As spring begins, so does Brewers' competition

Spots up for grabs in Milwaukee's rotation, bullpen

As spring begins, so does Brewers' competition

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Brewers squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.

MILWAUKEE -- Let the competition begin.

The battle for spots in the Brewers' starting rotation and bullpen begins Tuesday, when pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale Baseball Park for the start of Spring Training. There are also positional decisions to make, most notably at catcher as the Brewers move on from the longtime tandem of Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. At other spots on the diamond, manager Craig Counsell must formulate a plan for division of playing time.

"The thing I'm excited about in Spring Training, that we didn't have last year, is we have more competition," Counsell said. "There's been more competition created at a lot of positions, and it's either in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, or it's on the Major League roster right now.

"It puts these guys in a good spot ... that you have to bring your best to get on the field. So that's a real positive change, and something we've moved forward, I think, going a year later into this [rebuild]."

The Brewers hope to be a better defensive team after committing a Major League-most 136 errors last season. That will be a focus this spring. Offensively, after setting a Major League record by striking out 1,543 times, they hope to be more balanced after adding left-handed bats to each side of the infield in first baseman Eric Thames and third baseman Travis Shaw. The biggest changes to the pitching staff will be in the bullpen, where newcomer Neftali Feliz will help fill the departures of Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith and Tyler Thornburg.

Besides those specific areas, the Brewers will also address an overarching one.

"I think Spring Training is a unique time to continue to implement cultural philosophies," general manager David Stearns said. "I think Craig did an outstanding job of that last year, and I imagine that will continue. That extends all the way through our Minor League system. So in addition to the, 'We want players to be healthy, we want them to get ready,' it's a great opportunity to establish what Milwaukee Brewers baseball is about and the standards that we are going to hold our players to."

Brewers looking for continued growth in 2017

Last year at this time, the Brewers were still getting to know each other. Counsell was entering his first full season and he oversaw a renovated coaching staff, led by longtime friend (and former manager during Counsell's days at Notre Dame) Pat Murphy. Stearns and assistant GM Matt Arnold had been on the job fewer than six months.

Now there is some continuity. This is Counsell's second Spring Training as manager, but don't expect many big changes from the first.

"I don't think camp will look vastly different, no -- unless I put a costume on," Counsell joked.

Pitchers and catchers report: Tuesday

First full-squad workout: Saturday

First Cactus League game
At Angels, on Feb. 25 at 2:10 p.m. CT

New faces
Thames (three years, $16 million), Feliz (one year, $5.35 million) and left-hander Tommy Milone (one year, $1.25 million non-guaranteed) were Major League free-agent additions. Stearns also acquired some notable players via trade, including Shaw from the Red Sox. He will get every opportunity to pin down third base. Catcher Jett Bandy, acquired in a trade with the Angels, also could see significant playing time.

Opportunity for newest Brewers

Interesting non-roster invitees
Right-hander Yhonathan Barrios had a chance to make last year's Opening Day roster, but needed shoulder surgery and sat out the entire season. Now he's back. Andrew Barbosa, a rare commodity in Brewers camp in that he pitches left-handed, made it to Triple-A with the Mets last season and was outstanding in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Former Reds infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. will get to show off his defensive versatility. And 2016 first-round Draft pick Corey Ray will be in his first big league camp.

Prospects to watch
Besides Ray, who ranks second on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top Brewers prospects, other Top 30 players in camp include outfielder Lewis Brinson (No. 1), left-hander Josh Hader (No. 3), outfielder Brett Phillips (No. 7), right-hander Jorge Lopez (No. 14), catcher Jacob Nottingham (No. 15), outfielder Ryan Cordell (No. 18) and outfielder Michael Reed (No. 27).

Brinson could surprise in 2017

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. 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.