This is the fourth in a nine-part series previewing the Milwaukee Brewers by position leading up to Opening Day on April 6.
ON THE ROSTER:
2014 IN REVIEW:
While the Brewers weren’t historically bad at first base like they were in 2013, Milwaukee still received very little offensive production out of the position last season.
Milwaukee’s first basemen were 29th in batting average (.207), 17th in home runs (19), 28th in OPS (.642) and 20th in WAR (1.0). Six different players started at first base for the Brewers in 2014, with Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay combining for 136 starts.
Signed as minor-league free agents, Reynolds and Overbay vastly improved the Brewers defensively but didn’t add much offensively. Reynolds hit 12 home runs over the first two months of the season but his production trailed off drastically after that. He finished with a .196 batting average, 22 home runs and 45 RBI. Had Reynolds received enough at-bats to qualify, his strikeout rate of 28.2 percent would have been tied for eighth-worst in baseball. Overbay was more useful as a pinch-hitter, as he went 11 for 34 (.324) in that role.
Jonathan Lucroy made 16 starts at first base, while Matt Clark and Jason Rogers saw time at the position as September call-ups.
General manager Doug Melvin didn’t waste much time addressing first base this offseason, trading right-hander Marco Estrada to Toronto for Adam Lind.
The Brewers have started 16 different players at first base since Prince Fielder departed following the 2011 season. Lind is hoping to stabilize the position. He has the potential to thrive offensively in Miller Park, while his left-handed bat is much needed in Milwaukee’s right-handed heavy lineup.
Lind averaged 28 home runs and 91 RBI per season from 2009-11 before he struggled through an injury-filled year in 2012. He bounced back in 2013 to hit .288 with 23 home runs and 67 RBI. In 2014, Lind hit a career-best .321 but connected on a career-low six home runs with 40 RBI in 96 games.
The Brewers feel Lind will be an adequate defender at first base, but he will have to adapt to playing the field every day after having the luxury of being the designated hitter in the American League.
There’s no question Lind is a significant upgrade over what the Brewers have trotted out at first base in the past, but he must stay on the field. He’s had three different disabled list stints due to back injuries over the past four seasons, while a broken foot cost him a month in 2014.
Lind had the highest batting average (.354) against right-handed pitchers of any player in the major leagues last season, but the 31-year-old is just a career .212 hitter against left-handers. There aren’t many left-handed starting pitchers in the National League Central, which could allow the Brewers to use Lucroy at first base against the occasional lefty if Lind struggles against southpaws.
Another option against left-handers could be Luis Jimenez, who is fighting for one of the final bench spots. Jimenez is a career .299 hitter in the minor leagues, but he has struggled to produce at the big-league level. Clark has likely hit himself onto the Opening Day roster. He may see an occasional start at first base but will begin the season as a power bat off of the bench if he makes the team.
KEY TO SUCCESS
It is cliche this time of year, but Milwaukee needs Lind to stay in its lineup. His back has already flared up during spring training, which has to be a bit concerning to the Brewers moving forward.
THEY SAID IT
"We moved quickly because there wasn’t a good list (at first base), and we felt we had to move quickly or we could have lost out. He’s a professional hitter. He should hit in our ballpark. He uses the whole field. I can see him hitting home runs into left-center. I think people have to understand he’s not a big home-run hitter. He’s just a good professional hitter. He’ll get his hits. He’s not a big strikeout guy. You know we’ve had some guys that have struck out 130-140 times. He’s not that guy." — Melvin on Lind
"We had a different approach last year than the previous years I had in Toronto. It seemed like whenever I was starting to get in a groove that something would happen. It is weird how this game goes. It wasn’t my year to hit a bunch of home runs." — Lind on his 2014 season