(Photo: Tyler Emerick)
To date, Spring Training has been pretty dull for the Brewers, save for the game of musical statements after the Braun saga and Tim Dillard's Kurkjian impression . There are no real battles over any kind of starting spot, and no key veterans who have to prove their worth to the club, like Corey Hart in 2010 and what Casey McGehee would be doing if he was still around. That's not a bad thing by any means (remember the biggest news story from last Spring?), but that leaves us without much to talk, tweet, or write about.
However, there are a few position battles, namely the suddenly intruiging race for the last outfield spot, made available by Corey Hart's injury. By all indications, there are two prospects competing for the job: Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl. Both appear to have the skills and track record to not embarass themselves in the majors until Hart comes back, and both have the upside to eventually be something more than the guy who gets a chance when someone else goes down. Today, we're going to look at what kind of skills each player could bring to the table, and how we see things playing out over the next few weeks.
We'll start with Schafer, who, after an injury-related setback in 2010, has seen some offensive improvements vault his status from sleeper to a guy who will have a big-league career. The left-handed swinging Schafer has all the non-hitting skills you'd like in an outfielder, including a modicum of speed and the ability to handle centerfield, but his bat doesn't profile quite as well. Schafer has been hitting the heck out of the ball this Spring, and has shown the ability to hit for some average with a few walks in the past, but doesn't have much power and almost certainly will not hit up to his Cactus League line or his 2011 AAA performance in the majors. This probably adds up to a fourth outfielder in the end, which is the role Schafer would probably be asked to fill if he makes the Opening Day roster.
One of the results of Schafer's hot streak has been the relative lack of attention paid to Caleb Gindl, a near-ready prospect in his own right who was many people's favorite to get playing time in the event of a Braun suspension. Another lefty hitter, Gindl profiles as a future big-leaguer, but has the kind of skill set that has led a lot of people to label him a tweener. Gindl gets the most out of his modest tools, but is doesn't quite have the range to play center everyday, and while he has put up excellent numbers at relatively young ages in all of his minor-league stops, he just doesn't haven't the homerun power to profile as an everyday corner outfielder. Like Schafer, the total package adds up to something less than an average major leaguer.
I don't want to just throw everything out the window and declare Schafer and Gindl equal overall, but how each players' unique skills might fit on the roster is something that is being overlooked among attempts to judge one of the two better in the aggregate. Though Schafer's speed and defense are both great to have in an outfielder, but Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez, and Norichika Aoki can all play defense and run, too. While Gindl won't hit up to Corey Hart levels, I'm starting to wonder if the Brewers would be better off putting offense first to fill out their bench, as they don't really need another speedy center-field type and might be better served with Gindl, whose bat might profile better in a corner, the site of the original vacancy. (Of course, if Schafer continues to hit the way he has, you could also make the argument that Schafer's bat is what the Brewers need.)
If Corey Hart isn't ready by Opening Day (it should be noted that Hart's rehab has been going very well, and him returning in time for the regular season is starting to look more and more possible), which player the Brewers will promote in his absence continues to be a very interesting question. Both players have basically gotten equal playing time this Spring, so it appears they haven't made up their mind up yet and want to get another couple weeks worth of looks. I'm torn as well, as Schafer has been the best hitter in camp to date, but I'm not sure Gindl wouldn't make more sense given the club's current bench construction. Either way, the next couple weeks will probably put things into better perspective: Schafer's current tear could vault him onto the roster, the luck might reverse and Gindl's more consistent may wind up getting the job, or Hart's recovery could continue at a speed that would make it all irrelevant.