Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers – #1 Corey Hart

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And so we’ve reached the end of another months-long journey through an aspect of Brewers numerology.

We’ve gone through a multitude of profiles of players who spent time in Milwaukee Brewers big league spring training camp in the hopes of making the 25-man roster and being introduced along the first base line on Opening Day at Miller Park on April 1st.

Today though, with one day remaining until the day, we profile a man who didn’t suit up at all outside of photo day. We take a look at a player who didn’t play a single out of any Cactus League game in 2013.

On this Easter Sunday, when we always remember Team Streak and the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, we finally take a look at the longest-tenured Brewer…

Corey Hart.

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For the second consecutive season, Jon Corey Hart underwent off-season knee surgery. Last year, he made a quick recovery and still made it to Opening Day (April 6th in 2012). This season’s surgery was a bit more significant and despite the relatively expedient healing that Corey Hart tends to exhibit, he will miss Opening Day 2013 along with all of April and a chunk of May. With any luck, the Brewers will get their starting first baseman back around the middle of May and he’ll still play in about 120 games or so. What he’ll do with those games will go a long way in determining some of the fortunes of the Brewers as a whole.

You may have noticed that I referred to Corey Hart as the team’s starting first baseman. That happened last year. I assume you know that because you’re reading my blog. And if you’re reading my blog, it’s a relatively safe assumption that you at least follow baseball to some degree. I’m assuming furthermore that you’ve got at least some interest in the Milwaukee Brewers, even if you’re not a fan, per say.

The quick recap though: Prince Fielder left in free agency. Mat Gamel was given the job. Gamel’s knee blew out. Travis Ishikawa played solid defense but wasn’t really getting it done at the plate. Derrek Lee (as reported first on this blog) turned down the Brewers offer to come out of retirement. Norichika Aoki was coming into his own in his first season in America and he warranted more playing time. Hart was originally drafted as a first baseman by the organization and was asked if he would consider moving back there after a professional career of moving around the baseball field before finally finding a home in right field.

Got all that?

Well, Hart agreed to play some first base despite originally not being too keen on the idea. He was pretty much fantastic at the job. He had some clunkiness at the beginning as was expected, but he got over it very quickly and became a quality defender. What’s more is that his offense didn’t take a hit.

Hart, who just turned 31 a week ago, posted numbers in line with career averages last year. He tied a career-high in runs scored and tallied second-, third- or fourth-highest marks in at least 10 other categories. In short, he put together quite a campaign both at the plate and in front of it.

In 2013, as mentioned above, Hart will fall short on many counting stats. The rates need to be there, and they can be there provided Hart is smart about his rehab and allows himself the proper amount of time to ramp up for the season. He came back too soon once before and his play suffered while he found his timing in Milwaukee instead of Nashville.

Alex Gonzalez will give the Brewers at least what they got from Gamel last year before his injury in the time it takes Hart to get back on the field. Gonzalez should play a capable defense as well, but make no mistake about it…Hart hitting the ground running will be paramount to Milwaukee’s success. That there is another man capable of filling in until he’s actually ready instead simply saying he’s ready is something that will be just as important to that process.

The Brewers need their offense to perform in 2013. We know this. Despite the addition of Kyle Lohse, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding the pitching staff. The bullpen has been revamped with only John Axford repeating as an Opening Day member. The rotation has been overhauled with only Yovani Gallardo repeating his Opening Day participation. (Chris Narveson is starting in the bullpen instead of the rotation, as is Marco Estrada beginning in the rotation instead of the bullpen so neither counts in either category.) But the offense not only remains mostly intact, it’s better at what were its weakest positions for the majority of the season. Shortstop should give light years more production. Center field should be better over the entire season. And if Hart returns and plays like he is capable of, this team will pick up wins early in the year that they lost in 2012. That’ll matter.

But it starts with health, and that’s something Hart needs to take care of first.

What a fun ride it should be this season though! There will be lows, that’s baseball. But there will also be some tremendous highs along the way. We just have to hope that enough breaks go the Brewers’ way throughout the year so that when the dust settles and 20 teams head home to watch the playoffs on TV, the Brewers will instead be coming to a ballpark to continue to play.

It’s doable. We’ve experienced winning of late in this town and as a part of this fanbase. We shouldn’t be grateful for that, remain humble in our fandom, and simply enjoy the season. Appreciate each which for itself and if it all adds up to a postseason appearance, then we can consider ourselves fortunate to be along on the journey.

It all starts tomorrow. We’re one day away.

Go Brewers!

Special thanks most once again go out to Chelsey Jo Orlikowski for taking my idea for a banner to help brand this countdown series and designing a great graphic! Thank you so much!!

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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