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Milwaukee Brewers: Playing Oddsmaker on Who Will Start at First Base

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COMMENTARY | Boy, is it crowded over at first base for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Thanks in large part to a season-ending injury to Corey Hart, who is now a member of the Seattle Mariners, no team in baseball had a lower batting average from its first basemen than the Brewers, a position that saw seven different first-time starters in 2013.

The New York Yankees were in a similar bind, as first baseman Mark Teixeira missed the majority of the 2013 season as well. As a result, New York ranked No. 27 in batting average among first basemen.

Now, after well over a month of minimal activity on the free agent front, the Brewers appear to be taking a strength-in-numbers approach, signing two first basemen in the past week to minor league deals with an invite to spring training -- Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay.

Naturally, both players suited up for the Yankees last season.

There are options galore at first base, but are any truly worthy of a starting role? Probably not, but we'll delve deeper into that argument as we determine each player's chances of starting at first base for the Brewers in 2014.

Juan Francisco: 3-to-1

First things first, let's be clear about one thing -- Juan Francisco should not start against left-handed pitching, and that's that. In 2013, Francisco hit just .156 against lefties and for his career, southpaws have held him to a .179 clip.

The fact of the matter is that the Brewers could be using a platoon at multiple positions this season, and first base will likely be one of them. Even if Francisco doesn't wind up being a full-time starter, which is hard to envision in any scenario considering his remarkable strikeout rate (career 33.6 percent), he has immense power and plenty of potential. He'll get his fair share of at-bats in 2014.

Sean Halton: 10-to-1

There simply isn't room for five first basemen on Milwaukee's opening-day roster, and with the signing of the right-handed-swinging Reynolds, Halton will now likely be one of the odd men out.

Halton's ability to play in the outfield as well as first base may allow him to sneak onto the 25-man roster, but bench roles may already be reserved for Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl. Last season, Halton showed flashes, but finished with just a .238/.291/.396 split and 4 HRs in 111 plate appearances.

Hunter Morris: 9-to-1

If there's anything that proves the Brewers' lack the confidence in giving Hunter Morris a shot at the big league level, it's the signing of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay within a week of each other.

Milwaukee's Minor League Player of the Year in 2012, Morris failed to take the next step at Triple-A Nashville last season, barely managing to crack the .300 mark when it came to on-base percentage. The power is still there with Morris, and he'll have a chance to prove himself in spring training. But at 25 years of age, time may be running out for Morris to break through with the parent club.

Lyle Overbay: 24-to-1

The signing of Lyle Overbay is rather perplexing. A one-time fan-favorite in Brew City, there isn't much left in the tank for the soon-to-be 37-year-old journeyman. As noted above, injuries at first base for the Yankees led to what amounted to an everyday role for Overbay, who hit .240 with 14 HRs and 59 RBIs last season.

But with so many candidates to sift through during spring training at first base, the odds aren't in Overbay's favor. It will essentially come down to if Overbay can beat out fellow his left-handed swinger, Juan Francisco, but we're not so sure the Brewers are ready to give up on the latter in return for one season of the former, who is now well over the hill.

Mark Reynolds: 1-to-1

Milwaukee isn't fooling anyone -- it signed Mark Reynolds with the intent to start him at first base this season. It may not be a full-time role, but the right-handed Reynolds will certainly get the call against lefties along with several starts against righties, as his splits are similar.

Reynolds has plenty of pop, hitting 44 HRs back in 2009 and then 32 and 37 in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And while his career .228 average isn't promising, his career on-base percentage (.326) is nearly 100 points higher, showing that Reynolds is willing to take his walks.

The biggest issue with Reynolds, like Francisco, is his world-record strikeout rate (career 32.3 percent rate). That's something Brewer fans became all-too familiar with last season but by the looks of it, they will have to take the bad with the (hopeful) good in 2014 once again.

Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.

You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.

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