Brewers use spring to look for new leadoff hitter
PHOENIX (AP) Near the top of the Milwaukee Brewers’ to-do list this spring is settling on a leadoff hitter.
So many options, but perhaps not quite the perfect fit just yet. Thankfully for manager Ron Roenicke, there are still three-plus weeks of spring training to figure out who will replace the traded Norichika Aoki atop the order.
Speedy shortstop Jean Segura is a possibility. So are Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks.
”We’ll try some different things in spring, different guys. But’s it’s an important spot. You’ve got really good 3-4 hitters, so it’s important (top) two spots for them getting on,” Roenicke said.
The leadoff spot was held down effectively last year by Aoki, who was traded in the offseason to Kansas City for promising young left-handed pitcher Will Smith.
Aoki hit .296 with 68 runs scored, six homers and 32 RBIs from the leadoff position, and his .367 on-base percentage was fifth among those who hit with any regularity atop the order.
Segura might be the most intriguing prospect because of his speed – 44 steals in 57 attempts last season. He had a breakthrough 2013 after hitting .294 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs, though Segura did slump in the second half following a long year that included winter ball.
After taking this winter off from organized ball, Segura felt refreshed coming into Brewers camp. He looked invigorated when he led off the Brewers first spring training game and finished 2 for 2 with a run and walk.
Segura mainly hit second last year, a spot in which he felt most comfortable. He has an aggressive approach at the plate which may not lend itself to leading off.
”Yeah, he’s not the typical guy to do it because he’s aggressive. He’s a swinger,” Roenicke said ”I don’t want him to change because I put him in the leadoff spot. And that goes with everybody.”
Segura had an on-base percentage of .329 last season with 25 walks and 84 strikeouts in 623 plate appearances. He is still young and there’s plenty of room to develop as he gets more acclimated to big-league pitching.
”From my point, it’s going to be easy from both sides – easy for them and easy for me – because I know every pitcher, I know the league,” Segura said. ”I take (that) experience to the major league level and for me, I feel pretty good. I just can’t wait to start.”
Segura hit second on Tuesday against the Athletics, behind Weeks, who worked out two walks and scored a run.
The veteran Weeks isn’t ideal to lead off either with a career .247 average. He’s also coming back from a hamstring injury that ended his 2013 season early.
But Weeks, who debuted in the majors in 2003, does have the most experience with leading off, including 155 games in his career year of 2010 when he hit 28 homers with a .267 average batting first.
Gennett impressed the front office after hitting .324 down the stretch of his rookie season last year replacing Weeks. He batted in every position in the lineup last season, including five games leading off.
Gennett said he has had experience leading off in the minors, where he had a .297 on-base percentage in four seasons – not quite ideal either for batting first.
The middle of the order figures to be stronger with Ryan Braun back from suspension and Aramis Ramirez returning from injury to join outfielder Carlos Gomez and catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
That makes it important to get the right combination at the top to put runners on for the sluggers. Roenicke said he may not settle on his top two hitters until spring training winds down.
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