Brewers: Studs And Duds From The First Week Of Cactus League Play

PEORIA, ARIZONA - MARCH 03: Socially-distant fans watch from the outfield during the first inning of the MLB spring training game between the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers on March 03, 2021 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PEORIA, ARIZONA - MARCH 03: Socially-distant fans watch from the outfield during the first inning of the MLB spring training game between the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers on March 03, 2021 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

With the first week of Spring Training games having concluded, the Brewers sit at 4-3. And while the end result of these games really don’t mean anything, they mean a lot to certain players fighting for a job or guys just trying to get off on the right foot.

In the three games that the Cactus Crew have lost, they’ve scored one run in each game. But in the four games in which they’ve come out victorious, they’ve averaged eight and a half runs per game. It’s a bit of a night and day difference at the plate for Milwaukee so far.

On the mound, Brewers pitching is holding opponents to three runs a game. The most runs the pitching staff have given up in a game thus far has been five, which happened twice.

On Saturday, all seemed right in the world with Brian Anderson sitting next to Bill Schroeder calling Brewers baseball on television and snow vanishing back home thanks to high 40 degree temperatures throughout Wisconsin.

After one week of spring training play in Arizona, who are the “studs” and “duds” for the Brewers so far? Let’s take a look.

Stud: Aaron Ashby

Every out that Aaron Ashby has recorded in Spring Training so far has been via a punchout. He has appeared in two games and not only hasn’t given up even a hit, but he’s been dominating hitters. His fastball is hitting 95-96 mph while his slider is the talk of the Twitter and is as good as advertised.

There is now word circulating about Ashby’s, as well as fellow highly touted prospect Ethan Small’s, eventual arrivals to the big leagues coming this season, though coming into camp, not many thought as such. But manager Craig Counsell and the rest of Brewers nation can’t help but take note of such tantalizing talent. “He got some funky swings from hitters,” the Brewers skipper said. “I thought Ashby’s appearance makes you take notice, for sure.”

Ashby had a tough bout with COVID-19 in 2020, losing his sense of taste and smell for a bit and also noticing a shortness of breath when working out, but on the mound….he feels like himself. And he looks the part so far in a Brewers uniform.

It will be interesting to see how the former Milwaukee Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year performs in minor league ball to start the season, because if he keeps this kind of dominance up, it won’t be long before you see him as another weapon for Counsell in the bullpen. Lefty pitchers with elite stuff aren’t easy to come by, and by the looks of it, the Crew may have struck gold with Ashby.

Dud: Eric Lauer

On the other end of the spectrum for southpaw hurlers’ performances during Cactus League play, you have Eric Lauer. The former first-round pick has not looked great in his two appearances so far in Arizona.

In his first inning of work he gave up one walk, one single and a 2-run home run to Adam Engel of the Chicago White Sox. And in the other appearance he made, he gave up a walk and then back-to-back home runs to Yu Chang and Mike Freeman of the Cleveland Indians.

Unfortunately, this is somewhat similar to the 2020 regular season that Lauer had, giving up more earned runs (16) than he had innings pitched (11.0). While there are times he struggles to hit the strike zones, he also will try to walk pitches across the plate to get a strike, and that will quickly become a souvenir in the MLB.

He’s fighting for a backend rotation spot, but will need to perform better in the coming weeks if he wants to be a part of an intriguing Milwaukee starting rotation. Giving up almost ¼ of the total runs that the Brewers pitching staff as a whole has given up through a week is not a recipe for success for the 25 year-old.

Stud: Avisaíl García

One of the more disappointing players from a season ago has come out swinging in 2021. Avisaíl García is tied for the team lead with three runs scored, is tied for second-most hits on the team with three and is slashing .375/.444/.875 in eight at bats for the Cactus Crew. And to boot, he has flashed his cannon in right field, registering one outfield assist.

He looks more like the García of 2017 when he was an All-Star. He’s shed some weight and feels as though he’s in the best shape of his life but the power looks to still be present after a bomb over the batter’s eye in the first game of Spring Training. If he can keep up what he’s doing now, it will be tough to keep him out of a lineup with the addition of Jackie Bradley Jr.

Four of the five times he’s been retired at the plate have come via the strikeout so look for that to be something that he focuses on as strikeouts plagued Brewer hitters big time in 2020. This outfield could be a nightmare for teams in 2021.

Dud: The Brewers’ Defense

While it’s not too much to look into due to the moving around of guys all over the diamond, the Brewers defense has not looked very sharp in the first week of action in Cactus League play.

Milwaukee has committed six errors in seven games with two of those six coming in the last game against Chicago. One of those two errors on Saturday led to a two-run home run for Joc Pederson after an Orlando Arcia miscue at third base.

For Keston Hiura, struggles have been apparent, however expected, with such a drastic position change. It was very intriguing to hear all the small intricacies that Bill Schroeder talked about during the Saturday broadcast that many don’t think about when playing first base.

One of the more encouraging things about Hirua’s switch is that it was never fielding the ground ball that got him in trouble, it was the throw, which is now mostly eliminated at first base.

Other players that have committed errors include Luis Urias at shortstop, Corey Ray in left field, Brice Turang at shortstop and Tim Lopes at third base.

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Besides Hiura and Arcia learning new positions, there isn’t too much stock to put into the fielding problems that the Crew have run into because most of those other guys won’t be on the Opening Day roster. Regardless, it would be encouraging to see less defensive miscues this coming week for Milwaukee.