It's been nearly a week since I left sunny Phoenix to return to the salt-stained, snow covered streets of The Good Land, but I've got one more on site report from my conversations in the Maryvale clubhouse.
Most of the focus on the fight for the starting center field job -- and the fifth outfielder spot assumed to be claimed by Rymer Liriano that is now vacant following his devastating injury last weekend -- has centered around 25-year-old toolshed Keon Broxton and veteran lefty Kirk Nieuwenhuis, both of whom already occupy spots on the 40-man roster. There is a pair of non-roster invitees that are still in camp and making their cases, however, and I talked to Shane Peterson and Alex Presley on Sunday to get their thoughts on the challenges of carving out a spot between the established veterans and the up-and-coming prospects.
Liriano's injury will likely land him on the 60-day DL, opening up a spot on the Brewers' 40-man roster. Presley is making the decision on how to fill that spot very difficult for Craig Counsell and the Brewers front office this spring. Among players with at least 20 at bats, Presley is third on the team with a 1.032 OPS. He has more walks than strikeouts and trails only slugging first baseman Chris Carter on the home run leaderboard with three. "It's good, I'm happy with it," Presley said about his spring so far. "I've done some good things, worked on some stuff I wanted to work on and was able to do some things in the stat column so it's been a plus so far."
It has not be quite as successful a spring in the box scores for Peterson, who carries a .174/.259/.261 batting line through 23 at bats so far this spring. Despite the slow start from a results standpoint, he's sticking to the process. "I think I'm swinging it decently well, I'm not gettign the hits that I would like," Peterson said. "Competing for that spot, it's kind of hard knowing that they're looking for results first, but at the same time I know I'm putting myself in a good position. Even throughout the season, if you start in Triple A, you're still competing for an open spot."
Like Nieuwenhuis, both Presley and Peterson have some major league experience. Presley debuted with the Pirates in 2010, and has also played in Minnesota and Houston. Peterson had a very brief cameo with the Oakland Athletics on 2013 before getting the majority of his big league at bats last season with Milwaukee. Presley thought his major league track record could give him a leg up in the race to make the roster. "I think having a bigger track record in the major league definitely helps. They know what to expect from me and hopefully that give them a little more confidence to put me out there," Presley said. "They kind of know what they're going to get so yeah, I think it's definitively an advantage."
Peterson, however, disagreed. "I don't think [it gives me an advantage], I think everybody's got a chance to compete," Peterson said. "With everybody that we have there's a lot of different options, and the way that we are building a team right now I think they're going to try to get teh best players out there that they can for now and in the future. I think it helps as far as just being comfortable and knowing what to expect."
One of the odd dynamics of life on the fringes of the major league roster is that the real competition, if you strip it down to the bare reality, isn't between teams but within them: Peterson and Presley's true opponents aren't the Rockies, Reds or Diamondbacks -- they are Nieuwenhuis, Broxton and Eric Young Jr. "It's a weird thing," Presley said. "I've found over the course of time that it doesn't do any good to wish negative thigns on anybody. I continue to cheer for guys, we all put in work together, and we all become friends over the course of this."
Peterson echoed those sentiments. "I learned pretty early in my career that it doesn't really matter that much what other people do because you kind of have to take care of your own business," he said. "Regardless of who you're competing with you have to take care of your own business first, and whatever happens is what will happen."
As fans and as bloggers, it can sometimes slip away from us in our desire for The Best Team that there are real, human people behind the stat lines, win-loss records and contract particulars. No one is asking you to feel sorry for grown men who get to paid to play a game at the highest level, but it's important I think to keep in mind that human aspect of baseball. These spring games may not count in the standings but for hundreds of players across the league fighting for a spot, they are anything but meaningless.
"I definitely like to see everybody do well," Presley said. "In a perfect world we all make the team. But that's not the case."