Youth leads Brewers' pitchers, catchers into spring
Club giving early start to young arms, who will play big part in team's success
Brewers pitchers and catchers report for the formal start of Spring Training on Tuesday, and it's perfectly fitting that the young guys are leading the way.
A team that will sink or swim in 2013 based on the success of its young arms is staggering its report dates in an ongoing effort to find a perfect formula for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers with zero to three years of Major League service time report Tuesday and will work out Wednesday and Thursday before the rest of the pitchers and catchers, plus all of the position players, officially report on Friday. The Brewers' first full-squad workout is Saturday.
In practice, the foul lines are already chalked, the bright green grass is cut and Maryvale Baseball Park is buzzing with activity.
Players like Mark Rogers -- one of the group of young starters sure to lead the Brewers' spring storylines -- who live year-round in Phoenix have been working out for weeks. Others, like No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo, reported early to prepare for next month's World Baseball Classic.
By Saturday, the clubhouse will be crowded. Here are some of the stories to follow this spring:
Starting rotation: The Brewers had the National League's most potent offense last season and are returning with it mostly intact; but beyond Gallardo there is little certainty in the rotation. Marco Estrada is the presumed No. 2, but he is entering his first full season as a starter. Chris Narveson is coming off shoulder surgery. Rogers, Mike Fiers and Wily Peralta have never experienced a 162-game Major League season.
Bullpen: Last year's bullpen blowup has been well-documented. So has general manager Doug Melvin's breakdown-and-rebuild project, with Burke Badenhop, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny brought in to provide some relief. But those players are known commodities; manager Ron Roenicke will have a closer eye in Spring Training on newcomers like Johnny Hellweg, one of the players acquired in last summer's Zack Greinke trade, and offseason additions like Kelvim Escobar and Michael Olmsted. Unlike last year, when the pitching staff was essentially set from Day 1, there are jobs to be won this time.
Ryan Braun: It will be a second consecutive uncomfortable spring for Braun, who will be confronted by follow-up questions about his link to the former chief of a Miami clinic accused of providing players with banned substances. Braun already offered an explanation, but the issue will probably follow him through the spring.
World Baseball Classic: Braun is one of 15 Brewers players committed to the tournament, 11 of whom are part of big league camp. The team's top two starting pitchers, Gallardo and Estrada, will play for Mexico. The top two returning relievers, John Axford and Jim Henderson, are among five Brewers on Team Canada. Both catchers -- Jonathan Lucroy for Team USA and Martin Maldonado for Puerto Rico -- will depart. Center fielder Carlos Gomez will play for Dominican Republic. Brewers officials hope those players all return healthy.
First base: Remember all of the optimism last spring about Mat Gamel, who was tasked with replacing Prince Fielder? Well, Gamel is back in the same position after the Brewers lost Corey Hart to a knee injury. Hart will miss at least the first month of the regular season, giving Gamel another opportunity to break through as a big leaguer.
Comebacks: Escobar has made only one Major League appearance since 2007 because of shoulder injuries, but he is attempting a comeback. Narveson could be a big piece of the starting rotation if he can overcome his own shoulder issue. Hart, who seems doomed to rehab every spring, is already in the midst of his recovery.
More stories will surely emerge between Tuesday and April 1, when the Brewers open their 45th season as a franchise.