It’s that time of year again – baseball season. With Spring Training wrapping up and Opening Day less than a week away, the Brewers have some tough decisions to make in cutting down their roster to 25. While many spots are firmly spoken for, there are some questions remaining. Who will start at second? Will Jesus Aguilar make the roster? What does the starting rotation look like? Well Brewers fans, I have some (hopefully correct) answers for you! Let’s start by looking at the second base battle.
Starting Second Baseman:
The Candidates: Eric Sogard, Jonathan Villar
After a breakout 2016 season, Villar looked to be a future cornerstone for the Brewers. However, a rough 2017 muddied his potential role moving forward, with some fans calling for him to be let go in the offseason. Sogard was the complete opposite. Brought in as a minor league signing at the Triple-A level, he played his way up to the big-league squad by mid-May and was inserted into a platoon starting role for the remainder of the season. Sogard and Villar both offer defensive versatility with being able to play both positions up the middle, although Sogard is likely more highly regarded defensively.
This spring, the race between them to start at second base has been neck-and-neck. Both have been impressive at the plate, with Sogard slashing .286/.395/.571 and Villar keeping pace with a just as impressive .326/.383/.442. What’s even more impressive about Villar is that after striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances last year, he has dropped that number to 19% this spring in 47 plate appearances. While that is a very small sample size, it is an encouraging sign, nonetheless.
Prediction: There will most certainly be a platoon between the two of them, but I get the feeling that Villar will receive the “starting” job heading into the season. He has a much higher ceiling that Sogard, and if Villar can return to his 2016 form it adds an entirely different dimension to this already dangerous Brewers’ lineup.
The Locks: Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin
The Candidates: Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff
Disabled List: Jimmy Nelson, Wade Miley
Anderson, Davies, and Chacin will man the 1-3 spots in the rotation, with all having the potential to post above-average numbers. Anderson looked to be a budding ace down the stretch in 2017, and it will be interesting to see if he can carry over that success. Davies and Chacin both can be inconsistent at times, but are solid 3/4 type pitchers when on top of their game.
After those three it gets really interesting. Wade Miley looked to have a rotation spot locked down after an impressive spring playing on a minor-league deal, but he suffered a groin injury in his final start. The Brewers have retained him, which will allow him to rehab in the minors before joining either the rotation or bullpen, should his rehab performances be successful.
Junior Guerra and Brent Suter are the most likely to fill the final two spots should the Brewers deploy a 5-man rotation. However, some have hinted that the Brewers may start the season with a four-man rotation, which would leave one of them as the odd-man out. If that is the case, I would guess that Guerra would fill the fourth spot, with Suter taking on a swingman role in the bullpen or being sent to Triple-A due to his remaining minor-league options and bullpen candidates’ Yovani Gallardo and Oliver Drake lack thereof. Guerra has been tearing it up in the spring, sporting a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings, as well as dominating in the winter league he participated in. The Brewers also could technically put Suter in the bullpen and use him to “piggyback” Guerra, much like they did with their bullpen down the stretch last season.
While Brandon Woodruff is a top prospect, he struggled to finish the year last year and showed his inexperience this spring, working to a 7.04 ERA in spring training. He will likely start the year in Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Prediction: Guerra as the fourth starter, with Suter headed to the bullpen.
The Locks: Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, Matt Albers, Jeremy Jeffress, Jacob Barnes
The Candidates: J.J. Hoover, Yovani Gallardo, Oliver Drake, Taylor Williams, Brent Suter
Disabled List: Boone Logan
Hader and Jeffress have especially stood out among the locks this spring, as they each achieved perfect ERAs of 0.00. Albers came in just behind them with a 1.17 ERA, and should be a solid mid-reliever on a very affordable deal. Barnes struggled to an unsightly 12.46 ERA in the spring, but the Brewers believe in his potential as a power reliever.
Filling the final three spots is where this gets interesting. Hoover is nearly a lock after spinning eight scoreless outings over the course of the spring. Gallardo is also likely going to make the team, as he provides value as a possible long reliever/spot starter. The interesting part about the final spot is that it could be taken by Suter if the Brewers decide to start with a four-man rotation, meaning both Drake and Williams could not make the team. If one of the two happen to be in San Diego for Opening Day, I would guess it to be Drake because of his effectiveness against left handed hitters (.693 OPS in 2017) and the fact that he is out of minor league options. However, Suter as a natural lefty has fared better against lefties than Drake (.541 OPS) and is a more versatile option.
Williams has stood out with an excellent spring, but the Brewers could decide to develop him a little more in Triple-A, especially given his injury-hampered past. He does provide a lot of upside, and has the potential to be a very high-level reliever in the future. The Brewers could also make a waiver claim on a reliever from another team that is designated for assignment, like they did with Jared Hughes at roster cut-down time last spring.
Logan will be on the shelf for awhile with a reported triceps strain. Once he returns, he will provide an additional left-handed option out of the bullpen to supplement Hader and possibly Suter.
Prediction: Hoover, Gallardo, and Suter win the final three spots.
The Locks: Hernan Perez, Eric Thames, Eric Sogard
The Candidates: Jett Bandy, Jesus Aguilar, Keon Broxton, Nick Franklin
Disabled List: Stephen Vogt
Hernan Perez will reassume his role of super-utility man in 2018, and he has been impressive for a bench player this spring, hitting .288/.327/.408. Thames is listed here because of the likelihood of Braun spending time at first base, but I still expect Thames to start around 50% of the time at the least. Bandy and Aguilar are interesting cases. It is hard to believe the Brewers will keep two primary first basemen on the bench, but they could decide to keep Aguilar for at least the start of the season if they decide to go with a four-man rotation, with Aguilar providing insurance for a potential injury. Aguilar likely would not make it through waivers if he is designated for assignment, and he would need to clear waivers to be sent down because he is out of minor-league options.
Bandy is set to make the team with Vogt being injured, and if all stands as is he certainly will make the team. However, there is the potential that another team waives a catcher while making roster cuts that the Brewers like, and should that happen Bandy could find himself on the waiver wire. He has struggled this spring at the plate, and likely would not have made the team had Vogt been healthy.
Prediction: Bandy and Aguilar fill two spots as the Brewers go with a four-man rotation to start the year.
Final Picks (Opening Day starters in italics):
Catcher (2): Manny Piña, Jett Bandy
First Base (3): Ryan Braun, Eric Thames, Jesus Aguilar
Second Base (2): Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard
Third Base (1): Travis Shaw
Shortstop (1): Orlando Arcia
Outfield (3): Lorenzo Cain, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich.
Utility (1): Hernan Perez
Starting Pitchers (4): Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin, Junior Guerra.
Bullpen (8): Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, Matt Albers, Jeremy Jeffress, Jacob Barnes, JJ Hoover, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo