Brewers to juggle playing time with crowded outfield

Milwaukee Brewers prospect Lewis Brinson is one of the players competing for a spot in a crowded outfield.
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The Milwaukee Brewers’ lineup for their spring training opener against UW-Milwaukee certainly doesn’t offer any hints as to what the order will look like come Opening Day.

However, it does portend what you can expect over the next month or so in Arizona exhibition games.

For one, don’t expect to see Ryan Braun any time soon. Earlier in the week Braun stated that “I’ve never felt like I’ve need that many (spring training) at-bats.” Manager Craig Counsell backed up that notion Friday, saying Braun won’t be in the lineup until at least the start of the World Baseball Classic and perhaps even later than that.

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“We know Ryan doesn’t need a lot of at-bats, so you won’t see him for a while,” said Counsell, who made sure to add that Braun is completely healthy.

Also as promised by Counsell, Scooter Gennett is getting an early look in the outfield, getting the starting nod in left for the spring training opener.

“It’s time for him to get experience, so we’re just starting out with that,” Counsell said of Gennett.

Not playing Braun also helps the Brewers get playing time for other guys as the team has a glut of outfielders in camp. While Braun is set in left field and Domingo Santana, who started against UWM, seems to be the guy in right field, center field is a bit of a quandary (although Keon Broxton enters the spring as the likely favorite), not to mention that the team will need backups.

Utility man Hernan Perez, who played all three outfield positions for the Brewers in 2016 as well as second base, shortstop and third base, figures to be a backup and spot starter in some fashion. But Counsell said he doesn’t need to see Perez get work in the outfield, plus Perez is off to the World Baseball Classic soon, leaving more at-bats for hopefuls.

One of the young players hoping to stick is 22-year-old Lewis Brinson, who was acquired last year from Texas in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. Brinson combined to hit .268 with 15 home runs and 17 steals in three minor-legaue stops last year, but really raked when he got to Milwaukee’s organization, batting .382 in 23 games with Triple- A Colorado Springs.

In Game 1 of 2017’s exhibition season, Brinson got the start in center field and batted leadoff.

“It’s a friendly competition. We’re all trying to compete for a job,” he said. “Mostly I’m trying to make a good impression, put a good impression with my new teammates and everybody.”

Counsell mentioned a number of other players who he wanted to get significant time this spring, including Michael Reed, who has had a couple cups of coffee with Milwaukee the past two seasons, center field prospect Brett Phillips, veteran Kirk Nieuwenhius, who played in 125 games with the Brewers in 2016 and Ryan Cordell, the player to be named later in the Lucroy trade.

Cordell has played third base and outfield in the minors, but he’ll stick to the outer garden this spring.

“Cordell plays all three outfield positions … we won’t look at him at infield this spring,” Counsell said. “We’re aware he’s done that before and I don’t think you can write it off.”

For now, it just means a crowded outfield is just that more jam-packed. And that doesn’t include players like Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Eric Sogard, who could play there in a pinch but are considered emergency outfielders.

For now, let the games — and the competition — begin.

Other notes:

— Counsell heaped some praise on veteran infield Sogard, who, like Gennett, bats left-handed. Sogard played 435 games with Oakland from 2010-15, mainly playing second base but also seeing time at third base and shortstop. “Solid player, solid defender, solid decision maker,” Counsell said. “There’s experience. There’s certainly some things he offers and things we don’t have.”

— Counsell also said he wants to get at-bats for Jesus Aguilar, who started at first base and batted fifth against UWM. While Aguilar has experience at third base, Counsell said the Brewers view him as a potential backup first baseman. The right-handed hitting Aguilar played 35 games for Cleveland from 2014-16. Last season at Triple-A Columbus he hit 30 home runs with 92 RBI. However, he is out of options, meaning he’d have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.

— The Brewers’ lineup vs. UWM: Brinson, Gennett, Santana, Travis Shaw at third, Aguilar, Jett Bandy as the designated hitter, Manny Pina at catcher, Orlando Arcia at short and Sogard.