If at first (base): Brewers’ Ryan Braun a work in progress
PHOENIX (AP) — Ryan Braun is a work in progress at first base, three Cactus League starts into a transition to try a new position.
The veteran outfielder hasn’t spoken much about his time at first. He made two strong plays in the opening innings of his first game. He had an error and a few other struggles in his third infield outing.
Manager Craig Counsell has taken a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re evaluating 14 innings of baseball,” Counsell said. “Let’s let him play first base.”
Normally a left fielder, Braun has been open to giving first a try. The move, if it works out, allows Milwaukee to help relieve an outfield logjam created by the offseason signing of Lorenzo Cain and trade for Christian Yelich. Incumbent right fielder Domingo Santana had career highs of .278 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs last year.
“If I can be more versatile, it’s something that should be help our team in a lot of different ways,” Braun said early in spring training.
Counsell has said in camp that he wanted Braun to get game experience at the position, and that he wanted Braun to learn from mistakes that can’t be taught from drills and workouts alone.
“Some of it you can coach, and you can tell him, but you have to experience it,” Counsell said. “We’re really at the start of this process.”
In his first game at first, Braun was put to test right off the bat. He had to go full extension to keep a wide throw from Jhoulys Chacin from sailing into the stands and later, made a nifty grab on a low throw from Hernan Perez.
His second appearance was largely uneventful but his third time around resulted in his first error.
Braun has been taking ground balls daily during practice, though with his history of back problems, the Brewers have been careful to monitor that workload. He is comfortable with the basics of the position but it’s the smaller intangibles, like the footwork required to play the position, on which Braun has been focusing most of his attention.
He’s also had to pick up the nuances of defensive shifts, which are more common now than when he broke into the majors as a third baseman in 2007.
Milwaukee had yet to pursue Cain or Yelich when Counsell first approached Braun with the idea of first base, after injuries limited him to 105 games.
Yelich will see most of the time in left with Cain the everyday starter in center and Domingo Santana, barring a last-minute trade, handling most of the work in right field after hitting 30 homers in a breakout 2017 season.
Should Braun feel comfortable at first base, he could split time there with the left-handed Eric Thames, while also splitting left with Yelich.
The move helps ease congestion in the outfield but crowds first base. Jesus Aguilar hit .265 with 16 homers last year as a pinch-hitter and sharing time with Thames at first.
If the Brewers don’t make a deal, keeping four outfielders and Braun could leave Aguilar, who is out of minor league options, off the opening day roster.
NOTE: Counsell said Wednesday that RHP Zach Davies would miss a start with a strained left oblique that the manager described as minor. Davies is one of three locks to start the season in rotation after going 17-9 last year with a 3.90 ERA.