Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #14 Brooks Conrad
Two weeks. 14 days.
So close and yet so far away.
But it is where we sit today and it is therefore which jersey number we profile.
But it is a newcomer who wears the number 14 this year; a veteran of parts of four big league seasons in camp on a minor-league deal after being dismissed by his previous organization.
He is a defender of several positions but a master of none:
The Milwaukee Brewers signed Brooks Litchfield Conrad, a 5’10”, 190 pound, switch-hitter who played collegiately at Arizona State, to compete for one of the openings on the Major League bench backing up in the infield.
Conrad, 32, is capable of standing at first base, second base and third base while wearing a glove on his left hand (I’m talking about fielding because he usually foregoes batting gloves), but he doesn’t play very good defense.
The most glaring example of that came in a playoff games while playing for the Atlanta Braves in 2010. He had three errors in the same game. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, look it up.
Ironically, his defensive versatility is an asset in his chances to make the club out of Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. While he wouldn’t be the primary choice to back up anywhere but first, and he absolutely cannot play shortstop, he’s able to be inserted into multiple situations and the occasional double-switch might have his name called as the insertion.
If Conrad makes the team though, it will be because of his bat. While not a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination, he is a switch-hitter which means that he has extra value as a pinch-hitter.
Conrad’s splits last year look like this…
Against a LHP as a RHH: .292/.393/.500 which comes from 7 hits, 2 doubles, 1 home run, 4 walks and 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats.
Against a RHP as a LHH: .203/.304/.354 which is from 16 hits, 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 11 walks and 30 strikeouts in 79 at-bats.
Those statistics were accrued over the course of 92 games (12 starts). His final slash-line for 2011 is: .223/.325/.388.
All that aside, I never thought that Conrad had much chance to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training when his signing was first announced. I felt that they already had a better, younger version of him on the 25-man roster from last year in Taylor Green.
Green plays better defense at the same positions, though only hits from the left side of the plate. Conrad has put together a more impressive Cactus League performance than has Green, but I figured that Conrad was a prime candidate to begin the year at Triple-A Nashville and be the first call up if they needed a different look off the bench or should someone get injured.
The other side of the argument though is that keeping Conrad and optioning Green down to Triple-A allows Green to play every day instead of having to adjust to being on the bench for the majority of his games.
Conrad has had some limited success in doing that job before whereas Green struggled once the moss started to gather during September after his 2011 promotion to Milwaukee.
If you go the other direction with it, and Conrad struggles, to get him to the minors takes a outrighting (assuming nobody claimed him off waivers first), one which I’d guess Conrad could refuse to become a free agent should he so desire.
Conrad though is making his case to be a part of the team, just like his numeric predecessor successfully did a few seasons ago.
Perhaps the best vote of confidence for Conrad came just the other day from manager Ron Roenicke. Though making it clear that nothing is set in stone yet, Roenicke said that “when you look at the needs and what we have on our bench” he felt Conrad looked like a fit. Conrad even took a few lessons behind the dish from Brewers bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel in an effort to increase his stock.
First, second, third and emergency catcher with a decent stick at times and okay defense on the routine, all while fighting for a job and perhaps winning it with a solid Spring Training?
Yeah, he certainly seems like a fit to me as well…at least in wearing that #14 which last year belonged to another man who fit all of the above descriptions: Casey McGehee.
Then again, it’s certainly a much better idea to have all that coming off the bench then starting at third base for 100+ games. After all, McGehee had more than one pinch-hit home run late in a ballgame during his time with the Brewers.
We can only hope that Conrad provides similar fireworks a little bit more often during his.