With the start of baseball’s regular season now only five days away, time is running out for the teams across Major League Baseball to whittle their active rosters down to just 25 men. The Milwaukee Brewers took several steps towards cutting down to that number this morning:
OF Keon Broxton, OF Brett Phillips and RHP Junior Guerra have been optioned to minor-league camp. C Dustin Houle has been reassigned to minor-league camp. 37 players remain in Major League camp (18 pitchers, 4 catchers, 10 Infielders, 5 outfielders).— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) March 24, 2018
C Christian Bethancourt, INF Nick Franklin, INF Nate Orf, OF Kyle Wren, RHP Yovani Gallardo and RHP Radhames Liz have been informed that they will not be on the Major League team. All but Gallardo will join the team for next week’s exhibition games in Houston.— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) March 24, 2018
After the Brewers added both Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to the fold this past offseason, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that Phillips and Broxton would start the season in the minors assuming everyone stayed healthy through the spring. Broxton was the regular center fielder throughout much of last season but even though he swatted 20 home runs and swiped 21 bags, his cumulative batting line of .220/.299/.420 added up to only an 84 wRC+. He hit .245/.351/.408 with 2 home runs and 8 steals in 49 at-bats this spring, though he also whiffed 22 times. He was not pleased with how the situation played out:
Keon Broxton understandably upset over being optioned by #Brewers after 20/20 season. Doesn't want to talk about it.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 24, 2018
Phillips had a nice run of production last September but struggled this spring, batting a mere .143/.192/.347 with two dingers in 49 at-bats. He also struggled mightily with K’s, going down on strikes 20 times during Cactus League play. A considerably younger player with only 98 MLB plate appearances to his ledger, Phillips took his demotion more in stride:
Brett Phillips took his option in usual good spirits. Had bad spring but he knew was going to be cut anyway. Determined to make it back.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 24, 2018
Guerra was one of the three starters left standing in the battle for the fourth (and possibly fifth) rotation spots. He was last year’s Opening Day starter but a calf injury in that first start cost him seven weeks of the season, and he was never able to get back on track as he battled his mechanics, lost velocity, and was eventually sent to the minor leagues. Guerra performed quite well while pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League, however, where he was to clean up his delivery and re-find the missing zip on his fastball. Junior reported to camp in excellent shape and performed quite well in Cactus League action, tossing 20.0 innings with a 3.15 ERA and 16:5 K/BB ratio. Guerra won’t open the season in the starting rotation, but he seems likely to be the first line of defense if/when the Brewers need to bring up a starter in the case of an injury or poor performance.
Junior Guerra said he knew this might happen when told he had fourth option. Thought he pitched well enough to make #Brewers staff but ready to get after it in AAA. Was opening day starter in 2017.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 24, 2018
Yovani Gallardo was signed to a non-guaranteed deal this past winter and given a chance to compete for the starting rotation, but the decision was made earlier in camp to look at him solely as a reliever. Apparently the Brewers didn’t see enough to keep him around after he allowed 7 earned runs in 13.1 innings with a 12:8 K/BB ratio. Once he is released, the Brewers will only owe him a portion of his $2 mil base salary in the form of termination pay.
As for Dustin Houle, he was in camp as a non-roster invitee and appeared in 11 Cactus League games. He garnered only 9 at-bats and recorded two hits, though one of them did fly over the fence. Houle has spent the past few seasons as upper-minors catching depth for the organization and figures to resume that role again in 2018, perhaps at AA Biloxi. Orf had an .895 OPS in 36 at-bats, Wren posted a .955 OPS across 33 at-bats, Franklin a 1.054 OPS in 36 at-bats, and Bethancourt a .984 OPS in 26 at-bats. Each of them were in camp as NRIs and will serve along with Houle as upper level depth. Liz will join them somewhere in AA or AAA as a bullpen arm after allowing 2 earned runs in 5.1 spring innings.
After this morning’s moves, here is how the pitching situation looks:
Starting rotation to open the season: RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Jhoulys Chacín and LHP Brent Suter at San Diego and RHP Zach Davies in the home opener vs. St. Louis.— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) March 24, 2018
#Brewers opening rotation : Anderson, Chacin and Suter in San Diego. Woodruff kept in bullpen until fifth starter needed vs Cubs.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 24, 2018
So, last two bullpen spots and one bench spot to be determined by the #Brewers. Five players in play: Drake, Hoover, Williams, Aguilar, Choi.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 24, 2018
The starting rotation, at least to begin the season, appears to be all set. Brent Suter will begin the season in the starting rotation and take the ball to begin one of the games in the opening San Diego series. The Brewers appear to be leaning towards starting the year with a four-man rotation and eight-man bullpen so that they can try to keep Jesus Aguilar around a little longer, so Brandon Woodruff will start the year in the bullpen before taking the ball when a 5th starter is needed for the first time on April 7th against the Cubs. Woody has allowed 10 earned runs in 12.2 innings this spring, but is also sporting a nifty 15:3 K/BB ratio.
As far as the bullpen picture goes, with Woodruff starting there it means only two open spots remain even after it was announced that Boone Logan will begin the season on the disabled list. Oliver Drake cannot be optioned to the minors, which could give him a leg up on one of the open spots (especially as he is sort of a right-handed LOOGY with a splitter that neutralizes southpaws). Taylor Williams has pitched quite well this spring but has options remaining, while JJ Hoover hasn’t been scored upon in 8.1 innings but is an NRI on straight minor league contract that doesn’t have an opt-out so he can also begin the season in the minors.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and MLB.com