Cactus League preview: Milwaukee Brewers

All eyes in Brewers camp will be on Ryan Braun, who is coming off a 65-game suspension for PED use.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

For all the Milwaukee Brewers have faced over the past few seasons, they always seem to find a way to come to spring training with something to be excited about.

In the wake of Ryan Braun’s performance-enhancing-drug suspension, the Brewers open another Cactus League with hopes of moving past the scandal and rebounding this season with a new star in the fold.

There will certainly be lingering questions about Braun’s PED use — and there may always be — but the Brewers hope to shift the focus to the future, which now includes top free-agent starting pitcher Matt Garza.

The Brewers could have one of the NL’s best starting rotations, at least on paper, but have other questions to answer this spring after a dismal 2013 campaign. Here’s a look at what’s in store for Milwaukee this spring and what to watch for in camp.

The signing of free-agent starter Matt Garza gives the Brewers’ rotation a strong top three.

After losing Corey Hart in spring training and Aramis Ramirez early in the year — both to knee injuries — the short-handed Brewers managed through April but fell off with a 6-22 May and ultimately finished fourth in the NL Central at 74-88. Piling on to the poor season were the latest allegations against Braun, who was linked to the Biogenesis scandal. Braun battled the accusation but ultimately caved, admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. In the positives column were strong seasons from catcher Jonathan Lucroy, blossoming star Jean Segura and emerging outfielder Khris Davis.

— Arrivals: RP Zach Duke (free agent), SP Matt Garza (free agent), 1B Lyle Overbay (free agent), IF Mark Reynolds (free agent), RP Francisco Rodriguez (free agent), RP Will Smith (trade with Kansas City).

— Departures: OF Norichika Aoki (traded), RP Burke Badenhop (traded), RP Michael Gonzalez (free agent), OF/1B Corey Hart (free agent), RP Chris Narveson (free agent).

1) How does Ryan Braun respond from suspension?

Cactus League previews

For better or worse, Braun remains the face of the franchise in Milwaukee. Lately, it’s been pretty much all for worse. Braun comes to spring training off a 65-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. While Braun has been working to restore his relationship with the fan base, how he’ll be received in Milwaukee remains uncertain, and he’ll undoubtedly be jeered on the road. More important for the Brewers will be Braun’s performance. Last season, between a thumb injury and suspension, Braun played in just 61 games, a career low. Now healthy, Braun has a chance to bounce back while also adjusting to a move to right field, a move facilitated by the emergence of Khris Davis.

2) How will Matt Garza hold up and what will his impact be?

The Brewers finally made a splash in the free-agent market late in January with the signing of Garza to a four-year contract. The terms of the contract spelled out one of the team’s concerns with the deal: Garza’s health. The righty has averaged 21 starts over the past two seasons amid shoulder and elbow injuries. The Brewers have protected themselves against another injury-plagued season from Garza, but if the 30-year-old stays healthy, they could have one of the deepest rotations in the NL Central with a top three of Garza, Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo is in need of a bounceback season, and 24-year-old Wily Peralta looks to build on a strong final two months last season. Adding Garza should give the Brewers much-needed help on the mound.

3) Who will take over at first base?

The Brewers used seven different players at first base last season, including two catchers and two career shortstops. Needless to say, they’d like a permanent solution. With Corey Hart exiting in free agency, the Brewers had to get creative finding options. Right now, it looks like Mark Reynolds’ job to lose considering the Brewers gave him $2 million (albeit on a minor league contract), but he’ll have competition from veteran Lyle Overbay and Juan Francisco, who played the position more than anyone else for the Brewers last season.

Brewers spring training

Manager Ron Roenicke comes to camp as one of four big league managers without a contract beyond this season. The Brewers have shown no sign of giving up on Roenicke, whose tenure in Milwaukee began with a run to the NLCS but has been marred by injuries the past two seasons, and have expressed strong support for him, so he doesn’t seem to be on the hot seat. If the Brewers start strong and stay healthy, though, Roenicke could earn an extension, or at least have his team option for 2015 picked up.

Khris Davis. In 56 major league appearances last season, Davis impressed enough (.279, 27 RBI, 11 home runs) that he projects as the starting left fielder on Opening Day. Having had time to adjust to the majors, Davis will be worth watching in his first full big league season.

Pitchers and catchers report Saturday, Feb. 15. Full squad reports Friday, Feb. 21. Games begin March 1 at Maryvale Baseball Park, 3600 N. 51st Ave., Phoenix. Visit brewers.com for full schedule and tickets.