With the Milwaukee Brewers in a rebuilding mode, there is an obvious interest in many of the younger players in spring training camp. Although as manager Craig Counsell said, "the trend is always going to be youth."
Saturday, Counsell talked about three of Milwaukee’s prospect in particular — pitchers Zach Davies and Josh Hader and outfielder Michael Reed. None of the trio might break camp with the Brewers, but all three are seen as part of the future of the club.
Davis actually had a taste of the majors last season, shortly after being acquired from Baltimore for outfielder Gerardo Parra. He acquitted himself well, going 3-2 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.206 WHIP in 34 innings. Davies, who turned 23 earlier this month, finished the season by not allowing a run in his final two starts, encompassing 13 innings.
"He’s an advanced young pitcher as far as the knowledge of his stuff," Counsell said. He’s a pitcher that we talk about reading hitter’s swings, which kind of does pitch-to-pitch. He has a lot of places he can go in the strike zone with four different pitches. I think like anybody else the mistake is you point to the velocity with a guy like Zach, but it works. The fastball beats hitters to spots. That’s what he’s going to do.
"What was great about Zach is he made his adjustments very quickly. He has great self-awareness. That’s a weapon in itself."
Hader, like Davies, was once in the Orioles farm system, although the left-hander who turns 22 in April came over to Milwaukee from Houston at the trade deadline in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers deal. Hader pitched well in seven starts at Biloxi (2.79 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 11.6 K/9) then he went to the Arizona Fall League and posted an 0.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 16 innings.
"He clearly took a big step forward last year and gained a lot of confidence, especially down in the fall league," Counsell said. "He’s in a good place, for sure."
Hader uses a different arm angle than most, similar to Chicago’s Chris Sale, which can help confuse hitters.
"His arm angle is unique. It obviously stands out. It’s a different look, it’s big velocity," Counsell explained. "It’s tough for the hitter. Hitters want things they see a lot and he’s giving you something you don’t see a lot."
Counsell doesn’t mind the comparison to Sale as long as you are talking about arm angle.
"If you want to say he’s going to be Chris Sale (that’s fine) as long as you are guaranteeing it," he said with a laugh. But, Counsell did make sure to add that Hader "has a chance to be a very good major-league pitcher, no question."T
While Davies and Hader are vying for shots in the rotation or bullpen, the 23-year-old Reed is seemingly lost among all the bodies in camp competing for an outfield spot, and specifically the job of starting center fielder. But Reed, who got a cup of coffee with the Brewers in September (going 2 for 6) after batting .269 with a .410 slugging percentage in 2015 with Biloxi and Colorado Springs, is someone the Brewers haven’t forgotten about.
"I think he’s developing in a way that we’re very happy with. His plate discipline is a trait we’re looking for," Counsell said of Reed, who owns a career .375 on-base percentage in the minors. "I think there’s more development for Michael Reed and I think there’s another real big step for him and I think he’s primed to take it this year. He’s very much on our minds."
The magic number: Counsell said he doesn’t expect Ryan Braun — or anyone — to play all 162 games, but he does have a number of games in mind. "I always shoot for 150," Counsell said.
To be sure, Counsell isn’t concerned about who will be out in left field during the season.
"(Braun is) going to play left field when he’s healthy," Counsell said. "There will be some days off for sure. I don’t look at it like we need to find someone to play left field."
Extra innings: Last season, Michael Blazek pitched more than one inning 16 times, including 11 occasions when he went at least two innings. Counsell said he’s going to need more of that from Blazek and other members of the bullpen in 2016.
"If you’re counting on JJ (Jeremy Jeffress) and Will (Smith) for six or seven outs a night, there’s going to be more outs to get in that bullpen, and big outs to get in that bullpen," Counsell said. "I could see it from all of our guys. There’s times when that works, and that’s helpful."
Injury report: Jeffress was sidelined Saturday with a mild hamstring strain. He had been scheduled to throw but that plan was shelved. Rule 5 pick Zack Jones remains out and isn’t ready yet to even play catch.