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Mehring in AZ: Taking shape
Day one of 2014 Spring Training
03/22/2014 1:39 AM ET
Matt Erickson has had a full dugout this spring in Arizona.

That seems like a lot of guys.

That was my first thought as I walked to the field that was hosting the squad of potential Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at the Maryvale Baseball Complex.

Matt Erickson, the manager of the Rattlers, confirmed my suspicion when I caught up with him later in the day.

"This is - by far - the biggest camp that I have been a part of in the last six years," Erickson said. "Our group is the biggest group of the two A ball teams and then, AAA and AA."

Some of those tough decisions were already made. The Brewers announced the release of several players, including many former Rattlers, just before my arrival.

"We had to make some tough decisions yesterday as far as release some folks," Erickson continued. "And there are still some tough decisions to be made here next week."

As you can see, the final roster for the Timber Rattlers is far from finalized. But, based on the talent he has worked with so far in camp, Erickson has a handle on what type of team the 2014 Rattlers will be.

"There are some tools out there that you can definitely see. There are some guys that are a little bit older, solid baseball players."

I didn't even have to ask for an example. Without prompting, the name Michael Ratterree is mentioned.

"Ratterree comes to mind," said Erickson. "He's a guy that was a Pioneer League MVP, a college guy. He's cerebral with physical tools. He knows the game. He understands where to go with the baseball defensively and he knows the strike zone and he's physically gifted enough to drive the baseball when it's in the zone."

In our discussions before - and since - he left for Arizona, Erickson thought that he would have a fast team without a lot of power. That first impression has held form.

"We play in some big parks in the spring," Erickson explained. "We haven't had a lot of days where we've come out and banged the ball all over the park and scored a lot of runs. But we have had some days where we've got on base and created a lot of problems with our speed for the defense."

The speed is being provided by Johnny Davis, a 22nd round pick out of West Los Angeles College. Davis is on the other end of the spectrum from Ratterree because he did not play baseball in high school. But, the speed almost leaves Erickson breathless.

"Johnny Davis, who is our centerfielder, is a big time project. He's been a lot of fun to work with because he is - no doubt - the fastest person that I have seen in a Brewers uniform since I've been here. If everything goes right, he's going to learn in Wisconsin. He has learned - just in a short time - this spring training and he was part of our early camp and our coaches have done a great job with him trying to get consistent with his bunting and his small ball approach."

"If he can find a way to understand the strike zone and use the bunt and get on base, he absolutely just creates havoc on the base paths."

Erickson continued his trip around the outfield with a few words about Omar Garcia, Milwaukee's 7th round pick in the 2013 draft.

"[Garcia] has more baseball feel," said Erickson. "He'll also get some time in Wisconsin. If he doesn't break camp with us, then [he'll be with us] at some point."

Very few names came up as conversation turned to the infield.

"That's where the question marks really are. I thought we were set a few days ago," said Erickson. "I thought we were set a few days ago, but we had a meeting the other day and there are some more ideas. I can't even tell you names right now other than I think our shortstop position might be solidified in [Angel] Ortega."

Tell me more, Matt.

"He's a young Latin infielder. Wisconsin fans have come to know that in the last few years the shortstop position in Appleton has been played pretty solid [Yadiel Rivera in 2012 and Orlando Arcia in 2013] and we've got another coming in Mr. Ortega. He has really nice feet and hands. He understands the game. The game is not real fast for him on the defensive side. He's a guy that's learning to get better at bats."

Dustin Houle and Clint Coulter appear to be the front-runners for the catching spots on the roster.

Erickson's staff will include pitching coach Elvin Nina and hitting coach Chuckie Caufield. Both coaches were on the staff at Helena, Milwaukee's Pioneer League affiliate. Their familiarity with the players who played there last year and are trying for the Wisconsin roster this year is appreciated.

There is still over a week of games and workouts and decisions to be made, but the 2014 Timber Rattlers are taking shape.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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