Team Health Report: Milwaukee Brewers
by Will Carroll
Growing up, I would often come home during the summer and watch a show called Cowboy Bob's Corral. It was pretty cheesy looking, but I spent many an hour with Cowboy Bob, Sourdough the Singing Biscuit, and his dog Tumbleweed. I learned many things from that show, but one that's stuck with me is Bob telling all his pardners out there "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Sigh. Ol' Bob wouldn't like this THR.
The Brewers remind me of a Robin Harris joke. Robin, the late comedian, grew up with the Spinks Brothers, and in his words, "they been dumb a long time." Ostensibly rid of Seligs, the Brewers are starting over--again. Bad Hair Bud talked a lot about teams that had no hope last year. In 2003, his Brewers are one of them again, and none of it can be blamed on an old stadium or small market.
Bad organizations don't develop new players. Bad organizations don't keep the players they have healthy. Bad organizations overpay for mediocrity. Bad organizations can't identify the talent they have on hand. Bad organizations rush prospects. Brewers? Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.
The Brewers are pretty much personified by one player--not Richie Sexson, who showed up inexplicably in the comic-book style All-Star ads last year, but by Jeffrey Hammonds. Signed to a bad deal based on Coors-inflated statistics, Hammonds played to his true expectations. In the right park and on the right team, Hammonds can be a valuable player. He's never been as good as Moises Alou or Rondell White, but he needs to be treated the same way--expect 120 games from him and have an adequate backup. Doug Melvin has the adequate backup in John Vander Wal, but he had the same thing before he released three adequate outfielders from last year's team--Ryan Thompson, Jim Rushford, and Ryan Christenson. If you don't know why Hammonds gets the red light, you need to get a new hobby.
Dealing with traumatic incidents is difficult, and many factors must be considered. Both Alex Sanchez and Geoff Jenkins return this year after brutal ankle injuries; neither was as serious as the Kendall or Alou incidents, but both players will still feel the effects. Ankle fractures are one of few that don't fully heal and return the athlete to his former condition. Still, two different players will be affected in different ways by a similar injury. Sanchez's game is predicated almost entirely on one tool--his speed. The injury will likely affect this, hurting him on the bases and in center field. It's not clear that he will be able to return to his previous level of performance--a level that was decidedly replaceable. Sanchez gets the red light.
Jenkins' skills did not revolve around his speed or mobility. He plays a position that does not tax what mobility he has or does not have. The ankle injury could limit him some, but reports are positive and from all reports; Roger Caplinger and the medical staff did an amazing job dealing with the injury in its initial stages. The injury is enough to give me pause and wonder if Jenkins will need time off, but it's only enough for a yellow light in this instance.
I got to follow Nick Neugebauer's rehab pretty closely here since we're blessed with the Brewers AAA team here in my backyard. Neugebauer is a highly touted prospect who may have a bit too much of Steve Dalkowski in him to live up to his hyped fastball. Even injured and clearly not at full strength, his heater is one of those pitches that makes everyone in the stands say "ooooh." Sadly, the mechanics that allow such a thunderbolt aren't the same type that keeps an arm healthy. Neugebauer suffered a rotator cuff tear after being pushed in 2001 and still hasn't been able to make it back, suffering with tendonitis and even a bad back. There have been some whispers that Neugebauer may be back here in Indy, but any scout who sees that fastball will want him in the major league rotation. He just can't stay there long.
Vero Beach is a nice town, but you don't want to have a starting pitcher on your major league roster that's been there in the same season. Ben Diggins made it from Vero Beach to Milwaukee--with a side trip to scenic Huntsville--and that screams 'young, rushed pitcher.' The track record for young rushed pitchers is of course dismal from an injury standpoint and the signings of Todd Ritchie and Dave Mlicki could be the best things that happened to Diggins career. He could stand for a little time in Indy and in the long run that would likely help the Brewers as well. Diggins has a fluid delivery and no major injury history, but his age and the risks of rushing him turn the yellow light on.
Ben Sheets has dealt with a heavy workload quite well and he may have sneaked through the injury nexus, but I'm still lighting a dim yellow on him. With luck, manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Mike Maddux will protect Sheets a bit better, but both are new to their positions so there's nothing to base that hope on. The biggest worry for Sheets is that health could amp up his workload again, especially if others on the staff fall by the wayside with injury or incompetence.
Instead of creating inanities like a Department of Entertainment, the Brewers need to create a Department of Scouting, Department of Health, and a Department of Fixing The Roof. Doug Melvin is creative and did well in Texas, but he's facing more than an uphill battle--this is a sheer cliff face.
Will Carroll is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.