Tuesday, February 19, 2013

2013 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers
(2012: 83-79, 3rd place NL Central)
(2013 FC Prediction: 4th place NL Central)

The Brewers are a very interesting team heading into 2013.  Despite being cleared prior to last year of PED use, Braun's name has again resurfaced in all of the Biogenesis hoopla, so Braun might have to deal with his name being thrown around again.  Braun just seems guilty to me, but I don't have all of the evidence in front of me, so no one really knows as of yet.  What we do know, is that if this drags into the season it could become a distraction for Braun.

My biggest question mark with the Brewers is their starting rotation.  There are just a ton of relative unknowns in their rotation, and I have a problem picking this team to finish up with the Cardinals or Reds based on the lack of experience on their pitching staff.

The Brewers lineup has tons of pop, so let's take a look at their roster:

The Brewers have a very inexperienced starting rotation, and maybe it is the Cubs fan in me, but I just don't trust them, despite some success in 2012.  Ace Yovani Gallardo is good, there is no doubt about that but the rest of the Brewers rotation will be rounded out by Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, and Wily Peralta (Chris Narveson will also be competing).  To quote the movie Major League, "Who are these ****ing guys???"  Fiers, Estrada, and Rogers were all pretty successful in 2012, but they are relatively inexperienced, and while they will have good stretches in 2013, I expect them to take their lumps as well.  Wily Peralta is the Brewers top prospect, and while I expect him to make the team, he did struggle in 2012 in AAA, so he is no lock to have success at the big league level.

The Brewers bullpen was among the worst in the league in 2012, leading the league in blown saves.  John Axford wasn't very good, but he has great stuff, so I fully expect him to return to form in 2013.  The Brew Crew added a couple quality bullpen arms in Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, and Burke Badenhop, so those three should help eat innings up and finish games. Gone is Francisco Rodriguez, which is probably a good thing.  I expect this bullpen to be much better this year behind a strong bounce back performance from Axford.

Five of the top six Brewers prospect are pitchers, but none of them are very highly regarded.  Peralta is the only one in the top 100 and he should compete for a rotation spot.  Outside of that, I don't see any of these pitching prospects helping the club this year, although righty Tyler Thornburg does have the kind of power arm that will translate into big time bullpen success, so possibly look for him late in games in 2013.  

While the pitching staff may struggle, the Brewers lineup is definitely one of the best in the league.  The lineup is led by Ryan Braun, who if he is able to avoid suspension, will be a MVP candidate yet again in 2013.  Carlos Gomez will again be in center field, while Norichika Aoki will be in right.  Both of these guys are very fast, and Aoki proved that his games definitely translates to American baseball in 2012.  Look for both of these guys to steal 30+ bases this year and to cover a lot ground in the outfield.

Former Cub Aramis Ramirez returns at third base, where he is coming off one of the best years of his career.  If he can stay healthy, he should definitely repeat these kinds of numbers.  Shortstop and highly touted prospect Jean Segura will begin his first full season in the big leagues.  He has good range at short and can stick a little bit, but look for some inconsistency from the the youngster.  Second baseman Rickie Weeks looks to rebound from a down year, and he has way too much talent to struggle as much as he did this past season.  The big question mark is first base.  Corey Hart had his knee scoped and could be out until May.  Then the Brewers got news that Mat Gamel reinjured his knee and is out for 2013.  That leaves Taylor Green and prospect Hunter Morris.  I'll talk a little about Morris in the next paragraph, but Green probably has the slight edge right now.  Catcher Jonathan Lucroy returns and is an absolute hitting machine, so expect another good season out of the 26 year old backstop.

The only Brewers hitting prospect of note is first baseman Hunter Morris.  Morris absolute dominated the AA Southern League last year.  All signs pointed to Morris being in AAA to start the year as he is probably not ready, but he may be thrust into action in 2013 earlier than expected.  The injuries to Hart and Gamel give him the opportunity, and you can sure as hell bet Morris is chomping at the bit to take over.  A strong Spring from the non-roster invite could earn him the starting nod on opening day.

I already mentioned Morris, and there are some names like infielders Bobby Crosby and Donnie Murphy that are nice on the list, but the edge always go to pitchers when it comes to non-rosters making the club.  Because of this, I have to go with right hander Kelvim Escobar.  The wily veteran has a chance to make this club mainly because of the lack of depth in the bullpen.  Despite bringing in three relievers through trade or free agency, there is still probably an open spot or two in the pen and Escobar will be looking to grab it.

The Brewers season lies mostly in the hands of the pitching staff.  They will score runs, the only question is will they be able to prevent them.  Because of this, the Brewers are definitely a hard team to pick.  If they pitch, they have a shot to win the division, even with the Reds and Cardinals looking good, and the upstart Pirates still trying to make a name for themselves.  If they don't pitch, well they could finish fourth, where we have them predicted to be. The Cubs should have the cellar locked up in the NL Central, but the Brew Crew could easily finish fourth.  They could probably just as easy finish first, so look for a wild NL Central race all season long.

The Brewers in general aren't very active on Twitter, but closer John Axford is definitely one of the most entertaining players in all of baseball when it comes to tweeting.  Check him out @JohnAxford