Perhaps no Brewers player was ready for Spring Training to start as much as JJ Hardy. Hardy's name was very popular in hot stove discussions over the winter. Many people wanted Hardy traded for young pitching.
Others wanted him to move over to third base to make room for top prospect Alcides Escobar at shortstop. In the end, he will be right where he belongs in 2009, playing shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers.
In just four years, Hardy has gone from being an over matched rookie struggling to hit the ball, to one of the best offensive shortstops in all of the Major Leagues. He has averaged 25 home runs, a .280 batting average, and 77 runs batted in over the last two seasons.
He is able to turn on a fastball as well as anyone in baseball, and he will see plenty of them as long as he continues hitting in front of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Hardy is also an above average fielder. While his range isn't as great as Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez, Hardy's arm is as strong as anyone and he can get the ball to first base in the blink of an eye.
The lack of range and strong arm is why many people have wanted Hardy moved to third base and let Escobar take his place at short. However, while Escobar's glove is Major League ready, his bat needs to develop this season at Triple A.
Hardy could be a perennial All-Star if he was more consistent in the first half of the season. He was hitting as low as .247 as late as June 21 last year. By July 24, he had raised his average all the way up to .300.
The low average is due in large part to his batting low in the order for the team. For the better part of the first 10 weeks of the season, Hardy batted either sixth or seventh. He was then moved to the two-hole, where he has always shown his most comfort at the plate.
A move to the five-hole came after Ned Yost was fired with only 12 games left in the season, but Hardy's greatest chance for success as a hitter will remain batting behind Rickie Weeks at the top of the lineup.
I don't see any reason for Hardy's numbers to change from what they have been the past couple of season. That means you can expect a batting average right around .280 and another 25 home runs from the two-hole hitter.
He has a chance to score 100 runs as both Braun and Fielder develop into premier sluggers. If Ken Macha is able to figure out Hardy's early season struggles, he should be in the mix to make a trip to St. Louis for the All-Star game.
Although his future may lie at third or second base, Hardy will have at least 2009 to prove his worth as a shortstop. He continues to show a steady bat at the plate, and he will remain the anchor of the Brewers' infield.
After the season, Hardy will enter his final year of arbitration. He is a vital part to the team's success so management would be wise to try and sign him to a long-term deal. If not, a trade during the 2010 season isn't out of the question.