Three first-timers on Brewers Opening Day roster

April 7th, 2022

PHOENIX -- Aaron Ashby, Jake Cousins and Tyrone Taylor were prepping for their first Opening Day in the Major Leagues as the Brewers finalized their Opening Day roster on Thursday.

The final cut included catcher Victor Caratini, acquired in a trade with the Padres on Wednesday after Major League Baseball suspended Brewers catcher Pedro Severino for the first 80 games of 2022. He was one of 13 position players on Milwaukee's opening roster alongside 15 pitchers, reflecting the shortened spring and a busy month of April that includes only one day off.

Teams may carry two extra players through May 1, and there are no restrictions on the number of pitchers until May 2.

On Monday, the Brewers made their latest round of big league camp cuts, optioning utility man Pablo Reyes and pitchers J.C. Mejía and Miguel Sánchez to Triple-A Nashville and returning Spring Training standout Luis Perdomo to Minor League camp. With that, there were 30 players left in camp, including the duo set to open the season on the injured list, Luis Urías and Justin Topa. So while the backup catcher spot was in question, the rest of the team looked set.

"We made a decision on our bullpen to start with," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We told this to the players who are staying and the players that, frankly, we sent out -- that they're going to be here during the course of the season and there's going to be some times they switch places. But this is the group we felt we wanted to start with. Those were really the last decisions."

Here is the Brewers' Opening Day roster:

Catcher (2): Omar Narváez, Victor Caratini
In the Minors: Mario Feliciano
Narváez was an All-Star last season on the strength of an exceptional first half, and with help from Brewers associate pitching, catching and strategy coach Walker McKinven, he has evolved into one of baseball’s most highly rated pitch framers. But he slumped offensively during the second half of last season and the Brewers won't overwork him in the first half, Counsell said Tuesday. Caratini hit .227 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in 116 games with San Diego last year.

First base (2): Rowdy Tellez, Keston Hiura
Other possibilities: Mike Brosseau, Jace Peterson, Hunter Renfroe
In the Minors: Tyler White, Jon Singleton
Unless Hiura makes a surprise start on Thursday against the Cubs against righty Kyle Hendricks, this will be the 11th consecutive year that the Brewers have a different Opening Day first baseman. The turnover has been constant since the departure of Prince Fielder following the 2011 season. Tellez, however, hopes to change that; the Brewers acquired him in July from the Blue Jays after Hiura didn’t pan out at the position, and Tellez delivered an .814 OPS in 158 Milwaukee at-bats down the stretch. He’s a left-handed hitter who has shown he can hit left-handed pitching, so Tellez has a shot to claim the position on an everyday basis if he performs. The right-handed options are plenty, including Hiura coming off a power-packed Spring Training and Renfroe, who was acquired to be the regular starter in right field but made a surprise start at first along the way. Counsell said there's a chance Renfroe plays there during the regular season when the lineup is stacked with righty bats. Among those in reserve in the Minors are White and Singleton, former Astros prospects who aren’t on the 40-man roster but would provide big power.

Second base (1): Kolten Wong
Other possibilities: Brosseau
In the Minors: Reyes, Brice Turang, Mark Mathias
Wong’s .447 slugging percentage and 14 home runs were career highs during the first season of a two-year deal with the Brewers in 2021, and he was nominated for his third straight Gold Glove. He was limited to 116 games by some oblique issues but represented a big upgrade at the position who should play nearly every day in 2022.

Third base (2): Peterson, Brosseau
Other possibilities: Urías
In the Minors: Reyes, Mathias
The projected starter at the onset of camp was Urías, but he went down with a strained left quad during the Brewers’ second Cactus League game and will miss Opening Day, probably the opening road trip and potentially the opening homestand, Craig Counsell said during the final full week of Spring Training. The Brewers don’t expect Urías to miss more than a couple of weeks, however, so they will probably cover the position on a short-term basis with a combination of left-handed hitter Peterson and right-handed hitters Brosseau and Reyes. All of those players figure to play various positions throughout the year, including Urías, Brosseau and Reyes as potential backups at shortstop.

Shortstop (1): Willy Adames
Other possibilities: Urías, Brosseau
In the Minors: Reyes, Turang, Mathias
No player was more instrumental to the Brewers turning around their 2021 season than Adames, who came from Tampa Bay in a May trade that immediately sent Milwaukee on a winning spree. Adames, who always struggled to hit at Tropicana Field, contributed 20 home runs and an .887 OPS in 99 regular-season games after the trade to Milwaukee. Urías is the primary backup once healthy, though it was his throwing problems from shortstop that prompted the trade for Adames in the first place. Waiting in the wings is Turang, the team’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Left field (1): Christian Yelich
Other possibilities: Andrew McCutchen, Taylor, Hiura
In the Minors: David Dahl
The Brewers need a productive season from Yelich, who is coming off a career-low .735 OPS and the first below-average season of his career by OPS+ (99). He hit only nine home runs in 475 plate appearances, even though he was mostly healthy for the final four months of the season after battling early back problems. It’s unfair to pin the hopes of an entire team on one player, but for the Brewers' offense to bounce back from last season’s late collapse, Yelich may have to lead the way.

Center field (2): Lorenzo Cain, Taylor
In the Minors: Corey Ray, Jonathan Davis
Cain battled a series of leg injuries last season and never quite got going, finishing with a .329 on-base percentage in 78 games. When he’s going good, he’s a spark plug for the Brewers on the bases and one of the smoothest center fielders you’ll see. He’s also entering the final season of a five-year contract and acknowledged this could be it. His primary backup is Taylor, who has emerged over the past two years as a quality Major Leaguer after a long rise through the Minors. Keep an eye on Ray here; he is the only other left-handed hitting outfielder besides Yelich on the 40-man roster.

Right field (1): Renfroe
Other possibilities: McCutchen, Taylor
In the Minors: Dahl
The Brewers traded Jackie Bradley Jr. and two good prospects to the Red Sox for Renfroe in the minutes before MLB instituted a lockout, filling a vacancy in right field left by the departure of free agent Avisaíl García. Renfroe had arguably his best offensive season in 2021, belting 31 home runs with a career-high 96 RBIs and a career-best (for a full season) .816 OPS. He also has a phenomenal throwing arm and represents a defensive upgrade over García.

Designated hitter (1): McCutchen
Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said the team had three big free agent targets coming out of the lockout and got one of them in McCutchen, who signed for one year and $8.5 million. He hit 27 home runs for Philadelphia last season and has long mashed against left-handed pitching, which was a weakness for Milwaukee last season. The Brewers also believe the data suggests better results for McCutchen against right-handers this season.

Starting pitchers (6): Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer, Ashby
In the Minors: Ethan Small, Perdomo
Ashby expects to bounce between the rotation and bullpen as needed in what could be a breakthrough season for the formerly top-ranked pitcher on MLB Pipeline’s Brewers prospects list. The others look like locks to regularly start, and comprise the clear strength of the team going into the season. Burnes is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and is lined up to start Opening Day. Woodruff is a workhorse who started each of the past two Opening Days. And Peralta is every bit as talented, focused on improving his strength and proving more durable. Perdomo, the former Padre, was a fascinating non-roster candidate; he is in the second season of a two-year Minor League deal coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Relief pitchers (9): Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Brad Boxberger, Brent Suter, Cousins, Jandel Gustave, José Ureña, Trevor Gott, Hoby Milner (and Ashby if he's not in the rotation)
In the Minors: Perdomo, Small, J.C. Mejía, Miguel Sánchez, Trevor Kelley, Josh Lindblom, Rex Brothers, Angel Perdomo
Everything leads to Hader and Williams, who account for the last four National League Reliever of the Year Awards. Boxberger was brought back after leading the 2021 Brewers in appearances despite not being on the Opening Day roster. And Cousins could be a big weapon with his wipeout slider -- if he can throw strikes with his fastball.

The question marks going into camp were the final three or four spots. Gott was the only reliever on the Brewers’ bubble who was out of options; that worked in his favor along with a diverse array of pitches. Ureña signed recently and is an arm to watch after he touched 98 mph in his lone Cactus League appearance. Gustave, Milner, Mejia and Sánchez were all on the 40-man roster coming into camp and had options; the Brewers went with lefty Milner and righty Gustave to start but the others -- along with top pitching prospect Small -- will surely make their way to Milwaukee at some point during the season.

Perdomo, too, could be an early callup after posting a 1.23 ERA and a 0.55 WHIP over 7 1/3 Cactus League innings. Here's one notable factor: A player who has been optioned prior to Opening Day cannot be recalled within the first 10 days of the regular season unless he's replacing an injured player. But a player like Perdomo or even Small, who are not on the 40-man roster and thus were not optioned to the Minors, is under no such restriction. Small will start games at Nashville and the idea for Perdomo is to pitch as a multi-inning reliever.

"We're going to see Luis Perdomo," Counsell said. "I'll kind of just leave it at that. He pitched very well. He did everything we asked. He wasn't on the roster, but I think we'll see him. ... You know, he didn't pitch last year [following Tommy John surgery]. You want to pass those tests, and I think he's passing those tests. I feel like he's only going to get stronger."

Injured list (2): Urías, Topa
The rules will allow the Brewers to backdate Urías' stint on the injured list, so he'll be eligible beginning with the April 14 home opener. Topa’s timeline is longer as he works back from flexor tendon surgery in September. He hopes to be throwing bullpens by the time the Brewers break camp and beginning a rehab assignment in late May or early June.

Restricted list (1): Severino