Milwaukee Brewers: Opportunity on deck

Time goes by like pouring rain: In 2008, the Brewers had two hitter-ready prospects lingering in their farm system. They traded one, Matt LaPorta, for C.C. Sabathia — good move, because LaPorta has no position and just a .232 average in 557 big-league at-bats since. They kept Mat Gamel — bad move, because Gamel has no position and has hit even less than LaPorta. Gamel is 25, and like LaPorta, has power he has been unable to display. Gamel has just 145 big-league at-bats and spent most of 2010 at AAA; 2011 isn’t looking much better. With Casey McGehee at third, Prince Fielder at first and Ryan Braun in left, there’s no place for Gamel until Fielder leaves as a free agent. By then, Gamel might be too old to claim a job.

I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: If you’re looking for Brewers’ prospects, try Kansas City. Because the best of what they had went there to acquire Zack Greinke, and the Brewers’ system wasn’t too good to begin with. Erik Komatsu is a 23-year-old outfielder who can hit — he has a .316 career minor-league average — and reach base (68 walks vs. 61 strikeouts in the Florida State League last summer). But he hasn’t yet played above A ball, and it will likely be another summer or two before he’s in Milwaukee. If the Brewers need his kind of help this year, they won’t be having a good year.

What is this man doing here? The Brewers certainly need help in center field — anyone counting on Carlos Gomez would — but they’re not likely to get it from non-roster invitee Jeremy Reed. Reed is 29 years old and doesn’t hit singles, doesn’t hit homers, doesn’t walk, doesn’t do much of anything besides make Mark Kotsay look good, which is no easy undertaking. Reed has a career .315 minor-league average, but a career major league average that is 62 points less. After a month of spring training Reed will probably have accomplished only making Gomez look good, even if he isn’t.

Outlook: There’s a lot to like about the Brewers, and even more to like about their competitors — Adam Wainwright’s injury weakened the Cardinals considerably, and the Reds have been stagnant. The Brewers have been the NL Central’s most active team this offseason, and they needed to be after subjecting their fans to rotations that included David Bush and Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper the last few years.

The Brewers now have the NL Central’s best rotation. Grienke and Shawn Marcum come over in trades to join Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf, which leaves only Clint Narveson dragging it down. The Brewers had to do something — the 804 runs they gave up last year were the fourth-most in baseball. Fifteen American league teams facing a designated hitter gave up fewer runs than the Brewers.

That won’t be the case this year, even if neither Marcum or Gallardo has yet to hit 200 innings in a season. The bullpen should be good if rookies Joe Axford and Zach Braddock can repeat their success, and Mike McClendon can follow it; Takashi Saito was a shrewd signing and perhaps Sean Green may prove to be one.

The lineup is top heavy though, and the Brewers apparently plan on playing Yuniesky Betancourt and Gomez daily. Neither seems like a regular on a pennant-winning team, and yet the Brewers are taking on a double-dare, just because.

Betancourt has a career .689 OPS, although he did hit 16 of his 47 career homers last year. But his career-high in walks is 23 in five seasons with never less than 470 at-bats. Gomez is almost as bad — 72 career walks in four seasons, and a lifetime .293 on-base percentage.

When you’re not a good hitter, it’s probably a better idea not to swing so often. And when baseball goes to two platoons, Betancourt and Gomez will have value. Till then, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun and Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks and McGehee will have to hit a lot of home runs to compensate.

Remember when:  Bob Uecker is 75 years old and missed time in the broadcast booth because of heart surgery last year. Here’s hoping for a full season of Uecker this year, and many more to come.

On his playing career and the Hall of Fame, with Johnny Carson below:

Next: Chicago Cubs

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