The Milwaukee Brewers will have 15 non-roster players at spring training this season -- in 2017 they brought in 10 -- more than half of whom are pitchers. Some are prospects getting their first taste of the majors while others are veterans hoping for another chance. Don't discount these guys -- among last year's non-roster spring training camp players, Corbin Burnes, Ji-Man Choi, J.J. Hoover and Nate Orf all were with the big club at some point during the season. Here's a look at each of this year's 15 invitees to Milwaukee's camp.
UPDATE: On Feb. 15, the Brewers signed Jay Jackson and made him the 16th non-roster player invited to camp.
RHP Zack Brown
Brown's standout season at Double-A Biloxi earned him Milwaukee's minor league pitcher of the year and an invite to major-league camp. He led the Southern League -- as well as all Brewers minor leaguers -- in ERA (2.44 in 125 2/3 innings) and was second in the league in WHIP (1.04) and opponent batting average (.207). It seems doubtful that Brown, a fifth-round pick in 2016, will be on the roster on opening day, but this is a nice reward for a stellar 2018 and shows he could be on the cusp of a callup in 2019, much like Burnes, the 2017 minor league pitcher of the year, was last season.
RHP Bubba Derby
Part of the return for Khris Davis from Oakland, along with catcher Jacob Nottingham, Derby gets his first taste of big-league camp. Like most pitchers, he didn't put up good numbers at Colorado Springs (and is probably happy Milwaukee's Triple-A team is now in San Antonio), recording a 4.49 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 118 1/3 innings with 96 strikeouts. Derby, who turns 25 in late February, is likely in camp for the innings but maybe as an audition for later in the year. Milwaukee did think enough of Derby to send him to the Arizona Fall League. In case you were wondering, his real name is Bowdien Henry Asa Derby.
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3B Lucas Erceg
Erceg's numbers took a bit of a dip last season, batting .248/.306/.382 at Double-A Biloxi, but he was still listed as Milwaukee's No. 4 prospect. A left-handed hitter with some pop (13 homers last season and 15 with Single-A Carolina in 2017), it's been thought Erceg has a bat that can play in the majors. Plus, he's a good defender at third base, a position of future need (and perhaps present) for the Brewers.
C Tuffy Gosewisch
Milwaukee already has three catchers battling for likely two spots on the major-league roster -- well, Yasmani Grandal figures to have one while Manny Pina and Eric Kratz fight for the other -- so the veteran Gosewisch is likely in camp to help provide some innings behind the plate and be ready in Triple-A in case the call is needed. Gosewisch has appeared in 137 major-league games over the past five years, four of those spent in Arizona, and owns a .190 career batting average. He played in 11 games for Seattle last season, going 2 for 28. Gosewisch turns 36 in August.
RHP Deolis Guerra
The big right-hander (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) was signed in December after spending the last year with Texas' Triple-A team at Round Rock, where he had a 3.79 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .216 OBA and 10.8 K/9. Guerra appeared in 63 games for Angels from 2016-17 (44 of those coming in 2016), recording a 3.63 ERA and 1.162 WHIP. Guerra turns 30 in April.
SS Jake Hager
After years in Tampa Bay's system, Hager was signed in 2018 and hit .284/.348/.472 with Biloxi and Colorado Springs, although surprisingly he put up better numbers with the Shuckers. His 11 home runs last season (10 with Biloxi) were a career high. While Hager played only shortstop last season, he does have experience in the minors at second base and third base, and as recently as in 2017. Hager, who turns 26 in April, has yet to make his big-league debut.
C Payton Henry
As mentioned, in spring training you need to have a bunch of catchers around to save on the wear-and-tear of those on, or fighting for a chance to be on, the major-league roster. At 21 years old and having playing at Single-A Wisconsin last season, Henry will be around to help fill up some of those innings. It's a nice honor, though, for the 2016 sixth-round pick, who hit .234 with 10 home runs in 98 games in 2018, his first season outside of Rookie ball.
2B Keston Hiura
Before you get too excited about Milwaukee's top pick in the 2017 draft being at camp, general manager David Stearns has already said Hiura will not be the Brewers starter on opening day and that he needs a little more time in the minors (plus, you know, there's that whole service time thing). All that being said, Hiura probably could use some more seasoning. He hit .320/.382/.529 in 50 games for Single-A Carolina last season but slipped to .272/.339/.416 in 73 games after being promoted to Double-A Biloxi. Hiura was named the Arizona Fall League's MVP after hitting .323/.371/.563 in 23 games and is regarded as the Brewers' top prospect, so there's plenty to be excited about. Just don't plan on seeing him in Milwaukee in March or April. Now, July …
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RHP Jay Jackson
After appearing in six games for San Diego in 2015, Jackson left for Japan. He pitched for Hiroshima the past three years, recording a 2.10 ERA, 1.131 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 in 176 innings over 175 games. He finished just 17 games, meaning his role over there was more in a set-up role.
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RHP Jon Olczak
A 21st-round draft pick in 2016, Olczak sparkled out of the bullpen Double-A Biloxi in 2018. In 56 1/3 innings he sported a 1.44 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and .184 OBA while striking out 60. Sent to the Arizona Fall League, he allowed just two runs in 12 innings while striking out 13 and recording a 1.08 WHIP. A spot on the opening roster seems unlikely, but perhaps Olczak could be angling for a shot during the season.
OF Nate Orf
Orf was as unlikely a call-up during the season as you'll see. He was undrafted and 28 years old, yet he was summoned by Milwaukee in early July and was called back up two other times. Orf has the ability to get on base -- he had a .397 on-base percentage at Triple-A Colorado Springs in both 2017 and '18 -- can steal a base (23 combined last season) and is versatile -- in his limited time with the Brewers (15 games) he played second, third, short and right field.
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LHP Angel Perdomo
The only left-handed pitcher among the non-roster invites, Perdomo was signed as a free agent this offseason after spending the first seven years of his career in Toronto's organization. Perdomo, who turns 25 in May, has never pitched above Single-A. Last season in 79 1/3 innings he had 100 strikeouts along with a 3.63 ERA and .233 OBA.
OF Corey Ray
Milwaukee's first-round pick in 2016 was the organization's minor league player of the year in 2018 after hitting .239/.323/.477 with 27 home runs and 37 stolen bases with only being caught seven times (he led the entire minor leagues in steal percentage) for Double-A Biloxi. The Brewers have a crowded outfield situation so it will be interesting to see how Ray can fit in, if at all, in 2019.
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RHP Miguel Sanchez
Another potential power arm for Milwaukee's bullpen, Sanchez pitched at three levels in 2018. He appeared in 10 games for Single-A Carolina, 23 for Double-A Biloxi and one for Triple-A Colorado Springs. In 64 1/3 combined innings, Sanchez stuck out 95 while recording a 2.52 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and .201 OBA. The Brewers sent Sanchez, who just turned 25, to the Arizona Fall League where he pitched 10 innings, allowing four runs with eight strikeouts.
RHP Burch Smith
Smith pitched all of 2018 with Kansas City, which had acquired him during the Rule 5 draft. He pitched in 38 games with six starts for the Royals, posting a bloated 6.92 ERA and 1.667 WHIP. Unlike most Rule 5 picks, Smith is no youngster as he turns 29 in April. While in Tampa Bay's system in 2017, Smith had a 2.40 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 56 1/3 minor-league innings. He also made 10 appearances, with seven starts, for San Diego in 2013. He has a career 3.45 ERA and 1.177 WHIP in the minors. If Smith can learn how to put it together at the major-league level, his ability to start and relieve is a plus.
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RHP Josh Tomlin
Signed days before the start of camp, Tomlin is something of a reclamation project. In 2018, his ninth season with Cleveland, he had a 6.14 ERA and 1.479 WHIP in 70 1/3 innings. However, over his career while his ERA is a high 4.77, he doesn't walk anyone (1.3 BB/9; twice leading the American League in that category) and his WHIP is 1.226. There's been talk that he could be this year's Wade Miley for the Brewers, but that's probably a poor comparison. Miley is a lefty and more of a ground-ball pitcher. The right-handed Tomlin allows more fly balls than grounders and has averaged 1.7 HR/9 over his career. Still, perhaps Milwaukee can recreate some 2015 magic, when Tomlin had a 3.02 ERA, 0.838 WHIP and 7.8 K/9 in 10 starts for the Indians.