As promised, I have now returned. And with a Brewers position player report to boot. If that doesn’t make your weekend, I have no idea what will (but I suggest you stay away from any women named Chastity, just in case).
In 2008, the Brewers made no bones about the fact that they simply wanted to hit home runs. A lot of them. They finished third in the NL with 198 round-trippers, fourth in total bases, fifth in strikeouts and a hideous 12th in team batting average at .253. They were the definition of “all or nothing.” But they did make the playoffs, so technically, it worked. There will be much of the same in 2009, so here’s your cast of characters.
THE INFIELD: THANK GOD THEY CAN HIT, BECAUSE DAMN DO THEY HATE DEFENSE
Prince Fielder is the world’s fattest vegetarian. In his spare time, he hits a lot of home runs, lets grounders go through his legs and gets asked about his father Cecil (No, they are not friends. Honestly, quit asking. Stupid real media.). He struggled for the most part, but helped CC carry the Crew into the playoffs by hitting .316 in September and October. He kept it up by ripping 13 extra-base hits in spring training and driving in 18 runs.
Rickie Weeks has been a star waiting to break out since he hit .500 his senior year in college and won the Golden Spikes award. Think about that – outrageous. Too bad he can’t find it. I call him Slick Rick because he’s just too fresh to worry about menial tasks like picking up three-hoppers or turning double plays. If he has another awful year like 2008 (.234 average), it won’t be long before Alcides Escobar comes up from the minors to steal his thunder.
J.J. Hardy is a slick fielding shortstop who actually makes plays (unlike the aforementioned Slick Rick), but he needs to put together a full season at the dish before he gets shipped out of town or across the diamond (when the also aforementioned Escobar shows up). He does have 50 homers over the last two years and hit a blistering .422 this spring so I think he’s ready to do the damn thing all year. Finally.
Bill Hall is back for his second straight year at third base and is primed for a return to the 2006 form that saw him hit .270 with 35 bombs. He got LASIK surgery over the winter and claims to be able to see outside pitches much better. Which is vital, because it pains me to see him swing over the same two-strike slider in the dirt 65 times a season. Mat Gamel is waiting in AAA if Billy isn’t up to snuff.
Brad Nelson is the backup first baseman/leftfielder that can be described as none other than a white Prince Fielder. Actually, he makes Prince look skinny. But it doesn’t matter because he mashes the ball – hitting .344 in 31 games this spring. He could use a little work on the defensive end, but that’s just how the Brewers roll.
Casey McGehee made his MLB debut for the Cubs last September. He won a vicious roster fight with Mike Lamb for one of the final spots on the Opening Day roster by hitting .345 in Spring Training and showing versatility by playing first, third and the outfield. Of course, it also helped that Lamb hit .250 but, hey, that ain’t Casey’s problem.
Craig Counsell rounds out the infield as a defensive specialist and wily veteran. He re-signed with the Brewers after contemplating retirement, and his hometown team was happy to have him back. He has toned down his absurd batting stance to look more like a normal human being, but considering he’s the only Whitefish Bay graduate to make the majors (who doesn’t love reppin’ the alma mater), I refuse to insult the man. Go Dukes!
Jason Kendall is back for another year behind the dish, where he caught in an astounding 151 games last year. He struggled at the end of the season, likely tiring from the constant workload. I mean, damn, he’s going to have knees worse than Greg Oden by the time he finally quits. But hell, he’s one of the few guys on the team capable of playing defense, so you might as well keep him there.
Mike Rivera is a very good, young catcher back for his second season with the big club. You barely would have known it in 2008, as he only started 13 games all year. But when he did play, he produced. He hit .306 and amazed his teammates with the ability to stay so sharp while playing so little. That isn’t even a dig at the guy – that takes more talent than you know.
THE OUTFIELD: NOT THE AWESOME MUSIC GROUP, BUT FOUR GUYS ON THE BREWERS
Corey Hart (speaking of ’80s bands, it’s unfortunate this Corey Hart isn’t badass enough to wear his sunglasses at night) is coming off an All-Star season, but if you saw him in September, you’d probably think he won a contest to get major league at-bats. He came down with a severe case of Billy-Hall-I-Hate-Sliders-Away-itis (it’s a medical term) and was just awful at the end of the season. With two strikes, anyone and their mama knew he would swing over the top of a slider away, then catch his bat with the other hand as he spun around. It was like clockwork. But hey, he’s back. He hit a torrid .362 this spring, and added nine doubles and seven dingers. That’s damn good. Crew fans can only hope he brings it back to the Mil.
Mike Cameron picked up a $10 million option for the 2009 season and will patrol centerfield again for the Brewers. Everybody knows he’ll provide some pop and a lot of strikeouts, but it gets outweighed by his normally strong defense and sage advice to the youngsters. At this point, we know what to expect from Cameron. This will probably be his last year in Milwaukee before a stable of young outfield prospects invade the majors.
Ryan Braun will patrol left field again, if he can make it to Milwaukee healthy. He’s been bothered all spring by an intercostals strain near his ribs (similar to what bothered him last August and September) and just a few days ago managed to lose a ball in the lights and hurt his thumb when it struck him on the hand. He claims he’ll be fine, but considering the Brewers just tied him up for eight years and $45 million, many fans think he should be put into a plastic bubble except when he’s on the field. Also, he’s the next Great Jewish Hope. You better make Matt Bernstein proud.
Chris Duffy is the 25th man on the roster. The non-roster invitee beat out baseball legacy Tony Gwynn Jr. for the final outfield spot by hitting .315 in spring and impressing the front office with his speed and defense. He’s been a part-timer with the Pirates the last three years, but surprised many by making the team. Personally, I liked Gwynn and thought he deserved the final spot since he was out of minor league options and Duffy had one to spare. But when the Crew put him on waivers, nobody claimed him. So that’s probably why they are general managers, I’m merely writing about baseball for a no-pay website, and Gwynn is back in AAA Nashville.
For the uninformed, the Crew opens up at 3:25 pm (central time) on Tuesday in San Francisco. Jeff Suppan takes the mound against Tim Lincecum.