Brewers fans, the time has come! The start of spring training is here, which means that opening day is just that much closer (38 days, 14 hours, 44 minutes and 20 seconds from publishing this to be exact). The Brew Crew open up their games with a traditional exhibition against the UW-Milwaukee Panthers before starting their true spring tilts on Saturday against the Angels.
With that in mind, the offseason is officially behind us, so what better time to look at a preview of the newest Milwaukee Brewers who were acquired either as free agents or trades?
A former AL Rookie of the Year and All-Star in 2010 with the Texas Rangers, Feliz was once one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. While he has fell off in recent years, including a disastrous 2015 campaign (only 10 SV, ERA of 6.38), Feliz rebounded with the Pirates last season with an ERA of 3.52. He also has gained significant velocity on all of his pitches from 2014-2016, with his slider gaining 0.9 MPH in velocity, while his fastball and slider have shot up 3.0 and 3.8 MPH, respectively. This increase in velocity, along with Feliz’ rebound last season and openings in the Milwaukee bullpen, could lead to a spot for Feliz as the Brewers’ closer in 2017.
Like Feliz, Tommy Milone has seen himself moving around the MLB a few times in the last few years, playing for three teams himself. In addition, Milone had his best season statistically a number of years ago, similar to Feliz. However, there are also several differences between Feliz and Milone as well. While Feliz tends to try to blow fastballs past hitters, Milone is forced to take a different approach. Milone throws 4 pitches, none of which touch the 90 MPH mark on average (FB: 87.6, Changup: 81.2, Cutter: 86.9, Curve: 74.5). This low of a velocity average has, in turn, made Milone much more of a ground ball pitcher, with a ground ball percentage of 45.7 in 2016. One downside to Milone’s game is his home run rate, as he gave up 15 in just 69.1 innings last season. With this in mind, Milone’s place in the Milwaukee rotation will likely be as a long reliever/spot starter who has the ability to chew up innings.
Now, to the signing that may have the most impact on the Brewers’ success in 2017: Eric Thames. Thames has had an interesting road to this point in his career, having played for the Mariners and Orioles in MLB previously before making his way to the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) for the past three years. During his time in Korea, playing for the NC Dinos, Thames was dominant. During his tenure, he held an average of .348 while hitting a total of 124 home runs with 379 RBIs and 64 stolen bases. Thames also racked up a number of accolades, including becoming just the third foreign player to win the KBO MVP when he claimed that title in 2015, along with a KBO All-Star appearance that same year and also becoming the first member of the league’s 40/40 club (47 HR, 40 SB). He also won the 2015 KBO Golden Glove award at first base. Look for Thames to settle in nicely in the middle of the Milwaukee lineup and, while likely not producing in terms of power on the level of Chris Carter, bring a more solid defensive presence to first base for the Crew.
Jett Bandy has not been on the Major League scene for a long time like Feliz, Milone and Thames, but he will also find himself in a heated position battle throughout the spring. Acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the December trade of Martin Maldonado, Bandy has played in only 72 MLB games (2 in 2015, 70 last season). With this fairly limited exposure, however, Bandy has shown the ability to fit in with an MLB roster, hitting 8 home runs in 2016 as well as having his first MLB hit (and only one of 2015) leaving the ballpark. Bandy is expected to be in a tight battle for Craig Counsell’s starting catcher pick along with Andrew Susac and Manny Pina. If Bandy does end up with a roster spot, it would likely be more as a backup catcher with a similar role to that of Maldonado behind Lucroy (Sunday starting catcher, solid bench option).
Coming to Milwaukee in the Tyler Thornburg trade along with SS Mauricio Dubon and RHP Josh Pennington, Shaw is the most MLB ready of the players the Brewers got in return. In his first full season last year for Boston, Shaw posted a line of .242/.306/.421 along with 34 doubles, 16 home runs and 71 RBIs. While his fielding could use some improvement (.945 fielding percentage with 16 errors at 3B in 2016), he is also versatile, having played 50 games at first base along with his 105 at the hot corner. This could come in handy as just in case an injury to Thames forced a move, Craig Counsell could simply slot Shaw over to first and play someone like Hernan Perez at third. However, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Wednesday, Shaw has said he wants to be “the man” at third for Milwaukee, and the skipper will certainly give him that chance.
Players to Watch at Spring Training
Corey Ray (if healthy)
Any and all starting pitcher candidates