After a full three days off from the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers season preview series, we return on the day when the Milwaukee Brewers play their first Cactus League game of 2012.
Most likely by the time you read this, the Brewers will be underway against a San Francisco Giants split-squad in the first of three meetings this spring.
This is not about that, though. This is about a man whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for the Brewer Nation Podcast not too long ago and, more recently, of meeting in person at the Brewers’ On Deck event in downtown Milwaukee:
Starting second baseman Rickie Weeks was injured while running out a ground ball on July 27, 2011. With no immediate backup plan in place for a club with post season aspirations, and the trade deadline looming, General Manager Doug Melvin got to work on finding a trade target, eventually acquiring Jerry Hairston, Jr. from the Washington Nationals.
Before that, and I refuse to acknowledge the useless trade made in between, the team had an immediate need for someone that could backup at second base. Enter Eric Michael-Jay Farris.
The 40-man rosteree was called up to the big leagues immediately upon learning that Weeks would miss considerable time. Farris left his Nashville Sounds teammates behind in Oklahoma City and embarked for Milwaukee.
Farris entered the Milwaukee clubhouse and found jersey number 33 hanging in his locker. He said that he had no hand in choosing the number, and that he normally has worn a single-digit jersey throughout his career. Ironically enough, Farris’ birthday is March 3rd (3/3) so the number holds meaning anyway.
His experience in the big leagues is special and only made him hungry for a return trip and permanent stay despite coming up empty in his only big league at-bat.
The story of Farris’ 2011 season comes in the minors. He played a full season with the Nashville Sounds outside of his Miller Park visit. His numbers, in 134 games, totaled: 538 at-bats, 70 runs scored, 146 hits (26 doubles, five triples, six home runs), 55 runs batted in, 21 stolen bases in 28 attempts, 70 strikeouts, and 32 walks. His slash line was .271/.317/.372 as he produced 14 sacrifice hits, four sacrifice flies, and was hit by a pitch six times.
Farris produced all of those statistics while batting from his exclusive right side. He also throws right-handed while in the field where he is considered to be a wonderful defensive player at second base.
It was his play at shortstop, however, that raised some eyebrows with fans. Blocked by the aforementioned Weeks at second, Farris’ best path to the majors in Milwaukee is by offering some defensive flexibility. Farris experimented at short in 25 games in 2011, his first time there since appearing in two games there in 2009 for the High-A affiliate Brevard County Manatees.
If Farris can become a passable shortstop (he had eight errors in just 111 chances in 2011), a goal which he says he’s been told that he will continue to pursue in 2012, Farris could be considered a front-runner for a bench role with the Brewers in 2013. He’d also be in line as the first call up from the minors should an injury occur to either of the starting middle infielders.
Farris has soft hands though he lacks elite arm strength to ever be a long-term starter at short or third, but getting to the ball and making the routine play is enough as a fill-in and occasional starter should the need arise.
Second base is Farris’ home for a reason but versatility can be the key that unlocks the door to a job in the bigs coming off the bench in the National League. That is evidenced by the likely backups this season for Milwaukee. Cesar Izturis looks to be the primary backup at shortstop and can play second and third bases as well. Taylor Green and Brooks Conrad both have experience at first, second, and third.
So keep your eyes and ears tuned to Farris this spring and during the regular season as well to see not only how he’s hitting, but pay particular attention to where he plays defensively and how he performs.