Tracy Ringolsby

Braun, Lucroy embracing mentor roles

Braun, Lucroy embracing mentor roles

PHOENIX -- Nine years ago, Ryan Braun showed up for Spring Training with the Brewers, less than two years after being a first-round Draft pick, looking to make the big league roster and thankful for the veterans who were willing to help him deal with the challenges.

"It seems like yesterday," Braun said. "I was fortunate. Veteran players like Geoff Jenkins, Tony Graffanino, Billy Hall, Damian Miller and Craig Counsell extended themselves. They helped me with the process, showed me how to be a prospect, how to show up every day and be successful."

Now Counsell is the Brewers' manager, not just a teammate, and it's Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy who are the sage veterans being asked to provide guidance for the next wave of players.

They welcome the opportunity.

"I am ecstatic about the opportunity to help these guys transition to the big leagues," Braun said. "I'll do everything in my power to help them become the big league players they are capable of being."

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The Brewers are in a time of regrouping. When Braun debuted, Milwaukee was on the verge of taking a step forward. And after finishing in second place in the National League Central in his rookie year, the Brewers ended a 25-year postseason drought in his second season. They also won the division in 2011.

In the final month of 2014, however, the signs began to surface that an overhaul was in order after a 9-18 finish to the season. Then after finishing 32 games out of first place last year, owner Mark Attanasio decided to mandate a remake.

General manager Doug Melvin was moved into an advisory role. David Stearns was hired away from the Astros to become the general manager. And the rebuilding started. By the time the Brewers opened Spring Training, they had a 40-man roster that included 20 new players.

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That left Lucroy feeling uncertain about where he fit. After an offseason express of concern, however, Lucroy is back at Milwaukee's spring facility, ready to stand aside Braun in providing guidance of a youthful roster in which only three members of the projected season-opening roster are even 30 years old -- Aaron Hill (33), Braun (32) and Matt Garza (32).

"There were a lot of rumors in the offseason, and it was a little crazy, but once Spring Training rolled around, I was ready to be here," Lucroy said. "The week before we reported, I said, 'I'm going back to the Brewers and I'm going to do the best I can to help this team get better.'

"We have quality young players and they need help, just like I needed help when I came to my first big league camp."

Nobody is fooling themselves. They aren't talking a 2016 World Series championship in Milwaukee's camp. Given the makeover of the team, what lies ahead is an uncertainty. That's not all bad, added Lucroy.

"It's great," he said. "There are no expectations. We are free to play the game and have fun. We're going to try to get better during the season. But the important thing is to go out and have fun every day. Baseball's a fun game, so enjoy it."

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Having fun, in itself, would be a step forward, Lucroy admitted.

"Last year we didn't have fun," he said.

No surprise. The Brewers opened last season as a veteran team, not a team looking three, four years down the road. And they couldn't shake the hangover from the rocky end to the 2014 season when they went from being tied for the division lead on Sept. 1 to a third-place finish, eight games out.

Milwaukee opened last season with four losses, was 5-17 at the end of April and never spent a day at .500. The Brewers used 75 players, the second most in the 47-year history of the franchise. They used 76 players in 2006, the year before Braun's debut.

"We have to go back to having fun," Lucroy said. "We have to enjoy each day and see what happens. Look at the Cubs. Look at Houston. It's going to take a couple years, but when what we are undertaking comes to fruition, it's going to be something to see. We have arms. We have 21-year-old hitters. They are going to be superstars."

The key is to not be distracted by rough spots in the road, to continue to look ahead.

"This is a fun opportunity," Braun said. "You look at the young players and know we have a chance to get better. It's all about defining ourselves. We won't solely be defined by the win-loss record. It's going to be about development.

"I do think we are going to be better than people expect. I see more young talent than I have in the past in this organization."

The challenge is turning the talent into results.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.