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MILWAUKEE -- This is not the first Spring Training in which Ryan Braun will work on a position switch. But considering all of the Milwaukee Brewers' other moving pieces, this time around might be the most compelling.
Braun will acclimate himself to first base once the Brewers report to Maryvale Baseball Park, an idea hatched to help the Brewers manage a surplus of outfielders. While he is not expected to take over the position on a full-time basis, it marks the fifth move of Braun's professional career, starting with his Minor League education at third base after primarily playing shortstop at the University of Miami.
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Braun won the National League Rookie of the Year Award there in 2007 but also tied for the Major League lead with 26 errors, so he shifted to left field for 2008-13 and was a Gold Glove Award finalist in 2012. He moved to right field from 2014-15 after Khris Davis broke into the big leagues with Milwaukee, then returned to left prior to the 2016 season to free right field for Domingo Santana.
Now, Braun is headed back to the infield, at least on a part-time basis. It would create a crowd at first base with the existing platoon of Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar, but would free at-bats in the outfield for a group that includes Santana and defensively-gifted newcomers Lorenzo Cain (79 defensive runs saved over the past five seasons) and Christian Yelich (20 DRS). Braun accounted for -5 DRS in the same span.
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"Without a doubt we're a much better baseball team than we were a week ago," Braun said at the Brewers' "On Deck" event, staged less than a week after the team signed Cain and traded for Yelich. "It's a position that all of us hope to be in as players. You want to be in a position where you're adding talent instead of subtracting talent, and I think both of those guys are two of the best outfielders in baseball. So I have no doubt we're a better team than we were a week ago."
As for his latest transition, Braun said, "I think I'll figure it out when I get to Spring Training. I've thought about it a little bit. Obviously I played the infield my whole life growing up, so it's not like I've never taken ground balls. But certainly I'll be a lot closer to the action than I used to be. So it'll be an adjustment."
Brewers GM David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell didn't mention it in discussing the plan, but Braun's recent health history is almost certainly one of the factors at play. He had back surgery during the 2015-16 offseason and requires regular treatment to avoid tightness. Braun also labored through calf and wrist injuries in 2017, when he was limited to 104 games.
While first base is not as easy as many armchair GMs make it out to be, it will at least require less mobility on the days Braun is stationed there.
"He's a really good athlete; he's played on the dirt before," Stearns said. "We know that. It's probably a slightly more natural transition to first base, but I certainly appreciate his openness to doing whatever we want him to do."
As the start of camp nears, the Brewers still have many moving pieces, and there is always the possibility that another Stearns trade or two will negate the need for Braun to see action at first base. But for now, it appears those mundane early-morning workouts will be a bit more interesting.