Vogelbach earns roster spot; JBJ, Cain likely

MLB.com dials up final 26-man roster prediction

March 28th, 2021

PHOENIX -- With Spring Training winding down, the Brewers’ Opening Day roster was taking shape Sunday as the team packed up camp in Arizona.

Among the developments:

• Daniel Vogelbach has been informed that he’s made the team as a power pinch-hitter and occasional first baseman.

• Outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. (wrist) and Lorenzo Cain (quad) look like a go for Opening Day after an encouraging final weekend of the exhibition slate. 

• Reliever Justin Topa is out after suffering an elbow injury on his third pitch during a scrimmage Saturday. He underwent an MRI scan, and while the results were pending as of Sunday morning, the Brewers know that Topa will open the regular season on the injured list.

• Veteran reliever Brad Boxberger, released from a Minor League contract Friday, is back in the mix after inking a new Minor League deal with Milwaukee.

With all of that news in mind, here is our last attempt at predicting Milwaukee’s 26-man Opening Day roster. With two off-days before the Brewers play their eighth game, we are sticking with a 14-position player, 12-pitcher alignment to begin the year.

Catcher (2): ,
Both of the Brewers' catchers had great springs, which is promising considering Narváez’s down year in 2020 and Piña’s comeback from knee surgery. Luke Maile begins the season as the primary No. 3 option, while Jacob Nottingham continues his slow comeback from offseason thumb surgery. He’ll be on the IL to start the year.

First base (2): ,
With no designated hitter in the National League this year, the defensively-limited Vogelbach had a narrow path to the Opening Day roster. But the Brewers have decided to keep him and informed Vogelbach of as much this weekend.

“It's the bat,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We're going to try and take advantage of this as a big bat off the bench. The extra bat really helps here. I'm not sure we could do this with a 25-man roster, but having the extra spot really helps us.

“It's a little bit of a role that he hasn't been used much in games, but he's going to be a pinch-hitter. That's what his main job is going to be. There's going to be some first base in there, but Keston is our first baseman. It's going to be trying to get [Vogelbach] a big at-bat every night.”

Second base (1):
Wong, known for his Gold Glove-caliber defense, showed some power at the plate in Spring Training with a trio of leadoff home runs. The Brewers think there will be more of that at American Family Field.

Third base (1):
Shaw was hit on the leg by a pitch late last week and missed a few days, but returned to the lineup Sunday, so he appears to be a go. Orlando Arcia and/or Luis Urías and Daniel Robertson are his challengers for playing time.

Shortstop (2): , Orlando Arcia
Same names as recent projections, but a different order. The Brewers didn’t get to see as much of Urías this spring as they would have liked because he had a hamstring injury, but he’s healthy now, whereas Arcia had a poor spring at the plate. Both will see time at shortstop this season, but Urías is our guess for the name atop the depth chart.

Outfield (5): , , , ,
It was a close call at the end, but Bradley and Cain got healthy in time for Opening Day, combining to reach safely six times and score five runs in Saturday’s tie with the Royals -- a glimpse of what the Brewers hope becomes a regular occurrence during the season. The Brewers will continue a careful approach with Cain, who logged only 15 at-bats in Arizona because of a quad injury, after sitting out most of the shortened 2020 season. Eventually, Cain could become the primary center fielder, with Bradley picking up starts in center and in a platoon with García in right.

McKinney had not been informed that he’d made the team as of Sunday, but he looks like a good bet considering he’s out of Minor League options and Tyrone Taylor (thigh) and Derek Fisher (hamstring) are banged up. McKinney, a left-handed hitter who entered Sunday tied for the team lead with four home runs in Arizona, can also play first base if needed.

Utility (1):
Injuries to versatile players like Tim Lopes and Mark Mathias make Robertson a pretty important player to the Brewers going into the season. He can play all over and, like McKinney, is out of options.

Starting pitchers (5): , , , ,
The Brewers announced within the past week that Peralta had won the fifth starter spot over Josh Lindblom to open the season, with the understanding that both right-handers will make starts throughout the year. If history is a guide, it will take more than six starters in 2021, especially this year as MLB returns to a 162-game schedule, and it’s at that point that the question marks begin.

Brent Suter made some spot starts last year and could again, as could Drew Rasmussen. But as far as Triple-A rotation depth, some of the Brewers’ top options (Zack Brown, Alec Bettinger, Dylan File, Thomas Jankins) suffered various injuries in spring and didn’t get to pitch. The Brewers recently signed veteran Zack Godley, who will be stretched out as a starter. So will Jordan Zimmermann, who re-signed with Milwaukee on another Minor League deal after briefly being released.

Relievers (7): , , , , Josh Lindblom, Drew Rasmussen, Ray Black
This group is coming into focus with Lindblom’s assignment to the Opening Day bullpen, Black’s return from a sore elbow (he touched 99 mph against the Giants on Saturday night), the releases and re-signings of Boxberger and Zimmermann with agreements to report to the alternate training site if asked, and with Topa’s unfortunate injury. Perhaps the question mark is Rasmussen, not because of ability -- the Brewers love his arm and plan to use him in multi-inning stints -- but because he and J.P. Feyereisen both have Minor League options. It looks like Rasmussen, Feyereisen or Boxberger at this point, and we’ll go with Rasmussen with the understanding that all of them will see Major League time in 2021. Phil Bickford and Angel Perdomo are also in that mix.

Topa’s injury is most unfortunate, as he’s already undergone two Tommy John surgeries in his fascinating career. It’s a reminder that depth matters.

“Obviously Justin had a possibility of pitching some big innings for us, so it’s a loss,” Counsell said. “Guys fill in around losses always, but these are losses that start to chip away at your depth, for sure. Justin pitched some big innings for us at the end of the year last year and I think he was capable of doing that [again]. Hopefully we get decent news and he can get back to that.”

Injured list (6): Derek Fisher, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jacob Nottingham, Justin Topa, Bobby Wahl
Fisher is down with a left hamstring strain and Lopes (oblique) and Mathias (shoulder) are already on the 60-day IL. Nottingham has been hitting and catching during bullpen sessions, but he’s had occasional setbacks, so the Brewers have been careful about him catching in games. Topa’s status was TBD as of Sunday, but he's IL-bound. Wahl is down with a right oblique strain. Keep an eye on the status of Taylor’s bruised thigh, too.