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PLAYER TO WATCH
In his home country Alcides Escobar is known simply as El Siguiente: The Next One. After trading former All-Star J.J. Hardy in the winter, the Brewers believe the 23-year-old Escobar is ready to follow in the footsteps of great Venezuelan shortstops Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel. "He was born to play shortstop, with that kind of unbelievable range and arm," says one NL scout. Certainly, Escobar will provide a boost in the field for a club that ranked 11th in the league in defensive efficiency, as measured by Baseball Prospectus.
As for his bat? Escobar, who was called up in August to replace a struggling Hardy, likely won't match his predecessor's power numbers—Hardy had a total of 50 home runs in 2007 and '08—but he gives Milwaukee a different offensive dimension with his speed (42 steals in 52 attempts at Triple A Nashville). If Escobar can become a more patient hitter (only four walks in 134 big league plate appearances last year) and boost his batting average against righthanders (.260 for Milwaukee, compared with .480 against lefties), he will be much more than just one of the game's top infielders.
And Escobar appears on his way to doing so. He won the Venezuelan winter league batting title with a .393 average. "If he can develop his power and improve his plate discipline like we think he can," says manager Ken Macha, "he's going to be tremendous."
Home runs allowed by Brewers starters last year, most in the NL and a troubling number for two reasons: Milwaukee plays in a pitcher-friendly park, and its starters pitched the second-fewest innings (891, or 5.5 per start) in the National League.
Turning to a 39-year-old who couldn't find a job at 38 is usually a bad way to approach a problem. But in the case of the Brewers, bringing in Jim Edmonds as a backup outfielder is inspired. With six righthanded-hitting regulars, Milwaukee desperately needs a lefthanded bat for balance. And while new centerfielder Carlos Gomez can run with the best of them and covers lots of ground in center, he's also a righthanded hitter with a career .292 OBP. Edmonds is a perfect complement. In 2008, which he split between the Padres and the Cubs, he had a .362 OBP and a .521 slugging percentage against righties. If he comes close to those numbers, he'll be the third-best hitter in the Brewers' lineup when he plays. Ken Macha can even hide Edmonds's diminished range by using him when ground ballers Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra are on the mound.