Carlos Gomez is coming off a big year and the Milwaukee Brewers made a move to get Khris Davis into the lineup, but it is Ryan Braun's return -- and in right field, no less -- which will demand the most attention.
Ryan Braun returns to the Brewers after serving a 65-game suspension for PEDs in 2013 and has moved from left field to right field this season.
Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports
By Andrew Gruman
This is the fourth part in a nine-part series previewing the Milwaukee Brewers by position heading into Opening Day on March 31.
ON THE ROSTER
Ryan Braun (.298, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 14 2B, 4 SB in 61 games in 2013)
Khris Davis (.279, 11 HR, 27 RBI, 10 2B, 3 SB in 56 games)
Carlos Gomez (.284, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 27 2B, 10 3B, 40 SB in 147 games)
While their star sat out the final 65 games of the season after accepting a suspension from the league for violating the joint drug prevention and treatment program, the Brewers believe they have found a future fixture in the lineup.
Davis took advantage of the opportunity Braun's suspension provided, thriving as an everyday player before injuries took a toll on his body in September. The 26-year-old hit .321 with eight home runs and 19 RBI in his first 81 at-bats and 29 games after Braun was suspended on July 23.
Lingering injuries to his wrist and hamstring limited Davis to just 10 starts in September. He was shut down in the season's final weekend after hitting just .237 with three home runs in his final 38 at-bats.
Even before the suspension, Braun's 2013 was tumultuous. An injury to his right thumb forced the former National League MVP onto the disabled list for the first time in his career. Braun was in and out of the lineup for most of the first half of the season, sitting out 26 games from June 9-July 9 and five more later in July before accepting the suspension.
To say the Brewers missed their best player and No. 3 hitter would be an understatement. It was a complete failure of a season for Braun in a variety of ways.
Gomez's season was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The talented center fielder finally tapped into his tremendous potential and made his first All-Star team. Gomez had career highs in batting average, home runs, RBI and stolen bases. Baseball-Reference.com had Gomez's WAR (wins above replacement) at 8.4, tied for second in baseball behind Angels star Mike Trout.
Not only did Gomez thrive at the plate, but also the 28-year-old became Milwaukee's first Gold Glove award winner since Robin Yount in 1982. The Brewers gambled when they signed Gomez to a three-year, $24 million contract extension prior to last season, but the move looks brilliant now.
Norichika Aoki, traded this offseason to Kansas City, provided the Brewers with a steady leadoff hitter for the second straight year. He hit .286 with eight home runs, but had just seven extra-base hits in July and August. Aoki was a singles hitter for the majority of the season but again got on base quite a bit via the infield single.
The fourth outfielder for most of the season, Schafer struggled to adapt to a bench role in his first full season in the big leagues. He hit just .211 with four home runs and 33 RBI but played great defense when called upon.
It will be heavily scrutinized and evaluated, but Braun's return to the Brewers lineup can't be understated. Nobody knows what kind of player the 30-year-old will be after serving a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, but both the team and player are confident he'll still be an elite offensive force.
Braun not only will face the challenge of returning after a heavily-publicized suspension, but also he'll have to learn a new position on the fly. In order to get Davis into the lineup, Braun is moving over to right field. It make take some time for him adjust to the different nuances of the other side of the outfield, but the transition shouldn't cause too many major issues.
The Brewers traded their leadoff hitter and moved their star to accommodate for Davis. It's his job to lose, but Davis must also prove Milwaukee's confidence in him is justified. General manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke both feel Davis is capable of hitting 25 or more home runs if given enough at-bats. He'll also have to stay healthy over the course of a 162-game schedule, something that's been tough for him to do over his minor-league career.
Much was made of Davis' struggles defensively, but he held his own in left field last year. His arm is not very strong, which is the main reason why Braun is moving over the right field and Davis is staying in right. Davis will also have to prove he isn't a defensive liability, especially if his bat doesn't get hot right away.
If Davis falters, Schafer will be there ready to scoop up the playing time. He prepares himself as a starter and feels he's a much better hitter than he showed last season. Schafer should be more comfortable in a bench role the second time around and gives the Brewers an ideal fourth outfielder that has the combination of being a good defender, ability to steal a base and can be a situational hitter.
Gomez is going to be counted on to produce a similar year to the one he had in 2013. The challenge of duplicating his success is the next step in his career. He feels there's even more to his game than what he showed last season, a scary sign for opponents. Gomez undoubtedly will provide the Brewers with Gold-Glove caliber defense in center field.
KEY TO SUCCESS
There are a variety of keys this year, but first and foremost is Braun's successful return to the lineup. He needs to be the middle of the order threat for Milwaukee to contend for the postseason. Davis proving he's capable of being an impact bat and Gomez following up his stellar season with another are other things that need to happen.
THEY SAID IT
"I think I'll be better than I've ever been. I'm very confident in that" -- Braun
"I'm confident that I can continue to make progress. I had the time in the offseason to look at it, my weaknesses, watching a lot of video to try and get better. That's what it's all about -- being consistent, concentrating and being honest about yourself and what you can do to get better." -- Gomez