Outfield platoon a big issue at camp
Yost mulling over Jenkins, Mench splitting time in left field
PHOENIX -- The Brewers' Spring Training camp is traditionally a quiet, laid-back place. No media hordes. Only a trickle of fans at most workouts. Everyone promising, "This is the year we turn it around."
The beginning of this year, then, qualified as a bona fide dustup. Now the question is whether the team's biggest Spring Training story turns into something even bigger once the regular season begins.
Outfielders Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench, both looking to rebound from subpar years, made it abundantly clear during the first days in camp that neither is interested in the idea of a platoon. Yet that is precisely what manager Ned Yost is leaning toward, using the left-handed-hitting Jenkins and the right-handed Mench in left field.
Mench said he would "pitch a fit" if that was the plan. Jenkins said if the team is not planning to play him every day, then "I gotta go."
"Will it be a problem?" general manager Doug Melvin said. "I don't know. I think Ned has handled it with the individuals, and with the team. There is always going to be a time when players want to play more.
"That's a good problem to have, if you ask me."
The fans pitched their own fit when they heard the players' comments, and Yost spoke individually with Jenkins and Mench, then addressed the team.
The skipper, for his part, has talked just as tough.
"I'll bet you it will not be a problem," Yost told reporters. "If you want to be a part of this thing, fine. If you don't, that's fine by me, too. But you know what? We're here to win ballgames. To be really honest, there's more than one person that can throw a fit."
This is a rare problem for the Brewers, who have had competitions for roster spots in recent seasons but never between players with track records as long as Jenkins' or Mench's. Players like Jared Fernandez, Tommy Phelps and Chris Magruder have made the Opening Day cut in recent seasons, but did not contribute much to those teams. This year, Yost argued, the team's depth means that everyone will have to play.
"We have a quality bench, quality players, and everybody is going to have to play to stay sharp," Yost said. "It's not like before, when we filled in with guys who were Triple-A players or journeyman, 'four-A-type' players. ...
"I understand they've been everyday players," Yost said. "Here's the problem: If you want to get good, you've got to increase your depth, and you've got to have quality depth. For years and years, everybody said, 'I want to be on a champion. I want to play on a great team.' Then you finally get the players and, all of a sudden, they don't want to do it.
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"That's where my job comes in. These six weeks are to mold these 25 guys into one team. If you don't want to be a part of the team because you've got other aspirations or other ideas of what you want to do, that's fine."
If they all stay happy, the Brewers' 2007 outfield could be a formidable unit. Last year's club MVP and home run, RBI and runs leader Bill Hall moved to center field, and the team plans to leave him there for the foreseeable future. Young Corey Hart, who has played for years behind other, higher-profile Brewers prospects, figures to see most of the action in right field.
That leaves left field and two backup spots for a number of contenders, among them Jenkins, Mench, Brady Clark, Gabe Gross, Laynce Nix and, possibly Tony Gwynn Jr., who more likely will start the year in Triple-A.
Opinions vary about whether platoons can be successful. Melvin points often to the third base platoon between Garth Iorg and Rance Mulliniks in Toronto in the 1980s as one that worked. Jenkins and right-handed hitter Alex Ochoa shared time in the Brewers' outfield early in Jenkins' career.
But Jenkins and Mench argued earlier in camp that players aren't built to share playing time. Tough, several club officials and coaches said.
"Look, no prideful player in their right mind is going to want to give up playing time," said Jim Skaalen, the team's new hitting coach. "I would have been shocked to have heard anything other than what they said, because they are both good Major League players who have had success over the years. But the bottom line is going to be what [Yost] wants to do."
Added Ed Sedar, the new first-base coach and outfield instructor: "If they're not saying those things, you have a problem. Ned is going to handle this, and you tell the players, 'If you don't want to platoon then stay hot and be consistent. It's just a different mindset, and they have to stay sharp and get their work in to do it."
Jenkins and Mench have stayed quiet since their initial remarks. Jenkins got off to a fast start in Cactus League games, going 5-for-8 in the first two days, including a pair of singles against left-handed pitchers.
"Aww, let's start a huge controversy," Yost mocked when asked about those at-bats.
Jenkins himself is trying to stay upbeat. He is the longest-tenured player on the team, and he ranks in the all-time franchise top 10 in nearly every offensive category, notably slugging percentage (second, .499) home runs (fourth, 191), doubles (fourth, 263), runs scored (fifth. 616) and games played (eighth, 1,102).
"For the majority of my career, it's been a lot of positive stuff," Jenkins said. "There are times in your career when the negatives come out, and every time you take the field you have a chance to change that."
Will he be able to turn around those negatives? Even Melvin admitted that the Brewers aren't exactly sure what they've got.
"Sometimes there are full-time players who can't adjust to that [part-time] role," he said. "I don't think Ned knows exactly how we're going to do it. It's Ned's call, but I keep going back to the fact that it's a mindset. This is what we think is going to be best for the team."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.