It’s hard to evaluate the production the Brewers got from their bench in 2013 because all of the injuries didn’t really leave much of a distinction between reserves and starters in certain spots by the end of the year.
Milwaukee’s pinch hitters hit .210 in 2013, good for 18th in the major leagues and ninth in the National League. The Brewers did get the seventh most hits from pinch hitters at 50 but only had four pinch-hit home runs.
Coming into the season, Yuniesky Betancourt, Logan Schafer, Khris Davis and Martin Maldonado were the four players on Milwaukee’s bench. The Brewers kept an extra pitcher to start the season and often times carried 13 on the pitching staff to leave the bench thin. Jeff Bianchi began 2013 on the disabled list but eventually became the primary backup infielder.
Alex Gonzalez was signed to backup Jean Segura at shortstop, but the veteran was the emergency Opening Day first basemen after injuries to Corey Hart and Mat Gamel. Gonzalez struggled and was eventually released in June.
Davis and Schafer both struggled to adapt to being reserves for the first time in their careers. Surprisingly making the roster after a strong spring training in 2013, Davis eventually went back down to the minor leagues and didn’t begin thriving until playing every day after Ryan Braun’s suspension.
Schafer served as the fourth outfielder for most of the season and proved he belonged despite hitting just .211. Adapting from being an everyday player to not knowing when at-bats will come is one of the more difficult things to do in baseball, and Schafer found out first hand. There was no adjustment to be made on the defensive side for Schafer, as he played excellent defense in the outfield.
Betancourt ended up making 92 starts last season due to the fluid first-base situation and injuries to Aramis Ramirez at third base. He actually did well coming off the bench, hitting .295 with one home run as a reserve and .202 as a starter.
The opposite can be said about Bianchi, as he was just 6-of-40 (.150) off the bench in 2013. Backup catcher Martin Maldonado saw his batting average dip from .266 in 2012 to .169 in 2013, but the defensive ace handled the pitching staff well and continued to show his value while behind the dish.
Milwaukee’s bench was a revolving door by the end of the season, as Caleb Gindl, Sean Halton, Blake Lalli and Josh Prince all came up from the minor leagues at some point.
There was quite the battle in spring training for the utility spot that eventually went to Bianchi. Elian Herrera and Irving Falu both impressed and pushed the incumbent, but Bianchi had a fantastic spring in which he hit .346 to keep his job.
Bianchi is the only player currently slated to be on the Opening Day roster that can back up Segura at shortstop. With Segura battling a shoulder injury, there’s a chance he could start the year on the disabled list. In that case, either Herrera or Falu would be added to the 25-man roster.
With potential platoon situations at first base and second base, the Brewers bench will look different from night to night. Either Scooter Gennett or Rickie Weeks will be playing at second base, while Mark Reynolds or Lyle Overbay will be at first base, leaving the two not starting as the team’s primary pinch-hitting options.
Schafer is a better hitter than he showed last season and is coming off a good spring training. He’ll start the year as the fourth outfielder but could see a lot of playing time in left field if Davis fails to seize the starting job. Schafer gives the Brewers a good fourth outfielder capable of playing good defense, and he can handle the bat in a variety of ways off the bench.
Maldonado returns as the backup catcher and will be looking to shake off a rough offensive season. He served as Wily Peralta’s personal catcher last season, but the Brewers may try to get their young right-hander more comfortable with Jonathan Lucroy this year. Either way, Maldonado’s value comes from his defensive ability.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Have an established bench. A lot of factors go into that. The Brewers need their starters to stay healthy and produce. Determining starters at first base and second base would help in setting a bench as well. The Brewers do have quite a bit of depth in the minor leagues too, as there are guys in Triple-A that can help.
THEY SAID IT
"Jeff picked up his game this spring. He told me coming into this thing that he’s going to win this job, and he won the job." — Roenicke on Bianchi
"To be honest, you don’t really know how hard it is going to be until you go through it. I expected it to be difficult, but I didn’t expect it to be as difficult as I found it to be. It was definitely my worst statistical year, but I feel like I learned more than any other year in professional ball. It’s just a lot easier to get in a rhythm, see pitches, see at-bats when you are playing every day. Coming off the bench is just a whole different animal." — Schafer on adapting to a bench role