It's heating up in Phoenix after some (relatively, I know you're saying back in Wisconsin) disappointing first few weeks of weather. So before sunstroke sets in, let's dip into the Inbox:Is it just me, or does it seem like the Brewers have way fewer position battles this spring than they usually do? I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
-- Sarah M., West Allis, Wis. It's probably a good thing for the team, but a bad thing for the beat writers, because we don't have the likes of Victor Santos or Jared Fernandez or Trent Durrington to fill the notebook. Those types of roster battles, for the fifth starter's spot or the middle-relief role or the last spot on the bench always seem to dominate the conversation in Spring Training, but then melt away when the regular-season talk turns to Ben Sheets or Trevor Hoffman or Prince Fielder. Barring injuries, of course, which can always blow up a club's best-laid plans, it appears the Brewers only have three spots to be won: One in the bullpen, another at the end of the bench and at least one behind the plate. Here's a look: If you assume that John Axford, Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins, Kameron Loe, Zach Braddock and Manny Parra have their bullpen spots locked up, there's one job available for a field that's probably headed by right-handed sidearmer Sean Green. Manager Ron Roenicke is familiar with Green from their days in the American League West (Green with the Mariners and Roenicke on the Angels' coaching staff), and Green has plenty of big league experience. The club will also take a look at newcomer Justin James, '10 holdovers Mike McClendon and Brandon Kintzler, Rule 5 pick Pat Egan and perhaps non-roster fan favorite Mark DiFelice. The bench spot is very interesting, since Roenicke indicated last week that he views first baseman/outfielder Mark Kotsay among the outfield group. You have to believe the Brewers will need a second middle-infield type to pair with Craig Counsell, and that gives Luis Cruz a very good chance. He had a big year at Triple-A Nashville last season and bats right-handed, a plus considering everybody else projected for the bench bats lefty. I'd put catcher tentatively on the list of camp battles, too, depending on what happens with injured starter Jonathan Lucroy. Wil Nieves and George Kottaras are polar opposites; Nieves a defensive specialist and right-handed hitter, Kottaras a potent left-handed bat. When Lucroy gets healthy, it will boil down to whether the Brewers value defense or offense from that spot.
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Will Lucroy be ready for Opening Day?
-- Matt G., Milwaukee
-- John H., Seattle Probably not, and probably not. I think people overstate the friendship between the Brewers' home-grown infielders. Yeah, they are friendly, but Fielder and agent Scott Boras are not going to throw business out the window and re-sign with the Brewers just because Weeks and other home-grown players have been locked up. Fielder has earned the right to seek top dollar on the free agent market, and that's what he will do. Could the Brewers afford Fielder? That's tricky. Technically, owner Mark Attanasio says they could. "We're paying Prince almost $16 million this year, so there's budget for a player of that stature," Attanasio said after addressing the team last month. "One way or another, the winning will take care of everything this year." Are the Brewers thinking at all about upgrading their starting shortstop (with Michael Young)?
-- Sam F., Milwaukee No, Doug Melvin said earlier this spring. And last month, when he was asked about upgrading at shortstop. And in December, when he pulled off the megadeal for Zack Greinke and was peppered with questions about Betancourt. Betancourt is the starting shortstop. Say it with me. Which pitcher on the Brewers staff (starters or relievers) do you think is going to have the most successful season this year?
-- Joe C., Madison Hopefully we don't dig this up in October to see if I was right. I'll go with Yovani Gallardo in the rotation and Hawkins in the bullpen. Not that Gallardo's 2010 season was not excellent, but I have a feeling that the softspoken and super-talented right-hander is just the kind of guy who will advance to the next level now that he has company at the very top of the starting rotation. I trust Jason Kendall's assessment of pitchers as much as anybody's, and he used to say Gallardo will win multiple Cy Young Awards in his career. Hawkins' season will depend on health, but I just can't get out of my mind the way he was throwing the ball before his shoulder went out last year. He was Brad Lidge-in-his-prime unhittable. Can he get back to that point strength-wise after surgery? I'm curious to see.