With pitchers and catchers reporting to Maryvale tomorrow and position players due in by the end of the week, spring training is finally here. Game action kicks off a week from Friday when the Brewers play host to the UW-Milwaukee Panthers before opening their Cactus League schedule a day later in Tempe against the Los Angeles Angels.
With such a young team entering 2017, there will be plenty worth watching this spring, and here are just a few of the things we’ll be keeping an eye on.
NEW FACES ON THE CORNERS
The Brewers made several moves over the offseason and two of the biggest new additions to the roster will be first baseman Eric Thames and third baseman Travis Shaw.
Thames was signed by Milwaukee after spending the past three seasons with the NC Dinos in the Korean Baseball Organization while Shaw was one of three players acquired from the Red Sox in a December trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg. Both will be given the opportunity to earn everyday jobs with the Brewers and their ability to develop into key contributors would go a long way towards helping Milwaukee compete in 2017.
THE CATCHING CORPS
Milwaukee traded away catcher Jonathan Lucroy last season at the trade deadline, then shipped backup Martin Maldonado to the Angels in the offseason, leaving a wide open competition for the starting backstop job with the Brewers in 2017.
The three most likely candidates include Jett Bandy, who came over from the Angels in the Maldonado deal, Andrew Susac, who was acquired from San Francisco as part of the Will Smith trade last July, and Manny Pina, who excelled at Triple-A Colorado Springs last season before earning a call-up to Milwaukee. All three seem to have a pretty equal shot as camp opens with two likely to stick on the roster and the other destined for Triple-A.
LATE INNING OPTIONS
One of the strengths of the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers was their bullpen, but with Jeremy Jeffress (Rangers), Will Smith (Giants) and Tyler Thornburg (Red Sox) all dealt away, the 2017 pen will have a different look to it.
Milwaukee signed 28-year-old Dominican Neftali Feliz in hopes of turning him into their new closer, while also adding veteran Joba Chamberlain on a minor league deal. They return key contributors such as Carlos Torres, Jhan Marinez and Michael Blazek and will look to help from youngsters like Jacob Barnes, Corey Knebel and Damien Magnifico as well.
It will be interesting to see how the Brewers bullpen shakes out, but there are no shortage of options and you can expect to see some shuffling between Milwaukee and Colorado Springs all season long.
ORLANDO ARCIA’S DEVELOPMENT
As one of the top prospects to come through the Brewers system in recent years, expectations are high for the 22-year-old Arcia and Milwaukee’s staff showed a lot of faith in the young Venezuelan, moving Jonathan Villar to second base and handing the shortstop reigns over to him.
After receiving an August promotion to the big leagues last season, Arcia hit just .219 over 55 games, but flashed impressive skills both with the glove and the bat, showing the Brewers and their fans some glimpses of the star he could become.
VERSATILITY REIGNS SUPREME FOR BENCH PLAYERS
It’s no secret that the Brewers like to have options on their bench and this year’s batch of reserves should offer manager Craig Counsell plenty of flexibility. Super utility-man Hernan Perez will once again be bouncing around the diamond, showing the ability to play all over the infield and even in the outfield last season.
Second baseman Scooter Gennett will look to offer similar versatility as he’ll be experimenting in the outfield this spring as well, while Yadiel Rivera offers the Brewers solid depth at second base, shortstop and third base.
MUSICAL CHAIRS IN THE STARTING ROTATION
Milwaukee has some decisions to make with their starting rotation as well as they look towards opening day. Junior Guerra, Zach Davis and Jimmy Nelson would appear to have three of the starting spots locked down, but the Brewers have options beyond them as well.
Chase Anderson would seem like the logical number four, but Taylor Jungmann and Wily Peralta are probably the two pitchers with the best stuff out of the remaining group, though they have both struggled to consistently throw strikes.
The Brewers also have some youngsters like Jorge Lopez and Josh Hader who could contribute at some point this season while veteran Matt Garza remains under contract as well.