Brewers looking at 7 spots to finalize roster

Counsell has decisions to make in the infield, outfield and bullpen

Brewers looking at 7 spots to finalize roster

PHOENIX -- As of Wednesday, the Brewers had one week remaining on their Arizona leg of Spring Training and a slew of roster questions left to answer. Informally, 18 roster spots appeared spoken for, leaving seven up for grabs -- three in the outfield and two apiece in the infield and in the bullpen.

"The team will not be decided until it has to be decided, and 'outside the organization' is always a possibility," said manager Craig Counsell, meaning the Brewers were keeping an eye on players made available by other clubs as camps wind down. "We've seen it with Nyjer Morgan one year, late additions to the team. At some point, the team is set, but I won't be able to say it's set definitively when we leave here on Wednesday."

With that in mind -- plus the caveat that injuries can change things in an instant -- here's a look at where things stood as the Brewers entered the Spring Training home stretch:

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Center field
The Brewers' most wide-open position battle remained so as of Wednesday. The Brewers plan to start Ryan Braun in left field and Domingo Santana in right, but Counsell couldn't name a frontrunner for center field, saying he was still looking at all of the competitors left active in camp.

They are Keon Broxton, Ramon Flores and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who are on the 40-man roster -- Flores and Nieuwenhuis are out of options -- plus Shane Peterson, Alex Presley and Eric Young Jr., who are non-roster invitees.

Young on Young Jr. with Brewers

Asked whether any of those players had separated from the field, Counsell said, "I wouldn't say 'separated.' We're still looking at all these guys. We're going to have to make decisions. At different times, guys have played well. At different times, you've seen Broxton play really well. Alex Presley has played well a good portion of this camp. They all bring things to the table.

"We're going to take it as far as we can until we decide on that one. This is probably going to be a decision we take into the season, too. It's going to be 'this is our roster.' Who our center fielder is, is not going to be a guy, it's going to be guys."

Counsell has declared the players expected to see the bulk of playing time: first baseman Chris Carter, second baseman Scooter Gennett, third baseman Aaron Hill and shortstop Jonathan Villar. But at least two backup spots are up for grabs for a field led by camp standout Yadiel Rivera and Rule 5 pick Colin Walsh. Rivera is a slick-fielding shortstop who could back up Villar and also is proficient at second base and third. Walsh, a switch-hitting on-base machine, can play second and third base, and could be a solid platoon partner for Gennett if he can carry his .405 Cactus League OBP into the regular season.

Carter on joining Brewers

But those are not the only two players going for those spots. Also active as of Wednesday were non-roster invitees Will Middlebrooks, a third baseman who could back up Carter at first, and utility men Jake Elmore and Hernan Perez.

The starting rotation is set with Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Matt Garza, Taylor Jungmann and Chase Anderson. And five bullpen spots are spoken for by co-closers Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, plus Corey Knebel, Michael Blazek and Tyler Thornburg. Assuming they open the season with a 12-man pitching staff, that leaves two relief jobs up for grabs.

The other healthy pitchers active in camp as of Wednesday were Blaine Boyer, Chris Capuano, Tyler Cravy, David Goforth, Zack Jones, Franklin Morales and Ariel Pena. Cravy and Goforth have options. Pena is out of options. Jones is a Rule 5 Draft pick, who must be kept or offered back to the Twins.

Boyer, Capuano and Morales, meanwhile, are non-roster invitees with significant track records. Besides the deadline on Tuesday for teams to pay such players a $100,000 retention bonus or place them on the 40-man roster, each of those three pitchers, Counsell said, had a different "out" date stipulated in his contract. Boyer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, for example, that his comes on Sunday. A source previously told that Morales' was on Monday.

"I kind of anticipated one of those guys kind of eliminating themselves, but they haven't," Counsell said. "That would probably be the big surprise, because they've all done a really nice job."

After they break camp March 30, the Brewers will travel to Houston for exhibition games against the Astros on March 31 and April 1, then on to Biloxi, Miss., to play the Double-A Shuckers on April 2.

Opening Day is April 4 at Miller Park against the Giants.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.