Questions #1 & #2 to be answered in Maryvale

Finally, on the day the Brewers pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale, I unveil what I think are the top two issues facing the 2009 Milwaukee Brewers heading into spring training:

#2. Which reserve OF candidates will win 25-man roster spots?
Tom Haudriourt of JSOnline.com had this at #5 on his list, while MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy alluded to this in his #3 (of 3) questions with regards to Tony Gywnn, Jr.  In other words, assuming the Brewers carry two backup outfielders in 2009, which two will shine enough in Cactus League play to warrant a spot on the 25-man roster.

The spots are more important than usual, as these will likely be the two “go to” pinch-hitters for Ken Macha, as reserve infielders Craig Counsell and Mike Lamb are not particularly great hitters…and it is assumed that the reserve catcher, Mike Rivera, will be only used as a last resort.  As McCalvy mentioned, prospect Tony Gwynn, Jr., is out of minor league options, so he’ll be given every opportunity to win one of the three spots; the other two contenders, Chris Duffy and Trot Nixon, are similar to Gwynn in that both also hit left-handed, and both can fill in for Corey Hart in right, as well as Mike Cameron in center.  Without any split squad cames scheduled, all three will have to compete for time at the plate and in the outfield…with one being the odd man out.  Gywnn has the most trade value, and could be dealt should another need arise…and Duffy and Nixon both shine.

And, finally…

#1. Who will new skipper Ken Macha select for the starting rotation…and in what order…and does the current mix have enough to get it done?
Not surprisingly, this issue was also #1 on both Tom Haudricourt’s and Adam McCalvy’s list.  McCalvy projected the rotation as Gallardo, Looper, Bush, Suppan, and Parra, while I wasn’t able to find any predictions from Haudricourt, other than he quoted Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin as saying that Seth McClung is likely headed to the bullpen (where, presumably, he’s in contention to be the set-up man).

In an earlier post, I predicted Looper, Gallardo, Suppan, Parra, and Bush/McClung as the rotation, due to Looper’s experience and 4.16 ERA last year…while Bush finished with a 4.18 ERA, neither Looper or Bush had winning records; only Manny Parra finished above .500 at 10-8, 4.39, while Jeff Suppan wound up at 10-10, 4.96 (Gallardo was 0-0, 1.88, Looper was 12-14, 4.16 with the Redbirds, and Bush was 9-10, 4.18)…with all but Gallardo posting rather similar numbers in ’08, it is anybody’s guess how the rotation will come about…and Maryvale will be a big factor as Ken Macha sees his starters for the first time today.

Will they be enough to contend?  Only time will tell…Doug Melvin added Nick Green to the men in waiting down in Nashville who, along with Mark DiFelice, Chase Wright, Chris Capuano, Lindsay Guillen, Chris Narveson, and Sam Narron, will compete for the starting rotation with the Sounds for new skipper Don Money.

So, there you have it…obviously, pitching is the biggest concern for Brewers’ fans this year…but Doug Melvin has done a tremendous job bringing in new faces into the system, and all will be given a fair chance to succeed…only time will tell if it will be enough.

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