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Brewers 2015 Spring Training Position Battles

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Coming into Spring Training in 2015, the Milwaukee Brewers have most of their roster set. The Brewers will return almost the same starting lineup from last season, adding only Adam Lind at first base this offseason and choosing to continue forward with their same core lineup. The starting rotation has been shaken up some, with Marco Estrada and longtime stalwart Yovani Gallardo jettisoned in trades this offseason, but internal candidates and familiar faces Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson have been tabbed to fill in the four and five slots in the rotation. Much like last season, the bulk of the Brewers roster competition will come down to the bench and the bullpen. Here is a breakdown of the battles to keep an eye on this spring:

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Closer

It was reported yesterday that the Brewers will decline to name a closer heading into camp, and instead will allow for competition and possibly an acquisition before choosing their ninth inning man heading into the season.

The Favorite
Jonathan Broxton is generally viewed as the favorite option in-house to take over the ninth inning role. The big righty is being paid a hefty $9 mil salary this season after being acquired from the Reds last year, and owns a career 3.07 ERA with 118 saves in 542 career appearances. He hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2012, however, and he’s seen his fastball velocity drop each of the last three seasons. Broxton hasn’t averaged more than a strikeout per inning since 2010, which is when he made his last All-Star appearance. Not many fans seem overly confident in Broxton’s ability, and you can add me to that list.

The Contenders
1. Will Smith led the NL with 78 appearances last season, and struck out 86 batters in 65.2 innings, good enough for 11.8 K/9. Smith struggled with walks (4.2 BB/9) and against right handed batters (.872 OPS against), but 14 of his 31 runs allowed came in a truly unfortunate July (.611 BABIP against 45 batters faced) and his 3.25 FIP looks a lot better than his 3.70 ERA. Smith’s imposing build, hard fastball and wicked slider from the left side fit the mold of a classic closer.
2. Jeremy Jeffress was formerly first round pick and top prospect in the Brewers organization, but GM Doug Melvin picked the now 27 year old Jeffress up off the scrap heap last season after he failed to latch on with the Royals and Blue Jays organizations. Jeffress seemed re-energized by rejoining the organization that drafted him, posting a 1.88 ERA in 29 appearances, inducing grounders at nearly a 59% rate. Jeffress can hit triple digits with plenty of movement on his fastball, but it remains to be seen if he can maintain the 2.2 BB/9 rate he posted for Milwaukee last season, less than half his career mark.

Dark Horses
Jim Henderson was supposed to be the Brewers closer last year before a loss of velocity and injuries derailed his season. Both he and Tyler Thornburg are expected to be without limitations in camp. Chris Perez, a non-roster invitee, is a former All-Star closer with the Indians, but his peripherals have never matched his results and he has struggled for most of the last two seasons. Corey Knebel was among the prospects included in the Gallardo trade, and has been a lights out in the minors since being drafted in 2013. If he is truly healthy coming off a UCL sprain from late last season, he could factor into the equation as well. The possibility remains that Doug Melvin could still add Francisco Rodriguez or Jonathan Papelbon to the mix, as well.

Backups (3)

The Brewers waved goodbye to several bench contributors from last season, and currently only fourth outfielder Gerardo Parra and backup catcher Martin Maldonado look like locks for bench spots. That means the Brewers have three backup spots up for grabs (assuming they go the expected with a 12 man pitching staff) with several contenders for playing time:

Backup Infielder (2)

The Favorites
1. Luis Jimenez came to Milwaukee via waiver claim this offseason after he was placed on waivers by the Angels. Jimenez, 27, has a solid minor league track record at the plate, and is a strong defender at third base. He can also play first base and could even be an option at second, and his right handed bat would fit well on the bench. Jimenez is also out of options, meaning the Brewers would have to expose him to waivers if he doesn’t make the team.
2. Hector Gomez is another right handed hitting 27 year old, and though his primary position is shortstop, he can play at second and third base as well. Gomez posted an .808 OPS with 46 extra base hits (including 15 home runs) for Nashville last season, and like Jimenez, is out of minor league options.

The Contenders
1. Luis Sardinas is a slick fielding 21 year old shortstop that the Brewers picked up in the Gallardo deal. He posted a .261/.303/.313 line in 125 big league plate appearances last season for Texas, and is capable of playing second and third base as well. Given Sardinas’ youth, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get optioned down to the minors for some more offensive seasoning.
2. Jason Rogers has been a Brewers farmhand since 2010, but last season was his first playing the hot corner. Rogers is a below-average fielder at both third and first base, but he has a solid right handed bat and posted an .854 OPS between AA and AAA last season. Working against the 27 year old Rogers are his remaining minor league options.

Dark Horses
Elian Herrera appeared in 69 games for the Brewers last season, playing second, third, shortstop, and in the outfield. He only managed a .629 OPS, however, and the switch hitter accepted an outright assignment to Colorado Springs earlier this offseason. He’d have to have a monster spring to crack the roster. Pete Orr received an invite to big league camp as well, but he hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2013.

Fifth Outfielder

The Favorite

Shane Peterson changed hands several times this offseason, with the Brewers finally claiming him in late December. The 27 year old lefty swinger has all of just two games of major league experience, but has posted a strong .294/.383/.452 line with 125 extra base hits in 348 games at AAA. Peterson can play first base as well as all three outfield spots, which helps his cause given Adam Lind’s injury history.

The Contender

Logan Schafer has been been a fixture on the Brewers bench for the last two seasons, providing 1.3 dWAR while roaming the outfield last season. Unfortunately the lefty swinging outfielder’s bat has lagged far behind his glove at the big league level, as he has posted a career .209/.283/.320 line. His 55 OPS+ last season left much to be desired, and this defensive ace’s days in Milwaukee could be numbered if he can’t find the swing that has produced a .291/.356/.428 slash in 2186 minor league plate appearances.

Dark Horses

The aforementioned Herrera can play in the outfield as well as the infield, making him a possible candidate for the position. Benny Guez and Bryan Petersen will be in big league camp as well, though Guez has never appeared in the big leagues and Petersen hasn’t since 2012, and neither are on the 40 man roster.

This spring figures to feature plenty of excitement as these final spots are battled for, so make sure to stay tuned for updates as we get closer to the regular season and Opening Day on April 6th!

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