Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #54 Michael Blazek

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We are 54 days away from Opening Day. That’s less than two months, less than 8 weeks. As was once infamously said about Paris practically being a suburb of Berlin, “It’s a nothing commute.” In other words, it’ll be here before you know it.

Just think about the milestones we’ve already left in our collective rear-views this winter.

No, wait, don’t think about that. Think about my guy who wears #54 for the Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite baseball team…

Michael Blazek.

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Last winter I took a particular interest in Michael Robert Blazek, being the only person to bend his ear for a time at the annual On Deck fan fest event. We talked about his off-season program and the things he was focusing on in order to get better and have the best season of his career.

Well, I’d say it paid off.

I say that for a number of reasons. It was Blazek’s first full season in the big leagues for starters…er…to start with. He pitched exclusively in relief and, get this, posted his best full-season ERA (2.43) of his professional career. That’s at any level. He prevented runs better in 2015 against MLB competition than he had at any point along his winding ascent to the big leagues following his being selected in the 35th(!) round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. His previous best was a combined 3.00 in 2013 which was compiled between two minor league levels for St. Louis, and big league time in both St. Louis and Milwaukee that year.

It goes beyond ERA though. Blazek’s FIP was a career-best 3.17, his WHIP a career-best 1.042. He allowed just 6.5 H/9 and 2.9 BB/9. Both figures are, you guessed it, career-bests.

Blazek appeared in 45 games, 32 of which were scoreless appearances. He also inherited runners nine times (13 total inherited) in 2015 (once with the bases loaded) and only allowed any of them to score twice. Those days were the Opening Day team-wide disaster against Colorado and a 10-1 loss to the Braves on May 21st.

About the only thing that went wrong for the 6’0″ right-handed Las Vegas native was a signifcant one. Blazek suffered a broken hand at some point. I say “at some point” because no one is really certain when it happened. One day, while throwing long toss, Blazek’s right hand just started to swell. There wasn’t any pain involved which is why it could have been undetected for some time.

The bone eventually would heal and Blazek worked hard to return before the end of the year. That would end up not being in the cards as the team moved Blazek to the 60-day disabled list to open a 40-man roster spot for one of the Biloxi troop which was called up late in the year. Blazek told me that he was disappointed by the move as he was near a clean bill of health and really didn’t want his season to end on the sour note of injury.

As for the injury itself, it certainly would help explain his rough patch leading up to the diagnosis. Beginning on July 30, Blazek allowed runs in four of five appearances including allowing all three of his home runs for the season, the last of which resulted in a walk-off win for the Chicago Cubs on August 12th.

This led to speculation that Blazek injured his hand nefariously striking something out of frustration because everything’s a conspiracy, apparently. That wasn’t the case here and a bone in Blazek’s hand broke.

I spoke to Blazek about it again at Brewers On Deck last month and he told me that he’s doing some exercises to make sure his grip strength is where is needs to be but he’s healthy and ready to go when Pitchers & Catchers report on February 19.

(Sidebar: His hair is also most definitely ready.)

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And to follow up on the question I asked him a year ago, I wondered what his goals were for 2016. After getting through the baseball stuff (BOR-ING!, right??) he said he desires to become the greatest FIFA player of all time on PS4. Any challengers feel up to letting Blazek hone his skills?

Seriously though, on the baseball stuff Blazek said he’s on track with his preparations which are strikingly similar to last season. You know, that season when he was the best he’s ever been.

Works for me. Good answer.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelBlazek34

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Brewers 2016 Regular Season Promotional Information

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The Milwaukee Brewers today announced the team’s full 2016 promotional schedule. This season’s jam-packed calendar is filled with 14 All-Fan Giveaways, three brand new All-Kid Giveaways, the return of the Brewers Postgame Concerts and much, much, more.

Six bobbleheads, a Bob Uecker Talking Alarm Clock and the addition of three All-Kid Giveaways highlight the list of items that will be given away at Sunday afternoon contests at Miller Park this season. In addition, the Brewers will continue Free-Shirt Fridays for the third straight year. Seven different T-shirts will be given away throughout the season, including one at every Friday home game at Miller Park from June through August.  The T-shirt designs were chosen as part of an online vote and were revealed on stage at Brewers On Deck. Additional information about this year’s All-Fan Giveaways is available at Brewers.com/allfans.

2016 All-Fan Giveaway Dates at Miller Park
April 10 vs. Houston | 1980s Vintage Brewer Bobblehead
May 1 vs. Miami | Ryan Braun Franchise Home Run Leader Bobblehead
June 10 vs. New York (N) | Bernie’s Chalet T-Shirt
June 12 vs. New York (N) | Barking BobbleHank
June 24 vs. Washington | Camo Ball & Glove T-Shirt
June 28 vs. Los Angeles (N) | Greg Vaughn ‘90s Bobblehead
July 8 vs. St. Louis | Hank Aaron Shirsey
July 10 vs. St. Louis | Bob Uecker Alarm Clock
July 22 vs. Chicago (N) | Retro Royal T-Shirt
July 29 vs. Pittsburgh | Brew Crew Bottle Cap T-Shirt
July 31 vs Pittsburgh | Jimmy Nelson Bobblehead
August 12 vs. Cincinnati | Milwaukee Icons T-Shirt
August 14 vs. Cincinnati | Craig Counsell Player/Manager Bobblehead
August 26 vs. Pittsburgh | MKE Home T-Shirt

New for the 2016 season is the addition of Kids Eat Free Sundays.  Every Sunday home game, all kids 14 and under will receive a voucher upon entrance to Miller Park good for a free hot dog, apple slices and a bottle of water. If that wasn’t enough, the Brewers are excited to also announce three All-Kid Giveaways this year. All kids 14 and under who are in attendance will receive a Jonathan Lucroy Replica Jersey on May 15, courtesy of Kwik Trip, a Paint-Your-Own Bernie Bobblehead on May 29 and a Jonathan Lucroy Chest Protector Backpack on August 28, also courtesy of Kwik Trip.

Thanks to the success of last season’s inaugural series, the Brewers are proud to host two Postgame Concerts in 2016. On Saturday, May 14, the Brewers will welcome one of the music industry’s hottest stars to Miller Park as multi-Platinum pop artist Andy Grammer will perform a full-length, free postgame concert, courtesy of Pick ‘n Save, following the Crew’s matchup with the San Diego Padres. Then on Saturday, August 27, country music star Kip Moore will take the stage following the Brewers vs. Pirates game, presented by 94.5 KTI Country.

In addition to the many giveaways at the yard this year, the Brewers will bring back the 5-County, 5-Day Celebration, Spring Madness (414), Student Nights, Miller High Life Mondays and Kids and Senior Citizens Discount Days.

Fans in the region will want to head to Miller Park from April 20-24, as residents of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha Counties can purchase half-price tickets during the team’s annual 5-County, 5-Day Celebration.

Another great deal for fans comes around Memorial Day weekend, May 27-30 as Spring Madness (414) returns. Fans can save 50% on select seats while enjoying special “414” concession pricing with $4 16oz beers, $1 hot dogs & small sodas and $4 nachos.

Fans looking for start-of-the-week fun will want to check out the return of Miller High Life Mondays, which feature a new lower price this year. Terrace Reserved tickets are just $6 for all Monday home games with a 6:20 p.m. start time, courtesy of Miller High Life.

Also returning in 2016, most weekday afternoon home game kids 14 and under and seniors 60+ save 50% on tickets on Kids and Senior Citizens Discount Days.

Students are also invited to take in the fun with a great deal as every Friday home game is a Student Night, where those in high school and college can purchase $10 Terrace Reserved or $15 Loge Bleachers tickets. On top of that, students can enjoy a special $3 Happy Hour menu – featuring hot dogs, nachos, soda and beer – through the end of the first inning.

The complete 2016 promotional schedule is available at brewers.com/promotions.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #57 Chase Anderson

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While I expect to find this post with low readership because there’s some kind of football game on television later, I thank each of you who decided to click today. I’ll try to save you some time by not drawing out this introduction. Instead, let’s get right into today’s profile of…

Chase Anderson.

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I was tempted to simply make this blog post a redirect link so that you could read Tim Brown’s excellent profile of who Robert Chase Anderson is as a man. Instead, I decided to still give some additional background and go over his performance on the field like I tend to do in these things. You absolutely should read Brown’s piece too though, and probably first.

Anyway, Anderson comes to Milwaukee this off-season as part of the return for sending Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Anderson is a right-handed pitcher who has worked exclusively as a starting pitcher for four of the past five seasons after spending his first two professional years splitting time with a bit more spent entering games in relief. 2013 is the oddity as he worked in 26 games but only 13 starts.

That decision was made in no small part because of, as is so often the case with pitchers, injury. Anderson first suffered a sprained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow in 2011 which caused him to miss almost the entire season. He had additional, likely related, elbow issues each of the next two years which ultimately led to the D’backs shifting him to the bullpen for part of the year to see how Anderson reacted physically.

Anderson didn’t pitch well out of the bullpen though so the move back to the rotation was made. Fortunately, Anderson had been healthy since (up to midsummer 2015) and was able to showcase his abilities to the point where he’s not only made his MLB debut (May 11, 2014) but stayed in the big leagues. Outside of one start on August 2nd last year with the rookie ball team, Anderson has been a big leaguer since he became one.

Now 28 years old, the 6’1″ Anderson is firmly in what is often considered the prime of one’s baseball career. He started 27 games for the D’backs last year, throwing 152.2 innings. His overall season numbers don’t look great (4.30 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 95 ERA+) but there’s nuance inside of those numbers.

Anderson’s worst stretch of the year came in the five starts leading up to a stint on the disabled list with right triceps inflammation. In those five starts prior, Anderson struggled to a 9.12 ERA. He would miss about three weeks with the injury and pitched much better afterward overall.

From a business standpoint, Anderson offers a lot of value for the rebuilding Brewers. There exists a full five seasons of team control for Anderson which means the next two are pre-arbitration. Brewers brass indicated that Anderson will join the rotation immediately which more or less sets the starting rotation (barring injury or trade).

But obviously the true test of value comes in the execution of the baseball skills. If you can pitch effectively, you’ll be worth the paycheck. If Anderson is healthy, all signs point to his being good enough to be worth more than he’ll deposit into his bank account this year.

 

How will he accomplish that? Anderson will tell you (as he did on the radio recently) that his best pitch is his change-up. It’s been that way for awhile for the native Texan. Around the time of Anderson’s MLB debut, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. (who had spent the previously three seasons as Arizona’s minor league pitching coordinator) was quoted as saying this about Anderson’s best pitch.

“It’s definitely the best in our system. Hitters obviously don’t recognize his change-up and they see fastball. He has such good hand speed and arm speed and deception on the pitch.”

A quality change should serve Anderson will in Miller Park and it’s made even better by the fact that his average fastball velocity was up over 93 MPH at the end of last year. Increased difference in the speed of those two pitches isn’t a bad thing.

The bottom line for Anderson is that the Brewers seem to be getting a hard worker with high character who is effective when healthy.

Yes, please.

Follow Chase on Twitter: @ChaseAnderson87

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #58 Ariel Peña

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Can you feel the excitement? Today is February, 6, 2016 and we’re just 58 days away from Opening Day on April 4th.

Today we profile a player who saw his stock rise in 2015 much like his jersey number did. After wearing #68 in big league camp last year, this year #58 belongs to…

Ariel Peña.

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What a difference a few months can make.

From being considered the third piece in the return when the Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Southern California, USA, Peña stands today as the only one left in the organization. First came the minor league free agency of Johnny Hellweg (following a lengthy rehab from Tommy John surgery) in which he decided to sign with the San Diego Padres organization. Then came the trade which sent centerpiece Jean Segura to the Arizona Diamondbacks (along with Tyler Wagner) for three different players.

Hellweg had control and command issues during his entire Brewers run (not to mention most of his professional career overall). Segura’s excellent debut and All-Star Game run looked extremely promising and while his defense continued to be a strength, his offense largely fizzled. So that leaves Peña who has had a history of command and control problems of his own but who took a step in the right direction by slashing his walk rate (in Class-AAA Colorado Springs of all places) to the lowest it had been since the first half of his 2012 Double-A season.

Some numbers still don’t look great but if you look at the improvements over 2014 and factor in the change in environments, there are enough encouraging signs to understand why Peña was called upon to finally make his Major League debut as a September call-up once the Sky Sox season ended.

Peña first appeared in relief but then started the rest of the way eventually appearing in six games and tossing 27.1 innings in the Show. He finished with a 4.28 ERA. He didn’t have a scoreless appearance and his walk rate jumped back up to 4.6. He did maintain a strong strikeout rate though as he K’d 27 batters in those 27.1 IP, putting his MLB number at 8.9 K/9 after he finished his minor league season with 83 K in 82.2 IP.

Out of minor league options, Peña is going to have to show something when camp opens in under two weeks at Maryvale. After all, he is the acquisition of the previous regime and is now 26 years old. Peña will be an inexpensive option to fill out the bullpen for 2016 and seems made for the long-relief/swingman role to begin the year. Then again, I’m very interested to see what new pitching coach Derek Johnson decides to do with Peña though. He could decide that short-relief, higher-leverage situations like 7th inning work make the most sense. There’s a chance that Peña’s command could be harnessed in a bit in shorter stints on the mound.

Regardless of the role, Peña still seems intriguing enough that the Brewers will want to keep him around to begin 2016 and see what they have in him over a long look at the big league level.

Follow Ariel on Twitter: @2Eltrabieso

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Arctic Tailgate Set (Details Within)

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Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, so that means spring is almost here and the Brewers are getting into full swing for 2016. Another sign of spring is the annual Arctic Tailgate at Miller Park, an event to mark the first opportunity for fans to purchase individual game tickets for the 2016 season.

The Milwaukee Brewers have set Saturday, February 27 as the date for this year’s Arctic Tailgate, with individual game tickets on sale at 9 a.m. that day.

Before the box office windows open at 9 a.m., The Klement’s Famous Racing SausagesTM, Bernie Brewer and Brewers alumni players will be on hand to greet fans all morning. The first 2,000 fans in line will receive a hot dog and soda, compliments of Klement’s, Pepsi and Sportservice, as well as an Arctic Tailgate T-Shirt. Grebe’s Bakery will also supply donuts for hungry fans.  FOX Sports Wisconsin and 620 WTMJ support the event as well. NOTE: Online and phone sales for individual games also begin at 9 a.m. on February 27.

Please note the following safety regulations for the Arctic Tailgate. Participants will not be permitted to set up camp prior to noon on Thursday, February 25. No hand-made or hand-built shelters shall be permitted. No shelters made of cardboard or wood will be permitted. Shelters with a footprint greater than 100 square feet are not permitted unless otherwise approved by the Brewers. Miller Park power sources are not available for public use and gas generators are not permitted on the property. Only State-Approved gas/propane heating/grilling units with fuel-valve turn-offs and self-contained charcoal/wood units are permitted; provided, however, that they must be a minimum distance of 25 feet from the building or shelters. Activity and items permitted on the premises are subject to the approval of the Brewers. The Brewers reserve the right to remove any shelter, items, or individuals from the property.

Only a very limited number of tickets for Opening Day will be available at this event (note: the Miller Park Box Office will be the only place where fans will be able to purchase individual Opening Day tickets on February 27; no phone or online orders will be accepted). Each fan will be limited to a maximum of four tickets for Opening Day, based on availability. Meanwhile, through Monday, February 15, fans can visit Brewers.com/opportunity and register for the chance to be selected in an Opening Day opportunity to purchase up to four tickets to Opening Day as well as register for the Weekend Games Presale (Friday-Sunday) at Miller Park this season.

Tickets for individual Brewers home games can be purchased starting Saturday, February 27 at 9 a.m. at the Miller Park Box Office, at Brewers.com or by calling (414) 902-4000 (or 800-933-7890).

Demand-based pricing, which provides the best ticket value for fans, will return for all Brewers games this season. The pricing will be implemented in almost all of the Miller Park seating categories (excluding All-Inclusive Areas, Suites, and the Uecker Seats).

Beginning with the first day of individual game sales, pricing for all 81 games is subject to change. Fans should be reminded that they will usually receive the lowest price when they purchase their seats early. For more information regarding demand-based pricing for specific games, fans can visit Brewers.com/tickets.

Fans will also be able to purchase parking passes in advance for all home dates at Miller Park including Opening Day. Advance General Parking passes are available for all games.  A complete listing of the parking prices is shown below.

In addition to the Miller Park Ticket Office, fans will be able to buy tickets and parking at Brewers.com or by phone at (414) 902-4000. The Miller Park Ticket Office will be open until 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 27. Beginning February 28, normal Box Office hours are from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday), 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sundays (with extended hours on game days).

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #60 Keon Broxton

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Six years ago I decided to embark on a series of blog posts which I felt would be a fun way for me to not only remind myself of what happened the previous season but also to help you wonderful readers and me alike to get to know some things about members of the Milwaukee Brewers’ 40-man roster who were new to franchise.

We began on February 4, 2010 with a look at Todd “Hot” Coffey and his role as a key member of a bullpen with some issues. Coffey wore #60 as a Brewer and Opening Day 2010 (April 5th) was 60 days away. Today, six years later, Opening day is once again 60 days away from February 4th. While Opening Day is April 4th this year, it’s also a leap year which adds in the difference. And though Coffey is no longer sprinting in from the bullpen to the late Ultimate Warrior’s entrance music, someone younger was assigned the same #60 to wear for Spring Training. That someone is…

Keon Broxton.

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Keon Darell Broxton is a 6’3″ outfielder out of Lakeland, Florida. Listed as 195 lbs, the lanky but strong Broxton was first drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 29th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft but decided to increase his stock by spending a year at Santa Fe Community College in relatively nearby Gainesville.

After leading that team to the JUCO World Series (played in Grand Junction, Colorado), the Arizona Diamondbacks would draft Broxton in the 3rd round in 2009. Broxton signed very quickly and was assigned to rookie ball at Missoula of the Pioneer League.

It’s been a steady, if somewhat slow, rise through the minor leagues for Broxton. He played the full 2010 season at Low-A South Bend and started there again in 2011 for 20 games before finishing the year with High-A Visalia for 110 games. Broxton repeated High-A in 2012, spending the entire season there.

With 240 High-A games under his belt, he finally got the chance to start at Double-A in 2013 which he did in Mobile. After missing the first month of the 2013 season, and finished with just 101 games played, Broxton went to winter ball in the Australian Baseball League for the Sydney Blue Sox.

Following the 2013 season, Broxton had a career minor league batting average of .241 and had seemingly regressed from 2012 to 2013. There was enough doubt about his future that the Diamondbacks sold his rights to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates would give Broxton a second full season of Double-A development and he would respond with a solid season in 2014 (.275/.369/.484) despite a still somewhat disconcerting strikeout rate (122 K in 407 AB). He also worked 66 walks in 571 plate appearances, demonstrating his patience and mature approach.

After a 45-game Double-A stint to begin 2015 in which Broxton slashed .302/.365/.464, he was finally promoted to Triple-A where he would play 88 games in the final stop before the big leagues. Broxton would get a late September call-up and appear in seven games (no starts) for the Pirates as the season wound down. He only got two at-bats and perhaps fittingly struck out in one of them, but he scored three times and stole a base. Hey, it’s more than many ballplayers ever get to do in the big leagues.

BroxtonHeadshotBroxton was acquired by the Brewers (along with Trey Supak) on December 17, 2015 in exchange for Jason Rogers who was viewed as a valuable piece to the Pirates puzzle entering 2016. For the Brewers it was a chance to get a high-ceiling if volatile arm in Supak and an outfielder who could handle what was more or less still a vacancy in centerfield. Broxton can, after all, play all three outfield spots.

I had the chance to talk to Broxton at Brewers On Deck and asked him to about seizing the centerfield job for himself.

“I have a job everyday that’s just to get better regardless of where I am. That’s all I’m going to do in Spring is just get better, work on every aspect of my game and see whatever happens. If they need me in the outfield or not, either way I still gotta get better so I’ll be ready.”

Finally, while Broxton told me he had a little bit of experience playing in the altitude of Colorado from that previously mentioned JUCO World Series experience (in which he slashed .520/.600/1.320 in 25 at-bats over six games, by the way), he said that playing in Triple-A Colorado Springs “would be a lot of fun too, but that’s not exactly where I want to be — you know?”

Would that maybe be playing in Milwaukee instead? With a warm smile and laugh, “Yeah.”

I think Broxton has a solid chance to break camp with the Brewers, though working against him are his minor league options. He has some and others he’s in direct competition with for a job do not. If everyone performs on par, Broxton is likely to be sent down to maintain depth. Still just 25 years old, Broxton is a valuable asset that Brewers General Manager David Stearns won’t readily risk losing.

It’s going to be one of a couple of fun competitions in the Cactus League for the Brewers. Regardless of whether Broxton comes out on top what can we expect from him as a player in the Brewers organization? In his own words:

“Good speed, a little bit of power, good defense.”

Not bad things to have, to be sure.

Follow Keon on Twitter: @KeonDDBroxton

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #61 Ramón Flores

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Another day, another post. As we arrive Wednesday, February 3 and sit 61 days away from Opening Day, I am forced to remind myself that the milestones along the way to our destination are much closer.

  • Truck Day is in six days.
  • Pitchers & Catchers report in 16.
  • First full squad workout is in 22 days.
  • First Cactus League games (it’s split-squad) are in one month.

But we don’t countdown to those days with “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, do we?

With that, here is the individual profile of…

Ramon Flores.

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Back in late November when it was announced that the Milwaukee Brewers had acquired Flores from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for infielder Luis Sardiñas, it was widely assumed that Flores would end up playing the role of reserve outfielder for Craig Counsell’s 25.

That was in part because of Flores’ lack of minor league options but also because of the changes in the makeup of the 40-man roster. Michael Reed and Shane Peterson (since DFA’d) were around to back up Khris Davis, Domingo Santana, and Ryan Braun, but it could be argued that Reed wouldn’t be hurt by some Triple-A time.

Flores brings a solid approach at the plate and a solid defensive profile with him to work every day. Still just 23 (he’ll turn 24 before Opening Day), Flores could continue in his development and offer even more than he currently does, but some talent evaluators maintain that his ceiling is a fourth OF type, and that may be what he already is. Still, Flores remains inexpensive with three full seasons before he would first be arbitration eligible.

Sounds perfect for a rebuilding team — right?

Well the problems for Flores come in that it’s been nearly 11 weeks since the Brewers traded for him and General Manager David Stearns hasn’t exactly been resting on his laurels since then. Stearns has claimed veteran Kirk Nieuwenhuis off of waivers, traded for Keon Broxton and a DFA’d former top prospect Rymer Liriano, and signed Alex Presley and Eric Young Jr. to minor league contracts with invites to big league camp. By the accounts I’ve read, every one of those added players can handle all three defensive positions in the outfield.

ramonfloreheadshotSo, quick math, that’s six added players with only one possible subtraction (we don’t yet know whether Shane Peterson will remain with the organization) along with the incumbent Reed all competing for what will, at this point, be two bench jobs. And even that is assuming the Brewers carry five outfielders which isn’t a guarantee (though I think they will). Yes, Ryan Braun could start the season on the DL if he suffers any setbacks with his recovery from off-season surgery on a herniated disc, but that’s still too many players for too few spots.

I suppose Flores will have somewhat of an advantage due to his lack of the aforementioned options, but that’s hardly a guarantee especially when you consider that neither Nieuwenhuis or Liriano have options remaining either.

Regardless of how it shakes out, Flores should get plenty of opportunities in the spring to show Counsell and his new coaching staff what he can do.

If a trade happens between now and decision day (Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com apparently said on the radio recently that the Chicago White Sox showed interest in Davis for example) then the logjam eases a bit. And if there’s one thing we know already about David Stearns it is that the 60 days between today and Opening Day are a long time for him to continue to manipulate what today seems to be an overcrowded situation.

And you probably thought rebuilds weren’t intriguing.

Follow Ramón on Twitter: @ramonflores16

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Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #62 Garin Cecchini

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Two days in a row for the first time this season. Expect that a lot this year on my annual “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” countdown to Opening Day because between now and Scooter Gennett on April 3rd there aren’t a whole lot of consecutive days off. In point of fact there are only four unaccounted for numbers (3, 23, 53, 59) if Spring Training were to begin today. (Okay, five, but 17 just isn’t getting assigned. More on that later.)

But that’s information for another day. Today on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 we sit 62 days away from Opening Day at Miller Park. So enough about the unassigned numbers and other players for today belongs to the player who dons #62 for his time in big league Spring Training…

Garin Cecchini.

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Once considered a top prospect by most (if not all) respected places that rank such things, Garin Cecchini saw a fall from grace in 2015. A career .298 hitter in four minor league seasons, Cecchini got his first taste of Triple-A in 2014 and held his own reasonably well, slashing .263/.341/.371 in 458 plate appearances. MLB Pipeline had Cecchini ranked as the third-best prospect in the minor system of the Boston Red Sox (who drafted Cecchini in the 4th round of the 2010 draft out of high school in Louisiana), and the 55th-best in all of the minor leagues. His game was predicated on bat-to-ball skills, contact rate, patience, and consistency. Cecchini even earned himself a trip to the big leagues which came on June 1, 2014. His MLB debut was fine if statistically insignificant.

Then 2015 happened.

“I had a tough year last year, but it all happens for a reason, ” Cecchini told me at the annual Brewers On Deck fan fest which took place on January 31. “I think it’s exactly the reason I got to Milwaukee. I honestly think the only way I was expendable [to the Red Sox] was if I had the worst year of my life and I had the worst year of my life.”

Boston’s sacrifice could be resurrected in Milwaukee. The Brewers have long struggled to develop top flight prospects at the hot corner. It’s why they signed Aramis Ramirez, who never had to fear for his job while in town, before the 2012 season. Nobody was within shouting distance of Ramirez for the big league spot. And the cast of characters who filled in for Ramirez on days off and then after he was traded to Pittsburgh in July is either young (Hernan Perez, Yadiel Rivera), or some combination of unimpressive and no longer with the organization (Hector Gomez, Elian HerreraLuis Jimenez, Jason Rogers, Luis Sardiñas). Suffice it to say that despite a handful of competitors, it’s not like the next primary third baseman is going to have to shoehorn his way into the job.

However the first thing that Cecchini must do is distance himself from 2015’s results and become the player he was before he was deemed “expendable.”

“Honestly, I’m not supposed to hit [.213]. I think I’m a better player than that as the past has shown.” Cecchini reiterated that he thinks 2015 happened for a reason and that with the Brewers is where he’s supposed to be. “I wouldn’t be in Milwaukee if I had hit .300, I guarantee you that.”

Cecchini knows he is going to have to compete in Spring Training and he’s ready to separate himself from the pack.

“Just go out and play the game I know how to play. It’s been like that my whole career. You have to compete for something. You never want to be given anything. I’m more confident than ever. I feel back to what I was in ’10, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14. I had a tough year last year…but I learned from it and I’m glad to be here.”

So what didn’t work?

“I learned on why I had the worst year of my life. Last year I tried to do some new stuff just on my own with a leg kick, coming forward and that’s not the type of hitter I am.” Asked what he needs to do to be his old self, Cecchini said, “Being simple; overly simple in the box. Just going up there and hitting, staying behind the ball. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Last year…is not the type of hitter I am. I didn’t work. Learn from it and move on.”

The bottom line for Cecchini as he looks forward to 2016 can be summarized thusly:

CecchiniHeadShot“I’m grateful for this opportunity to go out there and be the Garin Cecchini I’ve been my whole life…until last year.”

All that and he’s still just 24 years old. He’s ready to prove that he can perform at the highest levels of this game. The excitement was evident on his face and in his voice as we chatted for about six minutes on Sunday. And it’s not just about the new team.

One more thing that has Cecchini excited is that he gets to go back to his natural position full time. With a smile on his face he said, “I was told ‘Work strictly at third.'” Cecchini said he’s been working hard on his craft and has been taking ground balls every day thanks to the nice weather at home in Louisiana.

As for being number 62, Cecchini said that if he had his choice of any one to wear “it would have to be 17. I’ve always liked that number. I’ve had family members wear the number.” I informed him that while not official, 17 in Milwaukee is virtually retired as it has yet to be given out since long-time wearer Jim Gantner retired following the 1992 season and 15 years in the number. Understandably, Cecchini replied that “any number would be fine.”

I can’t say that I disagree because getting a number on or after April 4th would mean that he’ll be playing with said number on his back but with a big league logo on his chest.

You can follow Garin on Twitter: @GarinCecchini

Catch up on BBtJN ’16:

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’16 – #63 Junior Guerra

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After an unplanned but ultimately brief hiatus due to slight fatigue after the 2,500 “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” Kickoff Column, a weekend with day job work spillover and the allure of Brewers On Deck, I return after a long Monday work day to deliver the piece devoted to the man who wears the jersey aligning with our current position of nine weeks away from Opening Day…

Junior Guerra.

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Junior J. Guerra is a 31-year-old native of Venezuela who has been in professional baseball since 2001 (though not always with MLB-affliated teams) but who just made his Major League Debut last season, a three-game cup of coffee stretching from June 12th through June 22nd. That debut came with the Chicago White Sox, Guerra’s third MLB organization, and the one who signed him after six years out of affiliated baseball. Here’s that timeline.

Signed by the Braves as an international amateur free agent in ’01 (at just 16 years of age), Guerra came stateside with the Braves in 2003. He was signed as a catcher but converted to the mound after not making much progress at the plate — he hit .223 in 269 at-bats over his first three seasons in rookie ball. He got one season with Atlanta after he first toed the rubber to unspectacular results at best (6.59 ERA in 18 games).

Following a 2007 about which I couldn’t find any records of pro ball participation, Guerra caught on with the New York Mets. Now a full-time pitcher — maybe he spent 2007 at home in Venezuela truly learning how to pitch? — Guerra ended up pitching for four different Mets affiilates working to a 2.12 ERA in 18 games. He seemed to be on the right track and, at still only 23 years old, he could very well have been considered a prospect to some degree. Then a reported PED-related 50-game suspension ended his time with the Mets.

Between 2009 and 2014, Guerra kept his dream alive. He pitched wherever he could with stops in Hawaii, Venezuela, Mexico, and even a pair of runs with the Independent League Wichita Wingnuts. He pitched well enough in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2014 to grab the attention of the White Sox.

Guerra started at Double-A Birmingham but only needed five appearances to make his way to Triple-A Charlotte. After seven games as a Knight, Guerra got the call to The Show for the previously mentioned 11 day call-up. Despite a capable showing over the course of the whole season, the White Sox designated Guerra for assignment to open up a spot on their 40-man roster. The brand new Brewers regime which was only officially turned over to David Stearns two days earlier was awarded a waiver claim on Guerra.

GuerraHeadShotForever the answer to a trivia question, Guerra has a good chance to break camp with the Brewers following the departure of a couple of long-time Brewers relievers (Brandon Kintzler and Rob Wooten) who while never elite were certainly useful over their terms with the Brewers.

According to FanGraphs.com, Guerra works with a three-pitch mix. He throws a four-seam fastball averging 94.1 MPH, an 82.2 MPH slider, and a splitter that clocks in 85.7 MPH. With those pitches he was able to handle Triple-A to the tune of a 3.39 ERA with 79 K in 63.2 IP. That’ll play if it converts well enough to the big league level over a significant sample size (which 2015’s three games certainly aren’t).

All in all, Guerra could prove effective in Craig Counsell’s bullpen under the watching eyes of Derek Johnson and Lee Tunnell. Either way, he adds to the inexpensive options at the skipper’s disposal for 2016.

You can follow Junior Guerra on Twitter: @juni1685

Catch up on BBtJN ’16:

Kickoff Column – #68-#78

Broken News: Segura, Wagner Traded To Arizona

The Milwaukee Brewers have acquired right-handed pitcher Chase Anderson, infielder Aaron Hill, shortstop Isan Diaz and cash from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura and right-handed pitcher Tyler Wagner. The announcement was made by General Manager David Stearns.

“In Chase Anderson and Aaron Hill, we are adding two proven Major League contributors who will impact our team this year,” said Stearns.

“Chase is a young starting pitcher who has already enjoyed success at the Major League level. Aaron has a long history of production and positional versatility. In addition, we are excited to be able to add Isan Diaz to our growing supply of high upside minor-league talent.”

Anderson, 28, owns a career Major League record of 15-13 with a 4.18 ERA in 48 starts, including 6-6 with a 4.30 ERA in 27 starts for the Diamondbacks last season. He was selected by Arizona in the ninth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft and tied the Mets’ Jacob deGrom for the most wins by a National League rookie in 2014 (21gs, 9-7, 4.01era).

Hill, 33, is a veteran of 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with Toronto (2005-11) and Arizona (2011-15). The two-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2009, 2012) and former American League All-Star (2009) is a career .268 hitter with 151 HR, 650 RBI and 70 stolen bases in 1,400 games (116g, .230, 6hr, 39rbi in 2015). Throughout his career, the versatile Hill has started games at second base (1,148), third base (72), shortstop (61) and designated hitter (39).

Some of Hill’s best work at the plate has come at Miller Park, where he owns a batting average of .429 (18-for-42) with 4 HR and 11 RBI in 10 career games. Hill hit for the cycle against the Brewers on June 29, 2012 at Miller Park, his first game at this venue.

Diaz, 19, completed his second professional season in 2015 as he batted .360 with 13 HR, 51 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 68 games at Rookie Missoula. He earned Pioneer League Most Valuable Player honors as he led the league in doubles (25), slugging percentage (.640), total bases (174) and extra-base hits (44) while ranking among the top five in the circuit in hits (2nd, 98), runs (2nd, 58), home runs (T2nd), batting average (3rd), RBI (3rd), on-base percentage (3rd, .436) and triples (T5th, 6).

Segura, 25, batted .266 with 23 HR, 144 RBI and 96 stolen bases in four seasons with the Brewers (2012-15). A National League All-Star in 2013, he batted .257 with 6 HR, 50 RBI and 25 stolen bases in 142 games last season.

Wagner, 25, was selected by Milwaukee in the fourth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. He made his Major League debut last season as he started three games for the Brewers (his first coming on May 31 vs. Arizona), going 0-2 with a 7.24 ERA. Wagner owns a career record in the minor leagues of 35-23 with a 2.95 ERA in 91 games, including 88 starts.

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