Looking forward to the Brewers outfield of the future
The Milwaukee Brewers outfield will start to look a little different in 2022 and may continue to do so in the years to come. With veterans such as Avisáil Garcia and Jackie Bradley Jr. already gone and Lorenzo Cain reaching the end of his tenure in Milwaukee, some new faces will be coming in to take their places.
On one hand, the reasonable price of these new players will be a welcome change from the outfield of 2021, which constituted the bulk of the Brewers payroll for that year. On the other, should Brewers fans worry that the drawback of this extra payroll space will be a decrease in production? Let’s take a look at this situation player-by-player.
Brewers fans will be missing Avisáil Garcia’s power hitting the most in 2022. Garcia led the team with a career high 29 home runs in 2021 and posted a 2.9 WAR. However, he shared in the team’s offensive woes during the 2021 postseason, only contributing two singles and a hit-by-pitch in 16 plate appearances.
Jackie Bradley Jr. will be the other outfield piece missing in 2022. From improbable home run robberies to clutch diving catches, Bradley Jr. gave Brewers fans many memorable moments in centerfield. However, his at-bats provided them with a good time for a bathroom break. Bradley Jr. hit well below the infamous Mendoza line with a batting average of .163 and posted an OPS+ of 34 through 428 plate appearances. Together, Garcia and Bradley Jr.’s 2021 salaries totaled $17 million.
Fan favorite Lorenzo Cain will still be in Milwaukee for the 2022 season, but the Gold Glover’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season. Given his injury concerns, the fact that he will turn 36 early next season, and the front office’s tightening budget, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see him in a Brewers uniform beyond 2022.
Like Jackie Bradley Jr., Cain is a master in centerfield, and though he sometimes struggles at the plate, he was still able to post a .329 OBP in 2021. While his bat hasn’t been what it was in 2018, fans and players will miss his morale boosting presence in the dugout. Cain will be paid the second highest salary of all players on the team at $17 million in 2022, behind only Christian Yelich.
What will the Milwaukee Brewers outfield look like going forward in 2022?
Brewers fans should obviously expect to see more of Christian Yelich and Tyrone Taylor going forward, as well as new addition Hunter Renfroe.
Perhaps the ultimate question for the Brewers in 2022 is whether or not Yelich can bring himself back to MVP form. In 2019, Yelich led the major leagues in OPS at 1.100, but his season was cut short by a foul ball that fractured his kneecap.
He was signed to a long term contract extension the following offseason, but then struggled considerably during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. His OPS dropped to .786 in 2020 and eventually down to a near-league-average of .736 in 2021 while only mustering nine home runs in 475 plate appearances. As bench coach Pat Murphy has noted, no one feels more pressure to hold up his end of the bargain than Christian Yelich himself.
While many fans blamed Andy Haines for his offensive struggles, a hitting coach alone cannot be responsible for such a drastic change in production. That being said, perhaps the fresh eyes and unique set up of co-hitting coaches Ozzie Timmons and Connor Dawson can help spark an improvement for Yelich at the plate. Though a lot can happen in seven years, fans should expect to see Yelich in Milwaukee through at least 2028.
Tyrone Taylor, who tallied 271 plate appearances despite a late season oblique injury that kept him away for a month, will likely return to his role of backup outfielder in 2022. Given the departures of Avisáil Garcia and JBJ and only one addition in Renfroe, Taylor should be given more opportunities to prove himself in the coming season, especially if another outfielder is injured.
Just before the MLB lockout began, the Brewers sent Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects to the Red Sox in exchange for Hunter Renfroe. This move saved the Brewers some payroll in the short term as Bradley Jr. is owed $9.5 million in 2022 and a $12 million mutual option with an $8 million buyout was due for 2023. Renfroe, meanwhile, is expected to earn $7.5 million through arbitration in 2022 and faces another arbitration year in 2023 before becoming a free agent.
While the Brewers may end up spending a similar amount on Renfroe in the long run, they expect a significant improvement over Bradley Jr. on offense. Excluding an unusual 2020 season, Renfroe has hovered around an .800 OPS in recent years and launched 31 home runs last year; surpassing every player on the Brewers in that category.
Though Renfroe was technically exchanged for Bradley Jr., he is really a replacement for Garcia’s bat. Brewers fans may miss Bradley Jr. defensively when compared to Renfroe, who committed a career high 12 errors last year, but on a positive note, Renfroe’s strong throwing arm will be advantageous, as opposing players know that they test it at their own peril.
Don’t be surprised if the front office brings in another outfielder to complete the group in 2022 in case of injuries. But they do have some solid internal options in David Dahl and Corey Ray, who are the most likely options to replace any outfielder who gets injured.
Looking beyond 2022, two outfield prospects that have drummed up excitement among Brewers fans in recent months are Garrett Mitchell and Joey Wiemer.
Mitchell, the Crew’s first round draft pick in 2020, was brought to the forefront of attention during last year’s spring training where he slashed .367/.406/.567 over 32 plate appearances with one home run. He performed similarly well in High-A, but struggled as he moved on to Double-A, where he slashed .186/.291/.264 across 148 plate appearances. However, as a 23 year old, he has some time to adjust to the higher leagues.
Wiemer quickly claimed the spotlight in Low-A Carolina before moving on to the Timber Rattlers. His numbers actually improved in Appleton, as he made a mechanical adjustment. His slash line was an impressive .336/.428/.719 with 14 home runs across 152 plate appearances. 9.2% of his plate appearances resulted in a home run! This fact alone seems to justify the excitement.
Wiemer’s success resulted in him being named the Brewers’ minor league player of the year. Perhaps Wiemer will be able to show off his talents in front of a larger audience in Maryvale this spring.
A little further down the line is 18 year old Hedbert Perez. The son of former Brewer, Robert Perez, Hedbert appears to be a natural ball player, known for his quick, left-handed swing as well as his strong outfield arm. He has shown that he can hold his own against older and more experienced competition. While playing in Rookie ball, he slashed .333/.394/.575 over 132 plate appearances, which earned him a late-season promotion to Low-A.
While some believe Perez could overtake Mitchell and Wiemer as the Brewers’ top outfield prospect, he is still young and needs some time to work his way through the farm system. That being said, he is an exciting player with a high ceiling who may bolster the Brewers’ roster with both his bat and his glove some day.
Of course, with Yelich under contract, it is highly unlikely that all three of these prospects will play for the Brewers on a regular basis as that leaves only two available starting jobs. Any one of them could be used as pieces in a high profile trade if the Brewers have a specific need during a playoff race. Or, as is common with prospects, they could simply fail to meet expectations.
While Christian Yelich’s contract becomes more costly, younger stars are earning more and more as their arbitration years go by. Players like Josh Hader, Corbin Burnes, and Brandon Woodruff are going to cost the Brewers a pretty penny in the near future.
It would be wise, therefore, to hold on to some young prospects to help offset this cost. The fact that the farm system contains three promising outfielders gives reassurance that at least one of them will reach a level that allows the Brewers to do so.
The status of the Brewers’ outfield beyond 2022 hinges primarily on Yelich waking up his bat. Assuming he can, Brewers fans should look forward to the outfield of the future.
Shedding the costs of large contracts in favor of players under team control for many years will be beneficial as the front office attempts to make room for a pitching staff entering its prime. But when you look at the potential of prospects and newcomers, their combined skill-levels appear set to overtake the overall production of 2021’s pricey outfield.
As long as these players continue along the track they’re on, the Brewers’ front office will have an abundance of options for how they want to set up their future outfield.