RIVERA GETTING A LONG LOOK
After playing non-stop for virtually an entire year, it maybe shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the players logging the most innings for the Brewers this spring is infielder Yadiel Rivera. After making his big league debut with Milwaukee last September, Rivera spent stints in the Arizona Fall League and Puerto Rican Winter League before reporting to Maryvale last month.
The versatile middle infielder has appeared in ten Cactus League contests for the Brewers so far, hitting .333 with three doubles, a pair of home runs and five runs batted in, including a walk-off blast in Milwaukee’s 6-5 victory against the Indians last Sunday afternoon.
The 23-year-old Rivera has a shot to make the Brewers opening day roster, due mainly to his defensive prowess and versatility. He can play shortstop, third base or second base providing Craig Counsell and his staff with some valuable flexibility as they assemble their roster. If he doesn’t crack the roster out of spring training, Rivera will head to Triple-A Colorado Springs and in all likelihood will find his way back to Miller Park at some point during the season.
NOLIN STATING HIS CASE FOR BULLPEN SPOT
Another player opening some eyes this spring has been left-handed reliever Sean Nolin, whom the Brewers claimed off waivers from the Oakland A’s last month. In his first three outings, the 6’3″ 26-year-old has yet to allow a run in four innings of relief, holding opposing hitters to a .188 batting average. He turned in a particularly dominating performance against Texas on Friday, going two scoreless innings and recording five of his six outs via strikeout.
The Brewers are short on left-handed arms throughout their organization and only reliever Will Smith is a lock to make their 25-man roster, making Nolin that much more valuable. A former sixth round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, Nolin has worked as both a starter and a reliever, making six starts last season with Oakland, and could serve as a long-reliever or spot starter for Milwaukee in 2016.
SANTANA THRIVES IN LEADOFF ROLE
The Brewers are thinking outside of the box when it comes to their leadoff spot this season. Over the past few games, they’ve given right fielder Domingo Santana a chance to fill the position and the big Dominican has responded favorably. In seven games this spring, Santana is batting .600, going 9-for-15 with four doubles and a home run.
The idea of the six-foot-five, 220 pound Santana as the Brewers leadoff hitter might seem strange, but manager Craig Counsell noted Santana’s ability to get on base as a contributing factor. While he does strikeout some, Santana has also shown the ability to take a walk throughout his career and his power at the top of the order could serve as an added bonus, similar to that of Rickie Weeks in recent history.
THE WALKING WOUNDED
The injury bug has hit the Brewers over the past few weeks, but several familiar faces should soon be returning to game action. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress is on his way back from a hamstring strain and should get his fist tast of Cactus League action this week. He’ll be joined on the field by left fielder Ryan Braun, who is also slated to make his spring debut sometime in the next week or so after recovering from offseason back surgery. Scooter Gennett continues to battle through some shoulder tendinitis, but a recent MRI showed no structural damage, leaving hope that he’ll soon return to game action as well.
Three other players who have yet to make their initial appearances this spring include outfielder Brett Phillips and pitchers Zach Jones and Yhonathan Barrios. Phillips, who has become a fan favorite off the field, is still nursing an oblique strain while Jones and Barrios have been out with shoulder strains. A Rule 5 draft choice in December, Jones could be in the most jeopardy as the Brewers must make a decision to keep him on their roster when camp breaks or return him to Minnesota. Barrios, who is in the running for a bullpen spot at well, worked an inning in the Brewers exhibition game against UW-Milwaukee but has not pitched since.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
– The center field competition continues to progress with veterans Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Eric Young, Jr. and prospect Keon Broxton all seeing plenty of playing time this spring. Broxton’s defense could give him an edge, but Young has impressed at the plate, hitting .353 through nine games. Niewenhuis has struggled early on, striking out in 9 of his 17 at bats with an average of just .176.
– The auditions continue at first base as well, as the Brewers look for someone to back up probably starter Chris Carter. Andy Wilkins, Garin Cecchini, Ramon Flores, Shane Peterson and Will Middlebrooks have all gotten looks with Wilkins providing the most offensive punch. While they aren’t first basemen by trade, Flores and Middlebrooks are fighting for bench jobs and being able to spell Carter at first base couldn’t help but increase their value to the Brewers.
– Though they are all likely destined to open the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs, three relievers who have gotten off to strong starts are righties Damien Magnifico and Jaye Chapman and left-hander Mitch Lambson. In three outings, Magnifico has yet to allow a hit or a run while Chapman is unscored upon in either of his appearances, collecting one of the Brewers three saves. Lambson, acquired in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, has made two relief appearances, going an inning and two-thirds and striking out a pair.
– One man who could be catching those pitchers in the future for the Brewers is newly acquired Jacob Nottingham who Counsell confirmed would indeed be staying behind the plate. “There’s no question in anybody’s mind he’s going to be a catcher” said Counsell. “He has made improvements since he has been here.” That’s good news as the Brewers are thin in the catching ranks and Nottingham represents their best hope for an eventual replacement to Jonathan Lucroy. He’ll likely head back to minor league camp soon and appears ticketed for Double-A Biloxi to open 2016.
– The real fun starts on the back fields on Friday when the minor league games begin with the Brewers Single-A teams playing host to the Cincinnati Reds while the Double-A and Triple-A teams head to Goodyear. A handful of those prospects have already seen action as they played a pair of exhibition games this past week against the Czech Republic and Germany as they prepared for World Baseball Classic Qualifying.