There's plenty of folks out there who will tell you that Spring Training games don't matter. And as far as some things go, they're right. The games don't count in the standings, the hand-wringing over a lost tick or two in velocity is always overblown, and the Quad-A player lighting up the stat sheet didn't just suddenly become your team's new MVP. But for guys like Colin Walsh and Zack Jones, the Brewers' two picks in last year's Rule 5 draft, these "meaningless" games are the most important of their young baseball careers.
Rule 5 draftees, who must be kept on their drafting team's 25-man roster for the entire season or be exposed to waivers for any team to claim before being offered back to their original teams, often find themselves fighting for something that they've never had a shot at before: a spot on a major league roster.
For the 26-year-old Walsh, although this is his first go-round in major league camp, he says the experience is nothing new. "I've kind of fought for a job my entire career so it's not like it's anything different," the second baseman said. "It's just something I'm used to, kind of the position I'm in."
Still, Walsh does recognize the opportunity he has with a rebuilding squad. "It's a great opportunity. There's a lot of available spots and a lot of new people -- there's not an entrenched 25-man roster, you know, there's a lot of question marks," he said. "I'm an on base and a walk guy so with [Brewers General Manager David] Stearns and the front office kind of focusing on that, that's one of the reasons I was picked in the Rule 5 so that's my goal, to show that it wasn't a wasted pick."
Jones, a 25-year-old righty plucked from Minnesota's Double-A squad, has yet to pitch this spring because of a shoulder strain suffered early in camp. He said he'll throw a live batting practice session tomorrow with hopes to get into a game this weekend. He realizes the urgency of his situation. "The reality of it is it's a tryout, and not a great time to get hurt."
Even while he pushes to make a big league roster for the first time, however, Jones has his priorities in order. "You know, you just have to stick to the process, you have to look at the big pictures, your health and your career is first," he said. "Obviously I'm doing everything I can to make this team, but I have to keep in mind that this could affect my longevity and my career so that's why I trust the trainers."
Walsh, on the other hand, has taken advantage of the injury that has kept Scooter Gennett on the bench to lead the team in innings played at second base entering Tuesday. While he's hitting just .211 so far, his 16% walk rate has kept that OBP at a very respectable .360. A walk guy, indeed.
The competition for Milwaukee's pair of Rule 5 picks, who are living together in Arizona for the spring, doesn't end when they leave Maryvale for the day. "Zack and I are big into Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 so we played a few races of that," Walsh said when I asked him how he spent his off day on Tuesday. "Zack is [better], I will admit, which is hard because we both play a lot. It's not like a casual game, it's very competitive."
When I asked Zack to confirm, he asked me, "Who did he say was better?" He continued, "I'm definitely better. He's good though, he's good. But I'm better. We're very competitive with that."
Cactus League Updates
- Scheduled to lead off today's game, RF Domingo Santana was a late scratch from the lineup, replaced by Eric Young Jr. Counsell said there was nothing serious to worry about: "He's got a stiff left neck and shoulder area, should just be a day or two." Santana is leading the Brewers with a 1.597 OPS in 23 plate appearances so far this spring, so hopefully it is indeed nothing too serious.
- LHP Franklin Morales, who the Brewers signed to a minor league deal a couple of days into Spring Training this month, pitched well in an intrasquad game yesterday. "We actually had to extend [his outing], he got three outs on eight pitches and we had to have him face two or three more hitters," Counsell said. "He knows what he's doing, he's got two off-speed pitches that are weapons for him." Morales, who pitched well out of the World Champion Royals bullpen last season, needs to get ready quickly if he wants to fight his way into the Brewers' crowded bullpen picture. "What's been encouraging is that he's got himself into game action quickly," said Counsell. "We'll be able to see him in games [with the major league club] soon."
- The progress of RHP Jeremy Jeffress, who threw a live batting practice session today that went well, prompted more questions about Counsell's plan for the back of the bullpen. Channeling his inner Travis, he confirmed what I've been trying to tell y'all all along: closers aren't real. "I can guarantee you it will not happen," Counsell said when asked if he would name a closer before the end of Spring Training. "There's no such position as 'Opening Day closer' you know, that's not a position. There's no spot in the lineup card for a closer." Jeffress and LHP Will Smith, who figure to be the anchors of the Brewers' bullpen this season, give Milwaukee an interesting opportunity to play matchups at the end of games: "It certainly could end up being just one guy, but I don't think there's any reason to put restrictions on it right now. Those guys are both really good, one throws left-handed and one throws right-handed, and I think we should take advantage of that."