With two weeks remaining in spring training, we’ve reached the point where a majority of the roster has started taking shape. The Brewers offense is no exception based on moves and announcements that have taken place over the last couple weeks.
Keston Hiura is firmly entrenched at first base after the addition of second baseman Kolten Wong. Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr was signed as a free agent to give Milwaukee four starting-caliber outfielders. And infielder Travis Shaw was officially added to the 40-man, giving the Brewers a solution at third base.
At this point, most of what’s left to figure out are the final couple spots at the end of the bench. We’ve already wondered aloud whether Jacob Nottingham could be a casualty of this roster pinch, but could a key contributor from the second half of the 2020 season be on track to join him?
First baseman Daniel Vogelbach was a revelation for the Brewers last season. Having been designated for assignment by two different teams before Milwaukee acquired him in September, he was on fire during the final month of the season, slashing .328/.418/.569 in 19 games and helping keep the offense afloat as the team made its third straight playoff appearance.
When the Brewers opted not to acquire a first baseman this offseason, it felt like Vogelbach’s spot on team was safe. But as it gets closer and closer to Opening Day, that grasp on a roster spot that once felt relatively secure all of a sudden has gotten tenuous, to say the least.
Recent moves combined with spring training performance indicates that Daniel Vogelbach is no longer a lock to make the Opening Day roster for the Brewers.
Like Nottingham, Vogelbach goes into this season with no minor league options at his disposal. So for both of them, their chance at staying on the roster essentially relies on making the 26-man Opening Day roster.
Let’s do the math again. Depending on whether the Brewers decide to carry 12 or 13 position players into Opening Day. That gives them either four or five bench spots to work with. Two of those roster spots already go to a backup catcher and one of the previously mentioned four outfielders.
It’s also pretty safe to say that both Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias will join Hiura, Wong, and Shaw as infielders on the 26-man roster. So you’re already now down to just one or two bench spots remaining.
Milwaukee could decide to keep a fifth outfielder like Billy McKinney or Derek Fisher. McKinney would make more sense since he can play more than just the outfield, providing the team with the flexibility that they love so much.
On the infield, Vogelbach would be probably competing with Daniel Robertson for a roster spot. Robertson is another multi-functional player who is able to back up second base, third base, and shortstop.
By the spring training numbers, Robertson would probably have the edge. Though his average has been low at .222, he has a solid OPS of .829 and has struck out just three times in 18 at bats. Vogelbach is in the same area outside of OPS (.238 BA, .693 OPS, 2 Ks, 21 ABs) while McKinney (.130 BA, .504 OPS, 10 Ks, 23 ABs) has lagged behind in performance this spring.
Also consider the fact that Hiura, as one of the best offensive players on the team, will start a whole lot of games at second base. So if Vogelbach is to be relegated to just a bench bat, his lack of defensive versatility definitely doesn’t play into his favor. Had MLB agreed to the universal DH this season, this would be a totally different part of the discussion.
The final piece working against him is his contract. When the Brewers signed Vogelbach at the non-tender deadline, the contract ended up being non-guaranteed. Thus, Milwaukee could move on at relatively low financial impact.
Ultimately, it feels like Vogelbach has more factors working against him than he does in his favor. The Daniel Vogelbach experience has been fun, but I get the sinking feeling that he won’t be on the roster by the time Opening Day rolls around.