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Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Preview and Prediction

Jonathan Lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy

Who, exactly, are the Milwaukee Brewers? Are they the team that led the NL Central for 150 days last season? Or are they the team that collapsed down the stretch? After an in-depth review of all aspects of baseball operations, general manager Doug Melvin is betting on the former, as picked up Aramis Ramirez’ option and traded for first baseman Adam Lind. However, a maxed out payroll led to one big change, trading ace Yovani Gallardo to Texas for three players. There’s still lots of proven talent returning, although much will be riding on the balky right thumb of right fielder Ryan Braun. But if he’s even close to his former MVP self and the pitching is again solid, Melvin’s gamble might well pay off.

Rotation

In Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and budding ace Wily Peralta, the Brewers have a nice 1-2-3 punch atop their rotation. Peralta, a burly Dominican righty, won a career-high 17 games utilizing a fastball that ranked third in the majors in average velocity at 95.8 mph and a nasty slider that induced lots of ground-ball outs. Entering his second season in Milwaukee, Garza battled injury and inconsistency but showed flashes of his former dominance. Lohse remains a reliable workhorse, pitching right around 200 innings for each of the past four seasons. The Brewers are hoping the No. 4 spot in the rotation will be solidified by yet another righty, Mike Fiers, who came out of nowhere to go 6–4 with a 2.09 ERA in 10 late-season starts after a nondescript stint earlier in the season as a long man. Fiers was nothing short of incredible, posting a 14-strikeout game in his second turn in place of an injured Garza and then bouncing back mentally following his scary September beaning of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The  Gallardo trade also opens up the final spot in the rotation for young, hard-throwing Jimmy Nelson.

Bullpen

Milwaukee was set to lean on veteran Jonathan Broxton, acquired from the Reds in a late-August trade, as its closer, that was until Francisco Rodriguez was brought back at the start of spring training. K-Rod signed a two-year deal to reclaim his closing duties, something he was quite effective at (44 of 49 opportunities) last season. His return and Broxton’s move back to a setup role gives the Brewers two veteran options to pair with its collection of ascending, but relatively unproven, arms. Lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress both figure to serve as the bridge between the starter and the finishers. Smith was a revelation early on with his devastating slider befuddling left-handed hitters, but he faded badly after being overused. Still, with 86 strikeouts in 65.2 innings, he certainly has stuff befitting a late-inning reliever. Jeffress, with a fastball that routinely touches the high 90s, does as well, and he went 1–1 with a 1.88 ERA in 29 appearances after the Brewers — the team that drafted him back in 2006 — rescued him off the scrap heap. The longest-tenured reliever is righty Brandon Kintzler, who scuffled his way to a 3–3 record and 3.24 ERA after a dynamite 2013. He had a lingering knee injury repaired in the offseason, and the hope is he’ll return to his old form. Melvin found himself in the hunt for another lefty when Zach Duke signed with the White Sox, which is why veteran Neal Cotts was signed in late January. Righties Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg are coming off shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively.

Middle Infield

There are major questions here. Most center around shortstop Jean Segura, who slumped badly in 2014 after turning down a $38 million extension from the Brewers in spring training and then having his newborn son unexpectedly pass away just before the All-Star break. The free-swinging Segura did himself no favors by continuing to swing at pitches out of the zone, giving opposing pitchers no reason to throw him strikes. He was expected to employ some changes at the plate while playing winter ball in the Dominican in the offseason, and if he can regain some consistency it would help solidify the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup. At second base, budding star Scooter Gennett finally gets a chance to be the full-time starter. He hit .289 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in a platoon in 2014, but the question remains: Can he hit left-handed pitching? He comes into 2015 having hit just .128 against lefties in 78 career at-bats.

Corners

Melvin hopes he solved the offensive black hole at first base by trading for Lind, whose left-handed bat should be a perfect fit in the middle of the lineup. And the belief is he can at least be an adequate defender. Lind has battled nagging injuries in recent years, but when healthy he murders right-handed pitching — a major plus in a division that features a lot of it. Jonathan Lucroy will likely be called upon in place of Lind with a lefty on the mound. At third base, Ramirez is coming off an All-Star season, but one in which he posted his worst offensive numbers since becoming a full-time player. He turns 37 in late June and announced at the start of spring training that this would be his last season. Ramirez has battled numerous leg issues since becoming a Brewer, but the hope is he can turn in one more respectable campaign.

Outfield

Braun’s return from his Biogenesis suspension did not go according to plan. A painful nerve issue in his right hand returned and got progressively worse over the course of the season. He underwent a little-known cryotherapy treatment in the offseason in hopes of eliminating the pain. Left fielder Khris Davis acquitted himself fairly well in his first season as a starter, banging 22 homers and driving in 69 runs. But his .244 average needs to improve, as does his selectiveness at the plate. Center field remains locked down by Carlos Gomez. He became the Brewers’ full-time leadoff hitter and displayed better plate discipline.

Catching

The Brewers might be better positioned here than any other team in the majors with an All-Star in Lucroy and an above-average backup in Martin Maldonado. Lucroy was a doubles machine, leading the majors with 53, while also improving defensively. He’s regarded as the finest pitch-framer in the game. Catching 133 games wore him down, so playing him more at first base should help keep him fresh this year. The next step for Lucroy is to become a bigger presence on a team with plenty of veterans but precious few vocal ones.

Bench

Switch-hitting Luis Sardinas was acquired in the Gallardo trade and can play all over the infield. In the outfield, the Brewers have a terrific insurance policy in two-time Gold Glover Gerardo Parra, who can play all three spots as well as provide a left-handed bat on a righty-heavy team. Luis Jimenez, a waiver claim from the Angels, is expected to be a backup at the corners. Outfielder Logan Schafer, another left-handed bat, will probably round out the bench.

Management

Principal owner Mark Attanasio was livid after his team’s slide out of playoff contention. After cooling off, he and Melvin chose to keep manager Ron Roenicke, determining that an offensive funk was mostly to blame. New hitting coach Darnell Coles will be tasked with teaching a more consistent approach at the plate, and it will be on Roenicke to rein in a group that has continually run into some baffling outs on the bases. The Brewers’ expected payroll of $110 million signals Attanasio’s desire to win despite his team’s small-market status.

Final Analysis

The Brewers’ struggles against the Cardinals have been well documented. Now, with the Cubs going all-in on the strength of their active offseason, the Central becomes that much tougher. Avoiding major injury and playing more consistently will be crucial for Milwaukee, which proved last year it had all the pieces needed to contend.

2015 Prediction: 3rd in NL Central

Projected Lineup

CF       Carlos Gomez (R)    Hit five leadoff homers in 2014, providing the Brewers with a terrific mix of power and speed atop the lineup.

2B       Scooter Gennett (L)             Diminutive gamer has plenty of pop in his bat, but he needs to show more patience at the plate.

RF       Ryan Braun (R)        A healed right thumb for the former NL MVP would do wonders for a team that badly needs his punch.

1B       Adam Lind (L)           Provides much-needed pop and lineup balance from the left side of the plate. But can he stay healthy?

C         Jonathan Lucroy (R)           Backstop was the model of consistency in 2014. More time at first base might help save his legs.

3B       Aramis Ramirez (R)             Milwaukee is hoping for one more productive year out of the aging slugger.

LF       Khris Davis (R)         Must become more selective and consistent to harness his full potential.

SS       Jean Segura (R)      Got himself out far too often in 2014 by swinging at everything.

Bench

INF      Luis Sardinas (S)     Came over from Texas in the Yovani Gallardo trade, can play everywhere in the infield but first.

OF       Gerardo Parra (L)     By virtue of his left-handed bat and two Gold Gloves, Parra will play much more than the usual substitute.

C         Martin Maldonado (R)         Solid backup catcher who could see more time behind the plate if Lucroy plays a lot at first.

INF      Luis Jimenez (R)      Backup corner infielder who was acquired off waivers in the offseason from the Angels.

OF       Logan Schafer (L)    Left-handed bat could be an asset on a righty-heavy team, but plate production (.181 in 116 AB in 2014) must improve.

Rotation

RH      Kyle Lohse    Coming off a fourth consecutive 30-start season, the veteran has been a model of consistency.

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RH      Matt Garza     Alternated between terrific and troubling in 2014. Can be great when he’s healthy.

RH      Wily Peralta   Budding future ace who could well be Milwaukee’s next 20-game winner.

RH      Mike Fiers      Reclamation project who will have to prove this spring that his strong finish to 2014 was no mirage.

RH      Jimmy Nelson           Yovani Gallardo trade opens up spot in rotation for young righty after going 2-8 with 4.76 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Bullpen

RH      Francisco Rodriguez (Closer)       Back with Brewers after saving 44 in 49 chances last season.

RH      Jonathan Broxton (Closer) K-Rod’s return pushes Broxton back to setup role, but he could get his opportunities to close too.

RH      Jeremy Jeffress        Possessing a power arm, Jeffress might well find himself in a setup role if he can hit his spots consistently.

LH       Will Smith      Nasty slider makes him ultra-tough on lefties. Could also set up or even close on occasion in 2015.

RH      Brandon Kintzler      If he’s healthy, Kintzler could reclaim a big role in the Brewers’ bullpen.

RH      Jim Henderson         Former closer hoping to return from second career shoulder surgery.

LH       Neal Cotts     Could grab last bullpen spot simply because he’s a southpaw.

Beyond the Box Score

Doubling down Jonathan Lucroy became the first primary catcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) to lead his league in doubles by pounding out 53. Lucroy tied his 2014 teammate, Lyle Overbay, for the franchise record, with Overbay racking up 53 in 2004. Lucroy’s 46 doubles as a catcher set a new major league record, breaking the previous mark of 45 set by Ivan Rodriguez in 1996. It was a season to remember for Lucroy, who also started in the All-Star Game in his first trip as he replaced an injured Yadier Molina. Lucroy was just the second catcher in Brewers history to start an All-Star Game, joining Ted Simmons (1983).

Go-go Gomez Center fielder Carlos Gomez furthered his reputation as one of baseball’s pre-eminent speed and power threats by finishing with 24 home runs and 34 stolen bases. That gave him his second consecutive 20-homer, 30-stolen base season after hitting 23 homers and stealing 40 bases in 2013.

On Fiers Mike Fiers joined the Brewers’ rotation on Aug. 9 and made a total of 10 starts. Over that span, the righthander ranked second in the National League in strikeouts with 71 — second only to NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who had 82. Fiers also ranked 10th in the NL in ERA at 2.09 from Aug. 9 on.

Khrush Davis Since July 23, 2013, the date of his first major league homer, left fielder Khris Davis is tied for third among NL outfielders in homers with 33. The top two long-ball outfield artists? Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton with 51 and San Diego’s Justin Upton with 40. Davis also finished 2014 tied for 10th in the NL with 61 extra-base hits.

2014 Top Draft Pick

Kodi Medeiros, LHP

With three picks in the top 50 overall, the Brewers went for upside in the 2014 draft, selecting three high schoolers. Medeiros was the first, coming off the board 12th overall. He impressed the Brewers during a late-spring workout at Miller Park with a fastball that consistently reached the mid-90s and a slider that was considered one of the best breaking pitches among all prep pitchers. Medeiros also throws from a low arm slot, making his breaking pitches even tougher to pick up. Many believed he profiled as a reliever coming into the draft, but the Brewers are going to give him every opportunity to prove he can start. Medeiros, a product of Waiakea High School, is the highest-drafted native Hawaiian ever, a great source of pride for him. He turned down a scholarship to Pepperdine to sign with Milwaukee.

Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyrone Taylor, OF (21) Speedy center field prospect who was drafted by the Brewers in the second round in 2012. He reached Class AA at the end of 2014 and should start there in 2015.

2. Orlando Arcia, SS (20) Terrific defensive shortstop whose hitting has improved, albeit without much power. He could push Jean Segura. 

3. Clint Coulter, OF (21) First-round pick of the Brewers in 2012 who has moved from catcher to the outfield. Had a big year at Class A Wisconsin.

4. Monte Harrison, OF (19) Big-time athlete who turned down a football/baseball scholarship with Nebraska to sign with the Brewers as the 50th overall pick in 2014.

5. Kodi Medeiros, LHP (18) At 6'2" and 180 pounds, Medeiros has a solid frame with room to grow. He struggled with command in the Arizona Rookie League in nine appearances.

6. Jacob Gatewood, INF (19) Had maybe the most raw power potential coming out of high school in 2014, when he was picked between Medeiros and Harrison at No. 41 overall.

7. Jorge Lopez, RHP (22) Long and lanky at 6'4", 165 pounds, Lopez is a starter who has a terrific curveball and developing fastball.

8. Devin Williams, RHP (20) The Brewers’ top pick in 2013 averaged around a strikeout per inning in rookie league in his first full season as a pro.

9. Victor Roache, OF (23) Roache is the classic boom-or-bust hitter with tons of power but the strikeouts to match. Taken 28th overall in 2012.

10. Taylor Jungmann, RHP (25) It’s been a long, slow climb for Jungmann. He’s finally on the big-league radar as a back-end starter.