MILWAUKEE (AP) – The Brewers are still looking for a replacement for Prince Fielder at first base three years after he left.
The Brewers haven’t felt settled at first base since Fielder departed as a free agent following the 2011 season. Traditionally a position of offensive strength for a team, Brewers’ first basemen collectively had the lowest batting average (.206) and on-base percentage (.259) in the majors last season.
The plan going into this spring training is to mix and match at first base, with veterans Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay the most notable candidates.
“They said it took 20 years for Brett Favre to replace Bart Starr,” said general manager Doug Melvin, referencing the quarterback position with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. “I hope it doesn’t take 20 years to replace Prince Fielder here in Milwaukee at first base.”
The good news for Melvin is that the Brewers appear set at several key positions up the middle. Centerfielder Carlos Gomez won a Gold Glove last year, and speedy Jean Segura is one of the best young shortstops in the league. Jonathan Lucroy is steady presence at catcher who hit a career-high 18 homers along with 82 RBIs last year.
“Three guys that are going to be here for a while,” Melvin said. “So, if there’s a position that I have to mix and match, I’m glad it’s not those three positions.”
To be fair, the Brewers thought they may have had a suitable replacement in 2012 after Corey Hart moved to first and hit .270 with 30 homers. But Hart missed 2013 with a right knee injury, then signed with Seattle this offseason.
Milwaukee had to move players out of position to play first, like Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez. Juan Francisco, primarily a third baseman, started 62 games at first for the Brewers after being traded from the Braves.
“Last year, we had about nine guys out there, none of them really played first,” Melvin said. “I said we need to find a first baseman who can play first so, Mark and Lyle bring experience.”
Both were signed within the last month to minor league deals. Both finished last season with the New York Yankees.
Overbay has a career .267 batting average. He’s back after being traded from the Brewers to Toronto following the 2005 season – a trade that paved the way for Fielder to take over at first full time.
If his career stats are any indication, Reynolds won’t help much in the average department – he’s hitting .233 for his career. He also strikes out a lot, including a league-high 223 times for Arizona in 2009; he did hit 44 homers that year, and he had 21 last season between Cleveland and New York.
“To me, to be able to come in for a true starting position, really was a big factor in where I wanted to sign,” Reynolds said. “And coming back to the NL after being in the AL for four years. It was a pretty easy decision once they called.”
Other potential options at first include Francisco and minor-league prospect Hunter Morris, a lefty who hit 24 homers at Triple-A Nashville last year.
The lack of production at first stood also out because of injuries at other positions in a season that ended with a 74-88 record.
For instance, third baseman Aramis Ramirez played just 92 games because of a sprained left knee. The Brewers are also getting slugger Ryan Braun back from a 65-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s anti-drug agreement. Braun also had a thumb injury.
Melvin estimates the team missed 650 at bats last season from Ramirez and Braun.
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