Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 5/2/12
MILWAUKEE -- A little less than seven months ago, Nyjer Morgan took off for first base with his arms stretched out wide as Carlos Gomez scored and the Milwaukee Brewers moved on to the NLCS. Now, Morgan seems to be losing his grip on Milwaukee's center field spot, batting just .182 with four runs scored and zero RBI. It's still mighty early to suggest Morgan won't return to his .300-hitting, clutch ways of last season. But for now, the Brewers' spot in center field has become a question mark. And with two very capable center fielders looking to secure more playing time in Gomez and Japanese import Norichika Aoki, things promise to be quite interesting in the middle of the outfield as the Brewers' season progresses. An early-season look at each player in the Brewers' center field platoon: Nyjer Morgan (.182, 0 HR, 0 RBI, .224 OBP, .406 OPS) Morgan was undoubtedly the hero of the Brewers' playoff run last season, and he was a heck of a contributor in the regular season as well. He finished with a .304 batting average and earned a reputation for being strong with the game on the line. As a leftie, Morgan appeared in 119 games last season, mostly against right-handed pitchers. This season, he opened in a similar role against right-handed pitchers, with Gomez taking on left-handers. But with the offseason addition of Aoki, Morgan has slowly lost time at the position even though he has appeared in 21 of the Brewers' 24 games. Through his struggles at the plate, Morgan has clearly been frustrated. He does have three multi-hit games, but unfortunately for Morgan he has tallied a hit in just six of the games he's appeared in. "I got the funks," Morgan said on April 20. "It's just part of baseball. But it's going to be a long season. It's just me hanging in there mentally and battling out of it and not getting out of my game and eventually they're going to fall. But right now, they're not falling." At 31, Morgan isn't quite the base-stealing threat that he once was he stole 42 bags in 2009 and 34 in 2010, compared with just 13 last season. And although he is a solid defensive center fielder, his defense isn't quite at the level of Gomez who is one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. Carlos Gomez (.318, 1 HR, 5 RBI, .348 OBP, .893 OPS) Gomez was a highly touted prospect when he was signed as a free agent in 2002 by the Mets. Since passing through Minnesota and landing in Milwaukee, however, he hasn't quite lived up to his initial billing. But there are signs Gomez, 26, could very well be an effective, everyday center fielder as early as this season with the Brewers. Of Milwaukee's regular contributors, Gomez has the best batting average on the team, hovering above .300 all season long. He's a serious threat to steal bases, evidenced by his five stolen bases already in 2012. And he's even shown progress as a power hitter. Gomez is truly a five-tool center fielder, and if he can live up to expectations for a prolonged period of time, he could very well make this job his. As a right-handed batter, Gomez has seen the majority of opportunities against left-handed pitchers this season appearing in 19 games and allowing Aoki and Morgan to go up against righties. His hitting has improved, as he's swinging at significantly fewer pitches outside of the strike zone and making much more contact so much so that he could warrant at-bats against righties as well. His defense in center field, however, may be his most important asset to the Brewers. He displays tremendous range and decision-making whenever he gets playing time. Is Gomez ready to be more than a platoon player? If he continues his early-season success, it seems the answer is yes. Norichika Aoki (.269, 1 HR, 2 RBI, .367 OBP, .790 OPS) Aoki, 30, came from Japan with the pressure of seriously strong billing some had alluded to him as being the next Ichiro after he won multiple batting titles there. And although those expectations are largely exaggerated, Aoki has shown so far in his rookie season that he could be a serious factor in the Brewers' outfield. In a role that was supposed to solely be Morgan's playing center field against right-handers Aoki has done well enough to force himself into the lineup. He even hit an inside-the-park home run in April, the first of Milwaukee's season. Aoki has had the fewest opportunities of the trio to show his potential this season, but he has still hit .269 in 26 at-bats over 19 games. Aoki's long-term worth remains a question mark as he transitions from Japanese baseball to the major leagues. However, he wasn't just an average contributor in his home country he was the fastest player in Japanese baseball history to amass 500 career hits. And clearly, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has some faith in Aoki or he wouldn't be sharing at-bats with Morgan. But changes in roles is what fans have come to expect from the Brewers' center field spot after all, Morgan wasn't signed to be such a major contributor in 2011. And as the 2012 season continues to unfold, with so many factors in play, there's no doubt more changes will be in store in the middle of the outfield. Follow Ryan Kartje on Twitter.
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