Amid abundance of highly touted young players, Milwaukee Brewers will also take a look at ‘older’ prospects

Milwaukee Brewers manager Pat Murphy has reason to smile ahead of this upcoming regular season with a roster featuring youth and experience from players like Oliver Dunn and Janson Junk. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Much of the hype surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers this spring has centered around an abundance of young talent permeating the roster.

The Brewers’ system includes Jackson Chourio, an outfielder with a blend of power and speed who is’s No. 2-ranked prospect, right-handed pitcher Jacob Misiorowski, who has shown the ability to touch 100 mph on his fastball, strong-armed catcher Jeferson Quero and infielder Tyler Black, who is also getting reps in the outfield.

It’s no wonder Brewer fans are excited about the club’s youth movement.

However, just because a player is now old enough to rent a car doesn’t mean their development won’t continue or that they can’t contribute to a major league team in a big way.

Brewers manager Pat Murphy is enthusiastic about some late-bloomers in the organization, too, including 26-year-old infielder Oliver Dunn, 28-year-old right-handed pitcher Janson Junk and 28-year-old first baseman Jake Bauers. Any one, or all of the three, of those players could make an impact this season in Milwaukee.

“Why is 27 (years old) the age where you can’t be a prospect, when you’re just learning how to play our game?” Murphy asked. “You know, there’s a lot of guys that acquire the knack of playing the game at a high level by a couple small adjustments when they’re 26 or 27.

“Justin Turner wasn’t always ‘Justin Turner.’”

Murphy is correct. Turner, a two-time All-Star now in Toronto, was a 29-year-old with the Dodgers – his third organization – before he broke out, and won the NLCS MVP when he was 32.

There are plenty of examples of players who didn’t hit their stride until that age or later. Most notably, Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson didn’t become an All-Star until his age 26 season, and Hall of Fame hitter David Ortiz didn’t become a fearsome slugger until his seventh full season at 27 years old.

Even among the Brewers, there is an example. Outfielder Christian Yelich had mixed results as a Miami Marlin and then blossomed into an MVP who fully tapped into his power and speed once he became a Brewer at age 26.

Putting MVP and Hall of Fame expectations upon any player would be unfair, but Dunn and Junk are “older” candidates on the Milwaukee roster who could be primed for a late breakout this season.

Dunn did not find much success in professional baseball until 2023, when he hit .271 with a .902 OPS at Triple-A in the Phillies’ farm system, and then won the Arizona Fall League Breakout Player award by slashing .343/.455/.616. The Brewers were intrigued with what they saw and traded two young prospects for him in the offseason.

“I love his intensity, I love his focus, I love his preparation, I love his swing,” Murphy said, ticking off a laundry list of Dunn’s attributes. “I’ve liked everything about this kid. He rises to the occasion and is always prepared … credit to him.”

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Dunn said having a few more years next to his name makes him a bit wiser and less prone to some of the external pressures many highly touted young prospects regularly face in today’s game.

“I think the adjustment to pro ball took me a lot longer than I thought it would,” he said. “As I got a little older, I started realizing I can only control the things I can control – use my strengths, don’t try to be somebody else, that kind of thing. Understanding what to work on and how to work on it took a lot of maturing over time.”

Dunn is expected to make his big league debut this season, likely at third base with an occasional appearance at second base.

Meanwhile, the Brewers have long been renowned for developing pitchers and they believe that Junk could be another one of their success stories.

After a 7 1/3-inning cameo with the big league squad last year, Junk is ready to make an impact with Milwaukee this season. While many pitchers are working on adding a splitter this spring – the pitch du jour like the sweeper was last spring – Junk is planning to use his less frequently this year and hone in on what he believes are his best pitches.

“This past offseason, I really went back to what makes me good, the four-seam and sinker, then the breaking stuff, curveball and slider,” Junk said. “My fastball, metrically, has always been really good, but adding velocity while keeping those same metrics, and then getting back to my core and hammering that slider and curve.”

To complement these changes, Junk consulted Driveline Baseball to have a better understanding of his biomechanics.

It all started with his back leg. Before, Junk was squatting into the back leg, which made it harder to maintain his center of gravity on the mound and, ultimately, harder to control his pitches. It led to Junk working on his hip rotation, which then led to improved arm action.

“I come into camp and every offseason trying to get better and doing whatever it takes to find areas I can work on,” Junk said. “Consistent dedication and striving to get better. It cleaned up everything in my mechanics.”

Bauers knows the pressures of being labeled a top prospect all too well, having once been ranked as high as 45th by Baseball America. He is now on his seventh major league team and hoping to make it to his fifth major league roster.

“I feel like the longer you play, the more polished you become and a better understanding of who you are as a player,” Bauers said. “You learn how to deal with certain circumstances in a better way than you might have when you were 22.”

The certain circumstances Bauers refers to are being traded and released multiple times and struggling to find consistent playing time. Two things that Bauers said have helped him through those ups and downs are leaning on his family and journaling, which has helped him tune out distractions.

“That’s what this (stuff) is about, being in the present moment,” Murphy said. “That’s how to be successful.”

Bauers’ journaling has taken on another meaning, too, now that he has a newborn daughter, Marlee.

“I actually turned my journaling into writing letters to (my daughter) on a daily basis about whatever I’m going through or thinking about, not even with the intention of ever showing her,” Bauers said. “Being present, being there for her, helping my wife out however I can. Making sure she grows into a happy little girl. It keeps me on track.”

As the number of minor league teams has shrunk over the last few years, smaller market teams such as Milwaukee may have to start relying more on the “older” prospects within their systems.

Luckily for the Brewers, there are plenty of prospects in the organization, old and young, who are ready to make their mark in the big leagues.

David Bernauer DAY-vid BER-now-er (he/his/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

David Bernauer expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Bernauer has previously worked in the Phoenix Sports Bureau and TV Production & Graphics Lab, as well as interning with the Florida Collegiate Summer League. He is a contributing writer with The Sixth Man Show.