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'Four studs' for three spots in Brewers' outfield

With Cain, Yelich in mix, Crew has plenty of depth
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- Lorenzo Cain will be the Brewers' primary center fielder. Christian Yelich will get some work in right field this spring but figures to mostly man left. Domingo Santana says he's intent on improving defensively in right field. And Ryan Braun, the former National League MVP and Milwaukee's longest-tenured player, will fit in somewhere, even if that means some at-bats at first base.

Even third-base coach Ed Sedar, Milwaukee's outfield instructor, is curious to see how it shakes out. Sedar can't remember a better or deeper Brewers outfield, and when he looks around the clubhouse at this wealth of depth, one thought pops into his mind.

PHOENIX -- Lorenzo Cain will be the Brewers' primary center fielder. Christian Yelich will get some work in right field this spring but figures to mostly man left. Domingo Santana says he's intent on improving defensively in right field. And Ryan Braun, the former National League MVP and Milwaukee's longest-tenured player, will fit in somewhere, even if that means some at-bats at first base.

Even third-base coach Ed Sedar, Milwaukee's outfield instructor, is curious to see how it shakes out. Sedar can't remember a better or deeper Brewers outfield, and when he looks around the clubhouse at this wealth of depth, one thought pops into his mind.

"You hope you don't screw it up," Sedar said.

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Sedar dubbed the group the Brewers' "four studs," and that's not even counting Brett Phillips, the outfield prospect with the 80-grade throwing arm, and Keon Broxton, coming off a 20-homer, 20-steal season. Phillips and Broxton have Minor League options, which might come in handy for the Brewers if they reach Opening Day with this crowd intact.

An injury or a trade could provide clarity, but there's also the possibility that Spring Training will end with no clean answer for how the Brewers will deploy all of these outfielders.

"You know, we might go in with a plan and then the plan will change frequently in the season," manager Craig Counsell said. "It doesn't have to be this strict plan. We know what guys are capable of. We know where we can plug them in if we need to. We make sure we know that. And then what happens depends on what happens with the group."

The breakdown

If there is a certainty, it's that Cain will man center field most days. Since 2013, when he started playing regularly with the Royals, Cain has amassed 79 defensive runs saved, tied for third-most among MLB outfielders behind Kevin Kiermaier and Jason Heyward. Carlos Gomez holds the Brewers' single-season record with 32 defensive runs saved in 2013, but Cain has three seasons on his record (2013-15) that have been better than the second entry on the Brewers' list.

Soon after the Brewers finalized Cain's franchise record-setting $80 million, five-year contract, they told him he'd roam center field at Miller Park.

"It reassured me a bit," Cain said. "At the same time, I've played all over. It's not like I can't play right or left. But they reassured me I'm playing center, and that works for me."

Video: Lorenzo Cain is the No. 5 center fielder right now Yelich, acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Marlins on the same January day the Brewers signed Cain, received no such assurances. He grew up playing in the infield even though he says he probably always belonged in the outfield, where he's poised to add right field to his resume this spring.

Yelich became the first Marlins outfielder to win a Gold Glove Award in 2014 while playing left field, and he was a finalist for the award in 2015 and '16 before moving to center in 2017.

"I never played [right field] in the Minor Leagues, and I never really thought about it, honestly," Yelich said. "It's always good to be versatile. That's kind of where the game is headed, to be able to do multiple things."

Yelich is not known for having a cannon throwing arm, but he's accurate.

"It's new to him, so we'll get him some exposure there," Counsell said. "That's the plan right now. That's something that could change pretty fast, too, but that's the plan right now."

Video: Yelich on excitement to be a Milwaukee Brewer

The incumbent in right field is Santana, who is 25 years old and coming off a 30-homer, .875 OPS breakthrough in his first healthy Major League season. He does not fare well in defensive metrics, including minus-5 defensive runs saved, but said his defense is "on top" of his list of Spring Training priorities.

"Obviously, my offense is the first thing because if I don't hit, I'm not going to play," Santana said. "I know I have a long way to go to be as good as I need to be on defense. I just have to keep working."

Santana is "ready for whatever."

"We all are excited," he said. "This team really got better."

Video: Domingo Santana is the No. 8 right fielder right now

Then there's Braun

Braun is the wild card.

He arrived in the Majors in 2007 as a third baseman but moved to left field the following season. Aside from two seasons in right field to accommodate Khris Davis' two full seasons as Milwaukee's left fielder, Braun has been there ever since.

Playing some first base could ease the logjam in the outfield, though it creates questions of its own for the Eric Thames/Jesus Aguilar tandem. Early returns on Braun's infield work have been positive, Counsell said.

"One of our biggest strengths as a team right now is our depth," Braun said. "You look around, and I think we are two or three deep at just about every position with quality big leaguers. That's a good problem to have. That's not something I've been able to say throughout my 10 or 12 years with the organization in the Major Leagues."

If he stays healthy and performs near his 2016 level, when Braun's 134 weighted runs created plus ranked 10th in the National League, Counsell will be challenged to find enough plate appearances for everyone. But there is one big factor working in the manager's favor: Braun, Cain, Santana and Yelich all profile as top-of-the order hitters, which could help.

Last year, for example, Diamondbacks outfielders combined to log more than 3,000 plate appearances. In 2016, Cubs outfielders topped 3,400 plate appearances.

"It's a good problem to have," said Sedar. "If somebody goes down, boom, you put in a No. 1 outfielder. It's a pretty good place to be sitting as of right now."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook.

Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich