While the Brewers’ centerfield job remains wide open, manager Craig Counsell recently provided some clarity at the corners of the field. While there was little question that Chris Carter would start at 1B, there was some question about potential outfield moves (between Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun) and the 3B spot.
Counsell noted that veteran Aaron Hill will have the inside shot at starting 3B, and the manager also moved Braun to LF (so Santana starts in RF). With this set of moves, the Brewers’ batting order becomes much clearer, even with the wide open centerfield job. In fact, it is really the only open spot for the roster, save for perhaps the last spots of the bullpen (but even that race is clearer, now that LHP Sean Nolin is in the picture).
One way to frame the centerfield race is to construct a batting order with the positions. Given the set bats at the moment, as well as the profiles for the CF candidates, it is quite likely that the front office could seek their lead-off bat from the CF race:
|CF||???||OBP / speed / defense|
|SS||Jonathan Villar||Moderate contact-discipline / power / speed profile / “true” SS|
|C||Jonathan Lucroy||contact-discipline / gap power profile / will defensive decline continue?|
|LF||Ryan Braun||contact-power profile / best defensive position is LF|
|RF||Domingo Santana||extreme-discipline / power potential / “true” defensive RF potential|
|1B||Chris Carter||extreme-discipline / power profile / “true” bat-first 1B|
|2B||Scooter Gennett / Colin Walsh||contact-discipline traits enhanced in platoon|
|3B||Aaron Hill||move away from 2B makes recovering offensive potential more crucial|
Despite their major scouting differences, from Michael Reed to Eric Young, Jr. to Keon Broxton and even Rymer Liriano, the players involved in the CF race could thrive leading off the Brewers order. These players could largely enhance the roster with speed profiles (even moderate speed) not widely present elsewhere in the order. Given that Counsell and GM David Stearns are looking to win games with improved defense, one might look to the defensive traits to whittle down contenders for the role (in this case, for example, will a loud-tools defensive whiz like Broxton win out over Liriano? Or will the Brewers sacrifice defense with someone like Ramon Flores or Liriano, in order to save their roster spot?).
By contrast, given that Reed and Broxton have options, the easiest solution is to stack Liriano, Flores, and Nieuwenhuis in the outfield. Each of those players could play across the outfield in a pinch, and each could play CF (although Nieuwenhuis would probably be the strongest “true” centerfield candidate among this group). An outfield of Braun-Nieuwenhuis-Santana-Liriano-Flores would likely give Milwaukee a chance to keep the optionless players as long as possible, even if the lack of starting space for those players is less than ideal.