Braun was hitting .320 with eight home runs and 26 RBI at the beginning of June before his painful nerve issue reappeared in his right hand. He tried to play through the injury, as the Brewers explored numerous different treatment options. Rest would only temporarily help, as the nerve would quickly flare back up.
The second half of 2014 was the worst stretch of Braun’s career, as he batted .226 with eight home runs and 29 RBI after the break. He was particularly ineffective in September, as he hit just .210 with a home run, five RBI and a .603 OPS. It is hard to say if he would have carried the Brewers to the playoffs, but a healthy Braun would have made a significant difference as Milwaukee’s offense fell apart down the stretch.
Gomez followed up his breakout 2013 campaign with another impressive season in 2014. He led the Brewers in runs (95), home runs (23), total bases (274), slugging percentage (.477) and stolen bases (34). The 29-year-old made his second straight All-Star Game and was the only player in baseball with at least 20 home runs and at least 30 stolen bases.
While his defense slipped a bit from his Gold Glove season of 2013, Gomez was still one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. His defensive runs saved dropped from a jaw-dropping 38 in 2013 to just 2 in 2014, while his Ultimate Zone Rating fell from 27.2 to 7.0.
In his first full season in the big leagues, Davis flashed power but also lacked plate discipline. He finished tied for 10th in the National League in extra-base hits with 61, but 40 of those came during the first half of the season. After posting a .392 on-base percentage in the minor leagues, Davis reached base at just a .299 clip in 2014.
Davis was just fine at chasing and catching balls in left field, but his throwing arm was a liability to the Brewers.
With Logan Schafer struggling as the team’s fourth outfielder, Milwaukee made a trade at the deadline to acquire Gerardo Parra from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The two-time Gold Glover started 28 games with the Brewers, oftentimes entering games he didn’t start as a defensive replacement for Davis.
With four outfielders capable of starting, the Brewers have the potential to have one of the deepest outfields in baseball. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions.
Braun underwent a cryotherapy procedure on the ailing nerve in his right thumb in the offseason. While all reports have been positive to this point, Braun and the Brewers know the true test is how the thumb holds up over the course of the season. If healthy, the 31-year-old remains confident he can still be the dominant offensive player the Brewers need in the middle of their lineup.
Milwaukee owes $103 million to Braun over the next five seasons. The Brewers are counting on the former MVP returning to the player that averaged a batting average over .313 with 34 home runs and 107 RBI over the first six years of his career.
The one outfield spot in which the Brewers don’t have any questions is center field. Gomez has produced back-to-back MVP-like seasons and there’s no reason to expect a dip in 2015.
Davis is considered Milwaukee’s starting left fielder, but Parra will see his fair share of playing time. Coming off a big spring, Davis has the potential to hit close to 30 home runs if he improves his plate discipline. His throwing arm remains a liability, which will force Roenicke to utilize the double switch quite often.
Parra has been a starting outfielder his entire career. He’ll have to buy into being a backup. That said, Milwaukee will certainly use the fact its fourth outfielder is a two-time Gold Glove winner to its advantage. Parra will be able to spell Braun, Gomez and Davis on any given day.
The Brewers are thought to be down to Schafer or Elian Herrera for their final bench spot. Schafer is an above average defensive outfielder, but he’s a career .209 hitter at the big-league level. Herrera is primarily an infielder, but he can play all three outfield spots in a pinch.
KEY TO SUCCESS
The Brewers are surrounded by question marks, but none is bigger than Braun’s thumb. Last year, Braun was just another guy. Milwaukee needs him to be a superstar. The thumb must stay healthy in order for that to have a chance at happening.
THEY SAID IT
"I’ve always felt like as long as I’m healthy, success is inevitable. The better I play the more I am going to help the team. I expect to go out there and be one of the best players in the league." — Braun