As spring training opens today, now seems like as good a time as any to take a look at the battles for the final remaining roster spots as they begin to take shape. It would likely take a remarkable change of course to cause any of these 17 players to miss the Opening Day roster:
Catchers: Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado
Infielders: Mat Gamel, Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, Jean Segura, Alex Gonzalez
Outfielders: Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki
Starting pitchers: Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada
Relief pitchers: John Axford, Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop and Jim Henderson
That leaves eight spots available on the roster, and history would suggest one is in the infield, two in the outfield, three in the starting rotation and two in the bullpen (although the team could certainly opt to carry an extra pitcher or position player). Today we'll take a look at the four top candidates vying for those three rotation spots:
- Advantages: He's the only one of these four candidates with even a single full season of major league experience. He was serviceable in a fifth starter role in 2011, posting a 4.45 ERA over 30 appearances (28 starts). Before 2012 his only significant injury history as a Brewer was a 2011 DL trip due to a scissors-related injury. He's also the rotation's only left-handed candidate.
- Disadvantages: If Narveson is fully healthy there's almost no way he doesn't make the roster, but he's going to have to prove he's ready. He's coming back from nearly a full season lost to shoulder surgery, and not everyone who falls into that hole climbs out of it.
- Advantages: With the exception of Narveson, Fiers' 25 major league appearances give him the most experience of the candidates for these spots. Despite a very sudden fade to end the 2012 season, Fiers still posted a 3.74 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his first full-time opportunity in the majors.
- Disadvantages: Fiers left us all with a bad taste in our mouths by posting a 6.99 ERA over his final ten starts in 2012. He has non-conventional stuff and doesn't throw all that hard, leading many scouts to write him off. He also has options remaining, which Narveson and Mark Rogers do not.
- Advantages: Peralta has easily the highest upside of this group, as the Brewers' #1 prospect. He's still only 23 and posted a 2.48 ERA in six September appearances, striking out 23 in 29 innings. He also threw 175.2 innings between the majors and minors in 2013, so pitching a full major league season shouldn't create any major injury concerns.
- Disadvantages: They didn't surface in the majors last season, but Peralta has shown some significant control issues in the minors, including 4.8 walks per nine innings for Nashville in 2012. Since he is only 23 and has options remaining, it's possible to make a case to send Peralta back to AAA (where he's made 33 starts over the last two seasons) for more seasoning.
- Advantages: Rogers was solid in seven major league starts in 2012, posting a 3.92 ERA over 39 innings with 41 strikeouts and just 14 walks. When he's on he shows excellent stuff, including a fastball that sits around 93-94. Rogers is also out of options, and would almost certainly be claimed if the Brewers put him on waivers.
- Disadvantages: Rogers set a career high by pitching 134.1 innings a year ago before being shut down in August, and has only pitched more than 100 one other time. Injuries have derailed him several times since he was the #5 overall pick in 2004, and there's really no way to be confident it won't happen again.
Others that could be considered: Tyler Thornburg and Hiram Burgos (likely both ticketed for AAA), Alfredo Figaro (more likely to be a bullpen candidate) and Tom Gorzelanny (more likely to be used in relief).
My prediction: I think all four of these guys will open 2013 on the big league roster, presuming they're all healthy. I'll take Narveson, Peralta and Fiers in the rotation to open the season, and I'll do my best to manage Rogers' workload by slotting him into one of the vacant spots in the bullpen.