Milwaukee Brewers On Deck Wrap Up


Yesterday, the Milwaukee Brewers held their annual “Brewers On Deck.” The fan-fest event serves as a yearly kickoff to begin a new baseball season. My 4 year old son, Noah, and I attended the event together, our first time going. He loved meeting Hank the dog, getting to take pictures with some of the minor league players, and of course picked out some swag (including his now prized George Scott bobble head). As a baseball fanatic, it was a great joy for me to see Noah get excited about the sport I love.

Plenty of headlines came out of the event, as well, which is nothing new for Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin and company. Last year, the Brewers announced the club-record free agent contract of Matt Garza at the On Deck event. With buzz around a possible Jonathan Papelbon trade in the days leading up to the event, many hoped (myself included) that a key bullpen acquisition would be made. While it seems that the momentum towards a deal with the Phillies has dissipated, here are three big stories that came out of “Brewers On Deck:”

1. Ryan Braun Feels “Great”

It’s no secret that Braun struggled last season while dealing with injury, posting career lows in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and failing to hit 20 home runs for the first time in a full season. He particularly struggled across the season’s last four weeks, posting a .218/.322/.295 slash while the Brewers free-fall out of the playoff race. After the season, Braun underwent cryotherapy on the ailing nerve in his right thumb. On Sunday, Braun told reporters that he felt “significantly better” than he did at this time last year:

"“Everything’s going well…I started hitting a little bit earlier than I typically do, just to kind of see how it felt. So far, so good.”"

The first true test will obviously come while facing live pitching in Spring Training, but it is encouraging to know that Braun has at least begun his hitting routine and not felt any pain. If Braun can produce even close to the level he was pre-2013, it would make a tremendous difference in the Brewers lineup. Imagine Ryan getting back to the guy who is a career .306/.368/.550 hitter and averages 35 home runs per 162 games, and the Brewers lineup becomes much more threatening than the guys who put up a meager 2.73 runs per game during September. Brauny says he isn’t hurting, and hopefully he’s ready to anchor this team during a playoff run.

2. Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson Shooting for Opening Day

Two pitchers that were expected to be key pieces in last year’s bullpen, both Thornburg and Henderson went down in the season’s early going. Henderson struggled with his velocity in Spring Training, losing the closer’s job to Francisco Rodriguez. Henderson was never able to full recover, eventually underwent shoulder surgery to remove bone spurs. He ended up last season with a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 innings, but did manage 17 strikeouts in that time. Henderson is slated throw his first bullpen tomorrow, and if that goes well, he hopes to get on schedule to be a full-time reliever by Opening Day, no restrictions. Thornburg pitched in 27 games in relief last season before going down with what eventually was diagnosed as a UCL injury. Fortunately, Tyler was able to escape Tommy John, instead opting for plasma-rich platelet injections. After losing Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, and Marco Estrada from the bullpen this offseason, getting contributions from Thornburg and Henderson would go a long way towards solidifying the Brewers stable of relief arms in 2015.

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3. Brewers Aren’t Done Making Moves

GM Doug Melvin intimated yesterday that the Brewers weren’t done making moves, and they shouldn’t be. After the trade of Yovani Gallardo, Melvin said he would “like to add a pitcher who could maybe a spot starter,” which makes sense, as currently Taylor Jungmann and his zero major league appearances sit sixth on the starting pitcher depth chart. Personally, I would like to see Carlos Villanueva back in a Brewers uniform. He has started at least 5 games in all but one of his nine big league seasons, and has been a roughly league average (98 ERA+) swing man over the course of his career.

While the Brewers were linked to Papelbon recently, it appears as though they are now hot on the trail of another K-Rod return. The Brewers were reportedly in talks with Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, and it appears increasingly likely that he will be back to reprise his role as closer in the Brewers bullpen. While I opined that money shouldn’t be a block in a Papelbon trade, the Brewers appear to be uncomfortable with the financial commitment he would bring and the team and K-Rod have a strong relationship and a solid track record of success together.

Overall, these Brewers seem ready to move on from a difficult 2014 and are excited and confident to begin the 2015 season. I have a good feeling about these Brewers, and despite the events of 2014, you should too. Let’s get this 2015 Championship Season started!