Fringe Friday: Eric Thames and First Base Depth | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

In searching for some type of niche in the vast Brewers blogosphere, I found that lesser-valued players usually got much less writing time their their major counterparts.  So here I am, writing about players and questions that usually sit around the active roster/40-man bubble, organizational fodder, waiver claims, and those small moves that seem insignificant; because, of course, these spaces are where our Milwaukee Brewers have given us some of the most fruitful players (Junior Guerra, Hernan Perez, Jesus Aguilar) and cult storylines of recent memory (Nate Orf, anybody?).

So with that, a series of conversations and talking points on backups, depth players, and lesser-known prospects is born.

Moustakas In…Thames Out?

With the signing of INF Mike Moustakas, the Brewers’ bench gets a whole lot messier.  Between UTIL Hernan Perez, 2B/LF Cory Spangenberg, INF Tyler Saladino, and 1B/OF Eric Thames, there might only be two spots available should the Crew keep OF Ben Gamel as their fourth option in the outfield.  For the last few months, numerous fans and writers have toyed with the idea of dealing Thames for salary relief.  However, there are a few caveats that might go with such a move.

Year PA AVG OBP OPS HR RBI wRC+ K% BB% BABIP
2017 551 .247 .359 .877 31 63 125 29.6 13.6 .309
2018 278 .219 .306 .783 16 37 105 34.9 10.4 .284
2019 (proj.) 264 .236 .329 .789 13 36 109 30.2 11.2 .299

NOTE: Steamer Projection from Fangraphs

To start, it is important to stress the need for a dependable bat off the bench. Last season, we saw the importance down the stretch, where Domingo Santana’s .409/.458/1.367 line (24 PA’s, 21 as a pinch-hitter)  helped win a few extra games down the stretch.  The case could be made that Thames would be the best fit to takeover that role against righties, as his above-average bat showed most often with runners in scoring position (.240/.356/.996 line, 6 HR, 24 RBI, .240 BABIP in 59 PA’s).  Also, compared to Saladino and Perez, his bat holds both more power and overall upside than either of them.  Spangenberg, however, could be the wild card in this scenario, as the front office saw him as having some untapped power potential, which would greatly play in his favor.  For more on Spangenberg’s offensive potential, I would direct readers here.

Compared to other names listed, it would also be easy to roster Thames right away.  While he has no options remaining, Thames’ $6 million 2019 salary is definitely palatable should he be able to produce anything between his 2017 season and the 2019 projections.  Likewise, Spangenberg and Saladino both have minor league options and would see consistent at-bats in Triple-A San Antonio.

One way he might be able to return to his 2017 numbers is by using more of the field.  From his spray chart, we can see a noticeable shift, as he went opposite field much less in 2018 (22% vs. 26.5% in 2017).  With that change, opposing teams began employing unique pull-heavy shifts to get him out.

Even if Thames is traded at some point in the season, his spot on the team is almost assured, as he can act in a pinch-hitting, backup 1B role with outfield versatility and passable defense both at first and in the corner outfield.  In fact, his UZR was actually better in the outfield (1) than at first (-1.2).  The only chance he would not have of making the roster, I believe, would be an immediate and impressive Spring Training by Spangenberg paired with an intriguing offer by another team.

Jacob Nottingham Could Get Time Away From Catching Early:

It is important to note how thin Milwaukee is at the first base position beyond Aguilar and Thames – and how much thinner it would be should Thames be traded or denied his team option next season. When checking out Roster Resource, the only first baseman listed on the Triple-A depth chart is Jake Gatewood – who will be out of commission until May at the earliest.  Though it is just a month, third-string catcher Jacob Nottingham could fill the position for the majority of the time in order to give him consistent at-bats.  Due to the signings of both Erik Kratz and Tuffy Gosewisch, catching duties could remain with the elder statesmen while Nottingham, the only other player who has logged experience at the position, could gain both defensive versatility and polish with the bat.

Free Agent Fringe:

Since this post continued into the rabbit hole of first base, we mine as well see if there’s a free agent fit that could cover the injury to 1B Jake Gatewood, or provide further depth at the lower levels.  Though I’m working on finding better (and more efficient) ways to compile a good minor league free agent list, I found a couple of names out there that could still fill the void and offer some interesting depth.  We’ll hone-in on one with an interesting history:

Name (Age) ’18 Team Level PA BA OBP OPS HR RBI wRC+ K% BABIP
Jonathan Rodriguez (29) MIA AAA 344 .248 .362 .806 14 50 112 27.3 .313

Left-handed-hitting journeyman Jonathan Rodriguez is your prototypical first baseman: he hits for power and draws walks despite a few glaring issues.  Already at age-29, he’s bounced between St. Louis, Minnesota, and Miami’s farm systems and has produced offensively at each step.  With the vast majority of veteran players holding out for major league contracts, players like Rodriguez could be swept up fairly quickly since many minor league free agents are seeing their spots go to veteran names.  Add in the fact that he’s played third base and both corner outfield spots, and it sounds as though he’d be a great pick up.

But as mentioned before, Rodriguez comes with a few downsides.  Despite his versatility, his 6-foot-2 inch, 250-pound frame may not play well out in the left or right field, and his range could be somewhat limited at the hot corner. Without too many defensive statistics being held for the minor leagues, it’s hard to really determine how good of a defender he actually is.  However, he appears to be, at the very least, solid at the first base position. Also, he’s a pull-heavy hitter (53.9%) with a high K-rate (27.3%).  Numbers like these don’t usually amount to success, but he’s managed thus far to keep a steady level of minor league production from the position.  The BABIP may also be above the .300 bar, but he’s consistently stayed above the .320 mark in every season since 2012.  As this article focuses on the fringe names, he would definitely be nothing more than organizational depth.

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