It has been 136 long days since the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Colorado Rockies on October 2nd, giving our local nine a 73-89 record to end the 2016 season. After a seemingly endless winter and some more slingin’ by GM David Stearns, the 2017 baseball season has finally arrived with Brewers pitchers and catchers reporting today to Maryvale baseball park in Arizona to begin Spring Training.
There are a few new faces in camp this year, but the expectations remain generally the same among fans and pundits alike - no one really expects the rebuilding Brewers to challenge for a playoff spot during the upcoming season. That’s not to say that this team is without any intrigue, however, as there are plenty of questions that will need to be answered during camp. The team at Brew Crew Ball went around the horn to come up with four storylines to watch during the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2017 Spring Training:
eddiematthews: Keon Broxton
Keon Broxton’s 2016 season was well chronicled as one of the most dichotomous in team history (challenged by Home/Road Kirk, of course). A horrid start that included three trips back and forth to AAA Colorado Springs gave way to an exceptional second half that ended prematurely with a broken wrist in Wrigley Field in a September collision with an un-padded, ivy covered brick wall. Then Keon was arrested for trespassing while intoxicated last November in Tampa.
I’ll address the last item first. I don’t expect the Tampa incident to have any effect whatsoever. If anything, it could have a positive effect - Broxton should now realize that his actions are under much closer scrutiny, and he must be a more responsible citizen.
We won’t know about the recovery from his broken wrist until he starts hitting this spring. At best there will be some rust that needs to be knocked off. At worst the wrist will be weakened and Broxton will need time to heal fully in Colorado Springs before he can rejoin the big league squad.
We’ll just quickly recap Broxton’s season splits last year. His first half slash was .125/.253/.188; OPS .441. He struck out a whopping 44% of the time. Ouch. In the second half, he came in at .294/.399/.538; OPS .937. He still struck out at a 32.4% clip and was greatly aided by a .425 BABIP.
So what can we expect from Keon in 2017? Steamer projects him at .222/.304/.378; OPS of .683. That’s a 1.1 WAR. PECOTA has him at .229/.318/.412; OPS of .740. Those projections seem to disregard Broxton’s swing adjustment in 2016, and assume more of a regression to his first half from last season. At age 27 it is fair to look at Broxton’s total major league and minor league results rather than the results from one half of a season, but I see Broxton more at a .250/.330/.450 level (OPS .780) level, which is solid for a very good defensive centerfielder. With a good probability for 15+ homers and 30+ steals in a full season, I’m expecting Broxton to be a solid contributor for Milwaukee in 2017.
-JP-: The Pitching Rotation
One position battle looms over all of the others entering spring training this year: The competition for the five starting pitcher spots in the rotation. The Brewers will have to put together a rotation to begin the year, and they will have at least seven candidates to consider, if not more. Here are the seven candidates:
- Chase Anderson
- Zach Davies
- Matt Garza
- Junior Guerra
- Jimmy Nelson
- Wily Peralta
- Tommy Milone
There are a few positions that should be locked down entering the spring. Zach Davies and Junior Guerra should have the inside track to their spots based on their good seasons in 2016. Wily Peralta ended the 2016 season strong, and will be in a good position to claim a spot as well. Meanwhile, the other returning candidates (Chase Anderson, Matt Garza, Jimmy Nelson) have more to prove after rougher years in 2016.
The traditional answer to this problem would be that one pitcher will be relegated to the bullpen to start the year. It could go to the pitcher with the worst spring, or it could go to the pitcher who would fit best in the bullpen. The coaching staff hasn’t made any indication of who they are favoring, and they are open to many options. Craig Counsell has even indicated that the team could get “creative” with their starting pitching given the plethora of options. Could we see a guys pitching in tandems? Home/road starters? A strict twice-through-the-order policy before pulling a guy?
Of course, this could end up being a competition that is solved on its own during camp. Having seven potential starters means that if up to two starters get injured, the team can still field a full rotation to start the year. That could easily solve the problem for the Brewers.
Of course, there’s also another possibility: Another pitcher could pitch his way into the discussion. The top possibilities for this are top pitching prospect Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, Jorge Lopez, or Aaron Wilkerson. Any of them could complicate the situation further with great springs. Of course, all of them could also start in the minors and act as depth in case of other injuries, which works against them. They would need to prove themselves even more to earn a spot.
How will all of this shake out this spring? Who will step up, and who will step back? We’re only weeks away from finding out this answer.
Jaymes L: Who’s catching?
It's been a long time since the Brewers went into spring training without knowing who would be their everyday catcher. Even in 2010, the year Jonathan Lucroy debuted, the team went into the year with Gregg Zaun as the clear starter.
With both Lucroy and last year's replacement Martin Maldonado gone, the Brewers head to Arizona with three catchers on the 40-man roster but no obvious answer behind the plate. Andrew Susac, Jett Bandy and Manny Pina have all been career backups at the big league level but are now faced with an opportunity to finally become a starter.
Susac may be heading into camp with a slight leg up in the competition, but Bandy also possesses some sneaky pop in his bat, much like Maldonado did before him, hitting 8 home runs in 209 at-bats last year. At that rate, he'd be approaching 20 home runs if given 500 at-bats as a starter.
Taking over for one of the best catchers in team history will be no easy task, and taking the job won't just mean hitting the best in spring training. We'll have to keep an eye on how all three handle the pitching staff, frame pitches, and keep opposing base thieves at bay.
Kyle Lesniewski: Scooter Gennett - utiltyman?
Last season, we watched Hernan Perez entrench himself firmly in the teams plans by becoming a super-utility option off the bench, capable of playing all over the diamond. This spring, we’ll watch to see if Scooter Gennett can follow a similar path to regular playing time. After spending the last 3+ seasons as the regular second baseman, Gennett was displaced over the winter by breakout star Jonathan Villar, who moved to the keystone after Orlando Arcia was called up to play shortstop and Travis Shaw was acquired to play third.
Gennett’s been a solid, if unspectacular performer during his MLB career, batting a cumulative .279/.318/.420 in 456 games, but defensively has been limited to second base. Without a clear path to consistent at-bats, Gennett will begin to move around the diamond this spring, including trying his hand in the outfield. If Scooter is unable to become more versatile, he’ll likely be relegated to a mostly pinch-hitting role that could include some spot starts at second base here or there, but my guess is he’d struggle to find even 200 plate appearances in that capacity. The new front office and management regime has emphasized how much they value positional versatility, and if Gennett can’t expand his defensive portfolio he may very well find himself a non-tender candidate next offseason.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs