Brewers pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training today. It's a symbolically important day for baseball fans. The off-season isn't entirely over but we're now in the transition period on our way to the preseason. In 4 or 5 days the entire team will report to camp. Just 12 days from now we'll truly enter the preseason. That's the first spring training game (March 4th).
Again, early on it doesn't mean much. It's not that exciting. The games don't really mean anything, though some fan bases are going to freak out because their team isn't winning enough of these meaningless games. The games themselves aren't important, but we as Brewers fans are going to learn the answers to some very important questions.
Will Ryan Braun get the thumbs up?
Everyone knows the problems Braun has had with his thumb and the much discussed cryo-therapy procedure performed on said thumb. No one really knows what to expect for him going forward. The Brewers have been saying they won't truly know if the surgery was a success until Braun is playing the game and swinging a bat with regularity. That moment of truth is fast approaching. By mid-to-late March we should have some kind of answer.
Don't underestimate how important it is for the whole franchise that the answer is a positive one. Ryan Braun is under contract through the 2020 season with a team option for 2021. He's getting paid a pretty penny too. In the current economic landscape it's no longer superstar caliber money. But it's still a lot for the small market Milwaukee club.
In the best case scenario the Brewers are competing and they need Braun to be able to do that. In the Brewers worst case scenario (a complete rebuild) they'd still like the ability to trade Ryan Braun. In both cases they need that thumb to not be an issue.
How quickly will Jonathan Lucroy's hammy heal up?
Jonathan Lucroy sprained his hamstring while running. The recover timetable was set for 4-6 weeks. The time at which this occurred was 7+ weeks before opening day. That's good. Even if Lucroy heals a bit slowly he would seem to find himself in a position to be ready for the first game of the regular season. That's what really matters.
I'm not worried about his bat starting off slowly. He can still take batting practice. I'm not worried about his ability to call a game or frame a pitch. Those would be skills that don't seem to just go away. The one thing he might be worse off at is playing first base.
Lucroy was going to spend a large portion of ST working and playing at first base. However I would be surprised if Lucroy plays more than 25 games there during the regular season. That mitigates any sort of defensive liability he represents at the position. And it's not like he's never played there. He's done so the past 2 seasons.
My real concern would be if he has to start the season on the disabled list. I like this Brewers team. I do think they have a chance to be better than last year. But in addition to that added potential is a ton of added risk. Lucroy is arguably their best player and if they have to lose him for 2 weeks right from the get go that really shakes their foundation and makes it all the more difficult (and possibly unlikely) they earn a Wild Card spot.
Will the Brewers get Papelbon, K-Rod, or just give up?
Even I'm getting sick of talking about this! This is the worst will-they-won't-they/love triangle storyline since the latter seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yeah I watched Buffy. Joss Whedon is a freaking genius get off my back about it! Anyway, it's still an important question and not just for the production K-Rod or Papelbon would bring.
If the Brewers don't get one of those guys it appears likely they'd fill out the bullpen with the currently available in-house options. Here's my expected depth chart if that's the case: Broxton-Perez-Jeffress-Smith-Cotts-Kintzler-Thornburg. Please keep in mind this is what I think the Brewers will do, NOT what I would do.
You'll notice 2 things. I have Chris Perez making the club. I don't have Jim Henderson making the club. The Brewers, right or wrong (probably wrong), seem to really value having veteran relievers with closing experience. That's Chris Perez. That's Jim Henderson too, but until I hear his velocity has returned I can't view him as a serious option.
Will Tyler Thornburg's elbow hold up?
Broxton/K-Rod aside, Tyler Thornburg is the other reliever I'm most curious about. He suffered some kind of tear to his UCL and in the offseason had PRP injections to aid in his healing. Leading up to Spring Training he was said to be throwing bullpens and even ahead of schedule. That's all good news. But I'm still waiting to let the balloons loose until he gets into game action. That's when we'll really know if his elbow is healed or not.
If something happens and Thornburg isn't ready then Rob Wooten probably takes the long relief spot. That's fine, but the bullpen would be much better with Thronburg in that role. I might be alone in this, but I think Thornburg could have Wade Davis/Zach Britton/Andrew Miller/Zach Duke type impact as a full time reliever.
How many Brewers related Spring Training questions can I ask involving the word "up"?
The answer is: No more. I'm done.
Who wins the open bench spots?
I think Gerardo Parra and Martin Maldonado are guaranteed spots on the bench. That leaves 3 spots to fill.
One of them will probably go to either Hector Gomez or Luis Sardinas. I'll bet on Gomez. He is out of minor league options and Sardinas' bat could benefit from more developmental time in AAA.
Another spot will likely go to either Luis Jimenez or Jason Rogers. Both are right-handed hitters that can back up either corner infield spot. Again I'm going to bet on Jimenez for similar reasons. He doesn't have any minor league options. Rogers would definitely benefit for more time at third base in the minors as last year was his first exposure there, ever.
The final spot is much more open. Options on the 40-man roster include: Logan Schafer (LF,CF,RF), Shane Peterson (LF,CF,1B), Matt Clark (1B), Juan Centeno (C), Yadiel Rivera (SS,2B). Realistically, I don't think Clark, Centeno, or Rivera are options for Opening Day. My money is on Shane Peterson because he offers more offensive upside than Schafer. He also adds insurance at first base.
Last minute acquisitions?
To paraphrase Doug Melvin, there's always someone that comes out of nowhere who earns a spot on the roster. Nyjer Morgan, Kyle Lohse, Francisco Rodriguez, and Matt Garza were all players added to the roster rather late in the off-season. Does something similar happen again this year (K-Rod/Papelbon)? Is that player already signed (Chris Perez)? Only time will tell.
Did I miss anything? What are the storylines you'll be following closely this spring?