Outside of center field, the position that is next on the list of unknowns is third base. The Brewers traded their starter of the last few seasons in Aramis Ramirez to Pittsburgh for Yhonathan Barrios. Ramirez then retired following the conclusion of the 2015 season.
All three players that are likely to battle it out for the starting position are newcomers to Milwaukee. Perhaps the candidate with the best shot is Will Middlebrooks, who the Brewers signed back in late December.
Middlebrooks and the Brewers agreed to a minor league deal after the Padres elected to cut ties with the former Red Sox top prospect rather than pay him an arbitration estimated to be around $1.5 million.
The Padres had acquired Middlebrooks in a trade with Boston and awarded him the starting third baseman. However, Middlebrooks was unable to continue the style of play he had been known for with the Red Sox, putting up a mediocre .212/.241/.361 batting line with nine home runs in over 270 at bats last season. He did not phase much better at Triple-A, where the Padres sent him to rediscover his game. A .255/.287/.379 slash was not what Middlebrooks nor the Padres were seeking in the offense friendly climate of the Pacific Coast League.
However, David Stearns and the Brewers must think that a change of scenery can possibly do Middlebrooks some good. Like many of the other moves Stearns has made, Middlebrooks was a low-risk, high-reward signing and any production he puts forth throughout the season will likely be turned over by the Brewers come trade deadline in late July.
Milwaukee also acquired another former Boston player in Garin Cecchini when they sent Alex Speier and cash considerations in return. Boston had to make room at the 40-man roster following their signing of David Price and designated Cecchini for assignment, later trading him to Milwaukee.
Like Rymer Liriano, Cecchini once found himself in the top tier of prospects, coming in as high as no. 23 in Keith Law’s midseason top-25 rankings after being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. This was because of Cecchini’s unique approach at the dish where he tends to be more patient and let the ball come to him, translating into a .322/.433/.471 batting line.
Despite the success in the early levels of the Minors, Triple-A was the Achilles heel for Cecchini. His 2014 year was a rollercoaster in which he did not start off the brightest but late in the season his production picked up as he hit .312/.399/.480 from August 1 to the end of the year. However, Cecchini’s woes would circle around again in 2015 when his stat line stooped back to Earth at .213/.286/.296.
His struggles were due in part to pitchers catching on to his tendency of being patient at the plate. His discipline vanished which consequently decreased his walk rate while raising his strikeouts. He was able to show flashes of strong contact but no consistency. The Brewers are definitely taking a risk betting that Cecchini develops a common theme of putting the barrel on the ball, but again, it’s a low-risk, high-reward signing.
Another player to keep an eye on is one of the players Milwaukee recently picked up in the Jean Segura trade, Aaron Hill. A ten-year veteran, Hill is not the exact guy you would expect to be part of a rebuild and nor do the Brewers. However, they had to take on part of his contract in order to complete the Segura trade, an exchange that landed them SP Chase Anderson as well as the wild card prospect Isan Diaz. Hill is a 10-year tenured player, beginning with Toronto and spending the last five seasons in Arizona. However, his age seems to be catching up with him as last year saw him produce arguably his worst offensive output, hitting .230/.295/.345 across the board. His hits (72) and home runs (6) also rank among the lowest of his career.
However, like Middlebrooks, Hill fits the mold of a player that may ignite a spark after discovering a change of scenery. That happens to be the case for many players on a yearly basis and for the Brewers sake, hopefully it happens. Like so many other veteran players on this team, a solid first half of the year could put him as a target for teams that are contending for playoffs and need a crafty veteran come the trade deadline.
Hill plays more games at second base so he will likely be trading time up the middle with Scooter Gennett. However, he has also played a good number of games at the hot corner and with the Brewers uncertainty at that position, he will likely receive his fair shot of opportunities.
Nobody outside of Craig Counsell and the rest of the Brewers brain trust really know what to expect from third base. Who knows, maybe if Yadiel Rivera shows a strong output in Spring Training he can be a viable candidate. But for right now, it seems to be a three-man race.