58 career at bats. A .178 career average. Twice as many career strikeouts as hits.
When you hear those numbers, they don’t sound very promising. However, those career stats belong to the biggest surprise in the Brewers’ spring camp, and he just might make the Opening Day roster.
The Brewers claimed Jesus Aguilar off waivers from the Cleveland Indians on February 2nd. The move was looked at as a play for depth at the time, as the Brewers carried only one first baseman on their 40-man roster (recent Korea signing Eric Thames). From the outset, Aguilar was widely regarded to be a long shot to make it to Opening Day due to the Brewers recent financial commitment to Thames… and then he started turning heads by absolutely mashing.
To date, Aguilar has hit to the tune of a .490 average while slugging .878 with five home runs. In a Brewers’ camp filled with highly touted minor league prospects (e.g. Lewis Brinson and Lucas Erceg) and notable offseason acquisitions (e.g. Thames, infielder Travis Shaw, and reliever Neftali Feliz), Aguilar has become the talk of the town.
Originally signed by the Indians out of Venezuela in 2007, Aguilar slowly but surely worked his way up the Indians system, hitting well at every stop throughout his journey. He was selected to represent the Indians in the All-Star Futures Game in 2012, an invitation reserved for the best young prospects in baseball. However, after ascending to Triple-A to start the 2014 season, Aguilar’s progress stalled, and he couldn’t crack the Indians big league roster as a regular for three years, ultimately leading to his designation for assignment and placement on waivers. While he did get called up on multiple occasions, he had failed to perform at the MLB level, and there simply wasn’t the playing time on a contending team like the Indians to provide him with the at bats to figure it out.
With the Brewers, Aguilar has joined a team that is focused on giving young talent a chance to prove themselves, a situation that could not be more favorable for players like himself. Just look at Keon Broxton as a prime example. Blocked by a stacked outfield in Pittsburgh featuring Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, Broxton never was given a chance to succeed at the MLB level (sound familiar?). Upon being acquired by a Brewers team with nothing but space to provide opportunities, Broxton thrived, and is expected to be the Brewers’ starting center fielder on Opening Day.
While teams in the National League usually do not carry two first basemen due to most first basemen’s lack of positional versatility and the absence of a DH in the NL, the Brewers have a starting first baseman in Eric Thames that can also play both corner outfield positions. This opens a spot for a player restricted to first base like Aguilar that could serve as a spark off the bench as a pinch hitter or at first base in lineups that feature Thames in the outfield. The Brewers are not expected to contend this year, and should be able to try plenty of different lineups that could feature both Thames and Aguilar.
At this point, it would be foolish for the Brewers not to take a shot on Aguilar. A total rebuild is a trial and error process, and the possible benefits of taking a flier on a player like Aguilar outweigh the downsides by a landslide. With no minor-league options remaining, the Brewers will need to add Aguilar to their Opening Day roster or place him on waivers, where he almost certainly would be picked up by a team with a need at first base after his stellar performance this spring.
58 career at bats. A .178 career average. Twice as many career strikeouts as hits. And one monster spring training. Take those numbers with a grain of salt, because Jesus Aguilar has proven that he is an MLB caliber player this spring. When the national anthem plays on April 3rd in Milwaukee, he should be standing on the first base line, finally basking in the success of making it to the most beautiful day in baseball: Opening Day.