Mike Bauman

Optimism amid Crew's rebuild not limited to future

Young club features handful of bright spots capable of impressing in 2016

Optimism amid Crew's rebuild not limited to future

PHOENIX -- This is the first full season of the full-fledged rebuilding of the Milwaukee Brewers. By definition in this process, optimism is a commodity generally reserved for the future.

But there were some flashes of legitimate present-tense optimism on Wednesday as the Brewers defeated the Chicago White Sox, 5-2. They didn't seem to be wildly unreasonable.

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Brewers manager Craig Counsell finds some positive aspects in the present, and he does so in a way that seems plausible.

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Trading veterans for promising prospects, the Brewers have transformed their farm system. At the Major League level, five of the eight everyday positions will be manned by players who weren't with Milwaukee at the beginning of the 2015 season. A walk through the home clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park is a tour of new nameplates above the lockers.

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"I think there are a lot of new faces here, and we're still kind of learning the new faces," Counsell said on Wednesday. "But there will be guys that we brought in that will surprise. I'm sure that there will be guys that will surprise us. I'm confident that there's enough talent in that group that one of those guys is going to surprise us.

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"Maybe not 'surprise,' but they can become someone who can really step up and contribute over the long term. That's what's encouraging to me, that there's enough talent in that group that certainly at least one of those guys is going to -- and that's exciting."

Beyond that, Counsell anticipates a strong season from the members of the Brewers' starting rotation.

"I'm still encouraged by the starting pitching, what it's going to end up being by the end of the season," Counsell said. "I think it will be a strength for us."

Counsell on starting rotation

In fact, Milwaukee's rotation features developing young pitchers who have already demonstrated their considerable potential on this club -- Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann. Chase Anderson, who pitched capably for Arizona last season, will likely have a spot in the rotation.

The veteran of the crew is Matt Garza, 32, coming off what was by far the worst season of what has been a successful career.

Garza looked much more like he was supposed to look on Wednesday in throwing four scoreless innings. He walked three but responded by getting two double-play groundouts.

"I'm keeping the ball in the zone," Garza said. "Last year, the ball was up a lot and I got in trouble behind in the count. I've worked hard to get my body right, and I'm back to where I want to be.

Counsell on Garza's mindset

"It's all about the process. It's Spring Training. I'm not going to say I'm in midseason form; of course not. [I issued] three walks, but I'm getting closer and closer. I'm right where I need to be."

"Matt's stuff was really good; there were no hard-hit balls," Counsell said. "He walked some guys, he let some hitters get away from him, but we played solid defense and they didn't square much up with him."

And for left fielder Ryan Braun, making his first Cactus League appearance after undergoing back surgery in the offseason, there were immediate tests in all facets of the game. Braun passed all the tests.

Braun discusses season

There was a catch after a long run near the left-field line. There was an RBI single the opposite way. There was a walk. After the walk, Braun scored from first on a double, finishing with probably the biggest test for his back, a slide into home. Braun was safe, and so was his back.

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Braun was removed after two plate appearances, which was the original plan for this game.

"Everything's great; couldn't have been any better," was Braun's summation of his day.

"When you're coming off surgery and you have a day like that, it makes you gain a lot of confidence in your body, for sure," Counsell said.

Counsell on Braun to left field

It is difficult to project what the Brewers will get from Braun, although it is not at all difficult to project what Braun will get from Milwaukee, which is $105 million over the next five years. The club can hope that Braun's performance on Wednesday is a step in the direction he maintains throughout the regular season.

It is not foolish to expect Garza to return to the level of performance he enjoyed before last year, which included never posting an ERA above 4.00 in a full season.

And this year, unlike many in the recent past, if somebody falters in their rotation, the Brewers will have talented young pitchers in the pipeline who will, sooner or later, be ready to help.

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This club is in the early stages of a long process. Ahead, there are unquestionably lumps to be taken. But there will be days like this one, where the promise of something better seems to be more than just an idea.

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