MVP reports: Yelich welcomes new season

After historic year, hectic winter, Crew star looking forward, not back

February 15th, 2019

PHOENIX -- It was back to baseball on Friday for the reigning National League MVP, and yeah, knows you're wondering whether he can put up those big numbers again.

"No matter how high the expectations are from the outside, from media, from fans, wherever, you hold yourself to a high standard and understand what you are capable of," the Brewers outfielder said while getting his first look at the renovated American Family Fields of Phoenix. "Will it be like that every year? I don't know. I think that was one of those years that was a lot of fun.

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"A lot of people's favorite words in baseball right now are 'regression' and 'coming back to the mean' or whatever you want to say. We'll see, you know? I hope that's not the case. I don't plan on it being the case."

With Yelich entering his age-27 season -- "right in the sweet spot of his career," as his manager, Craig Counsell, likes to say -- the Brewers are equally hopeful that Yelich can approach his 2018 production, when he rode a remarkable second half to the first batting title in Brewers history, a near Triple Crown and won MVP honors handily over runners-up and .

How good was Yelich's all-around season? He was the first Major Leaguer since Ivan Rodriguez in 1999 to bat at least .325 while topping 35 home runs, 110 runs scored, 100 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. Yelich led the NL in average (.326), slugging percentage (.598), OPS (1.000) and total bases (343) and was among the top five in runs, hits, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs and extra-base hits.

He won the Hank Aaron Award as the NL's top offensive player and was a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove Award, and he became the first player to win the NL MVP Award the year after he was traded since Braves third baseman Bob Elliott in 1947 (in the American League, did it in 2015).

Yelich had all offseason to savor those accomplishments, assuming he had any time to do so between awards shows and other responsibilities, including a drive that raised more than $1 million for Californians impacted by the bar shooting and wildfires in November.

On Friday, Yelich reset all of his numbers to zero.

"Anything that happened last year, whether it was good or bad, whether guys had great seasons or bad seasons, it doesn't mean anything this year. It means nothing," said Yelich. "Everyone starts with a clean slate. We're all building from the bottom all the way up, and we all have that common goal in mind. All your time and energy is focused on that. There's no point in looking back on 2018, whether it was good or bad. It's about 2019 and what we have to accomplish as a team."

That echoed the message Counsell told Brewers pitchers and catchers prior to their first organized workout on Wednesday. Counsell will next address the team Tuesday, when the full squad practices for the first time.

"You have a break, and you step into a different place when you come back here. He acknowledges that, and that's a big part of it," Counsell said. "Sometimes, chasing the past -- for any player -- can get you in trouble. It's the combination of, 'I have something different in front of me,' with the experience that puts you in a good place. That's exactly the place I think he is in."

Counsell and Yelich will speak at some point about a plan for Spring Training playing time that gets the player ready for Opening Day but doesn't unduly wear him out. Yelich does not anticipate much difference from his first spring with the Brewers, and he said once again that he feels rested and ready for baseball, despite a hectic winter schedule.

"It was definitely different, so I understand where you guys are coming from," he said. "But at the same time, I feel like I had enough time to decompress and get away from it and focus on baseball, get my head straight a little bit. …

"It's exciting to be back doing what you love and what you do as a baseball player. Just to be back in this room and get those feelings of Spring Training, I think there's a lot of excitement at this time of year for, not only myself, but everybody. Everybody has the excitement of a new season, and you really never know what you're going to see in these next seven or eight months. I found out firsthand last year. Everybody has a fresh start when camp starts, and you just never know what the next months will hold."