Perhaps the most wide open and most uncertain position on the team, center field registers as the position to keep your eye on the most. There are many viable candidates for the job, all newcomers who haven’t been with the team for an entire year.
One of the top candidates is Rymer Liriano. Acquired from the Padres in late January, Liriano will be immediately into the deck of cards for the center field position. Once a top 60 prospect in the MLB three years ago, Liriano’s career has not panned out as hope and he is taking whatever chance comes his way. Strikeouts are the main concern of Liriano (752 k’s in 738 career Minor League games) but his career .277/.350/.435 stat line in seven pro seasons along with his versatility at all three outfield positions proved enough for the Brewers to take a low risk, high reward approach on him. Although he has made a majority of his career starts in right field, the vacancy of center field in Milwaukee will be the main target for him.
Another possibility at the position is Kirk Nieuwenhuis, whom the Brewers picked up as a final piece to their 40-man roster on Dec. 23. Entering his fourth season in the Majors, Nieuwenhuis is coming off a 2015 campaign in which he batted .195 with 25 hits and 14 RBI in 128 at-bats in split time with the Mets and Angels. Out of all the candidates, Nieuwenhuis is the most tenured in the Majors. Although that can commonly be a commendable asset in position battles, Counsell will definitely be looking beyond that category.
Acquired in the trade that sent first baseman Jason Rogers to Pittsburgh, Keon Broxton is another player who may receive some action in center this season. Broxton is a player who can combine both average and speed, attributes that when they mesh can be a solid run producer, something the Brewers will be in dire need of this season. In a stretch of 45 games, Broxton hit .302 with the Double-A Altoona Curve as a member of the Pirates organization. Along with his games with the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of Pittsburgh, Broxton stole a combined 39 bases. His speed makes him a viable dark horse candidate to become the Opening Day starter in center field.
Yet another option Counsell could ponder on is Ramon Flores, the player Milwaukee received from Seattle in exchange for infielder Luis Sardiñas. Flores is a player that will not hit for power, but rather contact. He possesses a valuable ability to spray the ball to all fields and can manage the strike zone. Flores received his Major League debut on May 30, 2015 with the Yankees. Two months later, he was sent to Seattle in a deadline deal that exchanged Dustin Ackley to New York. Flores was assigned to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League where he batted .423 in 14 games. His season ended in August when he broke and dislocated his right ankle, causing him to miss the remainder of the year. Along with bringing versatility to all three outfield positions, Flores is unique in the fact that he has also spent some time at first base throughout his career. David Stearns has stated that the team views him as an outfielder for the time being, but expect the Brewers to experiment with Flores at first base periodically.
Whomever Counsell and the Brewers staff decide to roll with at center field, it may very well be a one-year gig. Prized prospect Brett Phillips is continuing to climb the totem pole in the minors, beginning this year at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Like Orlando Arcia, there’s a strong chance Phillips makes the 2017 Opening Day roster.