Brewers have surplus of outfielders
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Milwaukee Brewers fully understand you can play only three outfielders at a time.
That hasn't stopped them from collecting them like baseball cards.
The more you watch the Brewers this spring, the more you realize how much their outfield cup runneth over. Barring injuries or an unforeseen trade, the starting outfield shapes up to be veteran Ryan Braun in left, blossoming Keon Broxton in center and rightfielder Domingo Santana, something of a sleeper after an injury-plagued 2016 season.
Seeing plenty of action and waiting in the wings are Lewis Brinson, the Brewers' No. 1 prospect, and Ryan Cordell, both acquired Aug. 1 from Texas in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. Michael Reed also is making his case for inclusion, and Brett Phillips is determined to bounce back after a rough year at Class AA Biloxi.
Corey Ray, a multitalented outfielder and the Brewers' first-round draft pick last year, never got to play this spring while recuperating from knee surgery. But Ray came out of the University of Louisville as an advanced player and is considered one of the organization's top five prospects.
With outfielders stacked up like airplanes waiting to land at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, what are the Brewers going to do as this rebuilding plan moves forward?
“If we go through this period and ultimately we have more talent at a particular position than we have spots for at the major-league level, that's a really good issue for our organization to have,” general manager David Stearns said.
“It puts a general manager in a really good spot because it allows you to potentially address some other spots on your team or keep a great amount of depth, and fight through injuries or under-performance.”
But surely there have been discussions, debate and forecasts in the Brewers front office as to how all of this might play out, right? And is there a preferred outcome at the back end of this rebuild? If so, Stearns isn't saying, mainly because he doesn't have to at this stage.
“We're constantly trying to think how this is all going to play out,” Stearns said. “Frankly, at this point, it's all conjecture. We don't know, and we don't have to know. We just have to be prepared for the various alternatives when they come.”
Of the performance of his outfield prospects in exhibition play, Stearns added, “We try not to overstate spring training performance. I'm happy to see the athleticism and more than anything I'm happy to see the work ethic.
“These guys really get after it and try to seize this opportunity. That has sunk in with all these guys, and that's great to see. There's a friendly competition, and that's a good thing.”
It is no secret that the Brewers tried to trade Braun last season to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a deal that was close before talks broke off. Including this season, he has four years and $76 million remaining on his contract and will have full veto power over trades when he becomes a “10 and 5” player in late May. He is the last man standing after other veterans were traded and may play out his career with the Brewers.
“We think we have a talented outfield,” Stearns said. “We have an elite, established veteran in Ryan Braun and two players still at the forefront of their careers and establishing themselves at the major-league level. We're excited to see how that gels.”
Stearns and Co. want to see what they have in Broxton and Santana, so their big-league leashes will be long. But, at some point, the outfield prospects will come knocking at the door, leading to some critical decisions regarding the Brewers' future.
In the meantime, playing time at Class AAA Colorado Springs must be hashed out. Assuming veteran Kirk Nieuwenhuis and utilityman Hernan Perez are kept as the Brewers' extra outfielders, Brinson, Cordell, Reed and Kyle Wren (.857 OPS in 77 games at Colorado Springs in 2016) would be assigned to the Sky Sox. Phillips likely will return to Biloxi to regroup.
“At this point, what needs to happen is these guys need to play more and get better through experience, facing Triple-A pitching,” manager Craig Counsell said. “Cordell and Brinson have very limited experience at Triple-A. So, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves in where they are at. There is still some development that needs to happen, from my perspective.
“Having too many guys, that's something we are at, at a lot of spots. At some point, we'll have to make some harder decisions. There is the DH still (against American League farm clubs), so if they end up on the same team, there is all of that stuff. They will figure out the best way to divide all of that.”
This is what baseball officials call a “good problem.” When they start complaining about having too much talent, they need to find another line of work.
You don't make these decisions until you have to make them, and that time will come. But it's not here just yet.