Another relatively easy position to figure out heading into the season. Barring injury, Lorenzo Cain will be trotting out to center field on Opening Day for Milwaukee.
Cain will bring necessary consistency to the position as arguably the biggest free agent signing in a while for the franchise. The former Royal provided elite defense and quality offense for contending squads in Kansas City. Now, he will look to do the same for a Milwaukee Brewers team looking to make its first playoff appearance in six years.
A largely known commodity in the MLB, Cain’s numbers are solid when he stays healthy. However, that does seem to be an issue with the aging center fielder. The former all-star has recorded two seasons in which he logged over 550 at-bats and had elite production in both years. One of those seasons, 2015, Cain finished third in MVP voting with ridiculous numbers on both the offensive and defensive end.
It’s no question of whether Lorenzo Cain is a talented player or not. Rather, can he stay healthy, given his age and his position’s demands, for the Brewer’s to reap rewards from the signing. If he can’t stay healthy, or is given regular rest, there’s still quality options off the bench.
The two guys expected to rotate in center field given an opening are Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips. Both center fielders by trade, the two reserves provide solid defense in the outfield. Their offensive performance this spring will determine where these guys are on April 1st.
There’s no use in beating around the bush, Broxton was awful last year. He looked overwhelmed at the plate as he led the league in strikeout rate at 37.8% among those with over 400 at-bats. He was so bad as a hitter that he still makes regular appearances in Brewers’ fans’ nightmares. A popular breakout pick before the season started as a possible 30-30, Carlos Gomez replica, his inability to make consistent contact led to his downfall.
Realistically, it’s impossible to sit here and make any case for a player that struck out on nearly 40 percent of his at-bats. But, if he can figure out a way to cut down on the punch-outs, there is something there.
Broxton followed up the 2016 year, in which he was on pace for over 60 stolen bases, with 20 home runs and 21 steals in two-thirds of the 2017 season. He also posted a walk rate of 14.8 percent in 2016, six percentage points greater than last years, yet still struck out on 36 percent of at-bats. He has some amount of patience in the batter’s box, and if he shows more growth in that department then he’s a valuable asset. Now, similar to Jonathan Villar, Broxton must figure out how to trade some of those strikeouts for walks.
The other guy vying for playing time in a crowded outfield is 23-year-old Brett Phillips. Phillips, similar to Keon, struggled with strikeouts last year in his short sample in the majors. However, the Brewers prospect provides more than just a bat when in the lineup, giving him an advantage over Broxton.
Brett Phillips, known for his glove, recorded a defensive runs above average of 4.5 in just 37 games last year. That would put him in the top 10 among position players in the majors if he were to play a full season with the Brewers. His defense is elite in the outfield, but his bat limits him.
In his first cup of coffee in the majors, Phillips recorded a near 35% strikeout rate, right in line with Broxton. He was also on pace for a 20-30 season, a quality season given his .350 on-base percentage.
Brett Phillips and Keon Broxton are very comparable at the plate, the only difference being their BABIP. Phillips got extremely lucky with an inflated .408 BABIP. Projecting in some regression in that department, the two outfielders project to have around the same offensive season. However, Broxton is the more likely of the two to contribute more in the home run and steals categories.