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What will Crew's Opening Day roster look like?

@AdamMcCalvy
February 17, 2020

PHOENIX -- With the Brewers gathering for their first full-squad workout on Tuesday at American Family Fields of Phoenix, here’s another very early look at the state of the 26-man roster: • Forecasting all 30 teams: Lineups, rotations, closers

PHOENIX -- With the Brewers gathering for their first full-squad workout on Tuesday at American Family Fields of Phoenix, here’s another very early look at the state of the 26-man roster:

Forecasting all 30 teams: Lineups, rotations, closers

Catcher
Locks: Omar Narváez, Manny Piña
Possibilities: Jacob Nottingham, David Freitas

Narváez, acquired in a trade with the Mariners, has big shoes to fill as he pairs with Piña to replace Yasmani Grandal, who produced a .380 on-base percentage while setting a Brewers record for home runs as a catcher (28) and trailing only the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto in WAR among MLB backstops. Grandal turned that production into a four-year deal with the White Sox, so Milwaukee pivoted to Narváez, a good hitter who has work to do defensively. Still in the wings is Nottingham, who was limited to a .668 OPS at Triple-A San Antonio last season despite big offensive numbers across the Pacific Coast League. He is entering a critical season in his career.

First base
Locks: Justin Smoak, Ryan Braun
Possibilities: Ryon Healy, Narváez, Nottingham, Logan Morrison

Braun was a possibility in theory for first base after the Brewers decided to decline Eric Thames' $7.5 million club option, leaving the position wide open. But it wasn’t a lock until Milwaukee invested $20 million in outfielder Avisaíl García, who is penciled in for right field, pushing Christian Yelich to left. President of baseball operations David Stearns found Braun’s platoon partner in former Blue Jays first baseman Smoak, who hit 38 home runs in 2017 but declined in each of the two subsequent seasons. He’ll get a chance to bounce back at Miller Park, as good a ballpark as any for left-handed sluggers.

Second base
Lock: Keston Hiura
Possibilities: Luis Urías, Eric Sogard, Ronny Rodríguez

The Brewers delayed promoting Hiura last season, then they sent him down in June to give Travis Shaw one last chance to get going. But now Hiura is here to stay, and while there are questions about his defense, there is no doubting that Hiura will hit. His 19 home runs were third all time for a Milwaukee rookie, trailing only Braun's 34 in 2007 and Prince Fielder's 28 in '06. The Crew has no plans at the moment to move Hiura off second base. Newcomer Urías played at lot of second base for the Padres, but it looks like he will have to get his at-bats at shortstop or third base in Milwaukee.

Shortstop
Locks: Orlando Arcia
Possibilities: Urías, Sogard, Rodríguez

With newcomer Luis Urías rehabbing from surgery to fix a broken hamate bone in his left hand, Arcia keeps his hold of shortstop for now. Arcia's best asset is his glove, though the metrics and the eye test both say he took a step back on defense in 2019 while slashing .223/.283/.350 and ranking as MLB’s worst qualified hitter by wOBA (.269) and wRC+ (61). With the arrival of Urías, not far removed from being one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball, it’s hard to characterize Arcia as a “lock” once Urías gets healthy again. At the moment, it looks like Urías won’t be healthy by Opening Day.

Third base
Locks: Sogard, Jedd Gyorko
Possibilities: Urías, Ryon Healy

We resisted listing the Sogard/Gyorko tandem as a lock while the hot stove was still simmering, but now that Spring Training has arrived, it appears the Brewers will indeed go into the season with the two veterans in a timeshare. Sogard is coming off a career year split between Toronto and Tampa Bay, but he could also have value in a utility role similar to the one he filled for Milwaukee in his first tenure with the team from 2017-18. Gyorko, who signed to a one-year deal with a club option for '21 on Jan. 10, will try to rediscover the swing that produced 20 home runs for the Cardinals in 2016. Healy is coming off hip surgery and has Minor League options, so he may be headed to Triple-A to get his legs back under him.

And there isn’t a clear candidate in the Minor Leagues to take over at third base; Lucas Erceg hit .218/.305/.398 in a great offensive environment at San Antonio in '19. Put that all together, and there’s a lot of uncertainty at this position.

Outfield
Locks: Braun, García, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Ben Gamel
Possibilities: Tyrone Taylor, Corey Ray

Brewers manager Craig Counsell revealed his plan on Monday. It calls for Yelich shifting from right field to left, Cain staying put in center and newcomer García sharing time in right with Braun. Gamel is the fifth outfielder. To ensure everyone gets at-bats, García will occasionally spell Cain in center, and Braun will see some action at first base. That’s the plan on paper, and Counsell stressed that it’s not written in ink. The aim is to maximize the defensive skills of García, who is a prototypical right fielder.

Utility
Lock: None
Possibilities: Rodríguez, Nottingham, Healy, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson

The new roster rules limit teams to 13 pitchers, so that leaves 13 spots for position players. We have 12 players listed as “locks” above (Braun appears twice; at first base and the outfield), so there is room for one more. The Brewers and other clubs face an interesting debate about how to best utilize that extra roster spot.

Starting pitchers
Locks: Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Brett Anderson, Josh Lindblom, Eric Lauer
Possibilities: Brent Suter, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta

Woodruff was a stud when healthy in 2019, and Houser showed flashes of the same ability. Both will return to the rotation, said Stearns, who shed payroll by trading steady veterans Chase Anderson and Zach Davies and replacing those innings with a trade for '19 Padres Opening Day starter Lauer and veteran free agents Anderson and Lindblom. Anderson is a known commodity when healthy, but Lindblom is more of a wild card, having pitched the past three seasons in Korea. He won that league’s version of the Cy Young Award each of the past two seasons, and he was league MVP in '19. Can he translate the lessons learned overseas back to MLB? Whatever the answer, the Brewers anticipate using 8-10 starting pitchers in '20.

Relievers
Locks: Josh Hader, Suter (if he isn’t in the rotation), Peralta (if he isn’t in the rotation)
Possibilities: Corey Knebel, Alex Claudio, Bobby Wahl, Burnes, Ray Black, Devin Williams, Jake Faria, Taylor Williams, Eric Yardley, Angel Perdomo, J.P. Feyereisen

It’s tricky, since the bullpen makeup depends on decisions about the starting rotation. For example: Suter will surely be a big part of the team, but will he start, relieve or some combination of both? When will Knebel and Wahl be ready to return from injuries? What do the Brewers have planned for Burnes? How significant a role will Black play after some encouraging late-season outings? Given all the moving pieces in Milwaukee’s recent bullpens, it’s safe to say that most or all of the names on the “possibilities” list will contribute in 2020.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.