Crew to feature rotation battle during spring

Milwaukee will have six established starters on roster entering camp

Crew to feature rotation battle during spring

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Brewers squad each day this week. Today's topic: Predicting the 25-man roster.

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee will open Spring Training with too many starting pitchers, a "problem" that general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell would love to still be facing on the eve of Opening Day.

Barring injuries, the team is largely set on the positional side, with the lone exception coming at catcher. But that is not the case on the pitching staff, particularly the rotation, which features six established starters returning from last year: Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Matt Garza, Junior Guerra, Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta. Over the winter, the Brewers added another name to the mix, signing free-agent left-hander Tommy Milone to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal.

"This is a place we're going to have some decisions in Spring Training," Counsell said. "We've kind of purposely gone into spring with some depth, and that's a really comfortable place to be for the organization. At some point, we're going to have to make some decisions there."

Without presenting specifics, Counsell left open the possibility of a creative solution.

"We haven't gotten to that point yet, but I do think we'll consider everything with that," Counsell said. "I think this will be a year a lot of people talk about different ways of deploying your pitching, and if we have the players that kind of allow us to deploy it a little differently, then it's something we'll have to consider, for sure.

"I think it's been coming. We've talked about it, and I think it's something we'll continue to consider. It's really about outs. How do you get your guys to get 27 outs?"

Club officials will spend the next six weeks formulating that plan. While they do, here is an early look at a possible Opening Day roster:

Catchers: Jett Bandy, Manny Pina

Andrew Susac is in the mix, too, but Pina may have a leg up by virtue of being in the Brewers organization all of last season, and Stearns parted with two players -- including longtime Milwaukee catcher Martin Maldonado -- to get Bandy from the Angels in December. Stearns touted Bandy's defense and offensive pop in the wake of that trade.

First base: Eric Thames

How confident are the Brewers that Thames can import some of the success he enjoyed over the past three seasons in South Korea? After signing him to a three-year, $16 million contract, they took the unprecedented step of releasing a reigning league home run leader, Chris Carter. They wanted a left-handed bat, and the length of Thames' contract means he could see the other side of the club's rebuild.

Thames adds twist to Brewers

Second base: Jonathan Villar

The position has mostly belonged to Scooter Gennett for the past three seasons, but now it's Villar's. He initially moved to third base after the Brewers installed top prospect Orlando Arcia at shortstop in August, but he committed 12 errors in 42 games there. The belief is that Villar, who led the Majors last season with 62 stolen bases, will be more comfortable at second.

Third base: Travis Shaw

Acquired along with two prospects from the Red Sox for reliever Tyler Thornburg, Shaw brings another left-handed bat, quality defense and a respectable .754 OPS in his first 778 big league plate appearances. He'll get every opportunity to pin down this position, with right-handed-hitting Hernan Perez available as a platoon option.

Shortstop: Arcia

Arcia has long been a Major League-ready defensive shortstop, but the question has been his bat. A two-month stint in the Majors last August and September did little to answer those, as Arcia finished with a .219/.273/.358 slash line and 17 extra-base hits in 216 plate appearances. If he struggles, the Brewers could always send Arcia back to the Minors and re-install Villar at shortstop.

Counsell values Arcia's defense

Outfielders: Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Kirk Nieuwenhuis

The Brewers made no changes to their outfield alignment from last season, when Braun, Broxton and Santana were the Opening Day starters and Nieuwenhuis found regular work as the only left-handed hitter among the quartet. Perez also figures to see action in the outfield, and Gennett will spend the spring acclimating to the position as well.

• Healthy Braun back where Counsell expected

Bench: Perez, Gennett, Jesus Aguilar

Perez started at least one game at every defensive position but catcher last season, stole 34 bases and hit .272 with a .730 OPS. He is a player without a regular position, and Counsell expects to use him similarly in 2017. Gennett, meanwhile, is a question mark as he readies for a potential role off the bench that could include some outfield work. Aguilar tied for the Triple-A home run crown last season with Colorado Springs, and he would be a backup at first base if he makes the team.

Starting pitchers: Guerra, Davies, Nelson, Garza, Peralta

Guerra, Davies and Nelson look like locks, and then it gets tough. Peralta was not effective early last season, but he was a big enough part of the Brewers' plans that they started him on Opening Day. He was also much more effective after a late-season callup. Garza is due $12.5 million in the final year of his contract, but don't forget about Anderson, who had a 1.98 ERA in September.

Might the Brewers somehow use all six from the start of the season? Maybe. If not, we'll bet for now that the club errs on the side of experience, and Anderson opens the season in long relief.

Bullpen: Neftali Feliz, Carlos Torres, Corey Knebel, Jacob Barnes, Jhan Marinez, Michael Blazek, Anderson

That's seven relievers including Anderson, who seems most likely of the six starters above to fit a long relief role. The back end of the 'pen will be led by free-agent acquisition Feliz, who appears the leading candidate to pitch the ninth inning. There are a number of others competing for these spots, including southpaw Brent Suter and right-handers Tyler Cravy and Damien Magnifico. The Brewers also will have 10 non-roster pitchers in camp.

Brewers sign Neftali Feliz

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.