What to expect from Brewers' Cactus League games

February 25th, 2023

PHOENIX -- Rookie center fielder added two home runs to his Cactus League stat line, caught his first game for Milwaukee and Bob Uecker started his 53rd season on the mic as the Brewers beat the Dodgers, 7-4, on a sun-splashed Saturday at American Family Fields of Phoenix.

It was an exhibition game, but these games still matter. Here are four reasons to watch closely this spring:

1. Watch the kids.
, Mitchell and were the starting outfield from left to right, the first glimpse of the trio together for many Brewers fans. Mitchell connected for an opposite-field, two-run home run for a 3-2 Brewers lead in the third inning and sent another two-run homer over the batter’s eye in the fifth. He has a chance to be the Opening Day center fielder, so he will focus on that position this spring. Frelick and Wiemer are likely to see action at all three outfield spots.

“I took a lot from last year and went into the offseason with some goals, and putting the ball in play was one of them,” said Mitchell, who has a 1.196 OPS in 39 Cactus League at-bats over the last three years. “I’m trying to cut down on some of those strikeouts. I’m trying to attack early, trying to hit in count-leverage situations versus being down all the time. We’ll see how many times it happens, but it’s a good start.”

Asked about playing between Frelick and Wiemer in a Major League game, Mitchell said, “Looking at the lineup card and seeing they’re on my left and my right was really cool. … I feel like it’s something the Brewers should be excited for as an organization. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.”

2. Watch William Contreras get in sync.
The Brewers are counting on Contreras to add some offensive punch. Just as important is his work with a new pitching staff, especially the starters who represent the team’s strength. The Brewers are plotting a Cactus League schedule for the 25-year-old that pairs him with each of the pitchers he’ll have to know inside and out by Opening Day, including and a group of Major League relievers scheduled to pitch Monday at the Royals.

Games are important, and so are the morning meetings the next day. A tradition several years old, Brewers pitchers, catchers and coaches meet the morning after a game and let the pitcher lead a conversation about the day before.

“You manage it with a month in mind,” Counsell said. “The thing we will try to do early on is … you try to get him with pitchers who we know are going to be with us during the regular season.”

3. Watch out for a roster crunch.
You want tough roster decisions at the end of March because it means lots of players are healthy and ready. Brewers camp has already gotten more crowded with this week’s additions of and as non-roster invitees. Voit, who went 1-for-3 as the DH against the Dodgers, could fit as a right-handed-hitting power option at first base and designated hitter. Naquin could fit as a corner outfielder, especially with Tyrone Taylor nursing an elbow injury.

“With what they do, there is a path to the Opening Day roster,” Counsell said. “That's why they chose to sign here. That's why we wanted them.”

Voit and Naquin have outs in their contracts. Naquin’s first out is March 25 by rule; Voit has one negotiated in his contract, but he and Brewers officials said they would rather not make it public. So, decisions are coming. That’s also true of some of the players who are out of options, particularly bullpen candidates like , and and former first-round pick , who is potentially impacted by Voit’s arrival in camp.

“I mean, ultimately we’re going to have a roster decision there,” Counsell said. “Keston is always on a quest to improve.”

4. Watch for the impact of new rules.
Saturday’s game took two hours and 21 minutes. The handful of hitters asked about new features like the pitch timer and shift restrictions offered positive feedback.

“[The timer] is doing the job, for sure,” infielder said. “I think we’re going to be OK with it. Everybody here has made adjustments in their career to get where they are at, and we’re just going to have to make another adjustment."

Said Counsell: “You feel the difference, there’s no question about it. … We’ve got a bunch of stuff written down that we’ll ask questions about, but it was a crisp game and we felt it. It was better.”

One down, 30 exhibition games to go.