No, not NCAA basketball --- I've stopped thinking about the tournament when my championship pick Memphis cratered last week. No, I'm talking about the final four spots left on the Brewers. On Friday, Adam McCalvy broke down who is left in the running to make the 25-man roster, and the price to pay for organizational depth. (All spring training stats from mlb.com.)
Mark DiFelice (0-0, 6.10 ERA) vs. Jorge Julio (0-1, 5.91 ERA)
For the moment, this looks like it will be a non-issue, as closer Trevor Hoffman is likely to begin the season on the DL. As already noted, Villanueva will likely move to the closer's spot, with perhaps Coffey getting a look as well. That means DiFelice and Julio will likely start the season on the team, at least until Hoffman comes back. I believe DiFelice still has options left, and, given that he hasn't had a dominant spring per se, I can't imagine the Brewers releasing Julio to make room for him. Just the same, his camp hasn't been all bad: in 10+ innings of work, DiFelice struck out 12 and issued only one walk, for a WHIP of just under 1.0.
Mike Lamb (.245, .721 OPS) vs. Casey McGehee (.373, 1.059 OPS)
This one is more lopsided than it looks. McGehee has also been "excellent defensively at third," which is something you haven't heard around Miller Park for a few seasons. Moreover, he can backup 1st, 2nd, and the outfield, can act as the emergency catcher, and is the only right-handed hitter among these backups.
The best thing going for Lamb is...well...McGehee still has all of his options left. In his career, Lamb hits RHP (OPS .757) better than LHP (OPS .713), which would complement Bill Hall, who hits lefties better than righties. However, in 247 ABs in Milwaukee and Minnesota last season, Lamb's OPS couldn't crack .600.
Based solely on spring training, it's hard to make a case for Lamb. Just the same, given the desire for organizational depth, plus the fact that McGehee never OPSed .800 in the minors, plus the fact that Macha is familiar with Lamb from when he played in the AL in 2000-2003, I could see Lamb breaking camp with the team.
Outfield (2 spots)
Tony Gwynn (.143, .351 OPS) vs. Chris Duffy (.323, OPS .876) vs. Brad Nelson (.385, 1.133 OPS)
This one also looks obvious at first blush, though the small sample sizes of spring training are even smaller when you miss much of camp (a la Tony Gwynn and his 21 ABs). If you choose based on performance, Duffy and Nelson make the cut; if you decide based on options, then Duffy gets sent down, as Nelson and TG Jr either make the team or become available for other teams to pick up. McCalvy points out that Duffy played in 74 and 30 games the last two seasons, and could be sent to Nashville to prove that he's healthy. We know the most about Gwynn, but it's not that good: in 130 major-league ABs, Tony has an OPS of .598. Moreover, in 569 minor league games, he has an OPS of .687. This isn't to say he doesn't have value --- it's just that right now, that value is as a defensive replacement and pinchrunner.
It's hard to envision Nelson --- who has hit the best of the three and is out of options --- not making the team. That leaves TG and Duffy left for the last spot. Duffy and Gwynn seem to be similar players: speedy (Duffy had 26 SBs in 2006) but not particularly adept at getting on base (career OBP .328, OPS .689).
You probably see a pattern with the two spots left wide open. In each case, we have a player we're familiar with (Lamb, TG Jr) and one we're not (McGehee, Duffy). The ones we know, quite frankly, aren't particularly good. (Sorry, guys.) The ones we don't are having great springs, but their history over the past couple of seasons suggest that these spring stats reek of small sample size. In addition, McGehee and Duffy can be sent to AAA for "organizational depth."
I guess I would only be mildly disappointed if McGehee and Duffy don't make the team. I'm a little curious as to their futures with the club, though, given that Gamel and (soon) Cain will be manning third base and center, respectively, in AAA. If those two made the team, and we released Lamb and TG, I'm also curious as to what what other cut veterans might be available to play in Nashville as organizational depth. (I guess I'm not a fan of sacrificing major league talent, even as backups, for organizational depth.)
This all might be moot if Counsell (knee) and Braun (ribs) need to be DLed to start the season. With a week to go in spring training, I guess we'll find out soon enough.