Crew can count on keystone production
Sophomore season should see Gennett usurp Weeks at second base
Here's a breakthrough on the good-news front for Milwaukee fans: The Brewers are planning on starting a second baseman who can actually play the position.
Scooter Gennett is the preferred choice at this spot for 2014, and why not? He hit .324 with a .356 on-base percentage in 213 at-bats for the Brewers last season. And Gennett was a better defender than previously advertised. In fact, he was very good at second base.
This will be an abrupt departure from the previous second-base policy of this club. For years, the position had belonged to Rickie Weeks, who has made improvement defensively, but remained a substandard second baseman.
The theory was that Weeks would be so far above average offensively as a second baseman that he would more than compensate for any defensive shortcomings. That occasionally worked out, as in 2010 and in Weeks' All-Star season in '11, prior to a serious ankle injury.
But over the past two seasons, Weeks' offensive performance has not compensated for anything. He hit .209 in 2013 with an on-base percentage of .306. A torn left hamstring ended Weeks' season in August, but it opened the door for Gennett to get regular playing time. Gennett did not waste the opportunity.
Weeks will be owed $11 million for 2014, the final season of a four-year, $38.5 million contract. The Brewers have been endlessly patient with him, loyal to him, and they have rested their faith on his remarkable potential. But Weeks is 31 now, and that page has to be turned.
And now, at last, a viable alternative has emerged at second base in Milwaukee.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made the second-base pecking order clear in a media session at the Winter Meetings.
"I think he has proved that he should have the opportunity to play every day and see where he is," Roenicke said of Gennett.
The manager was then asked where that left Weeks.
"Well, we'll see," Roenicke said. "I just saw Rick, and he's doing really well physically. But to say that, 'Scooter, you're on the bench and Rickie is our everyday guy right now,' I don't think that's real fair to Scooter.
"We may end up needing both of them; you don't know what's going to happen. And we've got to get Rick back to where he was. When I first came over in 2011, before he hurt the ankle, he was a tremendous player, leading off and driving the ball, getting on base, stealing bases. So hopefully we can get him back."
Gennett, 23, is listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, both of which might be slightly generous estimates. But as one Major League scout says: "He does not play small." He does not have outstanding speed, but he is an aggressive, heads-up baserunner. The Brewers might like Gennett to become more selective at the plate, but he consistently gets the bat on the ball, rarely striking out.
But as impressive as the .324 average was in his first extended look at Major League pitching, Gennett may have made his most positive impression with his glove. He was not only making the expected, routine plays at second, he was making all manner of difficult plays -- with regularity.
In a season that was discouraging for injuries, pitching shortcomings in the first half that took the Brewers out of contention early and the entire Ryan Braun situation, Gennett was an extraordinary plus for the Milwaukee club. The Brewers can now point to second base and, for the first time in a long time, safely describe it as a point of defensive strength.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.