If all had gone according to plan for the Milwaukee Brewers this season, Logan Schafer would be a fourth outfielder fighting to stay ready on the bench, while Caleb Gindl and Khris Davis would be playing in Triple-A.
But nothing has gone according to plan for the Brewers this season. Even backup plans have found a way to go awry.
There are very few positives in the season-ending suspension to Ryan Braun, but opportunity has arose for Milwaukee’s three young outfielders.
“The opportunity is there for a lot of these young guys to prove they belong here, to prove maybe they can be a starter,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “Hopefully one of those guys will come through.”
With the team all season, Schafer was supposed to get the first crack, but again, nothing has gone according to plan this season. Gindl has come up from Triple-A swinging a hot bat, forcing his way into the lineup.
“He continues to have good at-bats,” Roenicke said. “He’s making me put him in there every day. He’s doing some really good things.”
The 24-year-old Gindl came up to the Brewers in mid-June and hit .250 in his first 10
games in the big leagues. Sent back down when the team needed an extra bullpen arm, Gindl caught fire in Nashville, hitting .421 in 10 games.
Called back up July 11, Gindl has picked up right where he left off in Triple-A. His batting average has risen to .313 with seven of his 15 hits going for extra bases, but even a good chunk of his outs have been hit well.
With each start, Gindl’s confidence is growing. He’s not trying to be Braun, but instead focusing on doing what he can to help the Brewers win.
“Those are big shoes to fill — that’s Ryan Braun,” Gindl said. “That’s not an easy spot to fill, you are not going to replace him. He’s a great baseball player. It is an opportunity, but I’ve been up here (before) so I’ve had an opportunity already. It’s just a bit more of an opportunity, that’s all.”
There’s no question the best defensive option of the three is Schafer. The jump to the big leagues has not been a problem in that regard, but Schafer hasn’t found success at the plate.
Finding himself in the lineup for the majority of the time Braun was on the disabled list, Schafer is hitting .220 with two home runs and 20 RBI in 201 at-bats. If the at-bats were better, Schafer would be in left field every day.
“I’d like him to have consistent at-bats,” Roenicke said. “I want Logan to be consistent in what he does offensively. He’s going to be really good defensively. He’s always going to do the little things: bunting, stealing bases, taking an extra base. He’s always going to do that well. The hardest part, as everybody knows, is the hitting. To be consistent there, I think is important for him.”
Sometimes a player develops offensively with time, sometimes it never happens. In a similar spot on the depth chart during his eight-year career, Roenicke never hit enough to become an everyday player.
“I think it’s having a plan,” Roenicke said. “The more you play, the more at-bats you get, the more confident you get, you are able to stick with a plan. I can say for myself, that hurt me. I never had enough success in the big leagues to stick with a plan. I couldn’t go 0-for-5 in a game and say ‘I’m just going to stick with it’. I just didn’t have that in me. That’s why that job is so hard.”
Confident in his abilities, Schafer sees himself as an everyday player in the big leagues. He shows up to the park each day mentally preparing to be in the lineup, adjusting if he finds himself on the bench.
A career .294 hitter in the minor leagues, Schafer has shown flashes of his offensive ability this season. Hitting just .160 on May 28, the 26-year-old caught fire for a stretch and found himself with a .270 batting average on June 15.
By July 1, Schafer’s batting average was back down to .206, a drastic fluctuation over the course of a month.
“I’m preparing to start,” Schafer said. “That goes for when Braun, ‘Gomey’ and Aoki were healthy. I knew that the chances probably weren’t good, but I was prepared to start and ready to go. It doesn’t change too much of my preparation, really, or how I’m going about my business.”
It’s way too early to call this a make-or-break two months for Schafer, but with Braun, Gomez and Aoki likely returning next season, starts in the outfield will be few and far between going forward.
A good stretch to end this season would go a long way for any of the three outfielders to help their futures with the franchise.
“I’m a major-league ballplayer,” Schafer said. “This year I haven’t been doing as well as I’ve wanted to, but I feel like I’ve been playing pretty good defense and you’ve got to at least have that. I’ve been swinging the bat better lately. I’m just going to try and continue to be a good part of this team and fill in and hopefully help win some ballgames.”