COMMENTARY | Every now and then, there's at least one off-the-radar player who performs so well in spring training that the manager simply can't ignore his performance. Whether it's a journeyman or an up-and-coming prospect, fans open up the media guide on opening day to see a few unfamiliar names.
In the case of the Milwaukee Brewers, there will be a free-for-all when it comes to who will fill out the available pitching vacancies. There are likely six pitchers who have locked up spots on the opening-day roster: Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Michael Gonzalez, and Burke Badenhop.
We'll get more in tune with some roster battles as we take a look at 5 long shots who could make the Brewers' opening-day roster:
1. 2B - Scooter Gennett
All he does is hit. In his first spring training appearance with the Brewers in 2011, Gennett only had nine at-bats, but he hit .333 and drove in two runs. In last year's spring training, Gennett's at-bat total increased to 20, and his numbers shot up to a .450 AVG with 1 HR and 4 RBIs. It's becoming difficult to ignore Gennett and his talent despite his stature -- he is 5 feet 9 inches tall -- as he has moved up the minor-league ladder from Single-A Wisconsin in 2010 to A-plus Brevard County in 2011 and then to Double-A Huntsville in 2012.
The next step would naturally be Triple-A Nashville for Gennett, who sports a .300 AVG in his 3-year career in Milwaukee's minor-league system. According to Baseball America, he is the Brewers' No. 8 prospect overall and third-best position player. Odds are that he settles in at Nashville for the majority of 2013, but should the injury-prone Rickie Weeks happen to go down once again, Gennett figures to get a long look as the next man up for Milwaukee.
2. RP - Kelvim Escobar
He's 36 years old and hasn't played a full season since 2007. Yet the Brewers have signed Escobar to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. Escobar won 18 games with the Los Angeles Angels back in '07, but he will be viewed strictly as a reliever heading into spring training as Escobar looks to complete his comeback to the big leagues after suffering a tear in his right shoulder in 2008.
Milwaukee liked what it saw in Escobar during winter ball, and it's a low-risk, high-reward move for the Brewers. Assuming Axford, Henderson, Badenhop, and Gonzalez take up four bullpen spots with Tom Gorzellany probable to make the roster, that leaves two spots open. If Escobar can regain some of that flare from the past, don't rule him out of being in a Brewers uniform on opening day.
3. RP - Johnny Hellweg
If Escobar happens to snag one of the two proposed openings in the bullpen, Hellweg could be another long shot who claims the other. One of the players shipped over by the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade, Hellweg is a towering 6 feet 9 inches and comes in as the sixth-best prospect in the Brewers' system via Baseball America.
Like Gennett, Hellweg hasn't played above the Double-A level but between Arkansas and Huntsville last season, he had a 3.29 ERA and pitched mainly in relief for the Stars after starting 21 games at the Angels' Double-A affiliate. That indicates that Milwaukee would like to summon him from the bullpen at the major- league level, and not much is guaranteed when it comes to the Brewers' relief situation.
4. 1B - Hunter Morris
You had to figure that the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Year would crack this list, even with the Milwaukee opening-day lineup almost set in stone. It will be Morris' first opportunity to join the big-league club for spring training and show the Brewers what he can do after hitting .303 while bopping 28 HRs and driving in 113 runs last season at Huntsville.
The current starting first baseman for the Brewers, Corey Hart, is set to be a free agent at season's end. The Brewers may not want to commit a large sum of cash to Hart and look to ship him off at some point during the season. As a non-roster invitee to spring training, the lefty-swinging Morris would likely be joining the 40-man roster after the season, but he might be a part of the 25-man roster before we know it.
5. SP - Mark Rogers
He's no longer a prospect. Rogers has battled back from injury after injury, and he finally received an extended look at the major-league level with the Brewers last season, starting seven games and going 3-2 with a 3.92 ERA to go with an impressive 2.93 K/BB ratio. Rogers, 26, is one of many in contention for a spot in the starting rotation, and he will likely compete with Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Chris Narveson, and Tyler Thornburg for three spots.
Rogers is a long shot for the following reasons: Prior to a season-ending injury, Narveson was a member of the starting five. If only Rogers was left-handed, as Narveson's southpaw delivery gives him a slight edge in the eyes of the coaching staff. Meanwhile, Peralta is the team's No. 1 prospect, and Fiers was outstanding nearly all of 2012 before fading near the finish line. Rogers was shut down for September, but if he can stay healthy and outperform his competition this spring, he could eke out the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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