Fantasy Preview: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers entered last season with hopes of taking the next step after reaching the NLCS in 2011, but an ineffective bullpen cost the team early and led to the trade of ace Zack Greinke. The Brewers surprisingly played better after the trade, but alas, a late-season run at a wild card spot fell short.
Despite just missing out on the postseason a year ago, the Brewers had a quiet offseason from an acquisition standpoint. Relievers Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez were added to a revamped bullpen, but Alex Gonzalez, who is set to serve as a utility player, was the only other key addition, after re-signing late in the offseason. The Brewers are optimistic that an offense that finished with the most runs in the NL a year ago and did not suffer any losses will be able to carry the team again.
The offense will once again by led by perennial MVP candidate Ryan Braun, and the rotation will be headed by the steady Yovani Gallardo. However, the rest of the rotation is relatively unproven. Runs should not be hard to come by for the Brewers, but they will need several starters to step up, and the relief corps to do a better job, if they hope to make a true run at a postseason spot in 2013.
Signed RP Tom Gorzelanny.
The Brewers spent the majority of last season with the inconsistent Manny Parra as the lone left-hander out of the bullpen, so their top priority this offseason was addressing that need. The first addition to the squad was Gorzelanny, who posted a 2.88 ERA in 72 innings over 45 appearances with the Nationals a season ago. As a former starter, Gorzelanny figures to slot into somewhat of a swing role for the Brewers, being called upon for one batter, or for multiple innings.
Signed RP Mike Gonzalez.
Continuing the theme of adding left-handed relievers, the Brewers picked up Gonzalez, another former National himself. Gonzalez figures to be used more situationally than Gorzelanny given the .472 OPS he allowed against opposing left-handers last season; however, as a former closer, he likely will be among the options should incumbent closer John Axford struggle to get the job done.
Signed SS Alex Gonzalez.
Gonzalez signed with the Brewers prior to the 2012 season and knocked in 15 runs over his first 24 games with the team, but a torn ACL suffered in May knocked him out for the rest of the campaign. Gonzalez received marginal interest as a free agent this offseason, but after proving he would be healthy by the time the regular season rolls around, the Brewers decided to bring him back for another year. Jean Segura is expected to serve as the starting shortstop, so Gonzalez figures to open in a utility role for the Brewers. However, he provides the club with a proven shortstop who should only help Segura improve, especially defensively.
Besides Corey Hart, who will open the season on the DL, the Brewers' Opening Day lineup will look exactly like the one that scored the most runs in the NL last season. Norichika Aoki and Rickie Weeks give the Brewers two quality OBP guys ahead of Ryan Braun, who finished second in NL MVP voting last season, and Aramis Ramirez, who is coming off his first 100-RBI campaign since 2008. The key for the Brewers will be the bottom half of the order. Both Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez had big seasons for the Brewers in 2012, but Milwaukee will need them to at least repeat last year's success for the offense to stay strong. Jean Segura is still relatively unproven, but he won't be an easy out in the eight hole. The key early for the Brewers will be replacing Hart at first base. With Mat Gamel out for the season again, several players could see action at first, but it seems likely the club will go with a combination of Taylor Green and Alex Gonzalez until Hart returns to action.
Yovani Gallardo has been an above-average starter since entering the league, but as the lone established starter in the rotation, the Brewers will be counting on him to pitch like a true ace in 2013. The team's No. 2 starter, almost by default, will be Marco Estrada, who pitched effectively last season but has just 32 career starts under his belt. Beyond the top two, the last three spots in the rotation are up for grabs. Wily Peralta is the favorite for the third spot based on his pedigree and his late-season showing a year ago. Chris Narveson figures to grab the fourth spot if healthy, but he missed most of last year with a shoulder injury and will have to prove he can still get the job done during the spring. Mike Fiers is likely the leader for the fifth spot after posting a 3.74 ERA in 22 starts last season, but he struggled mightily over his final 10 starts, and he will need a strong spring to hold off Mark Rogers, who is out of options, and Tyler Thornburg, considered the Brewers' top pitching prospect behind Peralta.
John Axford blew just five combined saves over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he was much more human a year ago, blowing nine saves and posting a bloated 4.67 ERA. Despite his struggles, Axford converted 17 of his last 18 opportunities and struck out 93 batters over 69.1 innings. Both his past and 2012 late-season success have him primed to open the 2013 campaign as Brewers closer, and his strikeout rate in particular makes him an intriguing fantasy prospect. He will likely have a bit of a leash without many other ninth-inning options on hand, but if Axford struggles, consider Jim Henderson and Mike Gonzalez the top options to replace him.
Can the inexperienced rotation get the job done?
The Brewers entered last season without many questions in the Opening Day rotation. Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum gave the Brewers one of the top trios in the NL, and the other two starters in the group, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson, combined for 61 starts the year before. However, Greinke was traded last year, Narevson is coming off an injury, and both Marcum and Wolf were let go during the offseason. Thus, entering the 2013 campaign, question marks are everywhere. Can Yovani Gallardo become an ace? Can Marco Estrada maintain the improvement he showed last season? Can Mike Fiers get his groove back, and sustain the level he showed? The Brewers hope to find some clues during spring training, but it's likely that most of the answers will not come until after Opening Day. The club will need several starters to either grow up or step up this season, but if that happens, the Brewers should be playing meaningful games in late summer.
Will the second-half offensive surge carry over?
The Brewers essentially waved the white flag last season when they traded Zack Greinke, but a funny thing happened - the team, particularly the offense, started to play better. Norichika Aoki settled into the leadoff role, Carlos Gomez found his power stroke, and Jean Segura, acquired in the Greinke trade, began to show the bat skills that helped make him a top prospect. What was just an average offense prior to the All-Star break developed into a dangerous one after, and thanks to the strong second half, the Brewers finished the season with more runs scored, more home runs and more stolen bases than any team in the National League. Both Gomez and Segura will need to prove they can hit over a full season, and the team will miss Corey Hart's pop for a few weeks early in the season, but with an established middle of the order, and Ryan Braun leading the way, the Brewers should have no trouble reaching home plate plenty in 2013.
Will the bullpen be better?
Awful would be a fitting word to describe the Brewers bullpen a year ago. The team's top two relievers, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, struggled mightily at times and were shuffled in and out of the closer's role. However, they weren't the only two who had trouble getting batters out. Nearly every other reliever allowed far too many runners to reach base, and the group as a whole blew an astounding 29 saves. The Brewers cleaned house during the offseason, and of the bullpen members who pitched more than 35 innings a year ago, only Axford remains. The additions of Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez will help add balance to what was a righty-heavy relief corps the last couple years, and both Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler are hard throwers who, despite a lack of experience, are intriguing late-inning options. Axford could provide a big boost to the relief corps if he is able to pitch like he did in 2011 and lock down the closer's role for the season.
Marco Estrada - Despite entering last season without a spot in the starting rotation, Estrada finished the campaign as one of the Brewers' top starters. In 29 games, including 23 starts, Estrada posted a 3.64 ERA and stellar 143:29 K:BB ratio over 138.1 innings. He will enter 2013 as the Brewers' second starter, so expectations will be higher. However, if Estrada can limit the long ball, and maintain his ratios over a bigger number of innings, he could turn out to be a fantasy bargain.
Wily Peralta - Peralta had only an average season with Triple-A Nashville, posting a 4.66 ERA and 1.58 WHIP, but he surprisingly dominated in a late-season stint with the Brewers, flashing his dominant fastball and slider and posting a 2.25 ERA in his five starts. Peralta's showing with the Brewers reaffirmed his status as a top prospect and gives him an outside shot to open 2013 in the major league rotation.
Tyler Thornburg - Thornburg continued to shoot through the Brewers' ranks last season, appearing in games at every level from Double-A through the bigs. As a starter in the minors, he posted a 10-4 record, 3.20 ERA, and 113:37 K:BB in 112.2 innings; and while he fell victim to the long ball with Milwaukee, he at least got his feet wet in the majors. Thornburg figures to open the 2013 campaign in the minors, but he could be one of the top options should the big club need to add a starter. If the Brewers decide his secondary pitches are not good enough to cut it as a starter in the big leagues, he should at least develop into a useful late-inning option in the bullpen.
Taylor Jungmann - Jungmann held his own in his first pro season, going 11-6 with a 3.53 ERA over 26 starts. The 12th overall pick in 2011 only struck out 99 batters, but he also only give up seven home runs as well. Jungmann throws hard despite his lack of strikeouts, and he will turn 23 this season. Expect him to repeat High-A to open the season but earn a midseason promotion to Double-A Huntsville if he fares even a little better in his second year.
Hunter Morris - Morris' prospect status took a big jump forward last season as he hit .303 with 28 home runs and 117 RBI to win Southern League MVP honors. More importantly, he raised his OBP from .301 to .357 and made strides defensively by committing just six errors. At age 24 and coming off a breakout season, Morris figures to open 2013 as the starting first baseman at Triple-A Nashville. While he is not going to challenge Corey Hart next year, another big season could lead the Brewers to let Hart go via free agency and make Morris a candidate for the first-base job in 2014.
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