of the few hitters who showed up for Milwaukee in the postseason, belting two home runs in the low-scoring National League Division Series. The Brewers did not acquire an everyday first baseman in the offseason, so the gig is Tellez’s to lose.

There is reason to be optimistic about the 27-year-old. He has effortless power that does not require him to sacrifice contact. After striking out in 28% of his plate appearances across his first two big-league seasons, Tellez cut his punchouts down to just 16% in 2020 and 18% after joining the Brewers. His ISO fell to .172 last season, but Tellez may be in for some positive regression in that department. Last season, his 12% HR/FB rate was below the league average and his previous career average of 22%.

Unlike most left-handed power hitters, Rowdy does not have discernable platoon splits. For his career, he has produced a .323 wOBA against right-handed pitching and a .319 wOBA against southpaws.

The biggest knock against Tellez is that while he has shown glimpses of his potential at the plate, he has never produced for an entire season at the big league level. He’ll have the opportunity to change that narrative this season.

Beyond Tellez, the Brewers have several right-handed hitters competing to back him up at the cold corner.

Keston Hiura

Hiura played outfield in college and debuted in the big leagues as a second baseman, but that changed when the Brewers signed Kolten Wong. Hoping to stabilize two positions at once, they installed Wong as their starter at the keystone and slid Hiura to first base.

Unfortunately, the former top prospect cratered offensively and lost his starting role. He slashed a miserable .168/.256/.301 for a 52 wRC+ and was demoted to Triple-A multiple times. Strikeout issues surfaced for Hiura in the upper minors and followed him in his rookie season, but they were masked by a .402 BABIP and his ability to barrel up the pitches he made contact with.

In 2021, the problem grew too severe to hide. Hiura struck out 39% of the time and developed a troubling tendency to whiff on pitches right down the middle. His 61% contact rate on pitches in the zone was frighteningly low.

Over the offseason, Hiura made his leg kick less pronounced in an effort to improve his timing. Whether he makes Milwaukee’s Opening Day roster remains to be seen, but he will have opportunities to contribute throughout the season.

Mike Brosseau

The Brewers acquired Brosseau in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in November. The utility man has spent most of his time in the field at second and third base, but he has also appeared in 23 games (nine starts) at first base. He started there in Tuesday’s spring training game against the Chicago White Sox.

Brosseau bounced between Triple-A and the major leagues last season and struggled to find much success. The 28-year-old slashed just .187/.266/.347 (73 wRC+) in 169 plate appearances. However, he owns a career 106 wRC+, and his success against left-handed pitching (131 wRC+) could make him a useful complement to Tellez.

Tyler White

White has played all over the infield in the minor leagues, but most of his work in the big leagues has come at first base (175 of 192 games). He had some success with the Houston Astros a few years ago, slashing .277/.349/.531 (140 wRC+) in 304 plate appearances across the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but he struggled mightily in 2019. Now 31 years old, the veteran has not appeared in an MLB game since. He produced a .900 OPS with the Buffalo Bisons (the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate) in 2021.

In light of Luis Urias’ quad injury that could sideline him for Opening Day, White is a dark horse candidate to make the roster and pick up some at-bats at both infield corners. However, the Brewers would need to select his contract and add him to their 40-man roster. White is also out of options, so they would be unable to remove him from the active roster without exposing him to waivers.

Jace Peterson

Unlike the other potential backups listed above, Peterson is a left-handed hitter. He is also the only one with a secure roster spot after providing the Brewers with essentially average offense (97 wRC+) as a utility player last season. He saw his most extensive action at first base of his career, appearing in 26 games (seven starts).

Because he lacks Tellez’s power and will spend much of his time bouncing around among other positions, Peterson won’t challenge him for starts at first base. If he plays there, it will typically be as a defensive replacement.

Barring an unexpected injury or acquisition, Tellez has a firm grip on the first base job in Milwaukee. Hiura and Brosseau will serve as the primary backups throughout the season. The possibility of rosters expanding to 28 players in April and the fact that Hiura and Brosseau can be optioned could also open up playing time for White. Should all three fail to contribute, the Brewers could also explore a trade for a right-handed bat to pair with Tellez.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.