Mailbag: Speed secret to success?

Mailbag: Speed secret to success?

It just dawned on me, but with Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Mike Cameron/Tony Gwynn Jr. manning the outfield for the foreseeable future, the Brewers have really never -- at least in my lifetime -- had this kind of raw speed flying around. What kind of measurable impact can this have on the team ERA, provided everyone can catch what they run down?
-- Mike B., Milwaukee

You might not have noticed until now, but pitching coach Mike Maddux and manager Ned Yost sure have. The key guy is Cameron, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner and three-time runnerup. Yes, he profiles as more of a strikeout guy than the Brewers were looking for, and a lot of fans were not thrilled with that signing, but club officials feel his plusses on defense make up for his minuses on offense.

Here's what Maddux said specifically about Cameron:

"It's a dynamic that we have not had," Maddux said. "I think, in time, because he's a such a great athlete, Billy Hall could have been a great center fielder. But in our time, we've had guys who gave it all they had, and you pat them on the back for that, but we haven't had that guy, that Gold Glove guy who turns doubles into outs."

And Yost:

"We're going to get to the point where a really, really nice play becomes routine," Yost said. "I think I'll get back to the feeling in Atlanta of what it was like to watch Andruw Jones all those years."

I was thinking about this last week. I have covered the team since 2001, so I have seen Devon White, Alex Sanchez, Scott Podsednik, Brady Clark and then Hall get the majority of starts in center. White was a pretty pure defender, but when he played with Milwaukee he was at the end of his career. Sanchez and Podsednik had speed, but were never accused of being top-flight defensive outfielders. Clark got the most of his natural ability, but played way deeper than Cameron will be able to. Hall worked hard on the transition, but needed more time to smooth out.

So, yes, it has been quite a while since the Brewers have had a center fielder the caliber of Cameron.

With the number of catchers the Brewers have right now, why is Jason Kendall guaranteed the starting spot? From what I understand, all he can really do is call games and show up for most of them. He has decent defense, but can't throw anyone out. Why aren't the Brewers staging an open competition for the starting catcher spot?
-- Quinn L., West Bend, Wis.

If he shows up and calls games, Kendall could still help this team win. I have talked to a lot of players, writers and club officials around the Cactus League about Kendall, and I have yet to find anybody who says he is a negative or that he can't play any more. The Brewers are not looking for Joe Mauer back there; they are looking for someone to squeeze the most out of the talent on the pitching staff.

As for staging an open competition, what would you base that on? Spring Training statistics? Kendall has by far the longest track record of the catchers in camp, and Yost sees him as by far the best starting option this season.

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Will the Brewers do anything to please Prince Fielder so that he may renew his contract at the end of his present one?
-- Mitchell M., Eau Claire, Wis.

Fielder is past the point of renewals now. He will be eligible for salary arbitration after this season, meaning he and agent Scott Boras will have significantly more leverage to argue for the deal he wants.

What can they do to make him happy? There's nothing like winning to make bad feelings fade away.

Who is going to be the backup at first base this year? Can Craig Counsell play first besides the other three infield positions, or will this question help determine who the remaining infield bench player will be?
-- Glenn S., Brookfield, Wis.

I would guess that whomever wins the backup catcher job will be the primary backup at first base. Eric Munson, Mike Rivera and Vinny Rottino all have experience at first and have played or will play there this spring. Yost said last week that it wouldn't bother him to have his only backup catcher in the starting lineup at first because he could always shuffle things should Kendall get hurt in a game.

A check of Counsell's stats shows he has appeared at first base four times. Joe Dillon is also still vying for a roster spot and has experience at first.

I know it's a year away, but in 2009, I envision Hart moving to center field to make room for Matt LaPorta (if he succeeds this season) in right. I see the Brewers trading Hall and moving J.J. Hardy to third base to clear shortstop for Alcides Escobar. What do you think?
-- Andrew S., North Freedom, Wis.

Possible, but it's way too early to predict that stuff. Let's see Escobar play in some more Spring Training games before we start talking about moving Hardy around.

The LaPorta idea is interesting. Scouts rave about the strides Hart has made defensively, and he sure has the speed to play center field. But again, let's give LaPorta an opportunity to play a full Minor League season before we start talking about bringing him up to the big leagues.

Why is Ryan Braun getting hit so often this Spring Training. Are pitchers taking offense to his swagger and confidence?
-- Jim L., Milwaukee

I think they're probably just pitching him inside. The Brewers are playing the Rangers, Royals and A's, and I cannot imagine why those teams would have a problem with Braun's swagger.

What time will the "Brewers on Deck" be happening before the March 29 game?
-- Brandon G., Franklin, Wis.

The full details are available within this news release.

I will be back on Tuesday after my mid-spring break. Keep the questions coming.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.