As we move closer to the official start of the Major League Baseball season, the Brewers’ 25-man roster has begun to take shape. With positional battles slowly being claimed, there leaves little to the imagination of who will comprise the majority of the roster spots. With a core of Ryan Braun, Jimmy Nelson, and Jonathan Lucroy leading the way for the time being, only a few roster spots remain for the taking. Here is the possible 25-man depth chart that will be assembled to take the field come Opening Day in 2016 – a mere nine days away.
NOTE: The list compiled has sorted the players in descending order, from starter to backups to positional depth in parenthesis (or players who have experience at the given position). Also, on account of a number of unfortunate injuries, players who most likely will start the season on the Disabled List will be listed at the bottom.
Opening Day Roster (25)
Catchers (2): Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado
1st Basemen (1): Chris Carter (Lucroy, Santana, Flores, Maldonado)
2nd Basemen (2): Scooter Gennett, Colin Walsh (Hill, Rivera, Villar)
3rd Basemen (1): Aaron Hill (Walsh, Rivera)
Shortstops (2): Jonathan Villar, Yadiel Rivera
Left Fielders (2): Ryan Braun, Ramon Flores (Santana, Broxton, Walsh, Villar)
Center Fielders (2): Keon Broxton, Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Right Fielders (1): Domingo Santana (Braun, Flores, Walsh)
Starting Pitchers (5): Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Matt Garza, Taylor Jungmann, Chase Anderson
Relievers (6): Michael Blazek, Corey Knebel, Tyler Thornburg, Ariel Pena, Franklin Morales, Chris Capuano
Late-Inning Relievers (1): Jeremy Jeffress
Disabled List: CF Rymer Liriano (orbital fractures), LHP Will Smith (torn right LCL), LHP Sean Nolin (elbow soreness), RHP Zack Jones (shoulder), RHP Yhonathan Barrios (shoulder)
Around the horn, the Brewers seemed to have cemented a chunk of their roster with returning players – going with a familiar catching combination of Lucroy and Martin Maldanado, 2B Scooter Gennett, infielder Yadiel Rivera, and corner outfielders Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana. The remainder of the positions will be held-down by new faces: a duo of former Houston Astros in 1B Chris Carter and SS Jonathan Villar, and 2B-now-turned-3B Aaron Hill. For the most part, the defensive positions are also well-covered by the acquisitions made by rookie General Manager David Stearns. After bringing in OF Ramon Flores, 2B Colin Walsh, and Villar, he added a healthy dose of much-needed versatility to the lineup. If we include recovering OF Rymer Liriano to the list, the Brewers have a film of versatile players to cover the numerous questions for 2016 (i.e. Braun’s back, Scooter’s 2015 inconsistency, Santana’s uncertain production, etc). Overall, Stearns added numerous options to try out at each hole the Brewers were left with at the end of 2015. Of course some of these low-risk options may not pan out for the squad, but there are certainly a good number of players to slot into 1st Base, 3rd base, and Center Field until the farm system starts to churn out highly-anticipated prospects by mid-season (looking at you, Orlando Arcia).
The positional questions that have remained over the past week were over both the starting center field job and 5th outfield position, fought over by leading candidate Rymer Liriano, the red-hot Keon Broxton (.345/.500/.914 AVG-OBP-OPS line with 6 stolen bases in 29 AB’s), and left-handed hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.231/.302/.687 line in 39 AB’s). However, with Liriano expected to start the season on the DL, Broxton and Nieuwenhuis will most-likely be patrolling center field. Although each has issues with striking out (Broxton had a horrendous 27.4 K%, and Niewenhuis had a 34.8% in significantly less PA’s), they will man center field for the time being, with the hotter bat taking most of the playing time.
Similar to the defensive positions, the pitching rotation looks set, with RHP Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and RHP Matt Garza being declared the starters for games 1, 2, and 3 at home against the Giants to begin the regular season. The trio will be backed up by sophomore RHP Taylor Jungmann and RHP Chase Anderson until the myriad of pitching prospects make their arrival at some point in the season (most notably Jorge Lopez, Zach Davies, and Josh Hader)
The most difficult question regarding the formation of the Opening Day roster comes in the back-end of the bullpen. As mentioned in Tom Haudricourt’s article, five names have already been given relief roles: righties Jeremy Jeffress, Cory Knebel, Tyler Thornburg, Michael Blazek, and southpaw Will Smith. Unfortunately, Will Smith suffered a torn LCL in his left knee as early as Friday, so it essentially means that there are three positions left in the bullpen with seven names vying for the spots. Each of them brings something to the table, but have either contractual issues or somewhat worrisome Spring Training numbers compared to others on the list.
|Blaine Boyer||veteran ground-ball pitcher||needs to be added to 40 man by 3/27 or be released, low K-rates|
|Chris Capuano||multiple-inning left-handed arm with solid spring numbers||needs to be added to 40-man by 3/29 or released|
|Tyler Cravy||spot-starter with options left||rough statistical season in 2015|
|David Goforth||controllable and effective arm with options left||downward trend in K/9 and BB/9|
|Zack Jones||high 90’s moving fastball||Rule 5 Draftee (must stay on active roster) with only 1 appearance in ST, lack of control, headed to DL|
|Franklin Morales||experienced left-handed arm with recent ground-ball tendencies||needs to be added to 40-man by 3/28 or released|
|Ariel Pena||young and controllable spot starter||no options remaining|
What makes the equation much more difficult is the inclusion of pitcher Sean Nolin sometime down the road. The 26 year-old southpaw didn’t allow an earned run in 4 outings (5 IP) and posted 5 strikeouts with only one walk in his first stint converting into a ‘relief-first’ pitcher. Although the sample size is incredibly minute, the Brewers got a glimpse into Nolin’s future as a full-time reliever. However, he was shut down earlier this week due to elbow ailments – meaning his pursuit of an Opening Day roster spot (and perhaps a chunk of the season) may be in jeopardy depending upon how he feels in the coming days. If he can climb back from injury, he will either need to be placed on the active roster or have to go through waivers once more. This leaves one of the three roster spots to possibly be a temporary stopgap until Nolin returns from injury.
Even though the issue is complicated due to the contracts, the injuries do alleviate some of the problem for now. Since Liriano and Yhonathan Barrios are expected to hit the 60-day DL, their spots on the 40-man roster will be empty – allowing any of the three pitchers who are not on it (Boyer, Capuano, or Morales) a chance to temporarily be added. On top of that, it was recently found out that Rule-5 selection Zack Jones will start the season on the Disabled List as well, temporarily eliminating yet another choice for the positions. The Brewers could simply option Cravy and Goforth, but would still have the issues regarding Ariel Pena’s lack of options. The best guess for the roster would be to include Pena due to his long relief abilities – something the Brewers may need early on in the season. As for the second and third options, the Brewers will most likely add two of the three veterans.
|Player||K/9||BB/9||K/BB||Ground Ball %|
In the end, the team could quite possibly end up giving both spots to two of the three arms, like a veteran such as Franklin Morales. With an arm such as Morales’ at the back-end of the bullpen, the Brewers would be getting another left-handed option with a ground-ball tendency (49.7 GB% in 2015, lowest of career). His K/BB ratio (2.93) was better than Boyer’s last year (1.74) and Capuano’s in the past two seasons (2.47 and 1.73 in his transition into a relief role). Out of the three, he is the youngest and maintained the lowest walk rate (2.02) amongst the group despite a drop in strikeouts compared to his usual self. If this trend from last year continues, he could prove to be a solid and versatile back-end option since he possesses the ability to be both a situational arm and last multiple innings if need be.
What makes the decision to add two arms much more likely is the fact that reliever Will Smith has suffered that torn LCL, prompting him to either rehab it or opt for surgery. Since Smith will also be put on the Disabled List to recover, it will cement Morales as the only left-handed arm on the roster. It would also allow either Capuano or Boyer to gain a roster spot for Opening Day. If this hopefully-hypothetical situation unfolded, Capuano may be the next in-line due to his higher strikeout rates, ability to go multiple innings, and a strong performance in Spring Training thus far (10.2 IP in 7 games, 1.69 ERA with 8 K’s and 3 BB’s); even if Boyer may be a wiser option due to his lower walk-rates and a higher groundball tendency that could play much better within the hitter-friendly confines of Miller Park.
With most of the roster spots already spoken for, only a few spots remain for the taking in the bullpen. Of course with the Opening Day a mere nine days away, the decisions will be made official within the next few days. All that would be left to do is to cross our fingers on Will Smith and wait for that umpire to yell “Play Ball” on April 4th.