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Two out-of-options players in familiar scenarios

Aguilar, Drake among those hoping to make Brewers' Opening Day roster
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jesus Aguilar was in this same position a year ago. Ditto Oliver Drake, albeit on the other side of the country in Orioles camp.

Out of options with no guarantee of where they will play come Opening Day. For players like Aguilar, bidding to wedge his way into a mix with Eric Thames and Ryan Braun at first base, and Drake, aiming to hold his spot in the Brewers' bullpen, it's part of the business of baseball.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Jesus Aguilar was in this same position a year ago. Ditto Oliver Drake, albeit on the other side of the country in Orioles camp.

Out of options with no guarantee of where they will play come Opening Day. For players like Aguilar, bidding to wedge his way into a mix with Eric Thames and Ryan Braun at first base, and Drake, aiming to hold his spot in the Brewers' bullpen, it's part of the business of baseball.

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"I've been in pro ball since 2008, and you learn that it's nice to be able to plan, but in this lifestyle you don't always get that luxury," Drake said. "I've gotten pretty good at being able to fly by the seat of my pants."

With Spring Training in its penultimate week, out-of-options players all around the game are eagerly awaiting their fate. In Brewers camp, the most notable players who fit that criteria are Aguilar, Drake and catchers Jett Bandy and Stephen Vogt, whose camp battle was interrupted by Vogt's right shoulder injury. Vogt is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, so Bandy appears a good bet for foul-line introductions on March 29 in San Diego.

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Thames, Jeremy Jeffress, Hernan Perez, Manny Pina and Jonathan Villar are also out of options, but they look like locks for the roster. Aguilar and Drake however, must wait.

"They haven't talked to me about what's going to happen here, but I keep things the same mentally," Aguilar said. "Just go do my job and we'll see what's going to happen. I'm hoping."

The slugger, a waiver claim from Cleveland just before the start of 2017 Spring Training, squeezed everything he could out of 311 plate appearances alongside Thames. Aguilar hit 16 home runs with an .837 OPS.

Then came Jan. 25, the day the Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain and traded for Christian Yelich. That created a surplus of outfielders, which the club plans to solve by playing Braun occasionally -- perhaps as many as 50 games -- at first base.

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"I have to keep pushing, moving forward," Aguilar said. "But I really can't control it."

Drake might have a little more control. His susceptibility to innings made him something of a lightning rod after the Brewers traded for him early last season, but Drake provided value to manager Craig Counsell with his reverse splits; Drake held left-handed batters to a .685 OPS, thanks in large part to his split changeup.

This spring, Drake is intent on improving his arsenal against right-handed batters. That includes a focus on his fastball, which he's throwing a tick harder than his 91.9-mph average last season, according to Counsell, and the introduction of a curveball.

"I think Oliver's breaking ball is a keeper," Counsell said.

Video: CLE@MIL: Drake jumps off mound to barehand grounder

The Brewers' decision on Drake could come down to the end of camp, just like last year, when he was with Baltimore. Drake did not find out he'd made the team until a day or two before the Orioles left for exhibition games in Norfolk, Va.

This year, he's a candidate for two open bullpen spots. The group of pitchers vying for those openings includes Yovani Gallardo, Taylor Williams, Junior Guerra if he doesn't make the rotation, and non-roster invitee J.J. Hoover. Of note for Drake and his niche as something of a lefty specialist: The Brewers have two left-handers in the 'pen, in Josh Hader and Boone Logan.

"For the wives and family members, it's a little more stressful," Drake said. "It's part of the life. It's an adventure, and you go with whatever the game has next."

Counsell says the Brewers do their best to inform players as soon as decisions are made, but history shows it is wise to wait until the last possible moment. Two springs ago, the Brewers lost a starting pitcher (Matt Garza) and a reliever (Corey Knebel) to injuries suffered during an exhibition series in Houston immediately preceding Opening Day. Both opened on the disabled list.

"For the out-of-options guys, it's a tough two weeks, for sure," Counsell said. "We understand that and respect it. But it's part of the baseball calendar. I think they understand that, but it's not easy."

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

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