With Hart at first, Brewers infield seems set

Part 4 of 4: Corey Hart's move to first base worked wonders. If he stays, the infield seems set.

This is the fourth of a four-part series reviewing the Milwaukee Brewers' 2012 season and looking ahead to 2013.

Thursday: Starting pitchers  
Friday: Relief pitchers
Saturday: Outfielders

Sunday: Infielders and catchers

ON THE ROSTER (alphabetical order): Jeff Bianchi (.188, 3 HR, 9 RBI), Eric Farris (.125, 0 HR, 0 RBI), Mat Gamel (.246, 1 HR, 6 RBI), Alex Gonzalez (.259, 4 HR, 15 RBI), Taylor Green (.184, 3 HR, 14 RBI), Corey Hart (.270, 30 HR, 83 RBI), Travis Ishikawa (.257, 4 HR, 30 RBI), Jonathan Lucroy (.320, 12 HR, 58 RBI) , Martin Maldonado (.266, 8 HR, 30 RBI), Aramis Ramirez (.300, 27 HR, 105 RBI), Jean Segura (.264, 0 HR, 14 RBI), Yorvit Torrealba, Rickie Weeks (.230, 21 HR, 63 RBI).

LOOKING BACK: When Milwaukee Brewers franchise first baseman Prince Fielder departed for Motown, the big-time signing sparked a series of question marks that hung over Milwaukee's head throughout the beginning of the season.
Could they replace his power? Could they find a first baseman for the future? Would Ryan Braun be the same without Fielder protecting him in the lineup?
Six months after those questions were the talk of the town, it seems almost laughable that they were even asked at all. But it wasn't quite that easy and definitive of a journey to finding the answers as it may seem now.
Most of that bumpy road was due to injury, as shortstop Alex Gonzalez and first baseman of the future Mat Gamel both tore their ACL within the span of one series. Not long after, catcher Jonathan Lucroy — who had just been signed to a long extension — broke his hand in a freak accident, right at the peak of an amazing hot streak at the plate.
It was as far from ideal as the Brewers' infield situation could possibly be, and with little options otherwise, Milwaukee was forced to move Corey Hart to first base and use a platoon of lesser players at shortstop. Looking back now, however, it was precisely those twists of fate that led the Brewers to possibly shoring up their infield for the next half-decade.
New at first base, Hart quickly and quietly became one of the better defensive first basemen in all of the National League. His defense significantly surpassed that of Fielder, and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke consistently spoke about how impressed he was with Hart's performance.
Additionally, without Gonzalez's injury, the Brewers may not have pushed so hard to get a young shortstop in return for Zack Greinke. And with Jean Segura in the fold, Milwaukee very clearly has a player that can fill that very thin position for many years to come.
Both Hart and Segura were pleasant surprises and were also joined by backup catcher Martin Maldonado in that department, as Maldonado's time as Milwaukee's starting catcher kept the Brewers from missing a single beat behind the plate. He'll surely be in the picture with Lucroy next season and beyond, spelling him every few days.
But of all the impressive performances in the Brewers infield this season —  responding to the questions of whether Prince Fielder could truly be replaced — it was Aramis Ramirez's 2012 season that really took the cake.
Ramirez put together, arguably, one of the best seasons of his career, very thoroughly justifying the Brewers' decision to give him a long-term contract to replace Fielder's production out of the cleanup spot. He delivered unexpected Gold Glove-caliber defense and was at or near the top of the league in extra-base hits for the entire second half of the season. Quickly and quietly, he's proven himself to be one of the best third basemen in the National League.
Many were quick to doubt the Brewers organization's answer before the season to how the team would address the loss of Fielder. A committee approach just didn't seem to be the answer.
But in the end, that committee was what kept the Brewers in contention after all, as replacing Prince Fielder didn't seem to phase Milwaukee at all in 2012.

OFFSEASON DECISIONS: Two decisions, in particular, seem to stick out when it comes to next year's infield—one of which seems to have already been answered.
Will the Brewers keep Corey Hart at first base?
And will the Brewers bring back Alex Gonzalez?
The first is the one that seems to be pretty cut and dry. Norichika Aoki did so well in right field, and Hart did so well with his new role in the infield that it seems to be a no-brainer that he'd stay where he is. That, of course, means a bench role for Gamel, but judging by general manager Doug Melvin's comments in last Thursday's season-ending press conference, Hart will be a fixture at first base, while Gamel hopefully becomes an effective utility man.
As for Gonzalez, that's where things get a bit murkier. Segura proved himself to be a very good defensive shortstop, and he has a bat that noticeably improved over the course of his time in Milwaukee. And with so much potential, there's little reason to believe that Gonzalez would supplant him, even if the Brewers decided to retain Gonzalez. Of course, having Gonzalez coming off the bench would be an impressive addition to their depth, and at this point, it seems it'll be up to Gonzalez to decide if he wants to stay in Milwaukee, despite having a much smaller role.

With those decisions not likely to change much, there's reason to believe that Milwaukee's infield will look pretty much exactly the same next season as it did in 2012.
Of course, the Brewers will no doubt hope for a less volatile season for their infield, as it's tough to expect lightning to strike twice when it comes to effectively replacing starting infielders.
Segura, Lucroy, and Maldonado should take a step forward, and as long as Hart, Ramirez, and Weeks don't take a step back, the Brewers could very well have one of the better infield mixes of effective defense and offense in the National League.
Next season could also mark the debut of prospects like Scooter Gennett at second base and minor league player of the year Hunter Morris at first base. Morris seems to be a fan favorite at this point, but don't expect either of them to be up to the major leagues until an injury or a late-season call-up beckons them.

GM DOUG MELVIN SAYS: "Alex Gonzalez has expressed desire to come back here. That's an option we can discuss. We like Jean. We think he's a major-league shortstop. But over the course of a year we know you need depth. Depth is so important -- especially at a position like that. When someone gets hurt, look how tough it is to find somebody. Outfield, sometimes depth can be covered up. There's more outfielders available. When you get into catching and shortstops, those two positions, depth is a great thing to have."

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