Crew top prospects Turang, Varland make Opening Day roster

March 27th, 2023

PHOENIX -- said it didn’t feel real. called it the coolest moment of his entire life. And Brewers manager Craig Counsell confirmed that he has no interest in a post-baseball career in Hollywood.

“I don’t enjoy being on reality TV,” Counsell said.

The Brewers jumped on MLB’s hidden camera bandwagon to inform the pair -- Turang, the club’s No. 5 prospect, per MLB Pipeline and Varland, the No. 27 prospect -- that they had made the team. Turang, the former first-round pick known for slick defense, will primarily play second base. Varland, the right-handed Rule 5 Draft pick who won a spot by striking out 17 of the first 35 first hitters he’s faced in the Cactus League, will probably begin in middle relief with a chance to climb up the bullpen depth chart.

Both players have big league bloodlines; Turang’s father, Brian, was an outfielder for the Mariners in the early 1990s, and Varland’s younger brother, Louie, made his Major League debut for the Twins last year.

“Your whole life, that’s your goal, that’s all you look forward to,” Turang said. “Of course, you look at it and [wonder], ‘What is it going to be like?’ But now I got the news, and it’s going to be a reality. It’s time to keep going.”

Turang has long been regarded for his advanced defense -- the Brewers have been using him in big league Spring Training games since 2019, the year after Milwaukee drafted him 21st overall out of high school. He enjoyed an offensive breakthrough last year at Triple-A Nashville, delivering career highs for doubles (24), home runs (13) and slugging percentage (.412), and he wondered, as September approached, whether he would get a callup.

That call never came, so Turang shifted his focus to Spring Training. Opportunity opened when the Brewers traded Kolten Wong to the Mariners on Dec. 2.

“I wanted to come out here and compete, and if I did go down, then it was their hardest decision,” Turang said.

When Counsell delivered the news, the Brewers captured it with a couple of hidden cameras. The skipper told Turang, “I think what we’re going to do is option you to Chicago.”

The Brewers open their season at Wrigley Field on Thursday, provided Mother Nature plays along.

“The reason I said that was to have him think a little bit,” Counsell said. “But he knew. After about a second, I could tell that he knew what he had just been told.”

Like Counsell in his day, Turang is a left-handed hitter who plays all over. A shortstop coming up, Turang added second base and third. He also played some center field last season in Nashville, but the Brewers don’t see that being part of his duties this year.

“This has been true with Brice for a long time: Brice helps you win in a lot of different ways,” Counsell said. “I think a lot of times when you get a player, it's like, 'Oh, what are his offensive numbers?' But I was so impressed with how Brice plays defense, and I think he can make a huge impact.”

When it was suggested that Turang is the sort of player one likes the more one sees, Counsell said, “That's what you say about somebody who you don't just look at the three big numbers on the scoreboard. That's how it works with players like that. You have to watch a little closer. I think that's who Brice is going to be as a player.”

Counsell’s meeting with Varland was more straightforward.

The manager simply said, “You made the team.”

“I went numb all over my body,” Varland said. “I didn’t really know how to react. It was an unbelievable experience.”

The path to Opening Day for Varland was a high-stress affair because of the rules governing Rule 5 picks. The Brewers either had to keep him or offer him back to the Dodgers.

Varland, who converted to a reliever last year at the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate and saw a big jump in velocity, made the decision for the Brewers by missing bats all spring.

“There's been, like, spring development here,” Counsell said. “I think Gus has gotten better. That's hard to do. Especially when the first conversation with Gus was, like, 'Gus, this is how it's going to work. You have a tough spring. You have to try to make the team. We're also going to give you things that we think can help you be better. You've got to figure out how to take that in and still put your best foot forward.'

“And that's hard to do. That's really hard to do. Gus really managed that very well."