The Brewers are looking for a new first baseman for the second time in about two months due to injury. News of Corey Hart’s knee surgery broke in mid-January, pushing perpetual prospect Mat Gamel into the first base spot on a full-time basis, at least until yesterday. The Brewers announced on Monday that the 27-year-old Gamel re-tore his right ACL during a workout over the weekend, the same knee ligament that snapped and ended his 2012 season in early-May.
With Spring Training fully underway, the number of external solutions are limited. Aubrey Huff and former Brewer Carlos Lee are still free agents, but neither is all that appealing. Instead, the club is planning to go internal for their new new first baseman.
Players who now will get longer looks at 1B in #Brewers camp include Alex Gonzalez, Bobby Crosby, Taylor Green and Hunter Morris.
— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 18, 2013
That isn’t exactly the most impressive lot, but someone has to play first base for Milwaukee until Hart returns — hopefully in late-April but potentially not until late-May — and that someone might have fantasy value. Let’s run through the list of candidates, going alphabetically.
Crosby, 33, hasn’t appeared in a big league game since 2010, but he inked a minor league deal with the Brewers over the winter and will compete for a bench job. He hasn’t been fantasy-relevant in a long time, not since hitting .276/.346/.456 (117 wRC+) with the Athletics way back in 2005. Oliver projects a .234/.303/.345 batting line in 2013, which would actually be Crosby’s best slash-line performance since that 2005 season. If the Brewers are running him out there everyday come April, he’s either hitting out of his mind or they’re desperate. Crosby remains a fantasy afterthought even if he gets the job.
The 36-year-old Gonzalez has never played a position other than shortstop in the big leagues, but Milwaukee wisely brought him back on a minor league deal for depth. A torn ACL wiped out most of his 2012 season just like Gamel. Gonzalez has always had some fantasy value thanks to his double-digit homerun power, but he won’t provide more than a middling average and a sub-.300 OBP. At shortstop, that’s acceptable production. At first base, it’s emergency-only stuff. There’s a good chance Gonzalez will make the team in some capacity, and he’ll continue to be useful in fantasy since he’ll retain shortstop eligibility this summer.
Green, 26, has been “a guy” in recent years thanks to gaudy minor league performances, including a .336/.413/.583 (145 wRC+) line at the Triple-A level in 2011. His big league showings over the last two years have been less than impressive — .207/.266/.343 (64 wRC+) — in a small and relatively meaningless sample. ZiPS is a bit of a fan though, projecting a .251/.312/.396 line with a dozen homers in nearly a full season’s worth of playing time. Green has some pop and fantasy eligibility at the corner infield spots, plus his production will get a decent boost as a left-handed hitter in Miller Park. He’d be a more obvious add if he still had shortstop eligibility, but that’s something he could pick-up within the first two weeks of the season. I prefer Gonzalez’s safer production, but Green could go off and put together a monster month before Hart returns.
A fourth round pick back in 2010, the 24-year-old Morris is the most intriguing internal option for the Brew Crew. He had a huge year in Double-A last summer, putting together a .303/.357/.563 (155 wRC+) line with 28 homers in 571 plate appearances, but Milwaukee would be jumping him over Triple-A by using him as their regular first baseman until Hart returns. ZiPS thinks Morris has 20-homer potential given a full season’s worth of playing time, but that would come with a .253/.289/.449 batting line. Like Green, he’s a left-handed hitter who would benefit from his home ballpark. Morris might have the most upside of this admittedly underwhelming group, but he probably has the worst chance to make the team given his lack of Triple-A experience.
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We usually have a pretty good idea of who is next in line whenever an injury strikes in Spring Training, but this case is different because Gamel already was the next-in-line guy. Things tend to get tricky when we’re stuck looking for the backup’s backup, especially at a non-priority position like first base. Milwaukee still has plenty of time to sign or trade (Mike Carp?) for a first base stopgap, but of their internal solutions, I like Gonzalez the best because of his power. Obviously this is a situation worth monitoring over the next few weeks, but either way the winner is unlikely to be a fantasy difference maker.