Attanasio sees confidence in Brewers clubhouse
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
BOSTON--No matter how much talent you have on a team, things probably aren't going to go your way often enough if there is wavering confidence among the players.
Before the Brewers' home opener last week, team principal owner Mark Attanasio said he noticed during spring training a collective confidence within the clubhouse. The disappointing, injury-riddled 2013 season was forgotten, and the players looked forward to a fresh start with a nice mix of veterans and younger players.
“I think it starts in the clubhouse,” said Attanasio. “I think the guys are confident. We see a difference in the level of confidence in the clubhouse this year than last year. You can't manufacture that.
“The guys come in and they bond and they either go do something special or not. This group feels it can do some good things. (General manager) Doug (Melvin) and I do, too. From an ownership standpoint, we put the resources behind the club because we think we can win.
“One of the great things about baseball, as Doug always says, 'Games are played on the field. You don't play them on paper.' I feel good about our ball club.”
Melvin said he did not address the players before the start of the season. But he did meet with manager Ron Roenicke and the coaching staff to discuss getting off to a good start and playing up to the capabilities of the talent on hand despite a tough schedule in April.
“We feel we're a competitive team and that there's a lot of talent in the clubhouse,” said Melvin. “There's a lot of things that have to go right, but it's like that with any team.
“I told them I can take losses and you play well but lose 4-3. The other team there is trying to win games, too. It's hard to take losses when we don't play well. People talk about the tough schedule, but every game you play in the major leagues is a tough schedule.
“The thing we have to avoid is we can't have a 6-22 month (such as last May). I like to look at the last 10 games and I want to be 7-3 or 8-2. I don't want to be 2-8, 3-7. Over the course of the year, there will be some awful days for some clubs, some losing streaks, but the season is long, and you just can't avoid those losing streaks.
“We're a healthy team going into the season and some others aren't as healthy. We need to take advantage of that.”
The injury outlook changed somewhat a few days later when the thumb injury that plagued Ryan Braun in 2013 resurfaced. If that situation greatly compromises Braun as it did last season, the Brewers will have a hard time reaching their goals this year. That's how important Braun is to their overall picture.
Something in reserve
Mostly due to the signing of free-agent pitcher Matt Garza in January, the Brewers began the season with a greatly increased payroll from last season, when they started at about $84 million. They committed $95 million in guaranteed money to players, but other financial considerations put their books past the $100 million mark.
Which raised the question: If the Brewers find themselves in contention for the playoffs in July, is there enough money in reserve to make a player acquisition that might make a difference?
“One of the benefits of being conservative fiscally all these years is we will always have flexibility to make moves,” said Attanasio. “Maybe not the flexibility of the large-market deals, but if we're in contention at midseason and we need to add people, we will add people, for sure.
“Doug often says the players dictate what we do.”
What exactly does that mean?
“I tell the players their performance will take our pulse as to whether or not we go out and get someone to continue a drive to postseason,” explained Melvin. “We leave it up to them. Their talents and performance will dictate that.
“I've been in a position before where you're a week before the trade deadline and you still don't know. You're always prepared and Mark's always been there if we needed somebody. We haven't been afraid to make trades; we've made a number of trades. We've got a pro scouting staff we're very confident in.”
That pro scouting staff was responsible for recommending the acquisition of both players on the cover of the Brewers' 2014 media guide—shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez. Segura was acquired from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade, and Gomez from the Twins in exchange for shortstop J.J. Hardy.
The ol' switcheroo
The Brewers are changing the positions of some of the players in their farm systems.
One switch to keep an eye on is at Class AA Huntsville, where Jason Rogers is moving from first base to third base. Rogers, 26, was the Brewers' 2013 minor-league player of the year while playing first base last season at Huntsville.
That move was made because the Brewers have no obvious replacement for third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who will be 36 in June and is on the last year of his contract. The Brewers would like to see if Rogers has any future at third base in the majors.
That position became even thinner in the organization with the news that third-base prospect NickDelmonico is not playing at present due to undisclosed personal issues. Delmonico was acquired last season from Baltimore in a trade for closer Francisco Rodriguez, who later returned to the Brewers as a free agent.
The Brewers also are converting outfielder Max Walla to a left-handed pitcher. Walla, soon to be 23, was a second-round draft pick in 2009 and has been a flop as an offensive player, never making it above low Class A Wisconsin.
Now the Brewers will see if Walla has a future as a pitcher. He did some pitching in high school and displayed a good arm, but the Brewers thought his future was as a power-hitting outfielder. They were wrong.
In another move, Josh Prince returned to the infield after a couple of seasons of playing in the outfield, including a pair of brief stints with the Brewers last season. Prince was taken in the third round of the 2009 draft as a shortstop out of Tulane but was not considered big-league material at that spot and was moved to the outfield, in large part to take advantage of his speed.
Now Prince is playing the middle infield at Huntsville after playing last season at Class AAA Nashville.
It has not been a good year for players taken atop the '09 draft by the Brewers. Right-hander Eric Arnett, one of the biggest first-round busts in club history, asked for and was granted his release.
Right-hander Kyle Heckathorn, a supplemental first-round pick, is not on any team's roster in the minors at present. Another supplemental pick, outfielder Kentrail Davis, was sent to Huntsville after finishing last season at Nashville.
While the Brewers still have hope for pitchers Brooks Hall (fourth round) and Hiram Burgos (sixth round) and outfielder D'Vontrey Richardson (fifth round), who quit baseball and then returned last year, the saving graces at present from that draft are seventh-round pick Khris Davis and 16th rounder Scooter Gennett, both playing for the Brewers this season.
Tom Haudricourt covers the Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.