Lucroy's health among Brewers' major questions in camp
Return of breakout star key for club's success in 2015
MILWAUKEE -- This is the sixth in a series of stories leading to the start of Spring Training next week. We've already covered the Brewers' bounce-back candidates and key newcomers, turned the page from the final six weeks of 2014, and taken a shot at projecting an Opening Day lineup.
Today, on the eve of Brewers pitchers and catchers formally reporting Friday for Spring Training, here are three burning questions in camp:
1. Will Jonathan Lucroy get healthy in time?
Last week, Lucroy underwent a platelet-rich plasma injection for a slightly torn right hamstring tendon. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks of Spring Training, leaving time for Lucroy to be ready for the team's April 6 opener at Miller Park against the Rockies if all goes well. Since he played through a similar ailment last September, Lucroy was especially confident about meeting that deadline.
Still, this was not the news the Brewers wanted to get just before gathering at Maryvale Baseball Park. Lucroy was the team's most valuable player last year -- he finished fourth in National League MVP balloting -- and is now widely considered one of baseball's best catchers. The Brewers have a quality defensive backup in Martin Maldonado, but he would be a downgrade at the plate, and Lucroy is also expected to make 30 or so starts at first base in a platoon with left-handed hitter Adam Lind. That hamstring will be a major factor in camp.
2. Who will close?
Big right-hander Jonathan Broxton has been pegged for this role since last August, when the Brewers traded with the Reds for set-up help in September. The deal carried a significant financial commitment; Broxton is due $9 million in 2015, and has a $9 million club option for 2016 with a buyout that increased from $1 million to $2 million when he was traded. With Francisco Rodriguez a free agent after enjoying a renaissance as Brewers closer in 2014, Broxton, who hasn't been a full-time closer since 2012 in Kansas City, was immediately the leading candidate to take over.
Nearly six months later, it appears the Brewers could be kicking around other options. Rodriguez, seeking to parlay his All-Star season into a two-year deal, remains available and is represented by Scott Boras, who negotiated Kyle Lohse's contract with Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio late in 2013 Spring Training. The Brewers have also had talks with the Phillies about Jonathan Papelbon, though given Papelbon's own significant salary commitment, the sides have had a hard time agreeing on a proper return. Since the Brewers cleared about $9 million from the payroll by trading Yovani Gallardo to the Rangers, another significant bullpen addition is possible.
3. How quickly will Darnell Coles' impact be felt?
The Brewers fired hitting coach Johnny Narron in October in the wake of an offensive collapse and replaced him with Coles, a popular former instructor and manager in Milwaukee's Minor League system who had left for one season on Detroit's Major League coaching staff. Coles joins a Brewers club that last season tied for 22nd of 30 Major League teams in walk rate (7 percent), tied for 17th in on-base percentage (.311) and second in swing percentage (49.9 percent). Like Narron before him, Coles will have to tread the fine line between preaching a professional, patient approach and letting players who are free-swingers by nature (Scooter Gennett, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez among them) do what got them to the big leagues in the first place.
Familiarity will help Coles hit the ground running, since he managed the likes of Gennett and Khris Davis in the Minors. Spring Training will offer Coles an opportunity to lay out his philosophy, though his reputation is more for reinforcing a positive mindset than implementing some bold new strategy, the way Rick Peterson once did for Brewers pitchers.