01/30/2003 1:00 pm ET
Brewers Spring Training rundown
Milwaukee's excitement returns with new-look Brewers
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
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Maryvale Baseball Park
56-106, sixth in NL Central
2002 Hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Tyler Houston, .302
OBP: Richie Sexson, .363
SLG: Sexson .504
Runs: Sexson, 86
RBIs: Sexson, 102
Hits: Sexson, 159
2B: Sexson, 37
3B: Alex Sanchez, 7
HR: Sexson 29
SB: Sanchez, 37
2002 Pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Ben Sheets, 216 2/3
W: Sheets, 11
L: Sheets and Glendon Rusch, 16
Win %: Luis Vizcaino, 5-3, .625
S: Mike DeJean 30
ERA: Jayson Durocher, 1.88
K: Sheets, 170
K/9: Vizcaino, 8.74
WHIP: Durocher, 1.00
Projected starting lineup
CF Alex Sanchez
2B Eric Young
LF Geoff Jenkins
1B Richie Sexson
RF Jeffrey Hammonds/John Vander Wal
3B Wes Helms
C Robert Machado/Javier Valentin
SS Royce Clayton
1. Ben Sheets
2. Glendon Rusch
3. Todd Ritchie
4-5. Francisco Campos, Wayne Franklin, Matt Kinney, Mike Matthews, Dave Mlicki, Nick Neugebauer or Ruben Quevedo
LH setup man: Valerio De Los Santos
RH setup man: Luis Vizcaino
Closer: Mike DeJean
Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered
1. Can the outfielders produce? On paper, it's solid: left fielder Geoff Jenkins, center fielder Alex Sanchez and right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds. But nothing happens on paper. Jenkins, a proven .300 hitter and 30-plus home run man, was lost for the 2002 season after a brutal ankle injury in May. Sanchez stole 37 bases and was on of the league's top rookies but broke his leg in September. Hammonds has the team's highest contract, but has suffered through two straight seasons of nagging injuries. A healthy outfield is key to providing protection in the lineup for Richie Sexson, who was at times all alone in 2002.
2. Is it Ben Sheets' time to break out? With two seasons and one All-Star Game appearance under his belt, Sheets is poised for a breakout. Often the victim of poor run support, he showed flashes of brilliance and led Brewers pitchers with 216 2/3 innings pitched in 2002. But a 4.40 ERA in 59 career starts, including a 4.12 mark last year, isn't exactly dominant, and new pitching coach Mike Maddux would love for Sheets to find his groove by Opening Day.
3. Is Alex Sanchez the real deal? One minute he looks like a young Kenny Lofton. The next minute he looks lost, making costly misplays in center field and mistakes on the bases. He won a job in Spring Training last season, but this year Sanchez is coming back from a broken leg suffered Sept. 1. New first base coach Dave Nelson has quite a project in the 26-year old Cuban defector.
4. How will the starting rotation settle out? Former GM Dean Taylor started the trend, and Doug Melvin built on it. Sheets, Glendon Rusch and Todd Ritchie appear the frontrunners in a crowded field aiming for starting spots, and a slimmer Ruben Quevedo and newcomers Matt Kinney and Dave Mlicki may be the best of the rest. That would send Mike Matthews and Wayne Franklin back to the bullpen, and Nick Neugebauer and Ben Diggins back to the minors for now.
5. How much can Ned Yost do? The new Brewers skipper landed his dream job this winter, and his enthusiasm has fans thinking about better days. But he's a rookie manager working with a thin talent base, and he can only do so much from the dugout.
New faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
SS Royce Clayton -- The new shortstop was Melvin's first notable free agent signing, and Clayton represents the type of comeback-ready player Melvin is after. Clayton struggled in 2001 and 2002 with slow starts at the plate and never felt at peace with Chicago fans.
3B Wes Helms -- With regular at-bats, Helms hopes to finally produce at the level expected of him. He'll move back across the diamond to third base and will back up Sexson at first.
OFs John Vander Wal, Brady Clark and Scott Podsednik -- With the starting outfield likely set with Jenkins, Sanchez and Hammonds, this trio will likely compete for two roster spots. Vander Wal is a pinch-hit specialist, has postseason experience and is the veteran at 36. Clark is the lone right-handed hitter, a possible edge since Jenkins and Sanchez are lefties. Podsednik is the youngest at 26 (he turns 27 on March 18).
RHPs Todd Ritchie and Dave Mlicki -- A pair of right-handers bent on a comeback. Ritchie is coming off a dismal season with the White Sox but saw a good deal of success in the past and may be the best bet to join Ben Sheets and Glendon Rusch in the rotation. Mlicki is an attractive option because he can flip between the starting ranks and the bullpen.
RHP Matt Kinney -- Acquired in Melvin's first trade. Kinney struggled with an arm injury but finished the season strong for the Twins' Triple-A affiliate, winning three clinching games on the way to a minor league championship. With the Brewers, he'll compete for a spot in the rotation.
RHP Chuck Smith -- Coming off "Tommy John" surgery, the former Marlin will have to fight for a spot on the roster.
Cs Javier Valentin, Cody McKay, Eddie Perez, Keith Osik and Joe Lawrence -- Add 2002 holdover Robert Machado to the mix, and the Brewers have six catchers with big league experience in camp. Valentin was a Triple-A All-Star last season and has the most powerful bat of the group, but Machado knows the Brewers pitchers best. Former Brave Perez used to be Greg Maddux's personal catcher; now Greg's brother Mike is Milwaukee's pitching coach.
IF Lenny Harris -- The all-time pinch-hit king signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. Vander Wal is a solid replacement.
SS Jose Hernandez -- After a controversial end in Milwaukee, Hernandez signed an $800,000 contract with the Rockies and will look to start over. Strikeouts or not, the Brewers will miss their durable All-Star shortstop in the lineup; he hit .288 with 24 homers and 73 RBIs in his best all-around season.
2B Ronnie Belliard -- Belliard will join Hernandez in Colorado after never settling in with the Brewers. He was once considered the second baseman of the future, one of only a handful of players who advanced through the organization to the Majors.
Cs Jorge Fabregas and Paul Bako -- Neither fit into new GM Doug Melvin's plan. Bako was arbitration-eligible, so he was dealt to the Cubs for minor league infielder Ryan Gripp, and Fabregas signed a minor league deal with the Devil Rays.
OF Matt Stairs -- Stairs spent the winter on conditioning and signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh during the Winter Meetings.
Returning from injury
LF Geoff Jenkins -- Considered by many the offensive key to the Brewers' 2003 season. In a chilling scene at third base, Jenkins tore every ligament in his right ankle and was lost for the season in May. He'll look to return to his form in 1999, when he hit .313, and 2000, when he belted 34 home runs.
CF Alex Sanchez -- Sanchez had a metal plate and five screws implanted into his ankle after suffering a broken bone last September. He says a winter of rehab could have made him even faster then he was in 2002, when he stole 37 bases in 112 games.
New kids on the block: Prospects to watch
INF Enrique Cruz -- The Brewers really want to keep Cruz, a Rule 5 pick, so they'll try to bury him on the roster. GM Doug Melvin said the former Mets prospect can expect to get 125-150 at-bats off the bench.
LHP Wayne Franklin and INF Keith Ginter -- Acquired from Houston in a trade for longtime Brewer Mark Loretta, both figure to contribute in 2003. Franklin has an outside shot at the starting rotation, and Ginter figures to be the Brewers' everyman off the bench. He'll back up Eric Young at second base, Wes Helms at third, and Yost said he may also serve as insurance in left field.
RHPs Nick Neugebauer and Ruben Quevedo -- OK, neither is a "new kid." But one of Yost's toughest decisions may be what to do with his young right-handers. Will they return to the starting rotation for the second straight season?
On the rebound
RF Jeffrey Hammonds -- Entering the final year of his contract, Hammonds is on the hot seat. In two seasons since signing the richest contract in Brewers history (three years, $21.75 million) Hammonds has hit .254 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs. He missed most of 2001 with a shoulder injury, and battled soreness through much of 2002.
The bottom line
It's a benchmark year for the Brewers. In 2001 the team sold fans on beautiful new Miller Park, and in 2002 there was the Major League All-Star Game. Now, they're back to selling baseball. Some players who made stops on the club's Spring Fever Tour privately said they were pleasantly surprised at the level of fan interest throughout Wisconsin in the face of tough times, and point to it as a reason to believe that if the team is competitive, the fans will show up. It's up to Melvin, Ash and Yost to put the pieces in place and make that happen.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.