The Milwaukee Brewers have solidified their infield this offseason with the additions of Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, who are in line to be the team's first baseman and third baseman.
The Brewers didn't add a second baseman this offseason, but all signs indicate there will be a new face there, too.
Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, Brewers manager Craig Counsell made all indications that Jonathan Villar will be housed at second base this coming season.
With Orlando Arcia set to be the shortstop and Shaw at third (where Counsell said “I see him playing a lot” there), that leaves just one spot for Villar, who was something of a revelation in 2016, with a slash line of 285/369/457 with 38 doubles, 19 home runs, 92 runs and a major-league leading 62 stolen bases.
Last season, Villar played 108 games at shortstop, but was bumped out of the position upon the arrival of Arcia. He also played 42 games at third base, with a poor .881 fielding percentage, and 11 games at second, where he did not make an error in 38 chances.
“Defensively, I think (second base) is a good spot for him,” Counsell said of Villar. “We think it's going to be his best position. … with his skills, I think it's going to be his best defensive position.”
Counsell thinks Milwaukee's projected keystone combination will really help the Brewers' defense.
“I think if we can get Villar and Arcia every day in the middle, I think we can be solid and steady.”
The pronouncements of Shaw and Villar as regulars, of course, leaves two Brewers on the outside looking in.
Hernan Perez played 60 games at third base in 2016 and likely would have been the favorite to play there again if not for the trade for Shaw. Perez played every position for Milwaukee last season except catcher and pitcher and had a breakout year at the plate, batting .272 with 13 home runs and 34 steals. Counsell envisons Perez being a pivotal member of Milwaukee again in 2017 in a utility role.
“Perez is going to be somebody that's important,” Counsell said, “and I think now as part of the depth and the protection and getting matchup, he's going to be an important part of this on the corners for sure.”
Where this all leaves Scooter Gennett, who played 136 games in 2016 with 121 starts at second base, is a bit of an unknown. Gennett hit .262 last season with 14 home runs and could have been non-tendered by the Brewers but instead was retained, with arbitration looming.
Counsell noted Gennett got off to a good start last season but then “regressed,” most notably in pitch selection.
“As a player puts like 2,000 at-bats or plate appearances under their belt, a player like Scooter, when the knowledge level goes up, the power has a chance to go up, too,” Counsell said. “Certainly those are the next steps for him.”
How Gennett will get those plate appearances with the Brewers will be something to keep an eye on this spring training.
Some other notes from Counsell's session with the media:
– When asked about Ryan Braun, Counsell said he expects to see him playing left field in Miller Park this season. “I'm planning on him being the left fielder … I don't see anything changing,” Counsell said.
— Counsell expects two of Milwaukee's brightest prospects, outfielder Lewis Brinson and pitcher Josh Hader, to be of help this upcoming season. “Those are two guys that we hope are kin of putting the finishing pieces on their player development stage of their career, and then we'll see where that takes them and kind of what our needs are at that point, too,” he said. “So I don't have an exact expectation. I think they will help us in 2017 for sure.”
— Jimmy Nelson had a rough season, going 8-16 with a 4.62 ERA and 1.517 WHIP, a year after being a bright spot with 11 wins, a 4.11 ERA and 1.286 WHIP. Nelson led the majors in losses in 2016 and the National League in walks (86). Counsell said don't expect Nelson to be moved to the bullpen, saying the Brewers “see Jimmy as a starter.” Counsell said it is just a matter of Nelson having better command of the baseball and, of course, throwing strikes. “That's where a lot of the troubles come into for him. There's progress that he needs to make, and I think he's on the same page with that and he's aware of that,” Counsell said. “But I still think that it's close enough that it's something that you still get excited about what's there.”