Barring something unforeseen, the Brewers' Opening Day lineup already has three outfielders penciled into it: Ryan Braun will play in left, Carlos Gomez is slated to get his first true full-time opportunity in center and Norichika Aoki will remain in right, where he spent most of 2012. Behind them, though, the picture gets a little murkier.
Conventional wisdom would suggest the Brewers have room on their roster for two bench outfielders, and here are the leading candidates to fill those spots:
- Advantages: Of the leading candidates for this job, Schafer is the only true center fielder. He's also had some notable success in limited major league opportunities, hitting .308/.345/.500 over 24 games as a September callup in 2011 and 2012. He's 26 and has appeared in over 160 games in AAA, so it's probably time to see what he can do.
- Disadvantages: Having a player with limited major league experience as your primary bench player is something teams always seem to shy away from. The most playing time Schafer could probably get in this role is 3-4 starts a week (split between center and right), so there's a chance the Brewers could want to get him more consistent playing time in AAA. That's the case for all these guys, though.
- Advantages: Since being drafted in 2009 all Davis has done is hit at every level. He comes into 2013 carrying a career .294/.400/.513 batting line in the minors, including a .350/.451/.604 mark between AA and AAA a year ago. He's also right-handed, which would make him a nice pinch-hitting alternative to Schafer.
- Disadvantages: Scouts have never been enamored with Davis, consistently rating him low on prospect lists. He also has just 32 career games at AAA and 79 at AA, so a strong case can be made for him to get more minor league seasoning. Finally, he's played 267 of his 269 minor league games in left field, so positional flexibility could be an issue. If he could play first base he'd be an interesting second option to Mat Gamel.
- Advantages: Like Davis, Gindl has consistently outhit expectations across the minors. He's a career .293/.368/.458 hitter across 685 games. He has over twice as much professional experience as Davis, including over 250 games in AAA.
- Disadvantages: Gindl had his worst professional year in 2012, hitting just .261/.317/.423. Like Davis, scouts also typically don't like him. He's listed at just 5'9", so he doesn't necessarily look like a major league outfielder. Also, pairing him on the bench with Schafer would give the Brewers two lefties, limiting their situational options.
- Advantages: Going with four true outfielders would allow the Brewers to keep another pitcher in the bullpen, which could help solve another roster battle and also limit the individual workloads of relievers who could be asked to fill a lot of innings behind a young rotation this season. Schafer is capable of playing all three spots, so one person could do the work of two here.
- Disadvantages: That extra flexibility in the bullpen means less flexibility off the bench, of course. Having one bench outfielder would make it tough to use him as a pinch hitter, because if something happened the Brewers would have to send Corey Hart or a bench infielder to play out of position.
Other options: Josh Prince parlayed his hot AFL season into a camp invite, but probably needs to repeat that performance in AAA before getting considered. Kentrail Davis is the lone NRI outfielder, but also probably isn't ready to make the leap.
My prediction: I think Schafer is a near-lock to make the roster, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Brewers consider bringing in a veteran for the other spot. Unless Gindl or Davis blows the cover off the ball this spring, I'm expecting the Brewers to either go with four outfielders or Schafer and a yet-unnamed veteran.