There's an exciting mix of players for the Milwaukee Brewers to choose a core outfield but they need to create the right combination of offensive production and defensive reliability. Part of that stems from the possible reliance on more than one rookie regularly in the upcoming season. So while the Brewers have internal decisions to make, they also should be looking to add one more outfield alternative from outside the organization.
When GM Matt Arnold traded right fielder Hunter Renfroe to the Anaheim Angels, it left a giant hole in the lineup. Arnold replaced that divot with Jesse Winker in a swap with the Seattle Mariners, but that wasn't an equal replacement as Winker bats from the left side and is a sizable dropoff defensively. It's likely Winker occupies the designated hitter spot most nights against right-handed pitchers, but that still leaves right field open and a lineup slot versus lefties. Here's a look at the group Milwaukee could choose from internally to be on the 26-man roster:
Christian Yelich (L)
- Leadoff hitter with quality on-base skills and hard contact (.355 OBP, 111 OPS+ in 2022)
- Average-to-below-average defensive skills but has one of the weakest arms in the outfield
Jesse Winker (L)
- Among the worst defenders last season with a bad arm and -16 defensive runs saved (last among outfielders with 200 innings played)
- MVP-level offense against right-handed pitching in his career (.388 OBP, .885 OPS) but struggles vs. lefties
Tyrone Taylor (R)
- Quality outfielder who can play all three positions and provides decent power (.448 SLG past two seasons)
- Best suited as a fourth outfielder playing a few times a week due to poor plate discipline (102 K, 22 BB in 2022)
Garrett Mitchell (L)
- Played only 28 MLB games last season, with up-and-down results
- Showed off speed and defensive ability in center field and posted an .832 OPS, but he looked overmatched at times and averaged one strikeout per game
Sal Frelick (L)
- Brewers' number two prospect with plate discipline (.403 OBP in minors in 2022), highly-rated hit tool, and top speed
- Questions about him in center field and little in-game power
Joey Wiemer (R)
- Brewers' number three prospect with a power bat (21 HR, 34 doubles in minors last season), strong arm, and sneaky speed
- High strikeout guy with few walks and average defense
Each five-man option has its concerns and apparent warts. Yelich, Winker, and Taylor are locks on the 26-man roster if they're with the organization. That leaves only three rookies to choose from (Mitchell still has rookie status) for the remaining two slots. Having two rookies on the big league roster as outfielders are problematic for two reasons:
1) It's difficult to rely on their bats for consistent production in the lineup (and possibly three rookies with infielder Brice Turang).
2) If one of them is not playing much, their development is stunted, and they would be better off getting regular at-bats in the minor leagues.
But let's say the Brewers roll the dice and decide the best route. Which two guys fortify the team better? Mitchell and Frelick are left-handed and profile as speed and contact guys overpower. If you keep both of them, you have four left-handed hitting outfielders with only Taylor as a right-handed stick. Not ideal since the Brewers should limit Winker's appearances against southpaws. So could Wiemer, a power bat pegged for a corner spot, pair with one of the lefty center fielders? Wiemer's hit tool is the question, and if he struggles, will he get the at-bats he needs to figure out MLB pitching?
In either scenario, but especially if Milwaukee kept the two lefty bats, Taylor would see a lot more action in 2023. The more at-bats Taylor receives, the more he scuffles. Taylor's best output comes in limited action against carefully selected pitchers. For example, in 2021, he had 271 plate appearances and posted a .247/.321/.457 slash line. In 2022, with 405 plate appearances, those numbers dipped to .233/.286/.442.
All this leads to exploring the Brewers' options outside of the club. There are still a few viable free agents and possible trade targets. Assuming Milwaukee isn't getting a top-tier hitter, the new acquisition should hit right-handed to provide additional coverage versus lefty pitching.
Anthony Santander (Baltimore Orioles): Santander blasted 33 HR last season for a 117 OPS+. The switch-hitter was on the trade block at last year's deadline before hitting 14 homers in the final two months. He's been a solid right fielder in his career, as well. Baltimore has up-and-coming outfielders and needs pitching badly. Could Adrian Houser and a minor-league arm be enough?
Ramón Laureano (Oakland A's): The Brewers were mentioned as a destination for Laureano at the trade deadline, and Oakland is dumping veterans left and right. He had a rough 2022 but owned a career .324 OBP and .444 SLG while playing half his games in a vast pitcher's park. With a 111 OPS+ in 2021, his bat could reawaken in Milwaukee, and he brings plus defense to right field, as well. You would think Oakland would be happy with a couple of prospects.
Wil Myers: He has had only one season with an OPS+ below 108 since 2015. Myers' playing time was severely limited in 2022, and he could be drawn to more opportunity in Milwaukee, where he could easily pop 20 home runs playing half his games in American Family Field instead of cavernous Petco Park. His right field defense is inconsistent but not terrible, and he could help with coverage at first base.
AJ Pollock: He took a step back last season but had a tremendous 134 OPS+ in 2021. You wouldn't expect that in 2023 at age 35, but he can still provide value at the plate and in the field. As a bonus, Pollock crushes left-handers, including a .619 slugging percentage and .935 OPS last season. He lost a step as a center fielder but would also play well in right with a strong arm.
Adding one of these for players gives the lineup more punch and reliability from the outfield, especially against lefties. It would also allow one of the rookies to start regularly with the Brewers while the other two continue to hone their skills on the farm. It's also possible that the Brewers trade Taylor or one of the youngsters is traded for another significant piece, but that's for another article. Who would your five-man outfield group be for Opening Day 2023?
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