Milwaukee's post-Prince transformation

Updated: February 7, 2012, 10:01 AM ET
By Buster Olney

The Milwaukee Brewers led the National League in home runs last season, and that's not going to happen in 2012. Prince Fielder is gone now, and Ryan Braun may miss the first 50 games of the season, and those two players accounted for more than 35 percent of those homers.

But when the other Milwaukee players gathered for the team's winter fanfest recently, general manager Doug Melvin found them to be upbeat and hopeful about what the Brewers could accomplish this year. And a couple of pitchers did take note of a byproduct of all the changes that Milwaukee is going through -- the Brewers, they said, should be better defensively.

The improvement should happen in a lot of places. Yuniesky Betancourt has been replaced at shortstop by Alex Gonzalez, who drew raves from his Atlanta Braves teammates last year for his glove work, with Chipper Jones once saying he had never seen one infielder make more pivotal plays in a season than Gonzalez. "It's like every day he does something to save runs," Jones said midway through the year.

Aramis Ramirez did not fare well in some defensive metrics last year, but generally speaking, scouts view him as a better defender than the third baseman he replaces, Casey McGehee.

The Brewers are committed to playing Mat Gamel at first base, Melvin reiterated over the phone Monday. "We're going to give him a shot," said Melvin, who went on to tick off the names of young players who took time to develop, from David Freese to Nelson Cruz. "We want to at least give him a fair shot. We've never given him a fair opportunity."