We’re in the final month of the regular season. The Brewers have had a number of players perform below expectations this year, and have just a few weeks left to prove that they should be on this roster in 2022.
During the course of a six month regular season, players get plenty of opportunities to prove what they can bring to the team. They can go through ups and downs, but for most players it balances out by the end of the season. For some, there’s been far more downs than ups. Proving that they can bring some positives to the team over the final month will be key to determining their futures.
Here are three Brewers players who have something to prove in the final month of the 2021 regular season.
1. Jackie Bradley Jr.
It’s been a trying season for Jackie Bradley Jr. and that’s an understatement. JBJ has always had hot and cold streaks at the plate, but he hasn’t been on a single hot streak all season long.
His 2021 slash line is .169/.244/.277, which gives him career lows in all categories, he also has a career low 6.6% walk rate and a career high 29.5% strikeout rate.
He also has a career low in barrel percentage, xSLG (expected slugging), wOBA (weighted on base average), and wRC+ (weighted runs created plus).
JBJ’s .230 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) indicates he’s been the victim of some bad luck, but a lot of his at-bats have been generally tough to watch.
The majority of Bradley’s struggles have been on breaking balls, and opposing pitchers know that. He’s been fed a steady diet of breaking balls all season and he hasn’t been able to start hitting them.
Over this final month, Bradley needs to prove he can hit again and get on a hot streak at the plate. He has a player option for next season and at this rate, he’s not going to opt out and become a free agent. Next season, he will still be under contract. It would be nice if he could be a productive offensive player in that case.
Barring a trade, or Bradley inexplicably opting out of his contract with the Brewers, he’s going to be on this team in 2022. If the Brewers are to have any confidence that he can have a solid rebound season next year, he’s going to need to show them something over this final month in 2021.
2. Daniel Norris
This offseason, Daniel Norris will reach free agency for the first time. Norris hasn’t had great success in the big leagues after being a Top 25 prospect in baseball when he arrived on the scene in 2014. He’s moved from the rotation to the bullpen and fills a lefty specialist type role, but hasn’t done so with great success, especially after joining Milwaukee.
Norris’ 6.18 ERA this season and 6.91 ERA with the Brewers is by far the worst in the Crew’s bullpen. Milwaukee believed they could turn Norris into a solid bullpen contributor, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Since he is a rental, the Brewers only have two months to work with him, but the first month hasn’t yielded the best results. If things don’t improve over this final month, Norris likely won’t make the postseason roster and will enter a tough free agent market given his career production.
The Brewers have proven to be one of the best organizations in baseball in improving pitching talent and if they can’t turn Norris around, he simply might not be able to pitch to the level that’s expected of him.
3. Keston Hiura
Despite not even being on the big league roster, Keston Hiura still does have something to prove over the final month down in Triple-A.
Can Hiura get himself right before the end of the season?
For the rest of this season, the Brewers are going to go with a combination of Rowdy Tellez, Daniel Vogelbach, and Eduardo Escobar at first base. While Escobar is a free agent at the end of the year, Tellez and Vogelbach are under team control for the next few seasons, as is Hiura.
The Brewers have invested in Hiura and believe he can be a high-level hitter in the big leagues for years to come. However, his regression in both 2020 and 2021 is concerning.
Going into next season, the Brewers will need to decide if they want to try the “Keston Hiura at first base” plan again and potentially lose one or both of Tellez and Vogelbach, who have been solid, reliable options, albeit with lower ceilings than Hiura’s. Putting him back at second base isn’t an option as Kolten Wong has provided high level offense and Gold Glove defense at second and Wong is under contract for the next year, potentially two.
Unless the DH comes to the NL next year, it’s going to be difficult for Hiura to earn regular playing time. Even in that role, if Hiura doesn’t hit, he is providing no other value to the team.
If Hiura could find some offensive success in Triple-A, the Brewers could have some confidence that he can return to his 2019 form and be the hitter they expected him to be when they selected him with the 9th overall pick in the 2017 Draft.
All three of these players have to prove they can be productive over this final month or it’s going to be difficult to envision their future in Milwaukee.