Brewers 2014 positional preview: Third base
This is the eighth part in a nine-part series previewing the Milwaukee Brewers by position heading into Opening Day on March 31.
ON THE ROSTER
Aramis Ramirez (.283, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 18 2B in 92 games in 2013)
Mark Reynolds (.220, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 14 2B in 135 games with the Indians and Yankees)
2013 IN REVIEW
Aramis Ramirez has been a model of consistency for the vast majority of his 16-year career, but 2013 was a different story. Battling injuries from the start, Ramirez had one of his least productive seasons.
The veteran third baseman sprained his left knee sliding into second base during a spring training game and aggravated the injury on another slide into second base during the fourth game of the regular season. Ramirez returned on May 3 after missing a month but was essentially playing on one leg.
Ramirez hit .263 with five home runs and 22 RBI in May and June before patellar tendonitis landed him back on the disabled list in July. He missed 32 games before returning in August and played through the pain the rest of the season. In and out of the lineup for most of the year when healthy, Ramirez played 20 straight games from Aug. 20 to Sept. 13.
September was Ramirez’s best month, as he hit .338 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 22 games. The fact 2013 was considered a down season numbers wise for Ramirez speaks to how good he’s been in his career. Ramirez hit .300 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI in his first season with the Brewers but couldn’t stay healthy and on the field long enough to duplicate those numbers.
Yuniesky Betancourt started 43 games at third base in Ramirez’s absence, while Jeff Bianchi made 26 starts at the hot corner. Alex Gonzalez and Juan Francisco covered the other 13 games at third base. Having 82 games without Ramirez on the field certainly hurt the Brewers, as none of the guys tasked with filling in could come close to combining for his usual production.
After reporting late to camp due to surgery to remove a polyp from his colon, Ramirez says he’s healthy entering the season. Keeping him in the lineup will be a key for the Brewers in 2014.
Ramirez might be 35 years old, but he can still hit the ball when healthy. He’s entering the final year of a three-year, $33 million contract with the Brewers and wants to keep playing past this season. With no clear successor at third base close to being ready to play in the big leagues, Milwaukee needs Ramirez to be his usual self. The two sides have a mutual option for 2015 at $14 million with a $4 million buyout.
Hitting .338 in September should indicate the offensive ability is still there. Now Ramirez needs his power to return, something having a healthy knee should provide. He will open the season as Milwaukee’s cleanup hitter and will be tasked with protecting Ryan Braun in the lineup. The Brewers were hurt last season by not having their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters for a good portion of the season and can’t afford to have that happen again.
There’s not many options behind Ramirez. Expected to see a good portion of the playing time at first base, Mark Reynolds came up as a third baseman and has played 709 big-league games at the position. He’d likely be the long-term option if Ramirez would go down with an injury.
Bianchi is back with the team in 2014 and can fill in at third base. Taylor Green will start the year at Triple-A after missing all of 2013 due to a hip injury. Utility men Elian Herrera and Irving Falu will provide depth in the minor leagues, while the Brewers reportedly plan to use minor-league player of the year Jason Rogers at third base some in Triple-A.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Keeping Ramirez in the lineup. The Brewers need their cleanup hitter to play as close to every day as possible in order to have a serious chance to contend for a playoff spot. Ramirez should hit if healthy.
THEY SAID IT
"It’s hard to play when you’re not 100 percent. When you’re playing on one leg, it’s a lot harder. Like I say, if I’m healthy, everything should be OK." — Ramirez
"It’s just hard to play when you’re not healthy. You can see that on guys like (Albert) Pujols. He hit (.258). That’s not Pujols. It doesn’t matter where you play; if you’re not healthy you’re not going to play the way you’re supposed to. That’s the bottom line." — Ramirez
Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter