Yelich embracing leader role on young Crew

February 20th, 2024

PHOENIX -- stood in front of cameras and microphones at his locker at Brewers camp Monday morning, took a deep breath and shared his thoughts on a number of key topics surrounding the upcoming season for more than 12 minutes.

He expressed optimism about his club’s chances in 2024 and was excited about the next wave of young talented players coming through the organization. He was poised, insightful, but also direct. He shared his desire to continue to play left field as often as possible in 2024.

“[Playing left field] is ideally what I want to do,” Yelich, 32, said. “Some DHing is nice, but I definitely don’t want to primarily DH. I still enjoy playing the outfield and it’s something I can do as much as possible. I’m sure I’ll rotate through similar to last year whenever there is a good spot that makes sense.”

The Brewers have lots of depth at the position this spring. The list of outfielders on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster also includes Jackson Chourio, Joey Weimer, Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, Blake Perkins and Chris Roller.

Yelich played left field 122 games and served as the designated hitter 20 times in 2023. In 2022, he played left field 115 times and was the DH for 36 games.

“I consider him our left fielder, but there is going to be ample times for him, [Rhys] Hoskins and William [Contreras] to DH, too,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “I don’t know what the number will be, but I want him in the lineup for 162 [games] minus whatever he needs.”

Last season, a healthy Yelich slashed .278/.370/.447 with 19 home runs and 76 RBIs in his best offensive season since 2019. He did miss time at the end of the regular season with back tightness, but said “it wasn't that big of a deal,” primarily because he just wanted to make sure his back was ready to finish out the final stretch of games and be prepared for the playoffs.

“I was happy to stay healthy most of the time, and I felt pretty good,” Yelich said. “I made some adjustments early in the year, and I honestly felt like it was a pretty good year from those adjustments to the end of the season. There’s room to grow and keep improving. I feel great and I’m looking forward to getting the season started.”

And just like everyone else, Yelich is looking forward to seeing Chourio, baseball’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, suit up this spring. He admits that he has not seen Chourio play in person yet and is hopeful everyone understands the special circumstances that come with young players developing in front of everyone’s eyes.

“[Chourio is] obviously really talented for the organization to make a commitment like that,” Yelich said, referring to the eight-year, $82 million contract the prospect signed this winter. “He’s got a very bright future ahead of him and we just have to let him play and let him be a kid and rookie in the big leagues. Obviously, when you sign a contract like that, there are expectations and everything that comes along with that, but at the same time, you have to let him play because there will be growing pains in the big leagues.”

It’s clear that Yelich embraces his role. Part of his job is to be a leader on the field and in the clubhouse.

“I’m one of the older guys on this team for sure and I’ve been around the league a little bit, so you try and help these guys navigate the first time or two through the league,” he said. “It’s difficult. You can prepare for the Major Leagues, but the first time you are in it is the first time you find out what it’s all about. It’s the best league in the world for a reason.”

In addition to Chourio, the Brewers also have emerging players like infielder Tyler Black along with pitching prospects Jacob Misiorowski, Robert Gasser and Carlos F. Rodriguez. There’s also catcher Jeferson Quero and third baseman Brock Wilken, the Brewers’ first-round Draft pick in 2023.

“Some of the guys that we had here and have moved on will be some of the best players that this franchise has ever seen,” Yelich said. “But before they were that, they were also these young kids that were super talented that people weren’t as familiar with that grew, learned at the big league level and developed into these household names. These guys definitely have that potential.”