3 key storylines heading into Brewers Spring Training

February 13th, 2024

This story was excerpted from the Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

For the Brewers, this spring will be all about new faces, new dynamics and new questions. With pitchers and catchers reporting to American Family Fields of Phoenix by Wednesday and the first workout set for Thursday, winter for Milwaukee is coming to a close.

Here are three storylines to watch in Brewers camp this Spring Training.

1. Is this a postseason-caliber starting rotation?
Last year as Spring Training opened, Milwaukee’s projected starting rotation looked like this:

1. Corbin Burnes
2. Brandon Woodruff
3. Freddy Peralta
4. Eric Lauer
5. Adrian Houser
6. Wade Miley
7. Aaron Ashby

If it was not the best starting rotation in baseball, it was close. My colleague Anthony Castrovince ranked the Brewers second behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and the Mets, and that was after Ashby went down with a left shoulder injury. There were questions about Milwaukee’s offense -- warranted, it turned out -- and lots of questions about the bullpen -- that turned out to be a strength. But there was no question that the Brewers had the best rotation in the National League Central, and thus a chance to win the division.

How about now? With Burnes traded to the Orioles and Houser traded to the Mets in efforts to bring younger, controllable talent into the organization, Lauer released after a fraught 2023 season and Woodruff non-tendered in November because he probably won’t be able to pitch in 2024, the starting rotation depth chart could look something like this:

1. Peralta
2. Miley
3. Jakob Junis
4. Colin Rea
5. DL Hall
6. Joe Ross
7. Ashby
8. Janson Junk
9. Prospects like Robert Gasser, Carlos F. Rodriguez and Jacob Misiorowski

“He's ready for it,” general manager Matt Arnold said of Peralta ascending to the top spot. “I mean, honestly, he's one of the guys that you count on going out there every fifth day and taking the ball and showing everybody that he can dominate. Freddy's built right. He's the right type of person. He's the guy that everyone loves, and I'm thrilled to have him at the front of our rotation.”

After that, everyone has a question mark. How many starts will they get out of the well-traveled Miley? Will Junis’ 2023 breakout with the Giants translate to a move back to the rotation? Is Hall, one of the prospects acquired in the Burnes trade, a starter or a reliever? Is Ross ready to carry a starters’ load after spending most of ‘23 recovering from his second Tommy John surgery? What will Ashby look like after dealing with shoulder woes all last year? And will Milwaukee count on Junk after passing him over for the bulk of last season when a starter was needed?

2. How will Pat Murphy fare in his first season?
The Brewers have long prioritized continuity in their staffing decisions, and they put that philosophy to use by choosing to replace Craig Counsell with Murphy, who had not only been Counsell’s bench coach for the past eight years but coached him as a college player in the early 1990s. But for all their familiarity, Murphy and Counsell are different people, with different personalities, and are bound to be different managers.

A baseball lifer, this will be Murphy’s first chance to manage since he was interim skipper for the Padres in 2015, and indeed, replacing the winningest manager in franchise history during what could be a transitional year will be a challenge. How Murphy tackles that challenge will go a long way toward determining what type of year 2024 is for the Brewers.

3. Which kids will seize the opportunity?
Rookies from Brice Turang to Sal Frelick gave Milwaukee a jolt of energy in 2023, and it’s looking like a chance for more of the same. The Brewers brought in first baseman Rhys Hoskins and backup catcher Gary Sánchez for established pop, but many positions on the diamond are up for grabs among first-or second-year players, starting with center-field sensation Jackson Chourio. After committing to an eight-year, $82 million contract that set a record for a player with no Major League service, nothing is keeping the Brewers from starting his clock.

So, what of the team’s other young players?

  • Frelick, Garrett Mitchell and Joey Wiemer will vie for at-bats in the outfield, with Chourio and Christian Yelich (who will still play some left field because Milwaukee prefers to spread around DH at-bats).
  • Tyler Black and Joey Ortiz could form a platoon at third base between the club’s No. 4 and No. 5 prospects, while Ortiz could also be battling Turang, Oliver Dunn and Owen Miller for time at second base. Andruw Monasterio remains in the mix at both positions as well.
  • There are jobs up for grabs all through the starting rotation, where youngsters Hall, Gasser, Rodriguez and Misiorowski could pitch for innings this spring. For Hall, part of the calculus will be assessing whether the hard-throwing lefty fits better long-term as a starter or reliever.