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Francisco appears to be odd man out at first for Brewers

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March 19, 2014

With the days of spring training dwindling, it is becoming more apparent that the Milwaukee Brewers are planning to keep two first basemen and two second basemen on their roster.

Further evidence of that plan came Wednesday as manager Ron Roenicke gave veteran first baseman/third baseman Mark Reynolds a start in right field in the Brewers' exhibition game against Seattle. It's the kind of thing you do when you know you might have just one extra outfielder on your roster.

“We're looking at what we could go into the season with and figuring we need to be versatile if we can help it,” said Roenicke. “Say we go in with two second basemen and two first basemen, if we can have somebody more versatile in those four, then it should help us.

“(Reynolds) has played quite a bit of right field, especially in the minor leagues, so we're going to see. I'm looking at what can happen during the season, and if this is the way we end up going, it could help.”

What makes it more difficult constructing the roster is that the Brewers will have no versatility in keeping second basemen Rickie Weeks and Scooter Gennett. Neither can play another position unless it's an absolute emergency.

Reynolds has played only three innings in right field in the majors in two brief appearances with Arizona in 2007. First baseman Lyle Overbay actually has more experience there, having started four games in right field for the New York Yankees last season.

“(Roenicke) asked me a few days ago if I could play and I said, 'Sure, why not?'” said Reynolds. “I guess I played in '07. I really don't remember. I think I played a lot in the minor leagues though, coming up in Double-A and stuff.

“You've just got to work on it—shag balls in BP and stuff. Not being out there in so long, it's not very comfortable.”

Roenicke conceded that he'd be able to carry just one extra outfielder—and that would be Logan Schafer—if the Brewers keep Weeks and Gennett at second base as well as two first basemen. By clearing two spots on their 40-man roster, it appears the Brewers will add Reynolds and Overbay, who are non-roster players at present. Overbay is having a tough spring at the plate but is the best defender at the position and could serve as a late-inning replacement.

Those decisions must be made soon because Overbay has an opt-out date of Saturday and Reynolds two days later, meaning they have to be added to the roster within 48 hours of those days or become free agents. Keeping Reynolds and Overbay would make it impossible to keep first baseman/third baseman Juan Francisco, who is out of minor-league options.

With an extra first baseman and second baseman, backup catcher Martin Maldonado and Schafer as the fourth outfielder, the Brewers would have just one bench spot remaining if they go with a 12-man pitching staff as planned. That player would have to be able to play shortstop to backup Jean Segura.

The top candidates for that last spot are Jeff Bianchi and Elian Herrera, both of whom are on the 40-man roster. Bianchi would have the advantage there for two reasons—he is out of options and shortstop is his natural position. Bianchi also can play third base as well as the outfield in an emergency.

Bianchi is having a strong camp, batting .371 with five RBI and five stolen bases.

“He has looked good; he has done a nice job swinging the bat,” Roenicke said. “He's got some competition. Both (Irving) Falu and Herrera look good, but he's picked up his game and done a real nice job.”

Herrera is very versatile in that he can play three infield positions and all three outfield spots, but Bianchi has more experience at shortstop.

“We're starting to get a little short of time, so we need to figure out some things, with the lineup also, how to order them,” said Roenicke. “We'll see what happens.”

There has been no indication the Brewers are trying to trade Weeks, who has been in a two-year offensive decline but has one year and $11 million remaining on his contract. Gennett played well (.324 average) over the final two months of the 2013 when Weeks was lost with a hamstring injury, but the Brewers have not committed to playing the younger prospect full-time.

Reynolds is a keeper because of his power potential as well as his background as a third baseman, should anything happen to Aramis Ramirez. The left-handed-hitting Overbay is 37 and not a power threat, but the Brewers covet his defense after watching a variety of suspects fumble their way through that position last season.

Because Francisco is 26 with significant power potential and is having a strong camp (.346, three homers), the Brewers figure he'd be claimed if put on waivers, perhaps by an American League team in need of DH help. Thus, it would not be surprising if they tried to work out a trade for him before the end of camp.

Deceiving numbers: Overbay had a tough day at the plate in the 9-7 victory over the Mariners, going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts to fall to .143. But he hit into many hard outs in earlier games, so that batting average is not reflective of how Overbay has swung the bat overall.

“It's just bad placement; stupid hitting,” joked Overbay, who hadn't lost his sense of humor despite the tough luck. “I guess you've just got to hit it over the fence.

“That's part of it. Those are good at-bats for me, so I look at that as a plus. Obviously, during the season, you want them to drop. But I think they know I'm having better at-bats than the numbers show. I'm not getting frustrated. The biggest thing is having quality at-bats. I've been seeing the ball good.”

As for how he sees first base shaking out, Overbay said, “At the end of the day, whatever happens will be for the better of the team. That's all that matters. We need the best team we can have.

“Obviously, other factors come into it. They have to be comfortable with the roster. I understand that. It's a good problem to have options.”

A different spring: It has been a different kind of spring for Bianchi, who missed most of camp in 2013 with left hip bursitis that forced him to open the season on the disabled list. Not only has he stayed healthy, he has been on top of his game from the get-go.

“I put in a lot of work in the off-season to kind of prevent (another injury) from happening,” said Bianchi. “So far, I've been feeling good. Sometimes you take health for granted, but it feels good to be able to go out and play every day.

“Having a good camp helps, too. Obviously, I'm fighting for a spot. It's been good so far. This is probably my best spring offensively. Like everybody else, I'm trying to fine-tune things and get ready for the season. I don't have the luxury like some guys do who know they are going to be on the team.”

Bianchi admitted he has played the roster game in his mind, trying to figure out how the Brewers might construct their bench.

“I think everyone has run through the different scenarios,” he said. “Hopefully, we find out soon what's going on. Some guys know already; some guys are still waiting to hear. It's always a difficult time, especially for the guys who don't know.”



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