PHOENIX — Finally, the long offseason is now over. It began earlier than we had hoped for the Brewers after their Wild Card loss to the Nationals, and the last few months were quite stressful for Brewers fans.
Gone are the trusted veterans Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas. Gone are Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Trent Grisham, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Jordan Lyles, and Drew Pomeranz. Now a whole new cast of contributors have been brought in to replace them.
The Brewers enter spring training with an uneasy fanbase that has a lot of questions about the roster they’re going to see this season.
With so many things going on in spring training, here are the three most important things to watch for as Brewers spring training unfolds.
1. How Much Time Does Ryan Braun Spend At First Base?
This was the same question heading into 2018 after the Brewers got Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain during that offseason. Ryan Braun was projected to spend a lot more time at first base, but the emergence of Jesus Aguilar that spring limited Braun to 12 starts at first in the regular season, basically ending that experiment.
But now both Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames are gone. In to replace them are Justin Smoak and Ryon Healy. There’s room for at-bats for Ryan Braun at first base in there, and there could be a platoon between Smoak and Braun.
The thing is, the Brewers have to find at-bats for Braun somewhere. They’re simply paying him too much money not to. Braun will earn $17MM this year, the highest salary on the team.
The Brewers brought in Avisail Garcia on a multi-year contract this winter, and are paying him a $10MM AAV, which is not a sum you pay to a guy to sit on the bench. They also can’t pay Braun $17MM to sit on the bench either.
There are only three outfield spots and the Brewers four highest paid players are all outfielders. One of them has to move and Braun is the most likely candidate. The Brewers have been quiet about how much time they expect Braun to play at first base, but once games start, we’ll get a better idea.
2. How Will Corbin Burnes And Freddy Peralta Bounce Back?
Two of the most exciting pitching prospects to come through the Brewers farm system in the past decade are Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. After great performances in 2018 as very young pitchers, the sophomore slump hit them both hard in 2019, especially Burnes.
Both were expected to take a big leap forward in 2019, earning spots in the initial starting rotation as the Brewers bet their season on their young starting pitchers thriving with regular opportunities in the rotation. Only Brandon Woodruff thrived last year. Burnes couldn’t stop giving up home runs and Peralta had trouble with control, with both getting demoted back to Triple-A a couple times last season.
Pitching development isn’t always a linear progression, so some troubles were to be expected at some point, but what’s really important is how they bounce back. Both had sustained success throughout the minor leagues and their stuff is legit. Both have big league fastballs, while Burnes rounds out his arsenal with a 4-5 pitch mix, and Peralta has different variations of his fastball.
In winter ball, Peralta lit up the Dominican Winter League. In five starts, Peralta went 20 innings, giving up just three walks, had 34 strikeouts, and a 1.35 ERA. Reports had him adding a slider and a changeup this winter, which are two pitches he didn’t throw that often the past two seasons. With his velocity getting near 100 MPH at times now, if he can add those pitches to his arsenal, Peralta could reach his ace-level potential. If Peralta finds consistency between starts, the rest of the league better watch out.
Burnes has ace-level potential as well, with some of the best pure stuff the Brewers have ever had in a homegrown starter. For a variety of reasons, things went haywire for Burnes last season who struggled, despite his stuff remaining largely the same. It was puzzling for both Burnes and the Brewers last year. With a full offseason and work in the Brewers pitching lab under his belt, hopefully they’ve figured out what went wrong.
The future of the Crew’s pitching staff depends on these two pitchers reaching their potential. These two along with Brandon Woodruff make for an excellent young rotation core that could make the Brewers a perennial World Series team. They need these two to work out.
3. How Does Orlando Arcia Perform?
This offseason, the Brewers acquired an even younger shortstop prodigy in Luis Urias. A solid defender, Urias is known as a great hitter as well and was set to challenge incumbent Orlando Arcia for the starting shortstop job on Opening Day. Unfortunately, Urias needed surgery on his hand/wrist a few weeks ago and will miss most of spring training and the start of the season.
That lets Arcia off the hook, for now. But the battle drums are still beating in the distance. Once Urias comes back, there will be a battle between the two for the starting job, but it’ll have to play out over the regular season now instead.
But that doesn’t mean Arcia can slack off until his competition returns, however. With him getting the bulk of the opportunities in spring training then, Arcia’s performance will be even more scrutinized.