Much of any evaluation of Brice Turang as a rookie depends on how you slice and dice his season. He burst onto the scene with one of the most thrilling and memorable moments of the season, with that grand slam in the home opener against the Mets. In large part, though, he was overmatched during the first two months of the season, striking out often and showing poor plate discipline.
After being demoted to Triple-A Nashville for a while, Turang came back a different player. When he was sent down in early June, he was hitting just .205/.254/.307, and striking out over a quarter of the time. His defense at second base was terrific, but you can't run a .560 OPS and hold down a regular job in MLB, unless you're an elite defensive catcher. Upon that return, though, Turang had a new batting stance, an altered approach, and two months of sufficient production to justify his place in the lineup. From June 29 through Aug. 28, he hit .244/.335/.340. In 179 trips to the plate, he drew 22 walks and struck out just 27 times. His profile was still light on power, but it's easy to write a guy with good speed and a .335 OBP in at the bottom of the batting order, when they also bring value with the glove. In fact, it's a privilege.
Alas, the transformation didn't last. So often, we make changes in our lives, and then we find out that maintaining those changes and converting a project into a lifestyle is the hard part. Starting with the series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field at the end of August, Turang hit .195/.247/.207 in 92 plate appearances. He kept the whiffs under control, but he only managed one extra-base hit (a double) during that long stretch of playing time, and the league realized that they didn't need to worry about him at all. He drew only five walks, not because his chase rate went through the roof (though, around mid-September, it did, as frustration set in), but because pitchers pounded the strike zone against him.
When a hitter with limited power is coming up through the minors, scouts say they worry the guy will "have the bat knocked out of his hands". It's a harsh image, but it can be a fitting one. The velocity and movement of fastballs in the big leagues these days can overpower hitters like Turang. Frighteningly, there's every indication that that's what has happened here.
Of the 402 hitters who finished at least 50 plate appearances on four-seam fastballs this year, none had a worse Run Value against them than Turang's -17. He was better against sinkers, but not by much. Pitchers were able to avoid walking Turang not only because they were unafraid of him, but because they could stick to the heat and still beat him.
The fact that he ran such lousy numbers against fastballs as a rookie doesn't mean that he'll always be thus limited. Turang has some career ahead of him, and we don't need to be prisoners to the moment in forecasting it. Still, this is important information. The Brewers already face the formidable challenge of bolstering at least one corner infield position this winter. That Turang might not be a viable hitter at the big-league level raises the possibility that they also need an upgrade at the keystone, and suddenly, there's a whole overhaul afoot.
Of course, Turang isn't the only incumbent option. Andruw Monasterio took a good chunk of the playing time as Turang floundered down the stretch. The problem is that Monasterio has many of the same shortcomings as his younger, left-hitting colleague. He only slugged .348 for the year, and from the middle of August through season's end, that number was .276. Monasterio hit his final home run of the year on Aug. 9. He also rated poorly against four-seamers, in particular.
Owen Miller came to the plate 205 times after May 25. He had one home run and slugged .273 in that span. He's no more a potential solution than the other two, though all three of them are good fielders. The only in-house option who performed like the kind of hitter the Brewers need at that position was Abraham Toro, who didn't get as much of a shot as he probably ought to have. On the other hand, Toro has had his own prolonged batting slumps in the past. More importantly, perhaps, Toro only played 20 games at second base in Triple A this year, and none at that spot in the majors. By every indication, the Brewers don't really trust his glove there.
Defense is important, and the 2023 Brewers were a great defensive team. They might even be one again in 2024. They have to be better at bat next season, though, and second base might be one spot at which they need to sacrifice some of their comfort and glovework to get more pop.
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