COMMENTARY | The Super Bowl has come and gone -- now, it's time to shift our attention to baseball because the Milwaukee Brewers begin reporting to spring training on Feb. 12. There is plenty on the line for several players, whether it means competing for a starting job, a roster spot or even what level of minor league baseball they will begin the season playing.
It may appear that the Brewers' lineup is pretty well set in stone already, but even if that is the case, it's still a bit of a mystery which players will make up the bench. Meanwhile, there is plenty unsettled elsewhere on the roster, so without further ado, check out the most enticing position battles as we grow closer to the date pitchers and catchers report to Maryville.
The opening day lineup was set in stone. That is, until Corey Hart required surgery on his knee, which will keep him out for the first six weeks of the season. Now, it's Mat Gamel's job to lose all over again, but Hunter Morris, one of the Brewers' top prospects, earned an invite to spring training and will get several more at-bats with Hart sidelined.
Gamel is coming off ACL surgery and is 100 percent healthy, but before he tore his ACL last season, Gamel was only hitting .246 with 1 HR and 6 RBIs. Meanwhile, Morris was Milwaukee's Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 at Double-A Huntsville, hitting .303 with 28 HRs and 113 RBIs. It would take a pretty rough spring for Gamel and an outstanding exhibition performance from Morris for Gamel to lose his grasp at first base, but anything could happen.
Final three rotation spots: Wily Peralta vs. Chris Narveson vs. Mike Fiers vs. Mark Rogers
Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada are No. 1 and No. 2 -- that much we know. What we don't know is who will fall in line behind them because of Chris Narveson's return from shoulder surgery. The left-hander is back in the mix to duke it out with Peralta, Fiers and Rogers, who although inexperienced are also a huge reason why Milwaukee fought back into the playoff race last season.
Peralta is the Brewers' top prospect and has huge upside, so you have to figure he has a great chance of making the rotation. After that, it's anyone's guess, but Rogers is out of minor league options, so Milwaukee may also have to lock him into a spot. That leaves Narveson and Fiers, so it should come down to how well they perform this spring to see who latches on to the big league squad.
Final two bullpen spots: Brandon Kintzler vs. Tyler Thornburg vs. Johnny Hellweg vs. Jesus Sanchez
Could more names factor into this competition? Absolutely, but it's probably safe to say that five Brewers' are locked into relief roles -- John Axford, Jim Henderson, Burke Badenhop, Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzellany. That leaves two openings in the 'pen, maybe even one if Milwaukee chooses to take the odd-man out in the rotation battle and make him a long reliever.
This might be the most exciting battle of the spring. Each player is deserving of donning a Brewers uniform in 2013. Kintzler (3-0, 3.78 ERA) pitched well down the stretch last season, and Thornburg's repertoire of pitches appears better suited for the bullpen. Hellweg worked mainly out of relief when he came over from the Los Angeles Angels to pitch in Huntsville and he thrived in that role, but general manager Doug Melvin noted that Hellweg would start in the minors if he doesn't make the team.
Finally, Sanchez is a bit of a wild card, but he had a resurgence last season and combined for a 1.63 ERA between Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. All four are very much in the mix heading into spring training.
Final infielder: Scooter Gennett vs. Taylor Green
At first, the injury to Corey Hart opened up a spot on the infield for someone who wouldn't have made the 25-man roster. But the Brewers didn't feel comfortable about their backup shortstop and re-signed Alex Gonzalez to mentor young Jean Segura.
As a result, Jeff Bianchi went from sure-fire to on the way out when it came to his opening day roster status., but it will still come down to Gennett and Green for the final infield position on the team. Green's ability to play third, second and first is extremely beneficial, but he hit a mere .188 last season and will also be participating in the World Baseball Classic.
Then there is young Scooter Gennett, a fan favorite who has steadily been climbing the ranks of the minor league system. Green has the edge coming in, but Gennett can flat out rake and can't be kept down much longer.
Final outfielder: Caleb Gindl vs. Khris Davis
Logan Schafer looks set to assume a backup role in the outfield for Milwaukee, and Hart's injury affects the Brewer outfield depth as well because of his versatility. Therefore, the Brewers will probably look to hold onto another outfielder until Hart returns, and it should come down to Gindl and Davis.
Davis absolutely tore through Double-A and Triple-A ball last season, hitting .350 with 15 HRs and 52 RBIs between three levels. Gindl has played at Nashville in each of the last two seasons, during which he hit .285 with 27 HRs and 110 RBIs. It's hard to separate the two, but hey -- that's what spring training is for.
Let the games begin.
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_.