It took a while, but Hunter Renfroe is starting to gain his bearings with the Brewers

·7 min read
New Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Hunter Renfroe answers questions on the first day of spring training practice at American Family Fields of Phoenix on Sunday, March 13, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona.
New Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Hunter Renfroe answers questions on the first day of spring training practice at American Family Fields of Phoenix on Sunday, March 13, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona.

PHOENIX – The 99-day lockout stemming from Major League Baseball's labor strife negatively impacted players across the board.

Hunter Renfroe especially.

Unexpectedly acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers from the Boston Red Sox 40 minutes before the game shut down, the 30-year-old rightfielder was forced to process the transaction on his own without any communication from his new team.

"Going into it, about 30 minutes before the lockout happened, you get traded to another team and you really hear from no one – it’s kind of tough," the 30-year-old rightfielder said Sunday. Renfroe was sent to Milwaukee in exchange for outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and minor-league infielders Alex Binelas and David Hamilton on Dec. 1, on Sunday.

"You want to reach out, you want to talk to them and see how things are going and what their thoughts are and how much they want to welcome me and that kind of thing. It’s tough. It’s kind of funny, the whole family was, ‘Have you talked to this person? Have you talked to that person?’

"I didn’t talk to anybody. It’s fun and exciting to be a part of a new team, and you don’t get to share it with anybody."

A bright spot in the trade, though, for Renfroe came in the form of Brandon Woodruff.

The two were also teammates and roommates at Mississippi State, so Renfroe quickly reached out to the right-hander to share the news they'd once again don the same uniform.

"I was literally on the phone with Chaim (Bloom, the Red Sox chief baseball officer) about being traded to Milwaukee and as soon as I get off the phone, I call my agent," he said. "And while I’m calling my agent I’m texting Brandon. I sent him an emoji or something and he goes, ‘What’s that mean?’ I said, ‘I’m going to Milwaukee.’ He goes, ‘You’re kidding me.’

"He was probably the third person I called after the fact."

The addition of Renfroe figures to be a win across the board for the Brewers, who now shouldn't skip a beat after losing rightfielder Avisaíl García to Miami in free agency.

Entering his seventh major-league season, the 2013 first-round pick of the San Diego Padres is coming off his best offensive season, one in which he hit .259 with 31 home runs and a career-high 96 runs batted in while posting an OPS of .816 over 144 games.

"I think consistency was the big thing," he said. "I was healthy. That was the biggest thing with San Diego. I would play close to 80 games and then I would have some kind of minor injury that would set me back a little bit. That prevented me from having a great year throughout the year.

"I’ve always put together good halves. Last year I put together a mediocre first half but stayed healthy and was ready able to continue out the second half and finish strong."

Defensively, Renfroe has one of the strongest outfield arms in baseball and set a Boston record and tied for the major-league lead with 16 assists in 2021.

"I love playing defense out there behind the pitchers," he said. "I tell everybody, I’m out there going 100% no matter what. During the game I may jump into the wall, I may fall over the wall, I may kill somebody in the stands, I don’t know.

"I’m out there trying to go all out trying to help the pitcher get out of an inning. We have some very good defenders here. We have (Luis) Urías at third and Willy (Adames) at short and Kolten (Wong) at second base.

"Those guys catching what I throw, it’s going to be incredible."

For all his talent, it's tough to believe Renfroe is with his fourth team in four seasons. Part of the appeal of the deal from Milwaukee's perspective is the team can potentially have him under control for 2023 as well.

"It gets easier, I guess, every year," he said of all the movement. "Being here with Milwaukee, this is one of the teams I was really looking forward to talking to last year when I was a free agent. Didn’t get the opportunity to come here then, and we’re pumped to be here now.

"Looking forward to moving to Milwaukee and get to know the place and get to know the people there. Playing in Milwaukee when I was with San Diego, it was always a sight for sore eyes going there and getting to see the fans interact with the team. It was incredible. One of the better venues I’ve played at with the fans.

"I’m looking forward to being a hometown kid there. It’s going to be fun."

Spring roster takes shape

The Brewers invited four more players to major-league camp, bringing their total to 55. Of those, 19 are non-roster players.

Added Sunday were right-handers Josh Lindblom and Luke Barker, left-hander Ethan Small and infielder Brice Turang.

Right-handers Jason Alexander, Moisés Gómez, Hobie Harris, Trevor Kelley, Luis Perdomo and Connor Sadzeck; left-hander Rex Brothers; catcher Jakson Reetz; infielders Mark Mathias, Andruw Monasterio and Tyler White and outfielders Abraham Almonte, David Dahl, Jonathan Davis and Garrett Whitley round out the non-roster invitees.

Lindblom, 34, is in the final season of the three-year, $9.125 million contract he signed with the Brewers in December of 2019. He made only eight appearances with Milwaukee in 2021, posting a 9.72 ERA before being placed on the injured list with a knee injury.

More: Once frustrated by pitching in the minors, the Brewers’ Josh Lindblom sees it as a blessing: It may have saved his son’s life

The Brewers eventually designated him for assignment and outrighted him to Class AAA Nashville, where he rebounded to post a 5-4 record, 3.10 ERA and WHIP of 1.22 with 117 strikeouts in 104⅔ innings over 22 appearances (20 starts).

"We know we’re going to need pitching length because it looks like Day 1 maybe we’re going to be a start behind, I think," Counsell said, referring to starting pitchers being fully stretched out. "So, I think there’s opportunity in that regard and Josh is like a lot of those guys who have an opportunity."

Others who have major-league experience include Kelley (2019-20 with Boston and Philadelphia); Perdomo (2016-20 with San Diego); Sadzeck (2018-19 with Texas and Seattle); Brothers (2011-21 with Colorado, Atlanta and Chicago Cubs); Mathias (2020 with Milwaukee); White (2016-19 with Houston and Los Angeles Dodgers); Almonte (2013-21 with six teams); Dahl (2016-21 with Colorado and Texas); and Davis (2018-21 with Toronto and New York Yankees).

Brewers complete trade

The Brewers on Sunday sent minor-league catcher David Fry to the Cleveland Guardians to complete the Nov. 22 trade that brought right-hander J.C. Mejía to Milwaukee.

Fry, 26, was a seventh-round pick of the Brewers in 2018 out of Northwestern State and he hit a combined .255 with 12 homers and 46 RBI in 94 games split between Class AAA Nashville and Class AA Biloxi.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Hunter Renfroe is starting to gain his bearings with the Brewers