Healthy again, Ray looks to make impact for Brewers in 2020

Spring training is a time for rejuvenation and optimism. No Milwaukee Brewers player represents this more than Corey Ray.

If you’ve watched a Milwaukee spring training game this year, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen Ray play.

That’s by design.

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“You’ll see a ton of him in spring training,” manager Craig Counsell said at the beginning of camp. “Because he needs at-bats.”

The Brewers’ 2016 first-round pick had his 2019 season derailed by injuries — he had just 292 combined plate appearances for Triple-A San Antonio, Double-A Biloxi (where he was sent down in mid-July and played 11 games) and in the Arizona rookie league (five-game rehab assignment).

Adding insult to injury, Ray, the team’s minor league player of the year in 2018, hit just .188 with 89 strikeouts in 207 at-bats with the Missions.

Ray compiled 21 plate appearances, third on the team among outfielders, before being sent to minor-league camp on Monday.

Just being on the field is a bonus for Ray. He certainly doesn’t want a repeat of 2019 when he couldn’t stay on the field due to injuries. Ray worked hard at his game and improving physically over the winter while on the mental side he used the struggles of last season to fuel him.

“Remembering those times and remembering I was at my lowest time and I made it through,” Ray said. “You keep pushing through and work it out.”

One thing that’s helped Ray is the use of technologies such as Blast motion, Rapsodo and TrackMan, systems which use high-speed cameras to monitor the movement (speed and spin) of pitches and, among other things, the launch angle and motion of hitter’s swings.

Instead of examining his swing during a game, Ray can fix it – and see what is happening – during practice. He says it’s a big step in making the proper corrections.

“The swing starts from the ground up and there has to be some kind of kinetic chain. Now we’re able to quantify it and measure that kinetic chain,” Ray explained. “There was always a disconnect in my swing and we could never figure out why. Batting practice is good, then in the game something breaks down somewhere. Something in the kinetic chain. Now we’re able to … see the breakdown happen and we’re able to quantify why and when I do it right what it feels like … so I can take it into the game.”

It’s not like Ray hasn’t performed in the past. He was obviously good enough in college at Louisville to be selected in the first round of the draft. Then in 2018 with Double-A Biloxi he hit 27 home runs, slugged .477 and stole 37 bases (in 44 tries) and was named the Southern League’s Most Valuable Player.

He also played in 135 games and had 600 plate appearances.

“It’s bittersweet that I’ve had one healthy, full season since I’ve been drafted, but it’s encouraging that one healthy, full season was a good one,” Ray said. “So put an emphasis on remaining healthy. When I’m healthy, I’m good. Mentally and physically.

“You can’t put up numbers and be the person that you are if you’re not healthy. My No. 1 goal was to put myself in a position where I was healthy going into spring and figuring out how to stay healthy the entire year.”

Ray is teetering on prospect status. He was drafted in 2016 and will turn 26 years old in September. Still, he’s shown flashes of what he can become. He has the 2018 season which proves that.

He just needs to stay on the field and show he can do it again. And if he can do that, just maybe we’ll be seeing him in a Milwaukee game during the regular season.

“It’s a big year for Corey, without question,” Counsell said. “He’s worked really hard this offseason offensively, foundational stuff for himself offensively. But none of it can happen without health.”