Brewers Season Outlook: Corey Hart

-Curt Hogg-

While there is a flurry of questions surrounding Corey Hart entering the 2012 season, one thing is for sure: with the loss of Prince Fielder, Hart’s production in the lineup is crucial.

Hart gives a curtain call after hitting his third homer in a game vs. Washington in May 2011

Hart is coming off of his first back-to-back productive seasons. Production from the 6’6″ right fielder had been sporadic throughout his career, to say the least. In 2011, however, he simplified his swing, removing any unnecessary movements that tended to get him off balance. Hart batted leadoff for Ron Roenicke’s squad in 63 games last season, including 11 Playoff games in addition 62 consecutive games to finish the season. Despite not fitting the prototypical mold of a leadoff batter, Hart flourished in the role. He batted .301 with 15 home runs and 36 RBI, providing a jolt of pop at the top of the lineup.

Hart enters the season as the leading candidate to bat leadoff for the Brewers, but recent comments by Rickie Weeks may play a role in how that turns out.

Dario Melendez tweeted that Weeks said, “I’ll like to bat anywhere else but 5. I just feel stagnant when I’m there like ‘drove in run, what’s next?”

Though the decision still remains ambiguous, the looming suspension of Ryan Braun would open up the 3-hole for the first 50 games until its rightful owner called its name. Neither Hart nor Weeks has ever batted third significantly in their careers (Corey only has 20 starts in the third slot). It wouldn’t surprise me to see Weeks hit first and Hart move down to third with Nyjer Morgan smushed in between. I wouldn’t read too much into his comments, however.

The loss of Fielder opens up more than vacant spots in the batting order; the opening at first base has been a point of emphasis and speculation throughout the off-season, now seeping into Spring Training. Mat Gamel, the former top prospect known for hitting cannon shots but being  an ancient mariner at third base, is finally getting his chance at consistent playing time in the Majors. Roenicke considers Gamel to be the front-runner now at first, but the option of Hart’s lanky frame switching from right to first hovers over Gamel. Most likely, the Brewers will carry four additional outfielders (Morgan, Carlos Gomez, Nori Aoki, Ryan Braun) throughout the season, leaving the door open for Hart at first if need be. Odds are that Corey will stay in right and Gamel and, possibly, Taylor Greenwill man first base.

Hart’s production at the plate in 2012 will need to be consistent with that of the past two seasons. Continual work with former batting coach and current Cubs manager Dale Sveum got Hart back to an All Star level of play. Hart raked the ball all over the pasture in 2010 and 2011, hitting a combined 124 extra base hits. Last season, in only130 games, he finished with 26 home runs and a modest 63 RBI given the fact half his season was spent in the RBI-deprived leadoff spot. One spot of emphasis will be improving upon last season’s mark of .236 with two outs and RISP. The Brewers lost one of the best two-out hitters in Fielder (.299, 25 RBI with 2 outs & RISP in 2011) and two out production from hitters such as Hart is a key to repeating as National League Central champs.

Expect nothing short of an All Star-type season from Hart in 2012. I predict he, not Aramis Ramirez or Weeks, will be the bat that carries the offense throughout the season.

2012 prediction: .281, 28 HR, 81 RBI, 7 SB, .345 OBP, still does that funky one-hand-in-the-air-and-hip-twist celebration after a base hit.


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