Future Crew: How the Brewers’ major-league roster shapes up

As the Milwaukee Brewers wind down a forgettable season, I will take a look at the roster from two angles: Who is on the major-league roster and who is ready to make a push from the minors.

Today, we start with a look from the majors.

CATCHER

Depth chart: Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado.

The skinny: Lucroy not only is the unquestioned starter, but he is the face of the franchise — even if he goes about his leadership role in an understated manner. Lucroy had a breakout offensive season in 2014 (.301 average, 53 doubles, 13 homers, 69 RBIs) and has steadily gained a reputation as an excellent defender, especially when it comes to pitch framing. The right-handed hitter missed the start of the season after sustaining a broken left big toe April 20 (he returned June 1) and really hasn’t hit the way he is expected to. Is he a .300 hitter (which he was in 2014 and 2012, when he hit .320 in 96 games) or more closer to his career mark of .280? Probably somewhere in between, but closer to his career average. He will provide modest power (he has 62 homers over last five seasons, sitting at a low of seven this year). Lucroy will be entering the final year of his contract in 2016 with an option for 2017 and said he approached the Brewers with an extension last offseason. Lucroy is a long-term fit for the Brewers, especially after seeing Maldonado struggle mightily at the plate while filling in during Lucroy’s injury. Maldonado is a capable backup as his defense is very good, but until he proves he can hit, he will only be a reserve.

The future: In addition to being a team leader and fan favorite, Lucroy is the type of player any team would want to build around, even if he isn’t the most dynamic of players. The Brewers should wait until after 2016 on any extension talk for Lucroy.

FIRST BASE

Depth chart: Adam Lind, Jason Rogers.

The skinny: Lind has been about as good as the Brewers could have anticipated when they sent pitcher Marco Estrada to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for the left-handed hitter. At .284, he has hit a bit above his career batting average of .274, but his power has been slightly disappointing. Of the five seasons he has had 400 at-bats, his 17 homers are easily the worst of his career (next lowest is 23, with a high of 35). The power is a tad concerning considering he has held down the cleanup role most of the season. Picking up his option for $8 million next season seems like a no-brainer as the Brewers need his lefty bat to help balance their righty-heavy lineup. Other than a minor back flare-up a couple weeks ago, Lind has remained healthy, something he was unable to do consistently on Toronto’s artificial surface. Rogers has been one of the unsung players of this season. It generally is tough for a young player to do well in a bench role, but Rogers has been the Brewers’ best pinch-hitter this year.

The future: First base is generally a position around which to build your offense. Lind is a complimentary piece, which could be OK considering the rest of the Brewers’ offensive pieces. His power numbers need to improve in his contract year. Rogers doesn’t appear to be anything more than a bench player and if he continues to establish himself as a pinch-hitter, he would be a solid piece.

SECOND BASE

Depth chart: Scooter Gennett, Elian Herrera.

The skinny: With Rickie Weeks in the last year of his contract in 2014, the Brewers were able to break Gennett into regular playing time as they prepared for life after Weeks, who was only a shell of his former self by the end of his Brewers career. Gennett performed well, hitting .289 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in 137 games, seemingly setting himself up for full-time duty in 2015. But the left-handed hitter has disappointed this season and even had to be sent to the minors to straighten out his swing after hitting a palty .154 through May 17. Gennett returned about a month later and is now hitting .263 with six homers and 27 RBIs. It is too early to completely give up on Gennett as he is just 25 and his second-half performance could be a good indicator that he has his offense figured out. Defense has never been Gennett’s strong suit as his bat has helped him progress to the majors, but improving that aspect will be one of the keys to gaining the confidence of manager Craig Counsell.

The future: It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Brewers create a platoon situation at second next season, most likely with someone currently in the organization. Ideally, Gennett would be a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, but until he can prove to be a steady player, he will have to share time. Herrera is strictly a backup who is versatile enough to play second, third and the outfield, a nice piece to have on the roster.

THIRD BASE

Depth chart: Hernan Perez, Herrera.

The skinny: When the Brewers claimed Perez off waivers from the Detroit Tigers, they picked up a utility infielder hitting .061 with no homers and no RBIs in 34 plate appearances. Perez came to the Brewers and initially split time with Gennett at second and filled in for Aramis Ramirez at third before Ramirez was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Possibly because of a reunion with Brewers hitting coach Darnell Coles, who was on the Tigers’ staff in 2014, Perez has been a solid hitter for the Crew and is no slouch defensively. But the one drawback is Perez doesn’t produce any power, with one homer in 63 games this season and just two in 129 games in his career. Not good for a guy who typically plays corner infield spots.

The future: Third base is the biggest gaping wound for the Brewers entering the offseason. Ramirez had already said he would retire after this season and there were no moves to find an heir apparent during the season. There are also no obvious solutions on the roster or in the minors. So the Brewers will have to find a free agent (not a great crop this year) or make a trade to fill the hot corner void in 2016, preferably a left-handed bat. Power shouldn’t be a priority here with what the Brewers return, but it wouldn’t hurt. A player who can hit for average would be a big addition.

SHORTSTOP

Depth chart: Jean Segura

The skinny: Segura is a puzzling case. He was an All-Star during his first full season in the bigs in 2013, he struggled partly due to the death of his infant son in 2014 and has been enigmatic in 2015. His .262 batting average is almost in the middle between his 2013 (.294) and 2014 (.246) marksbut his OPS of .610 is slightly below last year’s .614. Segura is a modest threat on the basepaths, notching another 20-steal season (he had 44 in 2013 when he was an All-Star). The right-handed hitter strikes out too much (he will likely set a career high this year) for someone suited to one of the top two spots in the order, but he is not alone in that stat on this team. Defensively, Segura shows flashes of brilliance, but he already has 15 errors, one off his career worst, with all of September to play. Curiously, it sometimes seems Segura plays without a lot of detectable passion. It could be just part of who he is.

The future: This is where things could be interesting for the Brewers. They have as many as three options in the minors who could be in the majors next season. Now who plays short and who platoons at second is something to figure out. When Segura was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zack Greinke deal in 2012, it was thought Segura might be suited long term for either second or third. Splitting him between the two spots could be a motivational tool as the candidates for shortstop are superior defensively but could be questions offensively at the beginning.

OUTFIELD

Depth chart: Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Domingo Santana, Shane Peterson, Logan Schaefer.

The skinny: Ideally, this category should be broken into left, center and right field breakdowns, but because of the trade of center fielder Carlos Gomez, things all across the outfield are up in the air — with options at the corners but a hole in center. Braun, a right fielder, is a perennial All-Star and the Brewers’ biggest power source. His average and homers are down this year, possibly due to missing significant time the last two seasons due to a thumb injury (and performance-enhancing drug suspension). The offseason procedure (and follow-up in-season treatment) have kept Braun in the lineup, but how has that affected his numbers? Is this year a mirage? Davis has one talent — power. As he has shown in August with 13 homers, he can be an offensive force. But that production hasn’t been there consistently, something that you get with a slugger, especially a young one. Defensively, Davis is pigeon-holed into left field due to a weak throwing arm. Santana was acquired in the Gomez trade with the Houston Astros and early glimpses are promising. Not only does he hit for power, but he appears to be patient at the plate, although he does strike out a lot. At Triple-A this year, he hit for a high average. He has shown the athleticism to be able to play center (put there to get playing time), but is better-suited for the corners. Peterson has played in center since the Gomez trade, but he doesn’t bring any dynamic tools to lock down the position long term. He plays good defense and has had some key hits. Schaefer still has not established himself as an everyday player despite several opportunities to do so.

The future: What to do? What to do? Santana is definitely in the mix to be in the everyday lineup in 2016. But where? Depends on other roster decisions. While possible, it is unlikely that the Brewers go into next year with an outfielder of Davis in left, Santana in center and Braun in right. The Brewers could get a big haul if they find someone to take Braun, whose five-year, $105 million extension kicks in next year. That would be huge financially but also a risk considering Braun’s statistical history, which includes the PED suspension. Trading Davis would bring a lesser haul, but also be less risky as Santana seems to be an upgrade over Davis. Another option would be to trade Lind and move one of these three to first base (Braun is a former third baseman, so he makes the most sense although he has the best outfield arm). Lind wouldn’t bring a major haul, either. Center field is also a big question mark. The Brewers have a top prospect in the minors who is projected to be a dynamic player, but he might not be ready at the beginning of next season. There are no other perfect candidates in the system, so the Opening Day center fielder is likely to come from free agency or a trade. However, it should only be a short-term solution considering what the Brewers have coming up. Peterson appears a keeper as a backup outfielder. Due to his lack of production, Schaefer might not be back with the Brewers at any level in 2016. At worst, he will be brought back to play in Triple-A as the outfield depth in the minors is lacking.

STARTING ROTATION

Depth chart: Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Cravy.

The skinny: Lohse and Garza have been extremely disappointing as the Nos. 1 and 2 starters this year, with Lohse losing his rotation spot and Garza seemingly on the verge of the same. Peralta did not build off of his very solid 2014, but shows flashes of being at least a No. 2 starter while once in a while putting up a clunker. Nelson, who added a spike curveball this year, has been the most consistent starter and has been even better in the second half during his first full season in the majors. The 2010 second-round draft pick is also a promising top-of-the-rotation candidate. Jungmann has been the surprise of the season. A first-round choice in 2011, he had been an underperformer based on his minor-league numbers but has flourished in the majors. He has the Brewers’ only complete game to go along with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts. Cravy had a terrific major-league debut, but has struggled otherwise in limited action.

The future: Nelson and Peralta are locks for the rotation in 2016, with Jungmann being given a very good shot. Lohse is a free agent and unlikely to return, while Garza remains under contract for another two years (and $25 million) with an option for 2018. The new GM would be wise to deal Garza, who remains maddeningly inconsistent. Perhaps a change of scenery is all that is needed. Dealing Garza would perhaps allow the Brewers to pursue a big-name free agent to anchor the rotation and allow Nelson and Peralta to slot in at Nos. 2 and 3. Jungmann could be a No. 4 or 5. Another free agent on a one-year deal could be an option for the other slot if Garza is dealt. When Lohse and Garza were signed, they weren’t young starters. That should be the focus of any rotation signing.

BULLPEN

Depth chart: Francisco Rodriguez, Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith, Cory Knebel, Michael Blazek, Tyler Thornburg, David Goforth, Cesar Jimenez.

The skinny: The Brewers’ bullpen has been steady this season and sets up to be even better in the coming years. K-Rod is an established closer who is younger than many think as he is just 33. He isn’t always a lockdown closer, but he is a top-five closer on a contending team. Jeffress, a potential future closer, and Smith, a left-hander, are very good setup men and very much under club control contractually and provide good matchup choices for Counsell. Knebel and Blazek took good steps this year to being fixtures in the bullpen. Both are hard throwers who need to limit walks. Thornburg is a former starter who has done well in a relief role the last two seasons. Goforth has been a closer in the minors and still looking to establish himself in the majors. Jimenez was recently acquired off waivers and is another lefty option.

The future: The trio of K-Rod, Jeffress and Smith is fine, but the Brewers could make it even better and flexible by acquiring another late-inning reliever. A lefty would make sense to keep Smith from having to pitch all of the high-intensity matchups against left-handed hitters. After that, you are talking about three or four spots, depending on if you go get another late-inning guy. Knebel, Blazek and Thornburg are definitely capable of filling those roles. The bullpen is is decent shape and a focus on limiting walks would help the group improve. A tweak here or there could help with a young rotation.

Trades have Brewers already looking toward 2016

Sure, you can’t project a starting lineup for Opening Day 2016 when August has just begun, but with all the moves at the trade deadline, next year is what the Milwaukee Brewers are looking at from here on out. Here is a way-too-early look at where the Brewers stand going into next year:

General manager: Doug Melvin is rumored to be moving out of the GM position and more into an overseer role with the Brewers. Behind the support of owner Mark Attanasio, Melvin has made the Brewers into a stable franchise that has probably overachieved with the way it has contended over the seven seasons before this one. A move to an up-and-coming GM could help the Crew take the next step.

Manager: Craig Counsell signed a three-year contract when he took over after Ron Roenicke was fired at the beginning of May following a 7-18 start. The Brewers have gone 37-43 since (including Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs). The length of the contract was surprising, but Counsell is a no-nonsense manager who follows the trend of ex-players jumping right into the role without managerial experience at any level. His job will be tough in the final two months, but he will also see who fits best into the Crew’s future and who the problem players are.

Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy is an excellent defender who might have peaked in 2014 with his offensive production (.301 average, 51 doubles). Martin Maldonado is a career backup. Lucroy gets bonus points due to his leadership. He is the quiet fire to this team who likely works hard behind the scenes to counsel and motivate his teammates. Lucroy, 29, is under contract through 2016 with an option for 2017. The Brewers are devoid of prospect catchers, so keeping Lucroy is vital.

First base: Adam Lind has been exactly what the Brewers were hoping for when they traded spot starter Marco Estrada to the Toronto Blue Jays for the left-handed hitter. He likely won’t reach 30 homers this year, but it is a mark the Crew should expect out of him next year if they choose to exercise their option on his $8 million contract for 2016.

Second base: Scooter Gennett was given the chance to be the everyday starter entering the season after hitting .289 in 2014 (his first full year in the bigs), but his offense was so bad early in the season that he was sent to Triple-A to work on his game. Ideally, Gennett would be a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, but he isn’t a stolen base threat or have surprising power and still often sits against left-handers, which means he is more of a No. 7 or 8 hitter. His defense is passable, but Gennett needs to step up or face a platoon situation.

Shortstop: Jean Segura was an NL All-Star in his first full season in the bigs in 2013, but 2014 saw him endure on- and off-field issues. His average dipped from .294 in 2013 to .246 in 2014 and he was overall just a lack of an offensive force last year. Segura also had to deal with the midseason death of his 1-year-old son, which obviously had to affect his performance in the second half. Segura has shown flashes defensively, but also seems to have a lackadaisical way about him. Maybe it is just how he is. In 2016, Segura is likely to face competition for the starting job or a position switch. His stocky frame has prompted many scouts to say he is suited for third base, which would fill a need for the Crew after Aramis Ramirez was traded. Waiting in the wings is Orlando Arcia, who is likely to be the organization’s minor-league Player of the Year for his performance at Double-A Biloxi. Arcia already had the glove to play in the majors, but this season is showing he can be a leader offensively. I expect Arcia to be the starter in 2016, with Segura moving to third — at least the way the roster is currently constructed. Luis Sardinas is likely to also be up and be the utility infielder, giving Counsell three excellent defenders at short. Yadiel Rivera, who has split time between short and second at Double-A and Triple-A this year, could be in the mix, too. The Brewers are deep at shortstop and it is likely a place where they can deal from in the offseason.

Third base: This is the wild-card spot for the Brewers. Hernan Perez is receiving the bulk of the playing time after the Ramirez trade and he has a decent average, but doesn’t drive anyone in. He is solid defensively, a good pickup by Melvin after he was waived by the Tigers. But he is purely a stopgap solution. At this point, there are no impact third basemen hitting the free-agent market this offseason, so either the Brewers fill from within or make a trade, the latter option is more likely. As mentioned previously, I see Segura being moved to third with Arcia taking over at short. Perez becomes a utility infielder who can play first, second and third.

Left field: Khris Davis is a one-trick pony — and he hasn’t been flashing that much magic this year. His only tool is power. After hitting 22 homers in 501 at-bats in 2013, his first full season in the bigs, injuries and the hot-hitting Gerardo Parra has hit seven homers in 194 at-bats entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs. So his power has dipped slightly and his average is at .237, after a .244 mark last year. He is also an iffy defender who has a weak arm. Domingo Santana, acquired from Houston in the Carlos Gomez-Mike Fiers trade, is a power bat who hits for a decent average. Santana got a taste of the majors this year, cracking a pair of homers in 14 games. He also brings a strong arm, making him a candidate for either corner outfield spot. Like Davis, Santana will strike out a fair amount. Santana will be given a shot to platoon with Davis in left next year.

Center field: Gomez’s departure makes this a free-for-all spot. No one on the major-league roster profiles as a center fielder, but there are two prospects who could be ready to make the jump next year. Brett Phillips, the key prospect acquired from the Astros in the Gomez-Fiers deal, is a legit star in the making. He already hit for average and has speed, but now he has developed excellent pop. Tyrone Taylor was the Crew’s second-round pick in 2012 and seemed to be Gomez’s heir apparent until Phillips came along. Both will get strong looks in spring training, but Phillips — a sixth-round pick in 2012 — appears to be further advanced, understandable considering Taylor was also a highly regarded running back coming out of high school. Unless Phillips, a lefty hitter who could bat leadoff, struggles in spring training, expect him to be patrolling center at Miller Park in 2016, perhaps with a veteran backup.

Right field: Ryan Braun hasn’t been an MVP-caliber player since following up winning the award in 2011 with a similar 2012 season statistically while under the shroud of performance-enhancing drug use. Unfortunately, 2016 is when his five-year, $105 million contract kicks in. Braun has been solid powerwise this year after dealing with a nagging thumb injury in 2013 and 2014. Ideally, Braun raises his batting average to the .300 level, which hopefully would lead to a few more homers. He should be a 30-homer guy, at the least, on a yearly basis, but will struggle to get there this year, especially as the Crew struggles to finish this year and he is their offensive centerpiece. A trade would free up cash to pursue free agents, especially considering only Lucroy is deserving of an extension at this juncture.

Starting rotation: Kyle Lohse will be a free agent, leaving Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson as the only locks for 2016. Taylor Jungmann, a disappointment in the minors since being a first-round draft choice in 2011, has shined since coming up in June and will be in the mix for the other two spots. Tyler Cravy and Tyler Wagner, who each had standout performances in their debut seasons, will be considered along with Jorge Lopez, who is dominating at Double-A, and Zach Davies, acquired from Baltimore for outfielder Gerardo Parra, are other top candidates, while left-hander Josh Hader will get a long look in spring training. Ideally, the Brewers are able to trade Garza in the offseason, but they go out and splurge on a No. 1 starter such as Jordan Zimmermann, a Wisconsin native currently with the Washington Nationals. A rotation of Zimmerman-Peralta-Nelson-Jungmann-Davies wouldn’t suck.

Bullpen: Not much work to be done here. Closer Francisco Rodriguez returns, with Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith in setup roles, and Tyler Thornburg, Corey Knebel, Michael Blazek and Brandon Kintzler in middle relief. Johnny Hellweg — acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zach Greinke deal that also yielded Segura — Wagner or Cravy could be the long reliever. Neal Cotts is a free agent and the other lefty in the bullpen, so a free-agent southpaw could be looked at.

Summary: Depending on how aggressive the new GM is — and based on Attanasio’s track record, I would imagine the GM will be smart and aggressive — a couple subtle moves and one big-ticket item could have the Brewers in the thick of things in 2016.