What I Expect: Ryan Braun
Now that Spring Training games have started and Opening Day is just over a month away, it's time to start preparing for 2009.
Spring is always filled with hope and the Brewers have as much reason to be filled with hope as any team in baseball. With my "What I Expect" series, I will take a look at the Brewers roster and what I hope to get from each player in the upcoming season.
In less than two years, Ryan Braun has gone from a much-hyped prospect to the face of the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007 with a third place finish in the MVP voting last season.
As great as Braun already his, he still has plenty of room to improve—to become a truly great player.
Although he made zero errors last season, Braun is hardly a Gold Glove fielder. He has a chance to be a good defender, and with enough improvement this season, he may be able to move to center field next season and replace Mike Cameron.
Although Braun won the Silver Slugger award last season, his numbers weren't nearly as impressive as his rookie campaign. Braun's batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage all saw significant declines in 2008.
Although he finished with more hits, runs, home runs, and runs batted in, he saw action in 38 more games in 2008 compared to 2007.
Two factors contributed greatly to the downturn in Braun's numbers: lack of plate discipline and a rib injury that bothered him for over six weeks.
Braun has stated several times this spring that he has spent significant time watching tape and working on his patience at the plate. If he does that, he will become an elite player.
Braun's best trait may be his confidence in his own abilities and his wanting to be involved in the big moment. That was never more evident as in the final week of the season for the Brewers last year. Braun hit the two biggest home runs of his career in the final four games last season.
First, Braun hit a game-ending grand slam in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Pirates that kept the Brewers tied in the Wild Card race.
His second home run came against the Cubs on the final day of the season.
Tied with the Cubs in the bottom of the eighth, Braun swung his way into Brewers history by launching a Bobby Howry pitch into the Brewers bullpen and, at the time, assuring at least a play-in game for a playoff birth.
Braun has a chance to really announce himself to the world as a premiere player this spring. He will be the starting left fielder for Team U.S.A. in the World Baseball Classic. With the roster being short on outfielders, Braun will have every opportunity to be a major contributor to the team.
I look for Braun to have a very good WBC and carry that momentum over to the Brewers once the regular season starts. I fully expect Braun to build off of his last two seasons and finish in the top five for the MVP award again.
Look for Braun to improve in all offensive categories and cut down on his strikeouts. This will be the year that Ryan Braun becomes what he has always thought he would be: one of the very best players in baseball.
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