March 25th, 2016
I love going to Maryvale Baseball Park to watch Brewers Spring Training games.
There is something very “special” about the place. It looks different than the state of the art fabulous parks that are now dotting the landscape in Arizona. Yes, it has some age, but Maryvale Baseball Park is well maintained for the most part and it really is very fan friendly. Every seat has a perfect view of the field. There is an intimacy and “family” type environment throughout.
Maryvale is also the home of the finest kettle popcorn I’ve ever eaten. Big, full bags of kettlecorn always find their way into my car and arrive home as a treat that my wife really loves. The walkway of Maryvale Baseball Park has a war of scents every day. Popcorn vs. Noodles. Most of the time the popcorn wins.
The press box is not the most up to date, but it has plenty of room for all the writers and an annex next door to handle the spillover. But there is one small problem. The press box does not offer any water—bottled or otherwise. Yikes!
The Brewers team I saw in their game against the Kansas City Royals looked like it could be representative of the opening day lineup. Although the Brewers staff still has some decisions to make on outfielders and the relief corps, modt of the positions are settled. There are lots of young, eager and promising players on the roster.
Gone from last year are players like Khris Davis, Adam Lind, Francisco Rodrigues, Jean Segura and Logan Schafer. Those could accumulate to be big, big losses. But for a team that is in the first real phase of rebuilding under new general manager David Stearns, the task is likely exciting for all involved and requires patience. Who doesn’t like to watch young prospect players come of age from a baseball sense?
New Brewers include guys like Chris Carter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jonathan Villar, Chase Anderson and Aaron Hill among a host of others.
I was stunned at how fast a Chris Carter line drive left the ball park in left-center field. It got out In a blink of an eye. Carter’s strength was evident as his short, quick swing met the pitch perfectly on the barrel of the bat. The baseball may have been dented as it sailed in the air. It was really amazing. Carter could hit a ton of home runs with that swing. If I were on the mound he would never see a fastball. If he adjusts to off-speed and breaking ball pitches, hats off to him. But until he makes that adjustment consistently, he’ll have to hit my secondary pitches. The man is lethal against fastballs. Carter struck out 151 times in 391 at-bats last year for Houston. And now he takes his .199 batting average to Milwaukee. But the power is undeniable.
Another former Astro is young Domingo Santana. Santana played in only 14 games for Houston last season with another 38 for the Brewers after the trade. It looks like he has won a job as the right fielder for the Crew. There really is lots to like with him.
He should be able to get better and better with the bat as he gains experience against quality major league pitching. I caution that fans and his manager will have to be patient with Santana. While the tools are evident he lacks experience as an every day player against the best pitching in the world.
Ryan Braun’s health remains a concern. From hand issues to now his bad back, Braun has been showing signs of wear and tear of late. I don’t really know how long his baseball shelf life will be. Is there enough left in his bat to make an impact? How many games will he play? I think we are in the midst of a time when Braun wants to prove that he can be a mentor to the young Brewers and that he can still hit. My jury hasn’t returned a verdict yet. While I think he still has “it” I’m not as certain as I was in the off-season. Braun’s nagging issues concern me.
I do like Jonathan Villar a great deal as a potential base stealer. And with Jean Segura now playing in Arizona, it looks to me like Villar may be a place holder until the club is certain that the shortstop of the future is ready. That would be Orlando Arcia-a really fine prospect. But keep your eye on Yadiel Rivera, another young middle-infielder who may hit and play his way onto the club. I can see a future middle-infield of Arcia and Rivera. For now, though, I think Villar gets lots of playing time. I just hope he gets the green light to attempt to steal. I think there are more stolen bases from him than we’ve seen in his past.
While I write about Rivera, Scooter Gennett is having a fantastic offensive spring. He is hitting so well that he can be a real spark at the top of the Brewers order. Gennett plays with energy and is a real gamer. I think the middle-infield of the Brewers will be a true strength for a long time going forward.
Someone will have to take over at third base. Right now, the position seems to belong to Aaron Hill. He will provide some veteran stability, but he won’t be the long-term answer. Maybe one of the guys I’ve already mentioned or a player like Garin Cecchini can catch fire and give the Brewers the third baseman they need long-term. Colin Walsh and Andy Wilkins are also on the 40-man. Somewhere among all those corner infielders will emerge.
The outfield is also loaded with prospects. Keon Broxton, has opened lots of eyes. Someone will will the center field job. Will it be Niewenhuis? Young Keon Broxton? And will former Padres outfielder (now injured) Rymer Liriano find a role with the club?
What happens to the catching position? Will Jonathan Lucroy be traded for even more young major league ready players? If not now, will he make it with the club past the July trading deadline? I don’t have the answer to that. But I do know I like his backup catcher a great deal. Every time I see him play, catcher Martin Maldonado gets a big, meaningful hit. I think their catching situation will be fine. Maybe it’s time to see what Lucroy can fetch in trade. I remind myself that among the young studs the Brewers have collected is Jacob Nottingham, a really, really solid hitting prospect catcher. He’s just not quite ready. But he projects to be a very good long-term replacement for Lucroy when the time does arrive.
Wily Peralta got the start in the game I scouted. He looked really sharp. He wasn’t overpowering, but he got into a great rhythm and did the job. If he can last six innings I think the pen is strong enough to preserve a victory. The pitching staff is young and eager to succeed. But I still don’t know exactly who closes? Is it a committee? Is it Will Smith? Is it Jeremy Jeffress?
So there are questions to be answered in the next week. Outfielders? Relievers? Middle-infielders? Closer? But that is to be expected with a team in transition.
Overall, I think the Brewers will be better than some might expect. There is energy and hope. Talent, power and speed. There are also strikeouts and inexperience. There is also a very young pitching staff without a true ace. But it’ll be fun.
Brewers fans are among the best in baseball. They support their team. They know the game. They have fun. They cheer at the sausage races. And this year, they have to just enjoy watching talented young men improve game to game right in front of their eyes.
Patience and sticking with their team as it matures can be challenging, but also very rewarding as the team and the fans bond together.
Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.
That’s it. I’m Done. For now.