Back in January, the Brewers signed Brooks Conrad to a minor-league contract. If you just thought, “You mean that guy who made all the errors in that playoff game?” you are completely forgiven; I essentially did the same. But when we revisit the state of the Brewers’ bench, it becomes a bit easier to see: Brooks Conrad could make a big impact for Milwaukee in 2012.
It’s not because he’s a particularly versatile utility man, although he can handle second base, third base, and possibly some corner outfield. Just beyond those three devastating playoff errors, Conrad is not a good fielder. That leaves just the bat for Conrad to provide value with, and when given a chance, Conrad has done just that.
Over his first four seasons, his teams struggled to find time for him — likely due to his defensive struggles. But when given a chance, he’s been more than fine, particularly over the past two seasons. In 299 plate appearances, Conrad owns a .239/.324/.448 batting line, good for a 109 OPS+. In particular, Conrad has shown excellent power for a utility middle infielder, with 12 home runs and 16 doubles in what basically amounts to a half-season worth of plate appearance. Although power can be fickle — just ask Casey McGehee — those are fantastic numbers for a guy in Conrad’s position on the depth chart.
Conrad’s versatility could be most useful in the unfortunate scenario in which Ryan Braun receives the 50-game suspension he is facing. In that case, Conrad would be an interesting candidate for some starts in a corner outfield spot. Conrad is a switch hitter, which would allow him to fit in to the lineup against any pitcher. Perhaps Norichika Aoki struggles too mightily with his fellow lefties — slot in Conrad. Perhaps Mat Gamel shows similar struggles — move Corey Hart to first base (as will likely happen this season for some games) and slot Conrad in to right field. Use him as a pinch-hitter for Alex Gonzalez late against right-handers.
Brooks Conrad could end up as Ron Roenicke’s ultimate skeleton key, able to fit into many situations for the Brewers. If he can continue to showcase the power he did in Atlanta — one of the league’s toughest pitchers’ parks to boot — don’t be surprised if Conrad turns into one of the Brewers’ surprise contributors in 2012.