What can be better than being at a Brewers Spring Training game and watching the sausage races in the sixth inning, followed by a rousing rendition of "Roll Out The Barrel" in the middle of the seventh?
Not much. Life is good when Brewers fans can sit back, have a brat and a beer and watch the Crew's big bats knock homers far over the outfield walls.
Is there life after Prince Fielder for Milwaukee? In a word -- yes. Excitement is high, and for good reason.
There were some scary moments when Ryan Braun's availability for the first 50 games of the season was in question. Couple that with the departure of Fielder and there were some moments of acid reflux for everyone involved.
All is well now. Braun is back in his familiar No. 8 uniform, being cheered by thankful and loyal fans. For now, Mat Gamel is staffing first base in place of Fielder. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has been signed to bring his rather loud bat to shore up the power void created when Fielder left for Detroit.
The Brewers should be able to score runs and pitch well. Will they catch and throw the ball? Time will tell. In addition, the recent knee surgery required by Corey Hart has left a utility position available in the outfield, and competition is steep.
Stocky left-handed hitter Caleb Gindl is an interesting option as a utility outfielder. Gindl, who ranks 15th in MLB.com's list of Top 20 Brewers prospects , is unique. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Brewers in 2007 and has advanced one classification during each of his past four seasons. That's unusual.
Only 23, Gindl's rapid movement through the system was based upon a solid batting average at each level of play. He doesn't show any one outstanding tool. Rather, he has the ability to hit good pitching and play strong defense -- a solid combination. It doesn't hurt that Gindl can hit lefties.
Overall, he has a five-season batting average of .300 in the Minor Leagues. Gindl has shown a nice, level swing with potential gap power. He doesn't yet have a consistent home run stroke. To his credit, he isn't going to the plate swinging for the fences.
Gindl seems to know the strike zone. That said, there are times when he tends to get fooled a bit by offspeed pitches. Generally however, he has enough plate discipline to accept free passes. His contact rate is good.
In short, he's a reliable hitter. Gindl has a large lower half, and if he can get all of his strength behind his swing he can ultimately gain power. Gindl has a wide stance at the plate, and his balance isn't always the best. Occasionally his front foot is a little "out front" on his swing, resulting in a lack of support from his trunk. When that trait is extreme, the end result is a lagging bat that causes pop ups and an inability to drive the ball. When Gindl finds the proper balance, he may see a spike in his power.
Defensively, Gindl has enough athletic ability to play all three outfield positions. His arm is strong and accurate enough to play anywhere in the outfield. His defensive versatility is a plus. Ultimately, he is probably best suited as a corner outfielder, but his lack of power could be an issue.
If Hart misses the start of the season, Logan Schafer may be the most advanced prospect to assume an outfield role. After suffering injuries last season, he is healthy and enjoyed a very fine campaign in the Arizona Fall League.
Schafer, who is ranked seventh among Brewers prospects, is a natural center fielder. He has excellent athletic ability that manifests itself in natural instincts and sound fundamentals. He has a lanky well-conditioned and well-proportioned body. At the plate he has patience to look for his pitch, using enough discipline and pitch recognition to accept a walk. Schafer has a short, line-drive stroke with a goal of hitting the ball up the middle. He fits well at the top of the order, where he can be a table setter if he gets on base. He can surprise some defenses with an ability to get leg hits on short infield hops as well as having enough strength to hit the outfield gaps. Speed is a major tool of his game.
Defensively, Schafer takes good routes, finishing quickly with above-average speed. He is extremely capable of going back on balls hit to the wall. He closes quickly on balls hit to the gaps and takes charge in the outfield. A strong throwing arm adds to his defensive prowess.
Gindl and Schafer are only two among a numerous group in a healthy competition for the fourth-outfielder role. Spring Training will help the Brewers staff sort things out.
If there is a need in the starting rotation, big, strong right-handed starting pitcher Wily Peralta wants the nod.
Peralta, who is the top-ranked prospect in the Brewers' organization, will be 23 in May. He signed with the Milwaukee in 2005, and it may seem to Brewers fans that he's been around a long, long time. However, he still has work to do to complete his development.
Peralta was set back a bit when he missed time due to Tommy John surgery in 2007. He now looks totally healthy on the mound.
With his huge 6-foot-2, 240-pound frame coming at hitters in a rather straight, downhill motion, Peralta has the ability to keep the ball below the belt of the hitters, inducing ground balls. He throws both a two-seam (sinker) and four-seam fastball at speeds from 92-96 mph. His imposing figure on the mound works to his advantage, as he doesn't hesitate to use the inside portion of the plate.
Peralta threw a wide variety of secondary pitches in the outing I most recently observed. His changeup was an "out" pitch that he used with frequency. Perhaps he was just working to improve that particular pitch in Spring Training, but it was a major bullet in his arsenal. It was a very effective pitch, especially after a hitter had just faced his fastball. It was Peralta's slider that lacked the crispness and command required among his secondary pitches.
If there is an issue keeping Peralta from a starting role it has to be command of his entire repertoire. He seems to lose rhythm quickly and he struggles to recover. Once his pitches veer off the plate due to his lack of extension (failing to finish his delivery) and awkward landing spot, Peralta gets out of sync. However, his arm strength is real. He has a chance to help the club once he refines the command and control of his entire repertoire.
The Brewers have a mix of players ready to help at the Major League level. The loss of Fielder and the injury to Hart have posed some challenges, but the roster is deep enough to carry the team to success.