Sunday was “moving day” for many younger Brewers campers, with nine players total sent out of big league spring training and assigned to one of the minor league squads. While none of these moves can really be considered a true surprise, it does still crystallize some of the remaining camp battles for opening day roster spots.
It’s all but certain that the Brewers will open the season with Jonathan Lucroy, George Kottaras, Mat Gamel, Rickie Weeks, Alex Gonzalez, Aramis Ramirez on the roster. There was an outside shot that either Martin Maldonando or Mike Rivera could have unseated Kottaras with an outstanding spring, but that hasn’t come close to happening. With the demotions of Eric Farris and Jeff Bianchi, it looks like the more defensive middle infield backup slot is Ceasar Iztruris‘ for the taking, though he has hardly impressed himself. It would not be a surprise to see General Manager Doug Melvin make a late camp trade to try and upgrade this spot if the right player becomes available at the right price. That leaves one more probable infield spot, and the main contenders for that position are 3B/2B Taylor Green and Brooks Conrad. While neither is setting the world on fire, Green does have a better line at this point by a bit. Still, Conrad has few important things working in his favor for at least opening the year with the Brewers. Though a switch hitter, he’s much better as a right-handed batter facing lefties. The Brewers don’t really have a good right handed bat option off the bench at this point and Green bats lefty. Green is also still young enough that the team may want to give him regular at-bats in the minors for a while to keep his confidence up and to continue developing as a hitter. For those reasons, the smart money is probably on Conrad for the 6th spot.
Ryan Braun, Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez are locks. Though he’s having a rough spring, given what the Brewers spent on Norichika Aoki, he also seems pretty much a lock to at least be on the roster. That just leaves the Corey Hart question. Recent reports indicate that he’s coming along nicely after early camp knee surgery, but the team doesn’t appear too anxious to rush him back after last year’s slow start. If Hart can’t go, that would open up another outfield spot to open the year. The two leading contenders for that slot are minor leaguers Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer. Schafer has impressed with a very hot spring this year, showing solid pop and good defense in center field when given the chance. Gindl has been more solid than spectacular, but he has a long track record of hitting at just about every level he’s been at in his career. The team could also choose to go with Travis Ishikawa in Hart’s roster spot. He’s not really an outfielder, but has played there some in spring games and the team is pretty well covered defensively with three legitimate center fielders likely to break camp. He’s performed well enough to get some attention, though his major league track record is long and undistinguished enough that the term “limited upside” certainly applies. Whoever does open in Hart’s place, should it be necessary, doesn’t figure to be around too long anyway.
We know that Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson will be in the rotation, barring injury. With the demotions on Sunday of Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers, the “likely” became almost a certainty: if Shaun Marcum cannot go to open the season, the Brewers are going to give Marco Estrada his starts until he is ready. Estrada was very solid in his seven 2011 starts and he’s done nothing this spring to suggest that he’s anything other than ready to give it another shot this year. If Marcum is healthy and able, Estrada will slide into the “long man” role in the bullpen, at least until needed to spot start for someone else.
John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Kameron Loe all figure be in the bullpen on opening day. That leaves either two or three spots up for grabs, depending on whether or not Marcum opens on the disabled list and Estrada is pressed into starting duty. The Brewers haven’t stuck with Manny Parra so long and granted him a 1.2 million dollar contract for 2012 without every intention of giving him a long look this year. He did enough in a relievers role in 2010 to give hope of a breakout sometime if kept in the pen, and his spring numbers are solid enough that he seems a virtual lock as well. Coming into camp, it seemed likely that the Brewers would give mercurial lefty Zack Braddock first crack at the last bullpen slot. Given his continued struggles with walks and personal issues this spring, and the fact that he still has an option year remaining, that that seems much less likely now. That leaves sidearming righty Tim Dillard and Mike McClendon as the most likely options. Dillard has struggled a bit with the gopher ball this spring, while McClendon has considerably better numbers. Of course these are just spring numbers and they may not even mean much of anything to the team’s brain trust when making the decision. Beyond them, there are a few potential wild cards in the mix. Brandon Kintzler has continued to battle elbow issues this spring, but as our own JP Breen reported yesterday, he is on the mend and should start throwing soon. Lefty Juan Perez was opening eyes in camp before a collapsed lung sidelined him, making his long shot bid even less likely. There is also the possibility, though probably a remote one, that the Brewers could keep big time prospect Tyler Thornburg up in a relief role. They have said they want to continue developing him as a starter, but sometimes players change the minds of management. With Dillard out of options for 2012, he figures to be a good bet to join as the last man. If Marcum can’t go, that would seem to open the door, at least temporarily, for McClendon.