When the Milwaukee Brewers non-tendered Chris Carter and his projected $8.1 million arbitration salary, many wondered why the team would get rid of the National Leagues home run co-leader and how they would replace his run production in the middle of the Brewers lineup. Almost immediately, the team announced the signing of Eric Thames on a modest, three-year $16 million deal. Criticism was quickly tempered. But there are many who wonder cautiously if Thames will actually be a different player in his second go-round playing baseball in the States. This is likely why the Brewers claimed 26-year-old first basemen Jesus Aguilar off waivers from Cleveland last month. Aguilar has the potential to be everything Chris Carter has been while being four-years his junior.
Aguilar, who has spent his entire professional career in the Cleveland system, led the International League in home runs in 2016. He’s a giant, listed at 6’3”, 241 pounds, much like the aforementioned Carter. He has appeared on a few prospect lists in various different locations but has never been considered a future impact player. Aguilar spent years toiling away in the minor leagues, being held back by his inability to play anywhere besides first base, once again a very Carter-esque feature.
Projection systems are optimistic towards Aguilar. PECOTA calls for eleven home runs in 250 plate appearances, with an OPS near .800 and a .262 TAv. Extrapolate that out to 600 plate appearances and you’ve got a 25 home run hitter. ZiPS calls for 26 home runs in 568 plate appearances and a .758 OPS.
Over the last few years, since 2013 to be exact, Aguilar has displayed a reverse platoon split. He has dominated against right–handed pitching while having more run of the mill results against left-handers. His OPS was 132 points higher against right-handers in 2016; 122 points higher in 2015; 45 points higher in 2014; and, 125 points higher in 2013. It remains to be seen if this difference is just a result of the competition he faced or a small sample size, but it hard to argue with those numbers. This makes Aguilar an interesting option for the Brewers bench. A late-inning righty masher is something the Brewers can use. If somehow the coaching staff can make his platoon split look a little more traditional, the 26-year-old starts looking like a real impact bat.
The first baseman isn’t just a free-swinging power hitter. Aguilar has displayed a quality feel for the box. In 2014, in 499 plate appearances in Class-AAA, he posted a 12.8 percent walk rate. His walk rate was down to 9.2 percent in 2016, but his strikeout rate was just 19 percent. This is a strong number for a player who is marketed as a power bat. If he can keep his strikeouts down, in the 20 percent range upon promotion to the major leagues, there is a strong chance he can post an on-base percentage of .330+.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a real chance that Thames is the same hitter he was before his stint overseas. His numbers over the last three years in Korea are the only indicator that his “second” major league career will be any different, and sabermetricians are still having a hard time getting numbers from the KBO to translate over smoothly into their projection systems. Thames is on the wrong side of thirty now. The projection systems are loving him right now, but if the price the Brewers paid for Thames is any indication, major league front offices don’t expect much more than a slightly above replacement level first basemen. He is the only real option standing in front of Aguilar. In 2014, in 499 plate appearances with the Indians AAA affiliate, he posted a 12.8 percent walk rate.
Keep a strong eye on Jesus Aguilar this Spring. In your SSS stat of the week, he already has three hits in eight plate appearances. A strong Spring from him and we could be seeing his name on the 25-man roster come April. Should Thames revert back to the 2013 version, Aguilar just may be the Milwaukee Brewers next Chris Carter and starting first basemen.