Baseball Notes: The Brewers and Earthday
One of my earliest memories of seeing baseball on TV was turning the set on and seeing through fuzzy static what must have been a game of the week where Jaime Navarro was walking off the mound for the Brewers. It was the early '90's and I was just starting to get baseball cards and be able to recognize players.
This season was supposed to be a year the AL didn't have any especially bad teams and the NL had somewhere between four and six teams that were way out of it and terrible. The Brewers were destined to be in that pack, and while they aren't a team with a winning record, they also are on the edge of being one of the overachieving teams with the Phillies and the Rockies. They are currently four games under .500 but they have a better record than teams that include the Athletics, Astros and Diamondbacks, three teams thought to have their eyes on the playoffs going into this year.
I went to a lot of Brewers spring training games and regular season games against the Pirates between 2010 and 2015. In that stretch, the Brewers had swings back and forth between being an interesting team with big stars to a team struggling to keep pace in the NL Central. They had players like Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy, who are still with the team, Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo and Zach Greinke.
A few of my fondest baseball memories involve the Brewers. I went to one batting practice where Rickie Weeks hit a home run that bounced off the facade into my hands, and another where I saw Prince Fielder go up for two pitches, hit both into the river then said he had enough practice and stopped hitting.
The most fun I have ever had at a game was on Earth Day in 2010 at PNC Park the pirates gave out hats and t-shirts as give aways, then they gave away 20 runs to the Brewers. I went to the game by myself but was more than entertained by the people around me. Unfortunately, the two guys sitting behind me were loud and annoyingly snarky. They didn't seem to find the fun in an insurmountable loss and as the game was around 6-0 or 7-0 George Kottaras, the back up catcher, came to the plate and one of them said, "if he hits this out, I'm leaving." I started to hold my breath and cross my fingers, and sure enough Kottaras hit a home run and they left. It was an Earth Day miracle. There were other people around who were much more fun, and every time there was any kind of ball hit into the air they would say "nope, too high, too high." It ended up being a 20-0 final and the worst loss in Pirates history, but still a very fun game to go to.
Who's your All-Star?
The Brewers won't be winning any games by such a margin this year but every team does have to have an All-Star. The top players for the Brew Crew this year are Jimmy Nelson and his 2.92 ERA, Jeremy Jeffress (1.92 ERA, 12 SVs), catcher Jonathan Lucroy (.280, 7 HRs), 1B Chris Carter (.235, 13 HRs), 3B Aaron Hill (bouncing back with .271, 6 HRs), and Ryan Braun with a monsterous .353 batting average and 9 HR's.
One player who may sneak into the All-Star Game is short stop Jonathan Villar who is hitting .307 with an NL leading 17 stolen bases. The short stop position in the NL is not particularly deep this year as Villar has the highest batting average of those on the ballot (which excludes Aledmys Diaz of the Cardinals who has a higher average at this point), and the next closest in stolen bases has only 4 steals. The only clear contenders for starting short stop are Trevor Story whose hot start got him into the top three in the NL for home runs, but his fall back to earth has him leading in strike outs by five has his batting average dropping and Jordy Mercer who has respectable numbers and great fielding for the contending Pirates but all of his stats trail Villar.
In the end, Braun has a realistic shot at being a reserve outfielder and Villar might be the third short stop (Story will probably win the vote and Diaz will get a shot at being a reserve if his avg doesn't go down too much), and Chris Carter could find himself in the home run derby, but his batting average is probably too low to edge out possible reserve 1B's John Jaso, Adrian Gonzalez and maybe Anthony Rizzo as it seems Paul Goldschmidt should be starting (if Rizzo or Gonzalez don't get voted in based on wider fan bases).
The past few years the Brewers had one of the weaker minor league systems in baseball because of a few bad trades and drafts, but in the last off season they have tried to get young players back in trades. They gained a very powerful catcher from the Athletics in the Khris Davis trade in Jacob Nottingham and middle infield prospect Isan Diaz from the Diamondbacks for Jean Segura. Both are ranked 10th and 11th in their system by mlb.com, although I'm sure they are hoping Nottingham can pan out as a major league starter in the near future. The Brewers hope to trade away Lucroy this season in a move that would probably bring them their biggest haul of prospects of any deal.
The Brewers do have some home grown talent in the minors, short stop Orlando Arcia is considered to be the future cornerstone of the team as a speed and power player who may have some power in his swing like his brother Oswaldo Arcia on the Twins. Brett Phillips is an outfield prospect mlb.com anticipates could make the majors next year that looks like a guy with power and the ability to get on base. There is a bit of a low bar for outfielders on the Brewers right now, I think they hope for anyone who can play everyday in center field and do some hitting. They do have Domingo Santana who is a nice young outfielder with power who has struggled with batting average this year and Braun who is a former NL MVP, but center field has been a black hole for them this year.
They have had hopes that Taylor Jungmann would be a future ace for the team and that future might be further away as his stops in the majors have resulted in high ERA's and his trips back to AAA have not gone very well either. Milwaukee does have the 5th pick in the draft this year and I think it would not be a surprise for them to draft a pitcher to headline the rotation in the future. Most of their other top prospect pitchers have not performed well in the minors although lefty Josh Hader has a 0.88 ERA in 10 AA starts this year. They're going to need more than just him, and he might not be a major leaguer until the middle of next year.
I look forward to a possible trip to Miller Park this summer or next to see the Brewers. If nothing else, the Sausage Race will be entertaining.
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