The temperature will reach the 70s in Maryvale, Arizona, this weekend. Football season has run its course and the city of Seattle will soon be holding a large parade through the streets to celebrate the return of their beloved Mariners. Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are reportedly looking to grit their way to a World Series.
It’s baseball season.
That said, I’ll be running through the outlooks that will make us both get our hopes up and those that will make us remember why 81 wins is a perennial achievement for the Brewers.
First up are the outfield spots not taken up by guys named Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, and Carlos Gomez.
Heading into camp, Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl round out the outfielders on the 40-man roster. Sure, they both received their first amounts of extended playing time at the big league level, splitting 492 plate appearances between the two, but let’s not write those two in sharpie right away.
Schafer, age 27, didn’t have the breakout season he or the Brewers were hoping for. He hit .211/.279/.322 with a 65 wRC+, although his defense and base running in a sense made up for his offensive struggles as he finished with a 0.0 WAR. That’s right, Logan Schafer was effectively your replacement-level player.
What the Brewers found in Khris Davis they were hoping to find in Schafer (except a more speedy, higher-OBP, defensive stud version). That said, he’s by no means a lost cause. His BB% rose from 4.4 to 12.1 in the second half of the season despite an overall drop in offensive production. He was hurt by a .252 BABIP and an unfortunately low HR/FB of 5.2 percent, especially for a player whose home games are in Miller Park.
Schafer isn’t a lost cause, but neither is he going to be a starting-level player in the majors, barring an unforeseen dramatic spike in production at the cost of an injury in front of him on the depth chart. He’s blessed to be a speedy outfielder that can play all three positions that hits left handed and, as Ron Roenicke would say, handle the bat well. In fact, I’m pretty sure Roenicke’s private “-y” nickname for Schafer is “Bunty”.
Caleb Gindl is kind of like Santa Claus. And I don’t mean that in terms of he brings each of his teammates a customized shirtsey with their designated “-y” nickname on the back, but in that he literally reminds me of Santa Claus. He’s almost a foot shorter than me and weighs about 35 pounds more. He’s stocky. He’s got pop (.439 slugging last year). He’s a Milwaukee Brewers kinda player. And on top of that, whenever he leaves the yard, I, too, felt like part of me has gone deep as well.
Gindl’s patience at the plate was noteworthy in his 155 plate appearances last season. His .340 OBP was almost a solid .100 higher than his batting average. He chased 27.7 percent of pitches out of the zone (Juan Francisco was at 38.1 percent, for comparison). This, to go along with his solid power at the plate led to a wRC+ of 115, which ranked him above Jean Segura and Norichika Aoki. After posting a monster 2011 campaign in AAA, Gindl receded a bit in 2012 before rebounding for a .846 OPS and 122 wRC+ in 2013 and then receiving the call to Milwaukee.
If by this point you’re starting to feel that I’m higher on Gindl than on Schafer, you’re probably right. Schafer is two years older and but isn’t strong in regards plate discipline and drawing walks, two of the primary areas where he can be valuable without Gindl’s power.
The other options coming into camp are Kentrail Davis, Kevin Mattison, Mitch Haniger, and Greg Golson.
Davis, a 2009 first-rounder by the Brewers, will likely start off the season with AAA-Nashville and receive his opportunity when it arises. There’s not much doubt that the 25-year-old who performed well in his first stint with the Sounds will eventually surface in the bigs. He’s part of a crowded minor league outfield picture, but his stocky frame and pure athleticism will land him a chance. But after only 49 games at the AAA level, he’s not ready yet.
Mattison is a career minor leaguer up to this point, amassing 2707 plate appearances over six seasons. His .241/.317/.378 slash line doesn’t help out his cause, and neither does the fact that he’ll be turning 29 this season.
Haniger is on the fast track to the majors. But not this fast. Rushing guys to the majors isn’t funny unless you’re the Mets. Please don’t do that, Brewers. The kid looks like he’ll be a good player and we could even see him come September. At 23, there’s time to not rush him to the major leagues because of a need for a right-handed batting backup outfielder.
As for Greg Golson, the Brewers signed him to a minor league deal this off-season. He’s a career .264/.311/.398 hitter over ten minor league seasons, last appearing in the majors with the Yankees in 2011. He may only have 42 career plate appearances, but, spanned over four seasons, those PAs have come for the 2008 World Series champion Phillies, the 87-win 2009 Rangers, and the 2010 and 2011 Yankees teams that reached the ALCS in the former and won the AL East in the latter.
All he does is win?
At best, it looks like Golson will slot behind Schafer and Gindl as an insurance policy if an outfielder goes down. We don’t want to see Jeff Bianchi playing left field again. Trust me. He can play all three outfield positions and would be a right-handed bat off the bench if need be.
I’m also hearing John Vander Wal still an option.