Garrett Mitchell sure hasn’t looked like somebody who hasn’t played organized baseball in nearly a year.
Mitchell, the Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round selection (No. 20 overall) in last year’s condensed MLB draft, is batting .600 (3-for-5) with a walk and two RBIs through six spring training games — the first games of his professional career.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the minor league season in 2020, the outfielder from UCLA remained at home in Southern California instead of reporting to the Brewers’ Rookie League affiliate or the team’s alternate training site in Appleton.
The Brewers sent Mitchell to Phoenix for the fall instructional league, but he saw minimal action because of a sore quad. Still, Milwaukee thought highly enough of Mitchell to invite him to open spring training in big league camp.
“It’s a learning experience,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Being around the older players, learning their routines, listening. Having your eyes open and your ears open and picking up what you can then just going out and enjoying it and having fun playing.”
Mitchell didn’t wait long to make an impact; he singled in his first at-bat while playing three strong innings in center field. That hit, as well as his other two this spring, have all come against left-handed pitching, an impressive feat for any left-handed hitter, let alone a 22-year-old getting his first taste of game action in almost a year.
“He’s a talented player,” Counsell said. “I think that’s pretty obvious. He’s a left-handed-hitting center fielder who runs well and he’s known for his defense. He brings a lot to the table. There’s a lot of places he can add strengths. I think that’s what’s exciting right now. There doesn’t look to be a spot in his game that he doesn’t add strength. That’s exciting. There’s a lot of good things there that he can do to help you win a game.”
With center fielder Lorenzo Cain getting closer to seeing the field and the Brewers expected to welcome free agent signing Jackie Bradley, Jr. to camp in the coming days, Mitchell’s opportunities will almost certainly dwindle.
“This is just the start for him,” Counsell said. “A lot of guys had their summers wiped out because there was no baseball so just being back in a uniform and running around on the field brings a lot of joy.”
On the field
Joc Pederson hit a two-run home run off right-hander Josh Lindblom as the Brewers fell to the Cubs 3-1 in seven innings Saturday afternoon at American Family Fields of Phoenix.
Brett Anderson struck out two in his first spring inning. He gave way to Lindblom (0-1), who retired his first two batters before Ilderamo Vargas reached on a fielding error by Keston Hiura. Vargas was thrown out trying to steal second.
In the third inning, Orlando Arcia dropped what would have been the final out when he lost Ian Happ’s pop up to shallow left in the sun. Pederson homered on the next at-bat.
Lindblom allowed two hits, struck out three and was charged with two unearned runs in two innings.
“I thought Josh pitched great,” Counsell said. “Obviously the home run is a pitch you want back, but I thought probably minus that pitch he executed a whole lot of pitches rally well. His breaking ball — slider and curveball — were excellent today. I was very happy with Josh.”
Hiura’s error was his first of the spring as he makes the adjustment to first base. Counsell didn’t agree with the ruling, but was glad Hiura got more experience as he learns a new position.
“Action is what we want over there,” Counsell said. “The first ball is probably not hit quite as hard as he thought. The second, the chopper he made a nice play on. It’s a play you get a lot of first base that he hasn’t had yet so, like we said, just, let’s keep hitting the balls there and keep putting him in tough situations.”
Arcia gave Milwaukee a 1-0 lead in the second inning, scoring Avisail Garcia with a single to left off Shelby Miller (1-0). The run was the first allowed by a member of the Cubs’ starting rotation in Cactus League play.
Chicago added an insurance run in the sixth on an RBI single by Austin Romine.
From the infirmary
Infielder Luis Urías will be sidelined for the next few days after suffering a mild strain of his left hamstring running to first base in Friday’s game against Colorado.
Counsell didn’t expect the injury to hinder Urias’ chances of making the Opening Day roster.
“He will not play Monday,” Counsell said. “We’ll have him run around the field, most likely run and then take a day of batting practice and ground balls. But I feel confident. I mean, right now, we’re just gonna make him day-to-day and not ruling him out kind of past Tuesday.”
- Infielder-outfielder Jace Peterson has made only one appearance this spring because he’s been dealing with a “thumb issue,” according to Counsell, but is slated to return to action next week.
The Brewers get their first day off Sunday but return Monday when they host to the Los Angeles Angels. The game will mark the first Cactus League appearance for Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who was held back during the first week of play because of a sore back. Left-hander Andrew Haney gets the start for the Angels. Fox Sports Wisconsin and the Brewers Radio Network will broadcast the game, which gets underway at 2:10 p.m.
Here’s everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
Here's everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
WHO'S ON THIRD
After Keston Hiura moved to first base to make way for Kolten Wong, third base remained the only position without an obvious starting candidate. Barring a surprise, last-minute acquisition, the Brewers appear content to give a number of internal candidates a chance to win the job. For now, Luis Urias (above) looks like the front-runner with former top-prospect Daniel Robertson likely to get a shot, too.
Acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, Omar Narváez (above) was supposed to give the Brewers a much-needed offensive boost while admittedly being a work-in-progress behind the plate. Instead, Narvaez was one of many Brewers hitters to struggle last season but surprised the Brewers’ coaching staff and front office with his defensive improvements. He’s back again in 2021 but will have to battle for a job with the likes of Manny Piña, Jacob Nottingham and Luke Maile.
With Brett Anderson returning on a one-year deal, the Brewers will open camp with all five spots of their starting rotation seemingly filled. But as history has shown, it’s rare to get through an entire season with just five starters. So who’s waiting in the wings if and when the Brewers need a replacement? Eric Lauer (above) and Freddy Peralta will try to earn spots in the rotation this spring, as will former UW-Stevens Point standout Jordan Zimmermann, who is in camp on a minor league deal.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
It was a quiet offseason for the Brewers, but they weren’t unique in that regard. Across baseball, trades and signings seemed to be few and far between as players and teams both waited out a winter of uncertainty. Now that camps are open, there’s a greater likelihood of trades and with more than 100 free agents still unsigned, the Brewers’ roster could have a new face or two before the season gets underway.
WILL IT LAST?
Baseball is back, but for how long? That might be the single biggest question this spring, not just for the Brewers but baseball as a whole. The pandemic still rages on and though vaccinations are on the rise, one infection can quickly become an outbreak that leaves an entire team sidelined indefinitely. Players resisted requests and suggestions to delay the start of spring training, and the regular season, by a month believing they proved last year they can complete a season safely. But the margin for error is still slim and another full-blown shutdown of spring training, which would ultimately impact the regular season, remains one large outbreak away.
SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Teams are allowed to have up to 75 players in major league camp at any given time and the Brewers go into camp with all 40 of their roster spots filled along with 19 non-roster invitees. Once the regular season begins, active rosters will revert to the original 26-player limit that was planned for 2020 before the pandemic suspended operations. Teams still are allowed to add an additional player to the active roster for doubleheaders and can have a taxi squad of up to five players — including one catcher — on all road trips. Rosters will expand again in September, but only by two spots for a total of 28.
Pitchers (31): Brett Anderson, Clayton Andrews*, Aaron Ashby*, Alec Bettinger, Phil Bickford, Ray Black, Zach Brown*, Corbin Burnes, Jake Cousins*, J.P. Feyereisen, Dylan File, Josh Hader, Blaine Hardy*, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins*, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Hoby Milner*, Freddy Peralta, Angel Perdomo, Drew Rasmussen, Miguel Sanchez*, Ethan Small*, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Quintin Torres-Costa*, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley, Jordan Zimmermann*.
Catchers (6): Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry*, Luke Maile, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina.
Infielders (11): Orlando Arcia, Zach Green*, Keston Hiura, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson*, Daniel Robertson, Brice Turang*, Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong.
Outfielders (11): Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Cozens*, Derek Fisher, Avisail Garcia, Tristen Lutz*, Billy McKinney, Garrett Mitchell*, Corey Ray, Pablo Reyes*, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich.
* -- Non-roster invitee
Manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff will have a different look in 2021. Third-base coach Ed Sedar has transitioned into a new, advisory role while longtime bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel’s contract was not renewed by the team after last season.
Sedar will be replaced on the staff by Quintin Berry, who had been the Brewers' minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the last two seasons after concluding his 13-year playing career serving as a player/coach with Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2018.
Néstor Corredor and Adam Weisenburger will replace Hanel and Robinson Diaz as the team's bullpen catchers.
The rest of Counsell's staff will remain intact moving forward, including hitting coaches Andy Haines (above left) and Jacob Cruz. Chris Hook and Steve Karsay will handle Milwaukee’s pitchers and bullpen, respectively, and Pat Murphy returns for a sixth season as Counsell’s bench coach.
Jason Lane, the Brewers’ first base coach last season, returns, too, though Counsell planned to decide during spring training where Lane and Berry would be used in games this season.
Manager — Craig Counsell (7th season). Bases — Quintin Berry (1st season), Jason Lane (5th season); Bullpen — Steve Karasy (3rd season); Bench — Pat Murphy (6th season); Hitting — Jacob Cruz (2nd season); Andy Haines (3rd season); Bullpen catchers — Néstor Corredor (1st season); Adam Weisenburger (1st season).
CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Cactus League schedule underwent a last-minute adjustment earlier this month with the elimination of split-squad games. The Brewers will play 27 games in Arizona — 14 at American Family Fields and 13 on the road — and wrap up their exhibition slate with a pair of contests against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on March 29 and 30 before returning to Milwaukee ahead of their April 1 regular-season opener against the Twins at American Family Field.
February: 28 — @ Chicago White Sox. March: 1 — at Diamondbacks; 2 — vs. Athletics.; 3 — at Padres; 4 — vs. Cleveland.; 5 — at Rockies; 6 — vs Cubs; 7 — OFF; 8 — vs. Angels; 9 — vs. Giants; 10 — at Athletics; 11 — vs. Royals; 12 — at Cubs; 13 — vs. Rangers; 14 — at Mariners; 15 — vs. Padres; 16 — at Dodgers; 17 — OFF DAY; 18 — at Angels; 19 — vs. Diamondbacks; 20 — at Reds (7 p.m.); 21 — vs. Mariners; 22 — vs Cleveland; 23 — vs. Dodgers; 25 — at Giants (8 p.m.); 26 — vs. White Sox; 27 — at Royals; 28 — at Reds; 29 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas); 30 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas).
(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all games start at 2:10 p.m. local time prior to March 14 and 3:10 p.m. after, due to Arizona not observing Daylight Savings Time)
IF YOU GO
Unlike previous seasons, fans will not be able to watch the team’s workouts, which take place on the complex’s ancillary fields. That means no opportunities for kids — little and big alike — to get autographs and pictures. The team store at American Family Fields also remains closed for now but the team announced last week that a limited number of fans — up to 23% of capacity at the 10,000-seat stadium — will be allowed to attend games when Cactus League play gets underway.