After just missing out on the playoffs in 2017, Milwaukee looks to get over the hump in 2018. The Brewers made some big moves this offseason to help with a playoff push, but that doesn’t mean everything with the club has been solved. With spring training here, we take a look at five questions to ponder about the team as camp begins.
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What will the rotation look like?
Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and free-agent signee Jhoulys Chacin figure to have spots as spring training opens. Anderson was limited with injuries in 2017, but posted a 2.74 ERA and 1.090 WHIP in 25 starts and figures to be the ace while Jimmy Nelson, who is out until likely June, returns. Bigger things expected for Davies, who won 17 games and had a 3.93 ERA in his second full season, while Chacin should be a solid middle-of-rotation starter. That leaves two spots. Among the possibilities are holdovers Brent Suter, the only lefty among the bunch and Brandon Woodruff (4.81 ERA), who was inconsistent in eight starts in 2017. Yovani Gallardo could also be in the mix, and don't forget about Junior Guerra, who struggled in '17 after a great 2016, and Aaron Wilkerson, who pitched decently in a couple of spot starts late last year. Of course, the Brewers could still go out and make moves, with plenty of free agents still on the market. [UPDATE: Left-hander Wade Miley was signed to a minor-league contract on Feb. 16 and invited to big-league camp. Manager Craig Counsell has said he'll compete as well for a job in the rotation.]
USA TODAY SportsLance Iversen
Just how does the outfield sort out?
Big free-agent signing Lorenzo Cain and trade acquisition Christian Yelich figure to start in center field and right field. Ryan Braun will be back in left field (more on him in a bit). So where does that leave Domingo Santana, who had a breakout season last year with 30 home runs? Also, what about Keon Broxton, who played in 146 games and had 20 homers and 21 steals? Or Brett Phillips, who turns 24 in May, and showed in his brief time in the majors that he belongs? Oh, and Hernan Perez, the Brewers' super-utility player, appeared in 88 games in the outfield last year, too. Phew. It's a good problem to have though -- better to have too much depth than not enough.
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Can Ryan Braun play first base?
With the glut of outfielders, it has been mentioned that Braun could work out at first for some spot duty there. If he's adequate defensively -- and this will be the key thing to pay attention to this spring -- it opens up a spot in the outfield for someone else. It makes some sense as starter Eric Thames hit just .182/.270/.394 vs. lefties in 2017. But what does this mean for Jesus Aguilar, who hit 16 home runs in part-time duty last year? The Brewers also have Ji-Man Choi in camp as a non-roster invitee, a player many teams were after this offseason. What figured to be a set position at the end of 2017 now has some interesting questions in the spring.
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Who plays second base?
The Brewers traded for Neil Walker last season -- obviously seeing the need for an upgrade at second base as the team vied for the postseason -- but it's not like Milwaukee made bringing back the veteran priority. Walker, like many others, remains on the free-agent market. With Walker likely not returning, there's a lot of competition. After a breakout season in 2016, switch-hitting Jonathan Villar had horrible 2017, batting just .241 with a .293 on-base percentage. Veteran Eric Sogard got a chance and #NerdPower provided a spark, batting .273 with a .393 on-base percentage. Sogard didn't play much against lefties, but still hit .262/.340/.405 against southpaws in 47 plate appearances. The Brewers re-signed Sogard in the offseason, so they apparently see a role for him. Hernan Perez might be iced out of the outfield mix and could now find a home at second. Prospect Mauricio Dubon is also on the 40-man roster.
Who will lead off?
In a perfect world, Villar would regain his 2016 form (.369 on-base percentage) and hit first -- Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell gave him every opportunity last year, but he batted just .247 with a .301 on-base percentage in 71 starts (73 games overall). Sogard also could see time atop the order, although his role is undetermined and it's unlikely he starts much against lefties. Thames actually batted leadoff 16 times last season -- his .359 OBP was best among regulars -- but with his power seems like a better fit down the lineup. Both Cain and Yelich come in with the potential to get on base a lot, but Cain has just 47 starts as a leadoff hitter and none since 2014 (he mainly hit second with Kansas City in 2017) and while Yelich was the Marlins' leadoff hitter in 2014, his first full season in the majors, he has hit first just twice since and batted third for Miami last year. Caring about spring training lineup construction might actually be a thing for the Brewers this spring.