Brewers center field prospects to play together in Triple-A

The Milwaukee Brewers have their 2017 outfield lineup set.

At Triple-A, that is.

On Friday, the Brewers optioned Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell and Brett Phillips to minor-league camp. All three outfield prospects will start the season at Colorado Springs.

“I think it challenges each of them when they’re playing together, in the right way,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s competition.”

More Brewers coverage

All three outfielders got plenty of playing time this spring training with Milwaukee. Brinson, who hit well in Colorado Springs last year after being acquired from Texas in the Jonathan Lucroy deal, batted .294 with a .385 on-base percentage and .588 slugging percentage in 38 plate appearances. Cordell, who came over as a player to be named later in the same trade which netted the Brewers Brinson, hit .280/.394/.480 in 31 plate appearances. Only Phillips, last year’s center fielder at Double-A Biloxi after coming over from Houston in the 2015 Carlos Gomez swap, struggled at the plate among the three, although he still had a .343 on-base percentage in his 33 plate appearances.

None, though, is quite ready for the major leagues — yet.

“All three of them are still at places where they need to be at Triple-A and they have development left,” Counsell said. “They have lots of room for growth. It’s not like a finished product with any of them. They all have things they can improve on and challenge themselves with.”

The one thing all three have to work on, Counsell said, is defense. Counsell used the example of Keon Broxton, who he said had “significant improvement” from the time he showed up at spring training last March to the end of the 2016 season. Counsell said he would now rate Broxton as a plus defender.

Oh, and Broxton is also slated to be Milwaukee’s starting center fielder. But no one says that’s going to be the case all season.

“The message for a lot players is you can’t look at your career as having only one opportunity. You never know when your opportunity will come up,” Counsell explained. “And that was the simple message for the three outfielders, really. They’re next if something happens to our big-league outfielders. I don’t know when something is going to happen, but it is most likely going to be one of you guys. That’s part of the competition (and) motivation, is that be the guy we have to call on.”

Brinson was the starting center fielder in Colorado Springs in his brief time there last year, while that was Phillips’ main position at Biloxi. At Texas’ Double-A affiliate in Frisco, Cordell split his time among the three outfield positions, although he mostly appeared in center (42 of 99 outfield games).

With the Sky Sox, Brinson (Counsell: “Lew is a plus runner for sure and I think he’s going to hit home runs”) will once again get the nod in center in 2017, although Counsell said “it is going to be a priority that they all spend time in center field.”

While this could be Milwaukee’s outfield of the future, Counsell warned that every player develops at a different pace. He also doesn’t like comparing Milwaukee’s prospects to other teams, or even past Brewers groups, like when Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and J.J Hardy came up through the system at the same time.

“The story is always different,” Counsell said. “The story doesn’t unfold the same way for every guy.”

The Brewers, though, wouldn’t mind a few happy endings in this trilogy.