A couple days ago, we took a look at how the Brewers outfield picture had been shuffled around this winter and took stock of where things stand heading into spring training. Well, Slingin' David Stearns has been even more active in re-shaping the Brewers' infield for 2016. Three of the four starting infielders from last Opening Day - Adam Lind, Jean Segura, and Aramis Ramirez - are gone, and in their stead the Brewers have a myriad of ways of potenitally piecing together the infield puzzle.
Nine infielders are listed on the Brewers' current 40 man roster:
Aaron Hill - cannot be demoted without consent
Chris Carter - no minor league options
Jonathan Villar - no minor league options
Colin Walsh - Rule 5 Draft pick
The club has also invited Jake Elmore, Will Middlebrooks, and Hernan Perez to spring training as non-roster invitees. The club has already said Orlando Arcia will begin the season in the minors, which gives them potentially 11 players for what'll likely be six spots on the Opening Day roster. So where do all those guys fit in?
Here Chris Carter gets the nod. The Brewers went out and signed the former Astros' slugger to a one year, $2.5 mil contract this offseason, making him the club's only big league free agent signing to this point. If Carter can return to form after a down season last year, the Brewers could conceivably control him for another two seasons after this one through arbitration and he could be a nice stopgap at first base.
Andy Wilkins, who was claimed off waivers earlier this winter, figures to provide the first line of depth down at AAA. Will Middlebrooks could also be a candidate to see time here if anything happens to Carter, and Garin Cecchini has limited experience at first as well.
Scooter Gennett figures to get the bulk of the playing time here, though he'll obviously need to platoon with someone. Gennett's deficiencies against left-handed pitching are well known, but the fact remains that he crushes righties to the tune of a career .796 OPS which makes him a useful player to have around. He posted a solid 94 wRC+ after being recalled from AAA through the end of last season and should continue to provide value at the keystone.
Since acquiring Aaron Hill from Arizona, Stearns has alluded to him sliding into more of a backup role so he could be a candidate to take most of the at-bats at second base against left handed pitching. Rule 5 pick Colin Walsh, who needs to stay with the Brewers all year or be offered back to his former club, could also see time at second against southpaws.
After trading Jean Segura, the immediate reaction by many was that the position in now open for Orlando Arcia. Well, slow your roll there folks because while Arcia is an exciting prospect, he's never taken an at-bat in AAA. Stearns has said that Arcia will start the year in Colorado Springs, but he'll only need to be there for as long as the club sees fit. My guess is it'll be at least until June, so the Brewers can stave off Arcia's potential status as a Super Two.
In the meantime, offseason acquisition Jonathan Villar will be getting an audition to show if he can stick at the big league level. The former Astros top prospect has been inconsistent in his brief major league trials, though he did put together a promising .284/.339/.414 line in 128 plate appearances for Houston last year. Villar has the tools to be an average big league producer offensively, which would make him a very valuable player to have given how poorly the shortstop position is league-wide at the plate. His defense remains somewhat of a work-in-progress however, though if he can simply cut down on his errors he's got a strong arm and good range at the position.
Beyond Villar, slick-fielding Yadiel Rivera represents the only real shortstop with a chance to make the Opening Day roster. Aaron Hill has played the position in his career, but not since 2006 when he posted, ahem, -13 defensive runs saved in just 428.1 innings. Rivera's bat will probably always hold him back from ever becoming a regular, but he could enjoy a nice career as a utility player if he can keep up his defense.
They don't call it the hot corner for nothing, and third base is where the Brewers figure to have the most competition for playing time during the spring. If the Brewers want to try and establish some value with Aaron Hill in order to try and eventually trade him, third base is probably the most logical spot to try and deploy him on a regular basis. The club has indicated that they aren't planning on utilizing Hill as an everyday player at this point however, making me question whether trying to salvage some trade value from him is a true priority.
Garin Cecchini is probably the most intriguing option here, as the former top prospect has shown he could have the tools to become a long-term fixture at the position. Though after being pushed off of third by the Red Sox last season and tinkering with his swing, perhaps Garin could use some time in Colorado Springs to get his feet under him and get back to what he does best - spraying line drives all over the ballpark, rather than trying to sell out for power as he did during the end of his Red Sox tenure. He could come up midseason and the Brewers would retain six full seasons of control of Cecchini starting next year.
If the Brewers do decide to have Cecchini begin the season in AAA, it could open up the door for Will Middlebrooks to get one last chance to prove he can stick at the big league level. After posting an .835 OPS and slugging 15 home runs in his 75 game big league debut back in 2012, Middlebrooks has struggled to do much of anything at the major league level. He's been below replacement level in each of the last two seasons and posted a Segura-esque 64 wRC+ in 2015 for the Padres. Closing in on age 28, time may be running out for Middlebrooks to carve himself out a spot in the big leagues.
1B - Carter
2B - Gennett
3B - Hill
SS - Villar
BN - Rivera
BN - Walsh
With first, second, and short basically spoken for, the real competition comes down to third base and the final bench spot. Despite what the Brewers have said I think the club ends up giving the nod to Aaron Hill here because their hands are basically tied - Yadiel Rivera almost HAS to make the team as a backup shortstop meaning that Cecchini and Middlebrooks will likely begin the season in AAA. This would also allow Hill the chance to reestablish some value and perhaps get traded before the deadline. Walsh could slot into a platoon role with Scooter to start the season and be the primary backup at second and third, with Rivera serving as the backup shortstop and late-inning defensive replacement. Villar is a player I will be keeping my eye on - I like his tools and think he could be a player who surprisingly establishes himself as a long-term piece for this ballclub, though there's a better chance it's eventually at either second or third than it is at short, where he's just keeping the seat warm for Arcia.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs