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C Damian Miller: Miller evaded the DL again last year, though at 34, he felt plenty of little creaks one expects for a catcher his age. Moving from one medically progressive team to another can only help him at this stage. Perhaps his durability can be credited to the fairly light annual workload of his career: 2004 marked Miller’s career high in at-bats (397) in any professional season.
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Junior Spivey: An otherwise productive year was derailed temporarily by a hamstring strain in May and permanently by a dislocated left shoulder in July. The latter required surgery, but he’s recovered now and playing exhibition games. Spivey says he’s pain-free; regardless, the history of injuries is becoming a concern.
SS J.J. Hardy: Much of the same. Hardy’s checked swing in May tore his left labrum in two places. This injury has a nasty habit of nagging its victims down the road, so don’t be surprised if he deals with it at some point in 2005; this is a deep yellow.
3B Russell Branyan
LF Carlos Lee
CF Brady Clark
RF Geoff Jenkins: For three years, he was stricken with various maladies–wrist, ankle, thumb, hand, shoulder–but in 2004 the string of injuries ended. Was it the medical personnel? A concerted effort to tone down the distinct Burnitzian chop? Blind luck? Roger Caplinger’s staff deserves some credit here, but Jenkins could still slip at any time.
OF Dave Krynzel: A broken foot sidelined him for May and June. The good news was his quick recovery, thanks in part to Forteo. Then in the season’s final weekend, he was beaned by a hanging curveball, and the resulting concussion knocked him out of the Arizona Fall League. The culprit: Rick Ankiel, in what now looks to be his final major-league inning. Krynzel should not be affected by last year’s woes, and is likely to start the season at Nashville.
3B Wes Helms: While visiting the San Juan Expos last May, Helms could not stand up to the slippery slopes of Hiram Bithorn’s clubhouse tunnel, and it landed him on the surgeon’s table with a torn meniscus. The knee recovered well, and shouldn’t be an obstacle. In other news, Helms was spotted sponge bathing in the icy Wisconsin Dells when Bud Selig announced the Expos’ plans to excuse themselves from Puerto Rico.
SP Ben Sheets: Now one of baseball’s super-elite starting pitchers, Sheets’ breakout year was quietly subverted by back spasms. Doctors were surprised that he was able to pitch through them. The problem was fixed this winter by a minor procedure. All reports are positive this spring, and while it would be tough to improve on last year’s campaign, who knows what he can do pain-free? He’s thrown a lot of innings (674 over past three years), but he’s handled it well and is mechanically sound. Ridiculous potential.
SP Doug Davis: Brewers players must be prone to sympathy pains. Davis had some back spasms recently in spring training, but those have subsided and are no longer a concern.
SP Chris Capuano: He had several nicks throughout the season, ones that can be traced back to his Tommy John in 2002. Adjusting mechanics often have cascade effects, and in this case it led to some shoulder tenderness similar to what Kris Benson experienced. He’s been good so far, but look out for reports of soreness.
SP Ben Hendrickson
CL Mike Adams
SP Jose Capellan: Another Tommy John patient from a couple years back, Capellan hasn’t suffered any notable physical setbacks since then. His mechanics are somewhat of a concern, so let’s hope the Brewers coaches can help smooth him out, and shift his focus away from the radar gun and towards harnessing his craft. He’s had some control issues early on, so keep an eye on him in coming weeks.
Believe it or not, the Brewers finally seem to be taking form. It’s easy to forget that last year on July 1, they were seven games over .500 and just three-and-a-half games out of first place. With good health and a few breakout seasons, they could challenge for third place in the Central.
This is a young team that’s quickly getting even younger. The whole rotation is under 30. Hardy (22), Rickie Weeks (22) and Prince Fielder (not yet 21) could all be starting a year from now. Such youth doesn’t always bode well for the immediate future or for a team’s injury susceptibility.
As these young players develop, it’s very encouraging that the medical staff led by Caplinger is one of the most progressive in baseball. Plain and simple, when it comes to injury management, this team “gets it.” Pitching coach Mike Maddux has been afforded state-of-the-art facilities, including a high-speed camera system. Only implemented by a couple teams in the majors, the system uses highly sensitive motion detectors to generate a three-dimensional video viewable from several different angles. This footage empowers coaches, trainers and athletes to pinpoint specific mechanical flaws, thus reducing injury risk.
Innovations like these are expected to make vast inroads in the game over the next few years, especially when others start to notice how healthy teams like the Brewers have been. Only the Devil Rays (winners of the 2004 Dick Martin Award for Medical Staff of the Year) lost fewer days to the DL than Milwaukee did.
The total absence of red lights is testament to the hard work and innovation of the Brewers training staff. Last season, only Jenkins was labeled red, so this is quite a feat. Consider the Brewers an early contender for next winter’s Dick Martin trophy.
Dave Haller is an intern and research assistant for Baseball Prospectus. You can e-mail Dave by clicking here.