This article is part of a series looking at expectations for the Brewers position units in the 2023 season. Additional coverage is available on starting pitching, bullpen arms, and infielders.
Ghosts of Outfielders Past
The Brewers have featured a mostly stable slate of outfielders in the past few seasons, primarily comprised of Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun. However, after the retirement of Braun in 2020 and the DFA of Cain after accruing 10 years of service time in 2022, those everyday outfield spots were left vacated. Braun’s spot was initially filled by Avisaíl Garcia before his departure from the club in 2022. While Garcia was then replaced by Hunter Renfroe, perhaps the best player for the Brewers in 2022, his trade to the Los Angeles Angels in this past offseason once again left the right field job open.
Let’s take a look at what to expect from the Brewers outfield unit in 2023.
LF: Christian Yelich, The Mainstay
It is no secret that Yelich’s middling offensive production the past few years has been a disappointment from the MVP seasons he posted in 2018 and 2019. This run of lackluster seasons follows the tragic kneecap injury in September 2019. His past three seasons have slowly worked towards improving his offensive numbers, but the 2020-2022 slash lines have been a far cry from those of his MVP years.
There is room for hope that 2023 will finally be the year that Yelich breaks through to form. In 2022, Yelich’s power started to return on successful hits and getting more hits off of elevated balls. In past seasons, many of these hard hit balls went right to a fielder’s glove and never found a gap. Yelich rated in the 90th percentile of hard hit rate in 2022, but still many of these balls were on the infield ground and hit right into the shift.
The banning of the shift in the 2023 season and beyond, in combination with a return to elevating the ball more, could get Yelich right back to his old ways. Once Yelich starts getting rewarded with some hits, it could get his confidence back up at the plate, leading to more hits, and so on. It will all depend on his plate vision, after logging a K% in the 10th, 32nd, and 30th in league percentiles over the past three seasons. Compare this to 50th and 57th percentiles in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and this dramatic dip highlights the struggles Yelich has had at the plate, but equal reason why he can finally rebound in 2023.
CF: Garrett Mitchell, The Kid
2022 featured a lot of playing time for Tyrone Taylor in CF who played well defensively but produced mixed results offensively. This prompted then-prospect Garrett Mitchell to be promoted late in the season. He brought much needed energy and offensive production to the team. His offensive production and speed has Mitchell poised as the 2023 everyday CF (and as a serious NL ROY candidate).
Mitchell is a contact hitter with elite speed, stretching singles into doubles and a menace for stealing bases. This spring however, Mitchell showed off added power this spring, hitting four HRs so far, doubling the amount he hit in his time after getting called up to end the season in 2022.
Mitchell did sustain a mild hamstring injury earlier in spring training, but made his return on Monday, March 20th and has returned to normal playing time with no signs of the injury hampering him. Mitchell is the first of many young outfield prospects to make the big league club and his speed and contact are much needed on a team that has slumbered in recent years offensively. Mitchell’s arrival seems to be the beginning of a turning point for the franchise, one that hopefully they can find a way to retain their young talent long-term.
RF: The Next Generation
With the aforementioned injury to Tyrone Taylor, the starting duties for RF which were slated to be his are now open for a new face. There were three primary candidates early in spring: offseason signing Tyler Naquin, 2020 4th-round draft pick Joey Wiemer, 2021 1st-round draft pick Sal Frelick.
Tyler Naquin Won’t Make the Roster
On Friday, news broke from the organization making more determinations of who won’t be on the main roster come opening day. Alongside Keston Hiura, Tyler Naquin was informed that he would also not be making the team, narrowing the options down to Wiemer and Frelick.
GM Matt Arnold said that Keston Hiura (out of minor league options) and Tyler Naquin (non-roster) have been informed they will not make the team. He said it’s possible both players remain in the organization.
— Sophia Minnaert (@SophiaMinnaert) March 24, 2023
Joey Wiemer, the Cannon Arm
Wiemer has long been lauded for his defensive assets, particularly his throwing arm. Traditionally, RF is reserved for the outfielder with the best throwing arm as that position is responsible for making the longest throws. Wiemer also has a powerful swing, but can be prone to streakiness. He struggled in AA last season, but recovered in AAA to finish the season on a positive note. Wiemer projects perfectly for RF once he gets the opportunity, which Brewers manager Craig Counsell didn’t rule out for this year.
Joey Wiemer is in the lineup again. He’s a candidate for the opening day roster, Counsell said today.
“He’s playing because he has a chance to be here…Obviously, he’s close. We have uncertainty in the outfield right now and that’s created some opportunities for guys.” https://t.co/daDfksiFZq
— Curt Hogg (@CyrtHogg) March 18, 2023
Sal Frelick, the Hitting Machine
Frelick recently rejoined the club after a remarkable campaign in the World Baseball Classic with Team Italy, where Frelick put together a .304/.333/.435 slash line against some of the top talent in baseball. He did all that while striking out twice (both in the final game for Team Italy vs. eventual champions Shohei Ohtani and Team Japan). Frelick has elite speed as a contact hitter and has added positional versatility having played across all three outfield positions and second base between college and the minors.
Bravo, Signore Sal Frelick!
The @Brewers’ No. 2 prospect (MLB No. 30) put together a 3-hit game to help send Italy to the #WorldBaseballClassic quarterfinals in Tokyo. pic.twitter.com/PTU0AWtfxO
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 12, 2023
Wiemer may very well get the nod over Frelick to start the season simply on merit of being a year ahead of Frelick in development. Regardless of the initial choice, it is likely both Wiemer and Frelick will see playing time with the big league roster throughout the season as needed. The amount of which will likely depend on how long Tyrone Taylor is out with his injury, how whoever is called up performs while filling in for Taylor, and how well Taylor plays when he comes back.
Once again additional coverage on 2023 Milwaukee Brewer positional units can be found below:
- Starting Pitchers
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