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The Brewers Roster & The Drama of Spring

I typically don’t watch much spring training baseball. As great as it is to see people back out on the field in March after a long winter, the novelty wears off quickly for me, and there are only so many games that don’t matter — games that aren’t so much games as glorified practices — that I can watch before I get bored.
Myself and those who share my attitude towards spring training are tempted to say we don’t watch these games because they don’t matter. But for many of the players in training camp, the players who are playing for their careers and to head north with a roster spot, their March performances are the most important ones they’ll put in all year, the ones that determine their livelihood and how many zeroes will come at the end of their checks.
That’s particularly true this year in Brewers camp, as David Stearns targeted a number of fringe players who are out of options in his search for young talent this offseason. All of these players must make the 25-man roster or they will be sent through waivers; more importantly, for many of them, this spring training will be their best chance at making a major-league team. Most teams have only a few of these players on the roster, maybe in the high single digits. The Brewers list includes a ridiculous 16 players who are competing for — at most — 11 roster spots according to RosterResource.com.
3B/1B Will Middlebrooks
OF Ramon Flores
OF Rymer Liriano
SS Jonathan Villar
1B Chris Carter
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis
RP Jeremy Jeffress
RP Tyler Thornburg
RP Sean Nolin
C Josmil Pinto
IF Hernan Perez
OF Alex Presley
OF Shane Peterson
OF Eric Young Jr.
SP Ariel Pena
RP Blaine Boyer
RP Cesar Jimenez
The only guaranteed spots I see here are the ones going to Villar, Carter and Jeffress. That leaves everybody else fighting for a backup spot with the rest of the Brewers organization, a total of 13 players plus the rest of the club’s’ minor leaguers fighting for eight roster spots. Rule 5 draft pick Colin Walsh, a second baseman plucked from Oakland, may take another spot away from the gaggle of position players angling for a job.
Lots of these players are intriguing. Liriano, Villar, Nolin and Pinto¬†have all been high-ranking prospects at some point in their minor-league careers. The rest either bring and intriguing prospect pedigree or major-league experience to the table. They were all available for cheap for one reason or another — attitude problems, injury problems, they took too long to hit their prospect peak, they don’t have a position, etc. — and all are flawed players. This one month in Arizona will be their only chance to show their talents outweigh their flaws and that they deserve a chance to play in the major leagues.
Sure, these spring training games won’t have the kind of meaning we usually attach to sports. It won’t be about victory and defeat, about the push for October or even about hope for the future. It’s going to be about things that are a little less comfortable to think about — internal competition, the difference between a stream of major-league¬†paychecks and the end of a professional career.
But on a team that isn’t going to be competing in 2016 — as Ryan Braun prefers, we’ll avoid the dreaded “T” word — that means the most meaningful baseball anybody plays in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform this year will come this spring. It might not even come in the games we see on the field. Pivotal moments may come in a practice, in the clubhouse, a player showing he can fit into the culture the Brewers are trying to develop going forward.
As such, I probably will check out a few more Brewers spring training games than usual this year. So often in March there isn’t anything to play for other than the ever-illustrious Cactus League championship. But this season, with the Brewers predicted by so many to be afterthoughts by the end of April, the games played over the next three weeks will mean so much more than those played in the dog days of summer as the losses pile up. If Brewers fans want drama, they should get it while the getting’s good this spring.
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