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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Previewing the 2011 Season: Corey Hart

Corey Hart's 2010 season was interesting, to say the least. He began the year by performing so poorly during Spring Training that the Brewers opted to start Jim Edmonds in right field on opening day (causing Hart to lose his spot on the Allstar ballot to Edmonds), and he did not play his second game until the fifth game of the season. Faced with circumstances he had not yet encountered in his career, Hart put his head down and worked hard to earn back his role as the team's everyday right fielder. He watched video of his swing, met frequently with hitting coach Dale Sveum, and spent a lot of time in the batting cages. Hart improved his swing, and his performance gradually convinced Ken Macha that he again deserved more time in the starting lineup.

Hart finished April having played only 17 of the Brewers' 23 games. He batted .270 throughout April (average for Hart, but better than his average for both 2008 and 2009) with 3 HR. Hart's average faltered somewhat in May (.253) but his power increased, knocking 10 HR for the month. In June Hart really picked up steam, batting .314 with 5 HR. He took a hitting streak from June into July, collecting hits in 20 straight games. In spite of not being on the ballot, Hart even became an Allstar (his second appearance) after finishing third in players' votes. NL manager Charlie Manuel then made Hart his starting right fielder when Atlanta's Jason Heyward could not compete due to injury.

Hart participated in the Home Run Derby and hit 13 home runs, more than any other player in the first round. Unfortunately he lost his timing in the second round after sitting on the sidelines for an extended period of time between rounds. He failed to move on to the final round but finished a respectable third, despite not hitting any dingers in the second round.

Hart continued to perform well in the second half of the season, even while trade rumors constantly swirled around him. He slumped slightly in August after dealing with an injury in late July but he finished the season strongly, batting .295 in September and October, including a 16-game hitting streak in September. He finished the season with a .283 average (his best since 2007) and set career highs for home runs (31) and RBIs (102), joining Casey McGehee and Ryan Braun as Brewers who broke 100 RBI in 2010. In the process, the Brewers granted Hart a three year contract extension that will pay him $25.5 million and keep him in Milwaukee through the 2013 season.

Hart said recently that the contract extension meant a lot to him, especially considering how his season started. He has repeatedly stated that he wants to stay in Milwaukee and he described the extension as taking "a huge load off my shoulders." He claims that he's always worked hard and will continue to do so. The security afforded him by his contract should allow him to focus exclusively on his game for the next couple of seasons.

Brewers fans expect Hart to build on his 2010 breakout season. Hart knows all too well what happens when they think a player does not meet the performance expectations of multi-million dollar contracts (Bill Hall, Jeff Suppan). He likely will not set career highs in HR and RBI again in 2011, but hopefully he will come close to matching his 2010 performance. If he fails to meet expectations, we can take solace in the fact that his is a 3-year extension (and really only 2 since the club already controlled his rights through 2011), as opposed to the 4 years given to Hall and Suppan.

If Hart can keep his average to around .280 on the season and hit at least 20-25 home runs (and hopefully lay off those low and outside sliders), he will likely again knock in nearly 100 RBIs and will be worth his $6.5 million salary. He'll continue to play slightly below-average defense in right field, but his speed should suit him well with new manager Ron Roenicke promising aggression on the base paths. Corey Hart played well in 2010 when he needed to prove to the Brewers that he should be their everyday right fielder. Now he needs to prove that he is worth his contract.


  1. Tom Haudricourt tweeted today that Hart is up to 235 pounds (from 229 lbs at beginning of last season) and is "as strong as I've been in a while" in response to a rumor that Hart broke his leg. Hopefully that means Hart will be able maintain his power numbers from last year.

  2. The Brewers are doing good so far rthe have been going back and forth with the record. But when we get are good players back we will come out of the record problems and we will come back from the hole we are in.