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Why Brewers’ Catchers Playing in WBC Will Set Milwaukee Back

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COMMENTARY | It's an honor for the Milwaukee Brewers to have so many players selected by various countries to play in the World Baseball Classic. Fourteen in all will be suiting up for eight different countries beginning on March 2, 11 of which are members of the Brewers' 40-man roster.

This shows the strength of Milwaukee's organization as a whole, and while Brewer fans will enjoy seeing some of their favorites partake in the triennial tournament, there is definitely some risk involved allowing some of your best players to play in the WBC. Surprisingly enough, the biggest concern isn't Ryan Braun playing for Team United States, or even the team's top two starting pitchers -- Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada -- suiting up for Team Mexico.

No. What the Brewers are most concerned about is the fact that their only two catchers on the 40-man roster -- Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado -- are both playing in the WBC.

At first glance, it may not appear that this is all that glaring of an issue. Certainly, the Brewers have their fair share of catchers within the minor league system that can be called upon to fill the void during their absence. In fact, five of the non-roster invitees to spring training happen to be catchers.

Obviously, they aren't there to battle for a 25-man roster spot. Perhaps earning their way onto the 40-man roster isn't out of the question, but the main objective of these five young men is to fill in for Lucroy and Maldonado while they play in the WBC, however long that may be.

The only problem is that the Brewers need those two players during spring training this year more than ever.

Milwaukee will have four pitchers with less than a year of MLB service competing for a spot in the starting rotation, not to mention several new faces joining the bullpen after the overhaul completed by the front office this winter. Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and Mike Fiers are all sure to be in the mix for a starting spot, while Tyler Thornburg could end up being a starter or reliever on the big league club.

Meanwhile, the bullpen of last year is no more, with only John Axford and Jim Henderson retaining their roles. Players who were brought over via trade, signed as free agents or minor leaguers last season who have a good chance of making the team include Burke Badenhop, Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzellany, Brandon Kintzler and Johnny Hellweg just to name a few.

Ideally, the Brewers would like these pitchers to be throwing to the same catcher in spring training that they would be throwing to during the regular season, and it could be up to March 19 -- the day the WBC ends -- that Milwaukee is without Lucroy and Maldonado.

It shouldn't affect the two Brewer catchers as much as the pitchers, but Lucroy and Maldonado's preparation will probably be affected in some way as a result of playing in the Classic. They will still experience live action, but in a much more competitive venue, which could lead them to press more at the plate. The WBC figures to have a tenser playing environment than that of exhibition play during spring training.

Both are locked in to the opening day roster, so it just comes down to how prepared they are for playing in the WBC and eventually, the regular season. But for pitchers who are unsure of their fate heading into spring training, especially Peralta, Fiers, Rogers and Thornburg, it will have an effect.

If there was more certainty surrounding the Brewers' starting rotation and pitching staff in general, like in the past two years, then the absence of the club's top two catchers wouldn't be much of a factor. But catchers are important to young, inexperienced pitchers when it comes to knowing their tendencies, keeping them on track and knowing when to call a certain pitch.

No disrespect to these catchers, but Dayton Buller, Blake Lalli, Anderson De La Rosa, Adam Weisenburger and Rafael Neda won't be able to simulate what it's like to have trusted signal callers like Lucroy and Maldonado behind the plate.

That comfort level will be lacking for newcomers and fringe-roster players alike for a length of time that depends on how long the United States and Puerto Rico last in the tournament.

On the flip side, another pitcher who will be competing for an opening day roster spot, Hiram Burgos, will be playing alongside Maldonado for Team Puerto Rico. That time with Maldonado may benefit Burgos when making the adjustment to spring training, while his absence could also have an impact on where he fits into the Brewers' plans this season.

Could the World Baseball Classic set the Brewers back as a team? Possibly, but it will set back their young and incoming pitchers from a comfort and familiarity standpoint. Milwaukee can only hope the transition back to spring training goes smoothly for its participating players and that injury is avoided.

And that one of its young pitchers doesn't miss out on making the team because of the World Baseball Classic.

Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.

You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.

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