The trade of Khris Davis has assured us we won’t have to watch Domingo Santana struggle in center field. This is good news. But now the Brewers don’t have a clear center fielder, though they do have an awful lot of options. There are a few center fielders in the Brewers minor league system, notably Brett Phillips, but the team needs to choose an alternative for the meantime. Let’s take a look at the top options.
Rymer Liriano Age: 24 || B/T: R/R
Liriano is more of a right fielder than anything else, but can play center field if necessary. That aspect should not be a problem for the Crew, who recently fielded Gerardo Parra, Shane Peterson, and Domingo Santana in center. None are great defensive center fielders, with Santana being particularly overmatched.
Liriano has been inconsistent in the minors, but he slashed an impressive .292/.383./460 with 14 homers in 549 plate appearances in 2015. He does struggle with strikeouts, but the former top 100 prospect is worth a shot for the Brewers, who could be greatly rewarded for giving the toolsy outfielder a chance in the starting lineup.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis Age: 28 || B/T: L/R
Nieuwenhuis is more of a center fielder than Liriano, though he has seen increasing playing time in left field as his career has progressed. During his time in the Majors, the tall outfielder has been worth 2.5 fWAR over 693 plate appearances. That’s essentially a two win player over the course of a season.
Unfortunately, Nieuwenhuis is a career .232 hitter with a strikeout rate north of 30%. On the plus side, he has good pop which helps make him nearly an average player offensively, and he’s better when he avoids lefties. I think he would make a fine option for the Brewers’ fourth outfielder, while spelling Liriano in center every once in a while.
NEXT MAN UP:
Keon Broxton Age: 26 || B/T: L/R
Broxton is a true centerfielder with a power/speed combination. He takes a lot of walks and stole 39 bases in 2015. Unfortunately, he is also on a inauspicious career path, striking out a ton despite being several years older than his competitors in the minors.
As a 26 years old, Broxton should have a lot more than 367 AAA plate appearances. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but Broxton faces a tough road to Big League success after consistently striking out at a 28% clip.
If Broxton can keep his K rate from jumping too high in the Majors, he should be able to make it as a fourth or fifth outfielder who offers home run ability, stolen bases, and defensive talent off of the bench. Sending Broxton to AAA could be best for his development.
IN THE HUNT:
Ramon Flores Age: 26 || B/T: L/L
To be honest, I think Flores has a decent chance to be the Brewers’ fourth outfielder (he’s out of minor league options), but I don’t think he projects well as their starting center fielder. Like Liriano, I think Flores can play center, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he should.
He’s more of a tweener, who doesn’t show the defensive prowess for playing up the middle, and doesn’t show the traditional home run ability of a typical corner outfielder. He does own a career .376 OBP in AAA, hence his inclusion on this list. With major offensive questions in center, having a player who can get on base at the top of the order could offer one of the best solutions.
Shane Peterson Age: 28 || B/T: L/L
Brewers fans should be familiar with Peterson, who appeared in 20 games as a center fielder (and 33 as a LF) in 2015. After a 0.0 fWAR season, Peterson was designated for assignment, but remained with the team. He was neither awful at the plate nor in center, but he was below average on offense, and he didn’t do enough on defense to make up for it. Peterson could make an OK bench player, but as his FanGraph’s 2016 profile says, “power, speed, and defense all favor Nieuwenhuis for the fourth outfielder role over Peterson.”
Eric Young Jr. Age: 30 || B/T: S/R
I don’t know where Young fits into the Brewers system. Their outfield will be packed, both in AAA and in the Majors, and Young can’t play center field. He’s historically a burner on the bases, though he stole just six bases in limited time in 2015. With decreasing numbers across the board, I don’t think Young is anything but an organizational player at this point.
Brett Phillips Age: 21 || B/T: L/R
Arguably the Brewers second best prospect after Orlando Arcia, Phillips might not reach the Bigs in 2016. Phillips slashed .309/.374/.527 with 16 homers in 2015, though 15 of those dingers came prior to his promotion to AA. His late-season power outage notwithstanding, Phillips looks like an All-Star in the making, with solid walk rates, a 70 grade arm and above-average defense in center field.
Michael Reed Age: 23 || B/T: R/R
Like Flores, Reed is a bit of a tweener. He shouldn’t see extended time in center, but projects to be a solid defender in right field with outstanding strike-zone discipline and improving gap power. The Minnesotan had a .371 OBP with 45 extra-base hits in 2015.
The easy comparison for Reed is former Brewer Nori Aoki, who doesn’t hit for power, but makes a living as an excellent leadoff hitter, with consistently high walk rates. Reed has stolen at least 26 bases in each of the last three seasons, though he only swiped one bag after his promotion to AAA. Speed on the bases is an obvious plus for someone looking to hit atop a Big League lineup.
Kyle Wren Age 24 || B/T: L/L
When Wren reaches the Big Leagues, it will either be at the very top or the very bottom of the lineup. He has good on-base skills, and typically hits for a high average, but has 20 grade power, with three career home runs in the minors. He put up an attractive slash in AA in 2015, hitting .300/.370/.326 with 20 steals. He had just 6 extra base hits, but a leadoff man with a .370 OBP and plus speed would be a run scoring machine.
Unfortunately, Wren slashed .251/.298/.320 in AAA in the latter half of the season. The center fielder will turn 25 in April, so his ceiling is probably going to be realized quite soon. I think his defensive prowess and speed will make him a big leaguer, but he’ll need to live off of a high BABIP to avoid being a bottom-of-the-order player, or defensive substitute.