MLB.com Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy participated in a live Web chat with fans on Wednesday. During the chat he answered many questions, including who will backup Alex Gonzalez at shortstop, if the pitching staff can duplicate last season's success and whether Mat Gamel and Aramis Ramirez together can make up for the loss of Prince Fielder.
Adam McCalvy Hey all, thanks for taking part in the chat today. We have about 45 minutes before Ron Roenicke's morning briefing, and since I can't take you into the room with me, let's get going.
tverussia Do you think Gamel can produce for a full season?
Adam McCalvy The back of his Minor League baseball card says yes. The guy can hit when he's given regular at-bats. He's never been given that opportunity in the big leagues, but this is his big shot, and he knows it. As I wrote last week, nobody in camp has generated more buzz among his teammates than Gamel.
One more point: He looks pretty darn good defensively. Those who watched him scoop that low (Cesar) Izturis throw in yesterday's televised win over the Dodgers know what I mean. He has work to do to become as good at positioning and anticipating as Prince Fielder, but Gamel looks like he will be an upgrade in terms of range and hands.
scott19 What are your thoughts on Zealous (Zelous) Wheeler?
Adam McCalvy Thought No. 1: It's Zelous, a mistake I have made often and been called on it.
Thought No. 2: He's going to have to get to the big leagues by being versatile, because he's now blocked at third by Aramis Ramirez (and Taylor Green, if you think about it). Wheeler has been working all over the diamond this spring, including behind the plate, as I wrote a while ago. He picked up a catcher's glove when he was bored one day in the Arizona Fall League.
Thought No. 3: If he doesn't make it in baseball, he could do voiceover work for cartoons. He has an awesome Southern drawl.
peteinsc Adam: Based on the box scores and game wraps Izturis appears to have lost his fielding magic. Do you see him making the final cut? If not then who will be the backup shortstop?
Adam McCalvy This has to be a concern for club officials at this point. If Izturis came to camp and went 0-for-40 but played really good defense, he'd be a lock to backup shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Instead, Izturis has been really shaky every time I've seen him, including that bounced throw yesterday. It's very strange.
The Brewers are looking at other options, which will become more plentiful in the coming week or so as clubs make their cuts. But Doug Melvin said lots of teams -- most teams -- are looking for middle infielders, so it's a tough spot to fill.
Which reminds me, we saw Luis Cruz at Dodgers camp yesterday. Had he not opted for free agency last year, he probably would have been in the big leagues. Were he back with the Brewers this year, he might be a lock again. I wonder if he regrets taking free agency.
slidingcatch Will pitching be same, worse or better in 2012. Same questions for defense and run production.
Adam McCalvy Pitching: Same, and that's a good thing. Defense: Better, especially at shortstop and probably at first base. Run production: Worse, but the Brewers hope the drop-off is minimal.
Remember, they're looking at first and third base as a collective. Yes, there will be a drop at first with Fielder's departure, but the Brewers got little out of third base last year and view Ramirez as a big upgrade. Corey Hart is among those who think together, the Brewers will get more out of first and third this year.
robinpaul As a baseball fan, not just a Brewers fan, I really do like the makeup of this team heading into the 2012 season. Missing Fielder's bat will hurt but with the additions of Gamel at first, Ramirez at third and Gonzalez at shortstop, I think the lineup will be more balanced.
Adam McCalvy Because we have so much time to kill -- "murder to death" as one follically-challenged colleague likes to say -- the beat hacks have been talking a lot about "makeup" this year. The clubhouse is very, very different. No Prince, no (Mark) Kotsay, no (LaTroy) Hawkins, no (Casey) McGehee -- all pretty outspoken. No (Craig) Counsell, the clear club leader.
And no Tony Plush, at least so far. Nyjer Morgan has been all business this spring. You can tell he's very focused on repeating his big 2011 season.
Will it matter if the Brewers clubhouse is more businesslike? If there's no more Beast Mode? I don't know -- usually, you have good team makeup if you're a talented team and you win games.
I realize I didn't really answer robinpaul's question, but "makeup" stood out to me. As far as balance, they'll have it if Morgan repeats, if Gamel hits, if Hart gets healthy and if Gonzalez contributes. That's a lot of ifs, but you can say the same about 29 other teams right now.
slidingcatch What then is your prediction for how they finish?
Adam McCalvy I am the worst prognosticator in baseball history. Jim Powell used to come around on Opening Day and take our predictions, and I was wildly optimistic or pessimistic every year. So I'll take a pass here and just predict a National Championship for the Badgers.
jerrygavin Do you think that with all five starting pitchers returning and what looks like a tremendous upgrade in defense with Gonzalez at short and Gamel at first, this makes the Brewers a much better team even without Prince?
Adam McCalvy "Better team?" Tough to go that far, because Fielder is a fantastic presence on and off the field, and the '11 Brewers were a pretty fantastic team. They expect to contend again, but it's hard to win 96 games.
Cash Kruth As today's chat moderator -- and a former associate reporter with Adam in Milwaukee ... and a Michigan State alum -- I would like to point out Adam's Badgers have to go through the Spartans for that National Championship. Carry on.
Adam McCalvy By the way, the Brewers just announced that they'll erect a statue of Bob Uecker at Miller Park to go alongside (Hank) Aaron, (Robin) Yount and (Bud) Selig. Set your calendars for an Aug. 31 ceremony -- should be a good one!
SecondHandStore What are we going to do with Taylor Green? He's blocked at third base for three years, and probably at first for at least as long. Give him the Gamel special and hold on to him until there is an opening, just give him a back up spot later this year or next year?
Adam McCalvy Lots of options. He's playing third, second, first and the outfield. He could be the first call-up if someone gets hurt and you need a bat. Otherwise, he could be trade bait. My trusty media guide says Green has all three options remaining, so there's no rush to make a decision on him.
SecondHandStore If the Brewers do go for a middle infielder, depending on what's available do they try to replace (Brooks) Conrad or Izturis?
Adam McCalvy Well, you'd be replacing Izturis, not Conrad. Conrad is not a shortstop, and the Brewers need some sort of backup shortstop. We've jokingly asked if Craig Counsell might come down from the front office if the club got in a bind, and were told that's not happening.
Remember, we're talking about a backup for a player (Gonzalez) who has been pretty durable in his career. Izturis might end up being just fine in that role if he's the guy.
jerrygavin I've always liked (Zach) Braddock and (Manny) Parra but injuries have always struck them both. How are they doing this year so far because it would be great to have them in the bullpen to help in the middle or when we need that one lefty hitter to make an out.
Adam McCalvy Parra seems to be doing great -- check Brewers.com for a story I wrote yesterday about what he called a breakthrough outing against the Rangers in that rained-out game. If Parra "gets it," he could still be really good, and remember how effective he was when he moved to relief a couple of seasons ago.
Adam McCalvy Braddock is more of an enigma. He's dealing with a high quadriceps or groin strain, we've been told. He's still working on some off-the-field issues. He's a great kid with a great arm who has such a bright future in MLB, and he's working hard by all accounts to get there. We'll have to wait and see where he begins the 2012 season.
Adam McCalvy One more point: The Brewers don't intend to use Parra or Braddock to get one lefty hitter out. They're viewed as the type of lefties who can work to lefty and righty hitters. That's key for Ron Roenicke, who is not big on LOOGYs.
SecondHandStore Corey Hart just got owned by a weight lifting bar, (Chris) Narveson was cut down by a pair of scissors last year -- when is the Brewers clubhouse slapstick comedy movie coming out?
Adam McCalvy Corey Hart turns 30 this weekend, and says he's just going to start reporting then from now on to avoid the pain of Spring Training. Good call.
As for the slapstick comedy, it's on hold while Uecker poses for his bronze statue.
SecondHandStore I heard the Uecker statue is pretty cool but there's a railing in front of it so it's kind of hard to see.
Adam McCalvy Nice. Real, real nice (in my best Uecker voice).
Adam McCalvy We're still waiting for the manager, so there's time for a couple more questions if you've got 'em.
jerrygavin What's the word on the future of the Brewers Spring Training camp? I live in Cape Coral, Fla., and we now have an opening in Fort Myers for a third team and since I am a Tru-Blue-Brew-Crew Fan, sure would like to see them here.
Adam McCalvy The Brewers prefer to stay in Arizona, at Maryvale, but all options are open. They have until April 15 to exercise the first of three, two-year extensions here, and conversations with the city of Phoenix are ongoing. The Brewers want improvements to their training facilities, offices and the Minor League clubhouse. Give it a couple more weeks.
brewfancrewv If you could predict a "sleeper" this year as far as pitching is concerned? Someone who might be a little overlooked by the organization but has a good shot of making it to the bigs this year if an injury or change occurs?
Adam McCalvy Does Logan Schafer count as a sleeper? He's just a ballplayer, and you can tell from the first moment you watch him play. I remember thinking the same thing about (Jonathan) Lucroy a couple of years ago.
Dags3 Have you had a chance to watch (Norichika) Aoki? If so, what is your take so far and do you think he is adjusting well to stateside baseball and baseball operations?
Adam McCalvy I wrote about the adjustment a few days ago, when Aoki had a breakthrough game against Yu Darvish and the Rangers. He faces significant challenges; the list of hitters who have succeeded in the jump across the Pacific is not particularly long. But the Brewers intend to use him as a backup to start, so Aoki will have an opportunity to ease in.
slidingcatch (Ryan) Braun. Talk about Braun.
Adam McCalvy His batting practice: Same old Braun. This 1-for-whatever stuff is almost certainly much ado about absolutely nothing. Teammates say that when the lights come on April 6, Braun will be ready to prove his doubters wrong.
SecondHandStore I really miss (Jerry) Hairston (Jr.) in the back up role. Was it an issue of Melvin not wanting to go for two years or were the Brewers just in a holding pattern waiting to see what would happen with their arbitration offers like with Hawkins?
Adam McCalvy I think it's a little from column A, a little from column B. Melvin is not a big fan of multi-year deals for bench players (Aoki is an exception because of the investment made in the posting fee). They really wanted Hairston back, but he got a great deal.
Adam McCalvy Here's the manager -- gotta run. Thanks to everyone for participating!
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