Editor's note: With Spring Training rapidly approaching, MLB.com is taking a look at different aspects of the 2018 Brewers this week. On Monday, it was "What's the vision?" On Wednesday, "Excited to see ..." Today: Predicting the 25-man roster.
MILWAUKEE -- First, a disclaimer: What follows is almost definitely wrong.
Accurately predicting a team's Opening Day roster six weeks out is all but impossible under normal circumstances, given the likelihood of injuries, surprises and minor roster moves along the way. This year, with a stable of top free agents still unsigned as camps open across baseball, major roster moves remain in play for many clubs -- including the Brewers.
But to paraphrase manager Craig Counsell, you work with what you've got. So we'll give it a shot, and will update these educated guesses throughout Spring Training as things unfold. For now, what the Brewers appear to have is a surplus of outfielders, a potential surplus of first basemen, a relative shortage of starting pitchers and many decisions to make before March 29 in San Diego.
Disagree with what follows? You can post your own projected 25-man roster in the comments below.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Catchers (2):Manny Pina and Stephen Vogt
It's a three-man race for the second straight spring, with Vogt in place of the since-departed Andrew Susac. Jett Bandy made the Opening Day roster last year and is now out of options, but it's difficult to see him cracking the right-left platoon of Pina and Vogt.
First base (2):Eric Thames and Ryan Braun
The first logjam. Thames rode the roller coaster in his return to Major League Baseball last year but wound up with solid overall production: He was 21st in the National League with 124 weighted runs created plus and 18th with a .369 weighted on-base average. Thames formed a productive left-right platoon with Jesus Aguilar (16 homers, 112 wRC+ in 311 plate appearances), but here comes Braun, who will see some time at first base this spring in an effort to free at-bats in a crowded outfield. The Brewers don't plan to play Aguilar anywhere but first base, so something has to give here.
Second base (2):Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard
Counsell loves to play the platoon advantage, and for brief stints in 2017 he had a solid duo at second base in Sogard and switch-hitting Villar, who did much of his damage during a fine '16 season while batting right-handed. Villar's production fell precipitously last year, but for now he's positioned to get a shot at a comeback. With second basemen like Neil Walker still available in free agency, an upgrade is not out of the question.
Third base (1):Travis Shaw
There's no platoon here. After falling off during the second half of 2016 with the Red Sox, Shaw enjoyed a breakthrough 31-homer season with the Brewers and was named club MVP.
Shortstop (1):Orlando Arcia
Arcia won't turn 24 until August and already has a season and a half in the Majors under his belt. His on-base percentage jumped from .274 in the second half of 2016 to .324 in '17 and his OPS went up by 100 points. Those were promising signs from a player who plays plus defense.
Outfielders (3):Lorenzo Cain, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich (and Braun)
Adding Cain via free agency and Yelich via trade on Jan. 25 gave the Brewers one of the league's deepest outfields. But barring additional trades, how will Counsell find at-bats for everyone? Cain is a superior defender and figures to man center field. Yelich has won an NL Gold Glove Award as a left fielder, but that's Braun's primary position since the Brewers handed right field to Santana, who broke through in 2017 with 30 homers and a .372 wOBA that ranked 17th in the Senior Circuit. For the time being, it looks like the odd men out are Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips, each of whom have Minor League options.
Utility (1):Hernan Perez
Perez, who appeared everywhere last season but catcher, covers the Brewers defensively at every position. He is a natural middle infielder but has proven more than capable in the outfield, where the Brewers could also get coverage in the corners from Thames or Sogard if needed. Sogard can also help Perez back up Arcia at shortstop.
Starting pitchers (5):Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin, Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter
Jimmy Nelson will be sidelined at the start of the season while he completes his comeback from shoulder surgery. When Counsell discussed his rotation situation at Brewers On Deck, he said Anderson, Davies and Chacin were penciled in, followed by a group of pitchers on relatively even footing: Woodruff, Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Junior Guerra and Aaron Wilkerson, in that order. So we will go with Woodruff and Suter for now, realizing this might be the position most primed for change during Spring Training.
Bullpen (8):Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, Boone Logan, Matt Albers, Jacob Barnes, Jeremy Jeffress, Gallardo, J.J. Hoover
We're more confident in the number of names here than the names themselves. With Nelson sidelined and Counsell generally aggressive in going to his bullpen once the starting pitcher is in his third turn through a lineup, it makes sense to have an eight-man 'pen, even though the new schedule has more off-days baked in. The first six seem reasonably certain, including free-agent additions Logan and Albers. But the final one or two spots should be up for grabs, with former Brewers All-Star Gallardo and 2017 Opening Day starter Guerra among the candidates to serve as a long man. If he doesn't crack the rotation, Suter could beat out non-roster invitee Hoover and give Counsell a third left-handed option.