MILWAUKEE—Of all the players invited to Brewers spring-training camp, Erick Almonte probably was the most unlikely to make the Opening Day roster.
Consider that Almonte is 33, has played just 44 games in the majors, and none since 2003. He went to Japan in 2005 and the independent Atlantic League in '06 merely to keep alive his career. He has been released four times.
Yet none of that mattered when Almonte, a corner infielder/outfielder, forced his way onto the major league roster with a blistering spring performance in which he batted 32-for-77 (.416) with three home runs and 13 RBIs. That performance earned Almonte the second utility infield spot opposite veteran Craig Counsell.
"His at-bats have been really impressive," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "There are certain things you see a guy do that shows the ability to play at that level that you need."
With an otherwise all-lefty bench, Roenicke wanted Almonte, a righthanded hitter, to call on against lefthanders late in games.
"Pinch-hitting, without a doubt, is the toughest thing to do in baseball," Roenicke said. "I'm not saying this guy is going to be a huge success, (but) I'd be very surprised if he isn't good at this job because of the way he approaches his at-bats.
"He's always thinking about staying up the middle; going the other way. He can drive the ball; he can hit it on a line. He recognizes pitches; he doesn't chase a lot of stuff out of the zone."
Almonte batted .320/.377/.415 in 325 at-bats for Triple-A Nashville last season, but he barely could believe his ears when told he made the club. He immediately called home to tell his family, then made a quick trip to the minor league camp to thank Sounds manager Don Money and his staff.
"I knew they put up good reports on me," Almonte said. "They're probably the reason why I made it. They told me to do what you did the last two years and you might open their eyes.
"It's been eight years (since last playing in the majors). Sometimes you question yourself. I got offers to play in Mexico, (but) something in the back of my mind told me to keep fighting and never quit. Now, I'm here."
• Shortstop Luis Cruz declined an outright assignment to Nashville and exercised his right to free agency. He signed a minor league deal with the Rangers.
• Outfielder Brandon Boggs accepted an outright minor league assignment and will begin with Nashville, even though, like Cruz, he could have elected to become a free agent.