Observations on Brewers' day of homecoming(s)

April 2nd, 2024

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

MILWAUKEE -- Happy home opener. The Brewers are back, and I’m happy to say that I’m back, too.

In around-the-horn style, here’s what I’m thinking about as my two-month stay on the injured list comes to an end:

First: Good teammates are everything
Judging from the opening-series sweep of the Mets in New York, it looks like Pat Murphy did the job of bringing the new-look Brewers together during Spring Training. You saw it in the way his players had Rhys Hoskins’ back from the moment he slid into Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil in Milwaukee’s fiery Opening Day victory, and again the following day while Hoskins was booed at -- and thrown at. You saw it in Sunday’s finale when Joel Payamps got his first shot at a ninth-inning save after Abner Uribe handled that role the previous two afternoons -- all in the wake of All-Star closer Devin Williams’ back injury.

And I think you saw it subtly throughout the weekend as rookie phenom Jackson Chourio kept collecting hits. His talent is the most important thing, of course, but a 20-year-old doesn’t hit the ground running in the big leagues -- in the Big Apple, no less -- without some veteran support. It looks like Willy Adames and the Brewers have been providing him that.

Speaking of good teammates: My MLB.com colleagues David Adler, Jesse Sanchez and Jim Callis and contributors Jack Magruder and Zach Buchanan all kept Brewers.com and this newsletter going while I was recovering from emergency eye surgery. With our terrific editor Jen Langosch, they covered every angle of the team’s offseason overhaul while I was away. Meanwhile, I had so many supportive messages, texts, calls and drop-ins from fans and friends across baseball, and even a FaceTime or two from inside the Maryvale clubhouse. There are not enough ways for me to say thank you. And thank you to the schedule-makers, who built a Brewers slate with plenty of April home games and some drivable road trips for those of us who can’t get on an airplane quite yet.

My favorite message was from Gorman Thomas, who wrote that he was sorry to hear my “lamp went south.” How could that not lift you up?

Second: The next most important thing is starting pitching
The Brewers don’t like the word “rebuild” and don’t intend to give up on contending while they bring along the next wave of young talent, which included an incredible 12 players making their first appearance on an Opening Day roster. From afar, it looks like they will go as far as their starting pitching carries them. Freddy Peralta is a known commodity, but DL Hall has two big league starts on his resume after Saturday’s Brewers debut. Colin Rea will have to show he can sustain success over a full Major League season, Jakob Junis is coming off a season spent mostly in the Giants’ bullpen, Joe Ross is coming back from Tommy John surgery and Wade Miley is trying to get healthy and stay healthy.

There are some pieces there, especially if top pitching prospects Jacob Misiorowski (No. 2), Robert Gasser (No. 6) and Carlos Rodriguez (No. 8) contribute later on. Don’t forget Aaron Ashby, too. But is it a starting rotation capable of carrying the Brewers back to another postseason? We’ll see.

Third: It’s going to take the whole organization
In my first story back to work, I wrote Monday about a player and pitcher to watch at each of the Brewers’ four full-season Minor League affiliates. Tom Flanagan, the former Brewers batboy who is going into his 35th season with the team, offered a scouting report on each featured player, and it’s worth a read.

It always takes contributions from beyond the 26-man Opening Day roster to win in the big leagues. Rea and Andruw Monasterio were relatively unknown at this time last year and wound up making significant contributions. Uribe was on the radar, but did you expect him to be the Opening Day closer less than a year later? Considering the flexibility of this year’s roster, there’s room for even more surprises in 2024.

Home: Who doesn’t love a fresh start?
For many fans, the home opener is the first look at what’s new. This year, I’m in the same situation. Here are the Top 5 things I’m eager to get eyes on (pun intended).

5. Updated American Family Field: The scoreboard is huge. There’s a 3rd Street Market Hall Annex for food options. There are no cashiers in the parking lots. Seriously, if you’re heading to a game this week, familiarize yourself with the new parking system before you go. Parking lots open at 12:10 p.m. CT on Tuesday. Stadium gates open at 1:10 p.m.

4. The new infield: Brice Turang and Joey Ortiz are top-flight shortstops playing other positions for now. We’ll see if that changes as Adames’ name gets batted around in the runup to the Trade Deadline. Hoskins is the new man at first base, best known for his big bat and big personality (check out this Q&A from my colleague Bill Ladson). Sal Frelick hasn’t played third base yet, but he will. It will be fascinating to see how that goes.

3. Murphyball: Judging by his quips in Spring Training, it’s clear the new manager doesn’t like to bunt. But we still have a lot of other things to learn about Murphy’s preferred brand of baseball.

2. Chourio: The comps are pretty heady in this piece from Adler. Plenty of Brewers prospects have arrived with high expectations, from Robin Yount to Paul Molitor to Gary Sheffield to Ryan Braun. Thanks to social media, none arrived with the hype accompanying Chourio.

1. The people: Not to be overly sentimental, but there’s nothing better than a packed, buzzy ballpark. I’m looking forward to that more than ever after sitting at home for the last two months.