TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM 2017 SPRING TRAINING
By: Brad Krause | Miller Park Prospects
The Brewers minor league players wrap up spring training with some intrasquad games on Sunday morning before many of them will head out to Colorado Springs, Biloxi, Carolina and Wisconsin to join their respective teams for the start of the 2017 season on Thursday night. I had the chance to get down to Maryvale for a few days to get a first-hand look at some of our favorite prospects in action and here are a few things that stood out to me during my time in Arizona.
1. My biggest takeaway from my trip is just how excited I am about the future of this franchise. Whenever someone asks me what players stood out to me, I have a tendency to go far off the radar and reach for the obscure. But this spring, the names that stood out most to me, are the ones that many of you already know. I know there has been a lot written about the improvements in the Brewers system in recent years and they’ve done a great job of adding all kinds of quality depth, but I was unsure as to who would be the core players of this next group. The ’82 team had the likes of Yount, Cooper, Molitor, Oglive and Simmons. Then, more recently, it was players like Fielder, Braun, Weeks, Hart and Hardy. Now I feel like I really see that next strong core of players in Lewis Brinson, Corey Ray, Lucas Erceg, Isan Diaz and Orlano Arcia. With Arcia already in “The Show” and Brinson poised to join him at some point this season, that group in Carolina is going to be really fun to follow and several of them could join the mix as early as next season. David Stearns and company have done a great job of re-stocking the farm system and we are going to see the benefits of that sooner than later.
2. While the top prospects like Brinson, Ray, Diaz and Erceg were the real standouts for me, there were several other players that looked impressive during the limited chances I had to see them. Keep in mind, this is a very small sample, but youngsters such as Monte Harrison, Gabriel Garcia, Chad McClanahan and Payton Henry all did things to make me sit up and take notice. Harrison has been tough for me to figure out as every time I have seen him in Arizona, he’s looked like the best player on the field, yet he’s struggled in the Midwest League the last two seasons. Part of that may be the injuries and the fact that he is still young and raw, but it sounds like he will be returning to Wisconsin again this season and I look for this to be the year he breaks out and shows what he’s truly capable of. Garcia is a big, strong specimen at first base and he put some good swings on the ball during the several games I saw him play, driving the ball to the gaps. There were reports that he might see some time behind the plate this year, but he worked exclusively at first base during the games I saw. McClanahan played mostly as a reserve with the AAA/AA squads at the games I was at, but he looked capable of handling third base. He made a pair of nice defensive plays at the “hot corner” and showed off a strong arm. Henry showed a good ability to square up pitches when I saw him hit and he’s big dude who should generate some power. The Brewers will have him stay in extended to continue working with the organization’s young pitchers until Helena’s season starts in June, but if he can stick behind the plate, he could be a really exciting catching prospect to follow.
3. There were several players who stood out on the pitching side as well, including Brandon Woodruff, who I had the chance to see live for the first time. I had only seen him pitch on milb.tv before, but seeing him up close and personal got me even more excited for his future. The only run he gave up came when the White Sox strung together an infield hit and a couple of bleeders, and I overheard several Chicago farmhands discussing not only how hard Woodruff was throwing, but also the fact that they couldn’t differentiate one offering from another. Another player who looked really good against the White Sox was Taylor Williams, who tossed two scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and striking out four. At the lower levels, Karsen Lindell, a ninth round pick in 2015, put together a nice outing against the Angels in Tempe, using both sides of the plate and mixing up his pitches well. He came on in relief to help put out a fire and wound up tossing 2.1 scoreless innings. I didn’t see a radar gun on him but there wasn’t much hard contact being made against the 20-year-old righty.
4. Another thing that jumped out to me was the emphasis put on versatility by the Brewers as I saw lots of guys working at a variety of positions. And it wasn’t just the utility guys like Nate Orf, Javier Betancourt, etc. Several young prospects could be seen bouncing around the diamond for the Brewers. Ryan Cordell, typically an outfielder, saw some time at third base. Isan Diaz and Luis Aviles continued to rotate between second base and shortstop. Gilbert Lara saw his game action at shortstop but also took plenty of ground balls at third base during the morning sessions while Dustin DeMuth played mostly first base but could also be seen putting in extra work and taking ground balls around the infield.
5. There were several players who were notably absent due to injuries including outfielder Tyrone Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury that will sideline him for the first few weeks of the season and catcher Carlos Leal, who was still out of commission after shoulder surgery last season, but for the most part the Brewers position players appeared relatively healthy. On the flip side, many players who missed significant time with injury in 2016 were back in action with Taylor Williams, Nathan Kirby, Victor Diaz and David Burkhalter all returning to the mound.
6. One of the bummers of camp for me was that the Brewers opted to again have many of their young Latin American players work in the Dominican Republic rather than bringing them to Maryvale. In years past, the club had brought the players they anticipated to open the year in the AZL stateside for spring training, but the last two seasons they have opted to leave them in the DR a bit longer. With so many players already in Maryvale, it’s the smart way to handle it and those young players are able to work in a more comfortable environment for them so it makes total sense, and I’ve got no issue with the Brewers choosing to handle it that way, I’ve just been spoiled in the past and was disappointed not to be able to see the progress of players like Ignacio Otano and Nic Pierre as well as some of last year’s new signings like Pablo Abreu, Jean Carlos Carmona, Antonio Pinero and Brayan Salaya.
7. Another change that I noticed, not just with the Brewers, but throughout the Cactus League, was an increase in the number of night games being played. Again, it makes perfect sense, as the majority of games during the regular season are played during the evening hours and more Arizona complexes are adding lights to their minor league facilities. The Brewers played a pair of minor league games in Tempe against the Angels and hosted them at Maryvale for another. Giving the minor league guys a chance to play under the lights and inside a stadium can only serve as a benefit as they get ready to head out to their full-season clubs.
8. While we attended the two games in Tempe, we chose to skip the night game in Maryvale for the simple fact that we did not want to be in Maryvale after dark. The stadium is nice and all, but the Brewers can not find a new spring training home soon enough as far as I’m concerned. Just stopping for gas in Maryvale during daylight hours can prove to be a less than pleasant experience and I have high hopes that they will soon be moving their operations to a nicer/safer area for both players and fans alike.
9. As much as I may hate the Maryvale area, I come away impressed every year by the people working at the Brewers complex. From the front office all the way down to the security folks, the staff couldn’t be more helpful. That goes as well for the players and coaches who are always super accommodating and I noticed a pair of gestures on my last day in Arizona that kind of sum up what I’m talking about. Many players got word of where they would be assigned on Tuesday and unfortunately some were told they would be staying behind in extended spring training. I’m sure they were understandably disappointed, but I watched Matt Erickson walk up to each guy individually, thank them for their work and tell them to stay ready as they are just a phone call away from heading north. That day was also the day that infielder Scooter Gennett was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds and I watched him make his way out to the back fields to find all of the coaches who had helped him along the way and one-by-one shake hands, give out hugs and say his goodbyes. It wasn’t something that either Erickson or Gennett had to do, but it says a lot about them as individuals as well as about some of the good people the Brewers have in their organization and left me walking away with a really good feeling.
10. Finally, I also had a chance to check out the big league team on a couple of occasions and I may be in the minority here, but I think they are going to be better than people are predicting in 2017. There is plenty of talent on that ballclub with young players like Orlando Arcia, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana and Zach Davies poised to break out and the Milwaukee Brewers could surprise some people this season. I’m a fan of the job that Craig Counsell has done since taking over as manager and I wouldn’t be shocked to see this team hover around .500 before taking another big step forward next year.