Brewers’ Braun adds new position in 2017: Mentor

Ryan Braun used to be able to look around the locker room and find any number of veterans to look for counsel. Braun rattled off names like Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Prince Fielder, Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks.

Now when Braun looks for the veteran Milwaukee Brewers leader he needs just look in the mirror.

While Braun might not be the oldest player on the team (Carlos Torres is 34) or the longest-tenured (Matt Garza has him beat by a year), there is no one else who has been on the Brewers longer than he has. And it isn’t even close.

While Braun is entering his 11th season with Milwaukee — he’ll become a 10-5 player on May 25 (“It’s scary how fast it goes by,” he said) — only seven potential teammates have five years of major-league service time and only one — pitcher Wily Peralta — has been with the Brewers that entire time.

“It’s just weird to look around the room and realize that nobody else has been around here for more than a few years,” Braun said.

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When Braun does look around the room he sees youth — and a lot of it.

“It’s been a gradual process when you look over the past couple of years. It’s definitely a little more drastic this year than it’s been over the last couple of years,” Braun noted. “A lot of new faces, a lot of young guys.”

Braun’s first impression of Lewis Brinson is that the outfield prospect is “impressive physically,” before adding that all the younger players look bigger than previous incarnations of up-and-comers.

When Braun gazes around the clubhouse at the new-look Brewers, he also likes what he sees.

“There’s a lot of young guys who are potentially impact players,” Braun said. “Most of them are at the upper levels of the minor leagues, so hopefully that means we’re not too far away.”

As one of the older players on the team and the longest-tenured Brewer, Braun said he is fine with being a mentor to the younger players and enjoys it, too.

“It’s really important for them to hear it from players who have been through it,” he said. “Coaches can help, front office can help, but having teammates who have actually gone through the transition from the minor leagues to the major leagues and have dealt with failure and adversity at the major-league level can really be beneficial to guys. I really enjoy helping guys figuring out a routine and figuring out a process that enables them to be in the best position to be successful.”

While all the youth in camp means even more competition for a few available roster spots — “If guys don’t embrace competition they are in the wrong profession,” Braun said — Braun’s place in the lineup and on the field is cemented.

A move back to left field agreed with Braun last season, in addition to offseason back surgery, as he hit .305 with 30 home runs and 91 RBI.

Braun was fine playing in right field if that’s where Milwaukee needed him to play. He said he felt he improved defensively in right in his second year playing that position, but admitted he’s more comfortable in left field and feels he’s a better left fielder than right fielder.

A college shortstop, Braun said that comfort level is derived from playing the majority of his baseball career on the left side of the diamond — but he also made sure to say he’d prefer not to play third base, where he was stationed as a rookie back in 2007, making 26 errors with an .895 fielding percentage.

No, all will be status quo for Braun this spring training, unlike in years past. He’ll be back in left field and isn’t coming off an injury or surgery, saying he has no limitations this year. In 2016, Braun was coming off back surgery and the previous year cryotherapy procedures on his right thumb, which followed two years of dealing with nerve issues in that finger.

“Healthiest I’ve felt at spring training probably ever,” Braun said.

Even with an extra-long spring training due to the World Baseball Classic, don’t expect to see Braun too much in exhibition games. In 2016, he appeared in just seven games with 18 plate appearances (and had seven hits including two home runs).

“I’ve never felt like I’ve needed that many at-bats,” he said.

No, those at-bats can be had by the younger players, who need all the experience they can get. Call it mentoring 101.