Let’s play Du: Mauricio Dubon, the Milwaukee Brewers and the second base conundrum

Much has been made of Milwaukee Brewers prospect Mauricio Dubon‘s batting practice videos trickling out on his Twitter feed over recent weeks. How Dubon’s emergence helps or hinders the organization’s immediate attempt to plug a hole as sizable as the franchise has been in existence.

David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers have a problem on their hands.

As previously outlined, the Brewers have struggled to find a game-changing solution at second base since Rickie Weeks (and, to be fair, since the beloved Jim Gantner.) After Eric Sogard regressed, Jonathan Villar was jettisoned to Baltimore and Jonathan Schoop failed to impress, the Brewers are back to square one at the four.

Meanwhile, Keston Hiura has encamped himself on the fast track to Milwaukee after a dominating showing in Arizona Fall League play capped by being named AFL MVP. (Side note: the last five AFL MVPs: Ronald Acuna, Gleyber Torres, Adam Engel, Greg Bird, Kris Bryant. Those guys are good, right?) While there are no questions about Hiura’s bat, there are plenty about his glove and, to be sure, Hiura will almost certainly start 2019 at Triple-A San Antonio, in full dress rehearsal mode for a call to The Show.

And then there’s Mauricio Dubon.

Dubon, acquired along with Travis Shaw in the Tyler Thornburg trade with Boston, was regarded well enough in 2016 to be the Red Sox’ #12 prospect alongside then-future big leaguers Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. Sam Dykstra viewed Dubon as a sell-high prospect, while Stearns loved Dubon’s ability and–surprise!–versatility.

To be sure, Dykstra’s perspective seemed valid in the immediate aftermath: in his first turn at Double-A Biloxi, he hit a modest .276 with two home runs and a .689 OPS. When promoted to the Brewers Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs, he hit .272 with an altitude-guided rise in XBH and a drop on OBP. In the interest of fairness, Dubon had also rocketed through the Red Sox system, going from low-A to the Arizona Fall League in two years’ time. Regression was in some ways inevitable.

Dubon then got an entire offseason to settle into the Brewers organization and Colorado Springs and returned with a raking vengeance in 2018: .343/.348/.574 in 27 contests and generating considerable buzz as the potential second base savior for the Brew Crew.

Then the knee happened. Perhaps the entire 2018 season for the Milwaukee Brewers hinged on a guy who wasn’t even in Cream City. If Dubon isn’t lost for the season, the Brewers aren’t compelled to trade for Schoop, possibly not even Mike Moustakas; they don’t have to run out and get Brad Miller, Nick Franklin doesn’t show up to just wind up on the DL and the Brewers also probably don’t get Tyler Saladino, either.

This isn’t to say that Dubon would have pushed the Brewers over the hump and singlehandedly helped them win the one more game needed to claim their second league pennant. No one can possibly know that–counterfactuals, and the sort–but Dubon’s fate significantly and undeniably altered the parent club’s destiny.

Just look at that swing. Listen to the sound the bat makes on contact. That is a smooth, balanced stroke with tremendous hands. (Bonus points for the Lorenzo Cain lean-back swing, too.)

The swing looked familiar to my eye, so I did some digging and happened upon some interesting comparisons from the indispensable Brooks Baseball:

Player 1:

Against Fastballs (15 seen), he had an exceptionally aggressive approach at the plate (-0.69 c) with a disastrously high likelihood to swing and miss (36% whiff/swing).

Player 2:

Against Fastballs (522 seen), he had an exceptionally aggressive approach at the plate (-0.24 c) with an exceptionally high likelihood to swing and miss (27% whiff/swing).

P1:

Against Breaking Pitches (14 seen), he had an exceptionally aggressive approach at the plate (-0.64 c) with a league average likelihood to swing and miss (30% whiff/swing).

P2:

Against Breaking Pitches (249 seen), he had a very aggressive approach at the plate (-0.19 c) with a high likelihood to swing and miss (40% whiff/swing).

P1:

Against Offspeed Pitches (1 seen), he had a very patient approach at the plate (0.00 c) with an exceptionally low likelihood to swing and miss (0% whiff/swing).

P2:

Against Offspeed Pitches (102 seen), he had an aggressive approach at the plate (-0.36 c) with a league average likelihood to swing and miss (37% whiff/swing).

The first player was Dubon in his injury-shortened 2017. The second was Alfonso Soriano in 2014.

No, Dubon is not Soriano, and that’s probably a good thing: where Soriano had power from multiple angles and approaches, he also struggled with plate discipline throughout his career. Dubon’s stance and swing are both much more compact than Soriano’s, but the leg kicks and follow-through echo one another. See for yourself.

Dubon’s always been a fantastic athlete, a natural shortstop with the ability to shift over to second base, and that’s where he probably has an immediate to short-term future with Orlando Arcia holding court at the 6. If Arcia’s bat does not stabilize and Hiura continues to mature in the Brewers’ new Triple-A San Antonio home, Arcia, once viewed as a Weeks-level impact prospect for the franchise, may be on the outside looking in, while Dubon is starting double plays for Hiura en route to Jesus Aguilar at first in 2020.

What’s more important for the Brewers is Dubon’s ability to hit for contact. I don’t know that Dubon will match Soriano’s offensive prowess, but I like his chances more than some; that, and the burden of expectation isn’t necessarily there when the lineup is full of professional hitters and power threats. They don’t need another big power threat in their lineup, they need guys who can keep the lineup card moving by putting the ball in play and getting on base. With the considerable leap forward in this regard from ’17 to ’18, and Arcia’s noted inability to sustain success at the plate, contact hitters remain crucial to the Brewers’ hopes to defend their NL Central title. For this reason, they were linked to DJ LeMahieu, kicked the tires on Daniel Murphy and looked seriously at Jed Lowrie.

The crux, again, is Dubon: Those guys are seeking more than prove-it one-year deals, and the Brewers can’t afford to take a chance on a prove-it one-year guy (which is why they non-tendered Schoop in the first place.) Everyone knows Stearns is sitting on a goldmine of middle infield talent. With the aforementioned all in their 30s, they’re looking for one last free agent deal before age almost certainly outweighs skill. LeMahieu or Lowrie would be fun, good, professional adds for the Brewer clubhouse–Murphy, not so much by virtue of his defense–but the career fit isn’t there, and no one signs free agent deals with the expectation of being a trade chip after one season.

In kind, the Brewers don’t want to create a bigger blockade than what already exists amongst Arcia, Dubon and Hiura. Obligating free agent dollars to a veteran in this context sends the wrong message to their prospects and runs the real risk of painting the front office into a corner. Stearns, as we know, is a guy who prizes versatility both on the field and in his ability to maneuver.

And here, tirelessly working on getting back to game shape, we have teaser footage of a guy who can step up and make a real difference. If Stearns says that Dubon will start 2019 at Triple-A, given the current landscape and barring a deal to land a stopgap, it’s hard not to think he’s bluffing. If Dubon produces in Spring Training, he’s got a real shot to break camp with the defending NLC champs.

Not bad for a kid from Honduras, in line to be the first native Honduran to break through to the Major Leagues.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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