PHOENIX -- If the ageless adage that good contact leads to good hitting holds merit, the Brewers have a pair of outfielders that offer optimism to a largely unproven lineup.According to Statcast™, center fielder Keon Broxton (fourth, 95 mph) and right fielder Domingo Santana (13th, 93.8 mph) ranked among MLB
PHOENIX -- If the ageless adage that good contact leads to good hitting holds merit, the Brewers have a pair of outfielders that offer optimism to a largely unproven lineup.
According to Statcast™, center fielder Keon Broxton (fourth, 95 mph) and right fielder Domingo Santana (13th, 93.8 mph) ranked among MLB leaders in average exit velocity in 2016, alongside the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Cabrera and Mark Trumbo. The data is limited, since Broxton and Santana missed 75 and 77 games, respectively, but of their smaller pool, the numbers are encouraging.
A new Statcast™ metric introduced in September, Barreled Ball, offers more expressive data on Broxton and Santana. Barrels take into account a combination of velocity and launch angle, are defined as batted balls that generally yield a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage, essentially quantifying the most optimal hit balls. To be considered "barreled," a batted ball must have a minimum 98 mph exit velocity and occur as a batted ball event; anything that yields a hit, out or error.
Santana had 17 Barrels and posted a 1.000 batting average in those batted ball events, while Broxton had 11 such plays and converted on nine. For context, the MLB Barrel leader was Cabrera, with 72, though he played in all but four games and contributed 437 batted ball events. Broxton had 99 batted ball events and Santana, 140.
Among those, each yielded an impressive conversion rate -- 11.1 percent (Broxton) and 12.1 percent (Santana), where the MLB average was 6.51 percent.
Brewers hitting coach Darnell Coles said he examined those advanced analytics in his offseason evaluations and spent this spring trying to build upon the foundation of each player's swing that they established last year. He was cautious to prompt either into any significant adjustments.
"I think that's a huge part of what we look at, but not necessarily things that we talk about because we don't want anyone changing their swings," Coles said. "We just want them to understand how hard the ball comes off the bat at certain angles, and within those angles, you're doing damage. I think your swing, or a swing, is calibrated just based on ball flight and how you're able to stay behind the ball to get backspin.
"We talked about a multitude of different things, but I'm not trying to throw too much at them. Again, that doesn't mean you swing harder. That just means we need to consistently get in a position that allows you to swing the bat correctly, but efficiently, without overworking."
The high-velocity and conversion rates Broxton and Santana showed are encouraging for a young Brewers lineup leading into Opening Day, but over the course of a six-month season, they could prove moot without consistency.
In 482 plate appearances, Santana has a career slash line of .239/.331/.423 with 168 strikeouts. He's seen a sizeable dose of Major League pitching to where, if healthy, the Brewers have high hopes for him to emerge as a primary run producer.
"There's moments of success. There's some struggles," manager Craig Counsell said of Santana. "But it's that kind of time where he can take a big step forward. This is when a big step forward can happen."
"I could do that. If I stay healthy, who knows what could happen?" Santana said. "I just want to go out there and try to adjust and learn from it and just go out there and try to play every day and earn my time."
Broxton's development is at a much earlier stage. After being exposed to a healthy taste of Major League pitching, which manifested a 36.1 percent strikeout rate, Broxton this spring made a minor tweak to his stance, but not his swing. Specifically, Broxton said, he's shifted his back right foot and leg slightly more in the pitcher's direction while keeping both uniformly aligned with his knee.
"It makes me load up my back leg," Broxton said. "My knee can't go outside of my foot. If it goes outside my foot, I kind of lose torque. If it stays locked in there, I can just kind of load it, put it down and get a lot more leverage out of my swing. Sometimes it stays open, so I kind of lose a little bit of power, and when it's closed, I get more drive towards the pitcher, and that's just kind of keeping my body in line with the pitcher and going right straight back up the middle instead if I was turning or staying too close."
Broxton is batting .347 with a 1.061 OPS, three homers, 10 RBIs and two stolen bases this spring. The Brewers have even used him atop the lineup, along with MLB steals leader Jonathan Villar, due to Broxton's athleticism and high contact rate.
As a team, the Brewers had a productive showing in Cactus League play, pacing MLB's most major offensive categories. Their pitching staff remains in question, with only two starters named to the Opening Day rotation and no left-handers in the bullpen, which could put an added onus on offense to keep pace in April -- particularly their high-contact outfield tandem.
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.