On Thursday evening the Milwaukee Brewers hosted their second (of what will hopefully continue as) annual “Inside the Brewers” town hall event at Miller Park. All fans were invited to attend the event for free, and parking was free for patrons as well. Brian Anderson emceed the event, with the help of Jeff Levering and Sophia Minnaert taking questions from the audience and Lane Grindle relaying the questions from social media.
BA began the event by talking about the dramatic game 7 of the World Series that saw the Cubs defeat the Indians in extra innings to win their first title since 1908, and invited all of us who were present to close our eyes and imagine what it will be like in Miller Park when the Brewers experience a moment like that in the postseason.
Brewers’ COO Rick Schlesinger then took the stage to talk about the new food and beverage updates. BA lobbed him a question about the World Series to break the ice, and Rick received a few cheers when he told the crowd “Go Tribe!” He went on to describe the recently announced renovations, noting that there will be new additions on every level, more points of sale for faster moving lines, and that the project will be complete by Opening Day of 2017. Schlesinger got a big cheer from the assembled crowd when he added that “no taxpayer money will be used.” A 3-minute video was shown going into more detail about what the renovations will ultimately look like. He also briefly discussed next year’s fan giveaways, saying rather generally that there will be some player themed ones, some kid-specific ones, a special item for Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, as well as another special Bob Uecker themed giveaway.
Miller Park under construction: pic.twitter.com/wgRR50gdcB— Brew Crew Ball (@BrewCrewBall) November 3, 2016
After Schlesinger was done, the main attraction began as David Stearns and Craig Counsell took the stage. Brian Anderson asked both about game 7, with Stearns saying that Theo Epstein “deserved to be stumbling around, boozed up, with a backwards baseball cap” after winning the World Series. Counsell’s eight year old daughter was really into the postseason for the first time, so he was excited to be able to use the opportunity to teach her about the game of baseball and he said he had to show her some old videos of his World Series heroics to earn “status in the house.”
Asked about the 2016 season, Stearns stated that he believed in making incremental progress towards the long-terms goals and that the Brewers took steps in the right direction this year. He was encouraged by the progress the club made, but added that he was not happy with 73 victories. Counsell is focused on helping his players take that next step, and expressed how important building a proper foundation for the organization is and that he believes that the Brewers are doing well to establish that culture.
The first audience question was from Bill from New Berlin, who asked Stearns about the Rule 5 Draft. The GM noted that he was actually talking with club officials about this very topic today, saying the club currently has some available 40 man roster spots but they’ll need to clear more. Some 4-7 players will need to be protected, and Stearns stressed that it’s imperative to make sure the right players are being protected and kept in the organization.
Ed from Pewaukee implored the Brewers not to trade Khris Davis at last year’s event (God bless him), and this year he returned to ask Stearns to make him feel better about losing Khrush. Stearns said that some players “outperform their original expectations” after Khris hit 42 home runs this year for Oakland, but that he felt comfortable trading from the position given the club’s outfield depth. He added that he was pleased with the play of the club’s outfielders in 2016 as well as the progress made by both Bubba Derby and Jacob Nottingham.
Bob from Milwaukee wanted to know why the Brewers always take batting practice first. Craig Counsell fielded that question, stating that “this is the way it’s always been” since he’s been in the game and probably even before than that. Counsell added that it’s a considered a courtesy to the away team and he doesn’t anticipate any changes anytime soon.
Greg from Racine asked my favorite question of the night, wondering about the plan for Junior Guerra given his age and suggested that Ryan Braun was expendable because he’s over 30 years old. David Stearns asked if he was expendable due to having just turned 31, which drew laughter from the crowd. He then added the team will need some veteran leaders and that Braun is obviously one, and that even though Guerra is early on in his MLB career his maturity and performance are positives in the clubhouse. Stearns said that while he’s always listening on everyone, he “fully expect(s) Junior Guerra to be a part of this team going forward.”
Another year, and another “Ryan Braun to first base question,” this time from Jim in Madison. Counsell said that Braun has never been approached about playing first and that Ryan is viewed as a left fielder, praising his defense this year after moving over from right. Counsell did stress that he loves positional versatility and it’s something he’s always thinking about, perhaps leaving that door open in the future. The conversation then turned to grapes being the most versatile fruit, and how Hernan Perez is the grape of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Scott on Facebook wanted to know about Villar’s position for next season, and Counsell responded that his versatility gives the club options. Justin from Facebook asked about the plans for third base, and Stearns said that there are several options within the organization starting with Villar and Perez, but again stressed positional versatility and that there is “lots of time” to make additions this winter if the club sees fit. Counsell added that he wants to have competition in the clubhouse and on the field at different positions, saying that he wants his players to feel like they have to step up.
Charlie from Oshkosh asked the duo about their feeling on instant replay, and neither appeared to be too impressed. Stearns said that while the intent of what replay is meant for is right, there’s been too much “nitpicking” that’s become a pace of play issue and that it deserves to be looked at and possibly adjusted. Counsell added that ultimately he does want to see the calls made correctly, but that the “endless technicalities” have been an issue and replay needs to be fixed or simplified somehow.
When asked about Jacob Nottingham’s struggles this season, Stearns pushed back a bit against that idea and praised the defensive strides the 21 year old took this year in the Southern League. Stearns said that he’s now confident that Nottingham will be able to handle the position defensively at the big league level, and though his overall slash wasn’t what he’d hoped for that Nottingham was very young for the league and that the org is still very excited about his future.
Stearns and Counsell were also asked about Orlando Arcia’s struggles, and both were quick to remind the fans that Arcia is a defense-first player who will “win us games” because of his glove. Stearns said that it’s easy to forget how young Arcia is because he’s been talked about for so many years now. The club was expecting that he’d need to make an offensive adjustment. Counsell stated that Arcia “loves to be challenged” and that he fully expects him to be able to adjust to succeed against big league pitching.
Larry from Oconomowoc expressed some concern about the records of the minor league teams and the struggles of some of our top prospects. Stearns stated that winning is a part of the development process and noted that Biloxi had a winning record and Wisconsin was in the playoffs. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way because of how aggressively they push some of their players to tougher levels, and it’s important for players to learn from their struggles. He added that some prospects will ultimately fail, but if the club continues to bring in young talent and develop those players they will hit on at least a few of them. Stearns touched on the directional significance of the minor league system ratings from places like Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, but that he’s more involved with talking to the coaches regarding a player’s development and statistical evaluation of each player, including proprietary stats not available to the public.
Nick from Milwaukee asked how the club evaluates pitchers while they’re in Colorado Springs, and Stearns responded by stating that “we know that ERA’s and home runs will be higher” and that it’s different from evaluating performance at the other minor league levels and stadiums. Stearns again stressed the importance of discussing with the coaches to get an accurate picture of how a player is progressing.
Charlie from East Troy asked if the Brewers or any other club was currently scouting any women ballplayers. Stearns responded that the Brewers are “not currently (scouting) to my knowledge, but I don’t think it’s that far away.” He added that he doesn’t see a reason why we wouldn’t get to that point eventually and that “I hope we are the organization that finds her.”
Finally, Don from Kenosha (who received a hearty booing while wearing full Cubs gear) asked that given the opportunities that club had to trade Braun, why didn’t Stearns pull the trigger? Stearns made sure to first tell the audience that “not everything that is published is accurate,” but that the club explores all inquiries and given Braun’s elite talent, naturally there is interest in his services. He said that Braun has given a lot to the organization and with his production, the Brewers would need a return “commensurate with his abilities.” Since Braun is still a Brewer he has yet to be offered that value.