If Mitchell is sidelined, who will fill CF job?

March 11th, 2023

PHOENIX -- No news may have qualified as good news on Friday regarding , MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 Brewers prospect and Milwaukee’s presumptive starting center fielder. Mitchell tweaked his right hamstring beating out a fielder’s choice in Thursday’s game against the Giants, but the Brewers viewed the matter as minor.

No further testing was scheduled as of Friday morning, manager Craig Counsell said.

Mitchell, 24, added strength over the winter after making a splash in the Majors last August and September. He batted .311 and delivered an .832 OPS and eight stolen bases in 28 games while making a series of highlight plays in center field, lifting himself into position to be the Brewers’ regular starter there going into 2023.

Like any player, health will help determine whether he sticks. In addition to the rigors of center field and running the bases, Mitchell is a Type 1 diabetic who closely monitors his diet and workout regimen to remain in optimal shape. Rest is part of that regimen, making Milwaukee’s outfield depth even more critical as the club heads into the regular season.

So, here’s a look at the players besides Mitchell who could help fill the job in center field:

Tyrone Taylor 
Taylor, the longest-tenured player in the organization (he was drafted in 2012), would be the simple choice to replace Mitchell should the hamstring issue linger, but Taylor is sidelined until May, at the earliest, with a right elbow injury. The 29-year-old has played center field in 112 games for the Brewers, including 91 starts. He hit a career-high 17 home runs last season and has had stretches where he’s been a force, but sometimes he is consistently inconsistent. Last year was an example; Taylor had a .574 OPS in March/April, .872 in May, .573 in June, .848 in July, .587 in August and .913 in September.

He received treatment much of the year for pain in his right elbow, and when that problem persisted into this spring, Taylor underwent a PRP injection that required a significant shutdown.

The only other center fielder on the 40-man roster is Perkins, a 26-year-old former second-round pick of the Nationals who signed a split contract with the Brewers in November. He had an .813 OPS last season between the Yankees’ Double-A and Triple-A levels, and manager Craig Counsell referred to him earlier this spring as “something for the future.”

But the Brewers do like Perkins.

“Blake is somebody that we targeted going into the winter that, from a scouting perspective, we think he did some really good things,” Counsell said. “Obviously, we made a commitment to him and put him on the 40-man roster, which is impactful. That’s a big deal. … He just took a big step forward in our eyes last year, and we’ll see where that leads.”

Miller, from Fredonia, Wis., came in an offseason trade with Cleveland. He’s played every infield position but hadn’t stepped foot in the outfield since the Minor Leagues, and had never played center, before he started there against Great Britain’s World Baseball Classic club this week. He drew a second start in center on Friday against the Guardians. The Brewers approached Miller about giving center field a shot about a week earlier, in response to the Taylor injury.

“It definitely is a different view of the game from out there,” Miller said. “You just see everything. You’re surveying the whole field. You’re in your own world out there, especially after playing second or third for so long, where you’re always around people. Out there, you’re in your own thoughts.”

Said Brewers outfield instructor Quintin Berry: “I think he’s going to be great out there. He can fly. He’s an athlete. He’s a versatile kid. He’s got instincts.”

Turang, a natural shortstop who is No. 5 on MLB Pipeline’s Brewers prospects list, exclusively played shortstop and second base during his first three Minor League seasons before expanding his versatility at Triple-A Nashville in 2022 with some time at third base and center field, all while taking a significant step forward at the plate. Turang played 14 games in center, including 13 starts.

His long-term future is almost certainly on the infield, but Turang could help fill some gaps if Milwaukee is happy with Luis Urías, Willy Adames and Brian Anderson handling the infield spots.

The Brewers’ No. 2 and No. 3 prospects are banging on the door of the big leagues after making it to Triple-A last season. Frelick sped through three levels in 2022 and hit everywhere he went; his all-out style makes him a quality center fielder. Wiemer’s plus arm may profile for right field, but he can also handle center. The question is whether the Brewers would want to push either prospect to the Majors at the start of the season; they can credibly say both Frelick (46 games above Double-A) and Wiemer (43 games) would benefit from a little more time at Triple-A.

One factor: Because he’s a consensus Top 100 prospect, Frelick would qualify for the Prospect Promotion Incentive, which rewards teams for carrying top prospects on Opening Day rosters. A qualifying player who wins the Rookie of the Year Award or finishes in the top three in MVP Award or Cy Young Award voting in their pre-arbitration seasons net their teams an additional draft pick. The Mariners, for example, were awarded an extra first-round pick in this year’s Draft after Julio Rodríguez won American League ROY honors last year.

It’s a long shot to imagine Chourio, who turns 19 on Saturday, playing in the Majors in 2023. But all he’s done so far in his professional career is perform, rising from Single-A to High-A to Double-A last year as an 18-year-old, and shooting up to No. 8 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. A fan can dream.