The Milwaukee Brewers open the 2022 season on April 7th, there are several players who are nearing the end of their arbitration eligibility, finishing their contracts or potentially have some fading opportunity depending on how they perform this season.
Let’s look at three players who could potentially be facing make or break seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2022.
Brewers Facing a Make or Break Season: #1 Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich is capable of great things. He showed us that in 2018 and 2019. However since his knee injury at the end of the 2019 season, Yelich has had a tough go for the Milwaukee Brewers. Yelich struggled mightily in the shortened 2020 season and then spent a large part of 2021 dealing with a nagging back injury. Christian Yelich did manage to play 117 games in 2021 but only hit nine home runs, three fewer than he hit in 2020 despite playing over twice as many games.
In 2021, Christian Yelich slashed just .248/.362/.373, the second lowest batting average of his career and by far his career low in slugging. The question Christian Yelich will answer for the Milwaukee Brewers and the fans this year is: can he return to his 2018-2019 MVP form?
There is some cause for optimism. Yelich did drop his strikeout percentage by seven percent from 2020 to 2021, and it would be beneficial to both Yelich and the Brewers for him to continue lowering that number. Yelich did see a big jump on his BAbip, or batting average on balls in play. In 2020 Yelich’s BAbip was just .259, in 2021 he made a big jump back towards his career numbers at .321.
There is some reason for optimism with Yelich. He said in spring training that he feels like he is in a good spot health wise, and the designated hitter could give Craig Counsell the ability to give Yelich some rest while still keeping his bat in the lineup.
No matter how you shake it, the Milwaukee Brewers need Christian Yelich firing on all cylinders in 2022. If he doesn’t find that form again this year, will he ever be able to find it again over the next seven years on his contract? It’s a make or break year for Yelich’s status as an MVP contender.
Brewers Facing a Make or Break Season: #2 Keston Hiura
Keston Hiura was given the opportunity to be the starting first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021 after the team signed Kolten Wong to play second base. Now in 2022 Hiura is looking at another potential position change. In Cactus League play, Hiura has seen time in left field, a position he hasn’t played since college. That isn’t the only change Hiura has made, as he has also made an adjustment to his swing.
However, it wasn’t defense that forced the Brewers to send Hiura to AAA, but offense. Keston Hiura in 61 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021 slashed just .168/.256/.301 and only hit four home runs. In AAA, Hiura slashed .256/.374/.465 and hit eight home runs, double the amount he hit with the Brewers despite playing ten fewer games and only having nine more plate appearances.
Looking at 2022, Keston Hiura will need a bounce back season if he wants to prove he can be the hitter the Brewers expected him to be. Perhaps he’ll get to split some time at first base with Rowdy Tellez and with the NL adopting the designated hitter in 2022, Hiura may also get some time to just bat and not have to be out in the field.
After last season, Hiura is going to have to earn every bit of playing time he’ll get and so far he’s doing a good job of that in spring training, but that’ll have to continue for the Brewers to trust him in the lineup everyday again. A slow start to the season could be catastrophic for Hiura’s chances to be trusted as a starter again.
Brewers Facing Make or Break Seasons: #3 Corey Ray
Corey Ray has been buried in the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system for quite some time. Ray turns 28 in September and has only played one major league game. He will need a strong 2022 to make his case for getting back to the major league level if the Brewers needed someone to fill in for an injured player or if Lorenzo Cain decides to retire at the end of the season.
Corey Ray has some fierce competition for the future of the Brewers outfield. Tyrone Taylor is the one getting the first shot as he will be the main backup in 2022. But looking at 2023 and beyond, the outfield positions in the minors are loaded with talent. Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer are all quickly working their way up the system and all three are ranked among the Brewers top four prospects.
Corey Ray has been most successful in Double-A, batting .240/.325/.467. While the slugging percentage is nice, the batting average leaves something to be desired. When considering his slashes in Triple-A, .224/.287/.399, it looks to be an even harder uphill battle for Corey Ray.
Ray’s primary issue has been injuries keeping him off the field. Last year, Ray hit .274 with an .825 OPS and six homers in 146 PAs, but he wasn’t able to stay healthy, which ruined his chances of making it back to the big leagues last year. He needs to shake that injury bug to prove he’s capable of being a big league player for the Brewers.
Going into the 2022 season, it will definitely be a make or break year for Corey Ray.