Yost set on keeping Weeks at second

Yost set on keeping Weeks at second

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Brewers have hit a bunch of dead ends in their search for a center fielder. Would they even consider the notion of moving not-so-slick-fielding second baseman Rickie Weeks to that spot?

Don't bet on it.

"We can find a center fielder," manager Ned Yost said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "The lure of having an above-average offensive second baseman is a big deal. If you can have a second baseman with Rickie's capabilities, you're ahead of the game.

"It's also very, very easy to take Rickie Weeks and say, 'Move him to center field.'" Yost said. "There's a lot of hard work involved in developing a player, and I think you're copping out if you take a kid like Rickie and, just because he's struggling a bit, you tell the world that you don't want to work with this kid to make him better. 'Send him to the outfield where it's easier.' I don't do that."

Weeks, who makes his offseason home here in Orlando, Fla., will be coming back from offseason surgery for a second straight year. He needed surgery on his left thumb following the 2005 season, and he missed the second half of 2006 with a right wrist injury that also required a surgical fix.

Dan Wright, a member of the Brewers' athletic training staff, visited with Weeks earlier this week, and Weeks told MLB.com that he is two weeks into strengthening exercises and about two weeks away from beginning hitting drills.

"For the most part, everything is back to normal," the 24-year-old Weeks said. "The doctor told me that if Spring Training started today, he'd let me hit."

In 95 games last season, Weeks batted .279 with eight home runs, 34 RBIs and 73 runs scored. After Brady Clark lost the starting center fielder's job, Weeks primarily served as Milwaukee's leadoff hitter and was on pace to score more than 100 runs before he was injured.

Weeks' defense has been questioned since the Brewers made him the second overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, and some actual and armchair scouts have wondered whether he would eventually be made into an outfielder. But Yost argued that Weeks made "huge, huge strides" at second base as the season went on, and the numbers bear that out. Weeks committed 20 errors in his first 52 games and just two errors in his final 43 games.

"I think [a position switch] was always a bit in the back of our mind, but we were going to play it out until the very end and give him every opportunity," Yost said. "If you've got Rickie Weeks' offensive capabilities where he's playing and you can smooth him out at second base, you've got an above-average performer at that position."

Should the Brewers prove unable to trade for or sign a center fielder (free agent Steve Finley intrigues Melvin because of his still-solid defense), the most likely Opening Day candidates would seem to be Bill Hall or Tony Gwynn Jr., two players mentioned Wednesday by Yost. Like Weeks as a second baseman, Hall would be an above-average offensive center fielder, and Gwynn is considered Major League-ready defensively. Melvin and Yost have given no indications that Clark, the team's Opening Day center fielder in each of the last two seasons, is being considered for the role.

Yost was in an upbeat mood as he attended a luncheon with reporters and took a group photo with Major League Baseball's other 29 managers. The Brewers will report to Spring Training on Feb. 17, and even though the team has been frustrated by a general lack of activity at the Winter Meetings, the manager seemed ready to go.

"We're really close right now," Yost said of the Brewers' 2007 chances. "We need health. We need J.J. [Hardy] to stay healthy, we need Rickie to stay healthy and we need Benny [Sheets] to stay healthy. The pieces are starting to add up to a pretty nice sum."

Weeks agreed.

"I feel real good," he said. "The key for any team is going to be staying healthy, and that's big for us. The fewer injuries you have, the better off you're going to be. I think we should be pretty good."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.