This is the first of a series of stories previewing the 2016 Brewers, beginning with their bounce-back candidates. The series will also look at newcomers to the club, prospects who could contribute, lineup and bullpen possibilities as well as details for fans planning their own visits to Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix. It culminates on Feb. 19, when pitchers and catchers formally report for the start of Spring Training.
MILWAUKEE -- Bounce-back candidates are a good place to begin, since they represent some of the few returning players from a 2015 team that struggled and prompted an organizational rebuild. Here are three players who would love to find themselves bandied about for Comeback Player of the Year by season's end:
C Jonathan Lucroy: After leading the Majors in doubles and finishing fourth in National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting in 2014, Lucroy's follow-up effort was ruined by various injuries. His right hamstring delayed the start of his Spring Training, a broken toe sidelined him in April and a concussion kept him out in September. His final statline: .264 average, seven homers and 43 RBIs in 103 games. Lucroy is healthy now, but he skipped the annual Brewers On Deck in late January (citing family obligations) after publicly expressing reservations about dedicating the prime remaining years of his career to rebuilding. Lucroy will turn 30 on June 13 and is under club control for two more seasons.
RHP Matt Garza: Garza, another veteran not exactly in fans' good graces, will aim to bounce back from a nightmare '15 season in which he went 6-14 with a 5.63 ERA in 26 games (25 starts). He was removed from the starting rotation in early September. Instead of pitching out of the bullpen, Garza went home to help tend to his wife, who was enduring a challenging pregnancy with twins. Garza, who still has two years and $25 million left on his contract, suggested in late January that he would "pitch selfishly" in '16 in an effort to return to form.
"I've been trying to please people to stay places, and it's just the point in my career where I'm over it," Garza said. "As long as I keep playing, that's all I'm worried about now. I need to keep playing. That's what I mean by pitching selfishly. I'm pitching to be me."
RHP Wily Peralta: As the team's most valuable pitcher in 2014, he posted a 17-11 record with a 3.53 ERA. But Peralta slid badly in '15, partly as a result of fighting through a strained oblique muscle. The injury limited Peralta to 20 starts, in which he posted a 4.72 ERA. His strikeout rate fell to five per nine innings, while his hits per nine innings rose by almost the same amount. Still, Peralta was rewarded with a significant raise in his first arbitration and should be the best pitcher in Milwaukee's rotation.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.