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Opening Day Countdown: Will Middlebrooks #15

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Fifteen days from baseball and I'm getting pumped.

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The Brewers signed Will Middlebrooks to a minor league deal over the winter. I thought it was an interesting buy low opportunity. He was once a well regarded prospect, but in the years since he debuted in the majors he's done little to back up the hype. At this point he battling for a bench spot with the Brewers. But he has an uphill battle with several other candidates who are out of options.

The only player that's guaranteed to be on the Brewers bench is Martin Maldonado. That leaves four spots for other players. I think it's pretty likely the Brewers keep a player capable of backing up shortstop. Who it will be is uncertain. But that leaves three spots. One of those may go to Rule 5 pick Colin Walsh. Again, that is uncertain, but it would leave two bench spots.

There are currently three infielders that have a chance of making the cut. Will Middlebrooks and Garin Cecchini are capable of playing first and third. Andy Wilkins is a first baseman. Normally it would seem likely that one of these guys gets the spot. But that might not be the case. For one thing, Middlebrooks isn't on the 40-man roster. It's likely at least one spot gets cleared by the time spring training is over. But it's still an obstacle. Cecchini and Wilkins both have options. So the Brewers don't have to keep any of these three on the major league roster to retain their services. That's not true about the other bench candidates.

I'm primarily talking about Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ramon Flores, and Rymer Liriano. One of these guys should break camp as the main center fielder. And one of them likely makes the bench as a fourth outfielder. I think Nieuwenhuis is probably the starter on opening day. But Flores and Liriano are pretty interesting players. I don't think the Brewers will want to risk losing either of them--especially Flores since they traded Luis Sardinas for him.

Normally I'd say one of them faces getting cut because the bench wouldn't have a player capable of backing up first base. However Flores has played some first base in the minors. And the Brewers have trotted him out there this spring. If Jonathan Lucroy doesn't get traded before the season starts, he might get some starts at first too which would lessen the need for a true back-up.

While I'm sure Middlebrooks wants to break camp with a major league roster spot, it might be best if he starts in AAA. He's struggled at the major league level, but he's still just 27. It's not exactly young, but it's not old either. Maybe one step back will help him to take two steps forward. Just like with Cecchini, perhaps the Brewers AAA coaching staff can help turn him around.