In many conversations I’ve had over the past several days about the Brewers roster composition, backup first baseman was of particular interest.
Following Corey Hart’s knee surgery, Mat Gamel was promoted from his assumed role of reserve first baseman — along with third baseman and corner outfielder — back to the starting first baseman’s job he held last season when the team headed north after Spring Training.
The initial talk was about how quickly Hart could and would return. Then it moved to whether Gamel was a capable starter for the span of time Hart would be missing. Soon though that the Brewers didn’t have an official backup first baseman anymore was quickly realized by many fans.
First, the Brewers openly courted former Brewer Lyle Overbay, but to no avail as he signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox. More quietly they were interested in Juan Rivera who logged time in 54 games at first base for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. Rivera agreed to a free agent contract with the New York Yankees instead.
This sent up some flares signaling that the Brewers didn’t outwardly appear all that interested in heading to the season with the relatively inexperienced (and left-handed hitting, like Gamel) Taylor Green as the primary backup.
Talk moved to Hunter Morris and whether he would be given a chance to compete for the job. I’ve done my best to point out that Morris isn’t even on the 40-man roster this year and it would be extremely out of character (and in my opinion foolhardy) to waste an option year and start Morris’ arbitration clock for the time which Hart would miss. And that was to the people who were suggesting Morris as the starter over Gamel. To those who think they’d burn the same to make use of Morris as a backup, all I can say is that I don’t exactly foresee that either.
With all this talk, I reached out to a source about the role and it was suggested to me that backup catcher Martín Maldonado could be the man to fill in against some lefty starters in Gamel’s stead. The source went so far as to say that Maldonado was told specifically to get a first baseman’s glove to bring Spring Training. To that end, Maldonado is on record as saying that he enjoyed the time that he got to play first base last year.
One potential problem is that it is quite unlikely that Maldonado will see any reps at first base while away at the World Baseball Classic — where he will back up Yadier Molina for Team Puerto Rico — so he’d miss that time. Plus, as his time with the Brewers will be limited overall this Spring, Maldonado will likely be called on to catch plenty when he is with Milwaukee so he can develop his rapport with his new pitchers and reestablish the bonds with the returning Brewers hurlers.
Still, it would make sense if Maldonado is up to the task. He surprised most people with his offensive numbers last season and played passable-at-worst defense at first when called on.
So basically, keep that in mind when and if you see Maldonado’s name start popping up in Cactus League boxscores with a “1B” near it.