The Milwaukee Brewers have answered nearly all of the question marks that faced them coming into their 2011-2012 offseason, and now wait in anticipation for spring training to commence roughly two months from now. Let’s take a look at how their lineup might look on opening day 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. Corey Hart, RF
Nearly half of Corey Hart’s plate appearances last season came as Milwaukee’s lead-off man but I suspect 100 percent of his at-bats to be at the top of Milwaukee’s order on opening day against the Cardinals. Roenicke toyed with a number of players at lead-off before Hart returned to the lineup from an abdominal strain in late April but none definitively fit the role.
In 256 at-bats at the top of Milwaukee’s order, Hart posted a .301 BA, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 47 runs as well as a .366 on-base percentage, roughly comparable to Jose Reyes’ .388 from a season ago. Many feel the Rickie Weeks is best suited here as he clearly has the most background at the top of Milwaukee’s order. However, Aramis Ramirez will need adequate protection and Weeks’ game is slowly converting to power first, speed second. Hart is the right man for the job.
2. Nyjer Morgan, CF
Nyjer Morgan may be best suited to be a lead-off type hitter, but there’s simply no ignoring what he accomplished out of the No.2 hole last season.
In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them in batting second — exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with 2 HR and 31 RBI, 46 R and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League. With either Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter, both right-handed, likely to take the mound for St. Louis, expect Morgan to get the nod over Carlos Gomez strictly because of Morgan’s left-handed bat.
No matter what the final verdict is on Ryan Braun’s alleged PED-usage, GM Doug Melvin says he is going about his normal business as through he expects him to be in the starting lineup on opening day. So, we’ll do the same. Do you really need an explanation?
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Aramis Ramirez has lingered in either the third or fourth spot for most of his career, and since the No.3 spot is already taken, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll bat cleanup next season. Out of the cleanup spot last season with the Cubs, Ramirez batted .291 with 8 HR, 32 RBI and a .450 slugging percentage in a feeble Chicago lineup.
While we shouldn’t expect him to completely fill Fielder’s shoes next season, we should expect a solid middle-of-the-order bat that can protect Braun. Anything short of a .275 BA, 25 HR and 85 RBI would be considered inadequate on Ramirez’s behalf.
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B
Gone are the days of Rickie Weeks being Milwaukee’s lead-off man. At 29 years of age and a bevy of past injuries, he’s clearly entering the second phase of his professional career in that he’s much more of a power-first, speed-second type player. Last season, Weeks amassed 20 home runs and 49 RBI with a .269/.350/.468 line despite missing a substantial chunk of his season due to a ankle injury.
With Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun still facing a 50-game suspension to start his season, Weeks will much more better suited to be batting either fourth or fifth in Milwaukee’s lineup. He has the potential to hit 30 or possibly even 35 home runs next season and should be the one protecting Aramis Ramirez new season.
6. Mat Gamel, 1B
Incumbent 26-year-old prospect Mat Gamel has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in six minor-league seasons, but filling the shoes of Prince Fielder at first base won’t be a cakewalk by any means.
Last season in triple-A, Gamel managed 28 home runs and 90 RBI with a .310/.372/.540 line. Impressive to say the least, but he’ll need to vindicate his career .222 BA and .309 OBP with the Brewers in a timely fashion. Batting behind Rickie Weeks is most likely the best spot for him on opening day. He’ll be a modest defensive upgrade from Fielder but don’t expect him to be a gold-glove caliber first baseman as he’s been known to be a bit lackadaisical from time to time.
One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of this offseason was to upgrade at shortstop. He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 Million deal with a $4 Million 2013 option.
During his 12-year career, Gonzelez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age. His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season, and will be a noticeable upgrade from Yunieksy Betancourt.
Gonzalez’s pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Roenicke’s job that much more easy.
8. Jonathon Lucroy, C
Jonathon Lucroy is by no means a superstar talent behind the plate nor in the batter’s box, but 2011 certified just how important he is to Roenicke’s ballclub.
Last season, Lucroy committed just seven errors on his way to a .993 fielding percentage — a commendable feat given Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches from a season ago. He also posted a 7.87 range factor that ranked fifth-best among all MLB catchers. At the plate, he managed a .265 average with 12 HR and 59 RBI, but garnered a 21.2 K%. Improving his plate discipline and on-base percentage will be key moving forward. Expect him to be in the No. 8 hole on opening day nonetheless.
9. Yovani Gallardo, P
Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter. When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 GS). He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA, and strikeouts and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96). Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012. There’s really no question as to who will take the mound for Milwaukee on opening day.
Updated Starting Lineup and 25-Man Roster Projection
1. RF Corey Hart
2. CF Nyjer Morgan
3. LF Ryan Braun
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
5. 2B Rickie Weeks
6. 1B Mat Gamel
7. SS Alex Gonzalez
8. C Jonathon Lucroy
9. P Yovani Gallardo
C George Kottaras
CF Carlos Gomez
3B Taylor Green
OF Logan Schafer
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Shaun Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson
RHP John Axford
RHP Francisco Rodriguez
RHP Kameron Loe
RHP Jose Veras
RHP Frankie De La Cruz
LHP Zack Braddock
LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Wily Peralta
Amid the controversy surrounding National League MVP Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers have made their first prominent move of the offseason.
According to sources, the Brewers have reached an agreement with free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The contract is supposedly up to three-years and is reportedly worth anywhere from $34 to $37 Million. The deal will become official after Ramirez passes a physical.
Ramirez, 33, batted .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI with the Chicago Cubs last season. He now becomes Milwaukee’s primary threat at the plate at the beginning of next season should Braun’s appeal to the league fall through.
The Brewers have been searching the free-agent market since the end of their playoff run at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals last October, and Ramirez will not only provide a sumptuous bat to manager Ron Roenicke’s lineup, but will also bring in a veteran glove to an infield that struggled mightily throughout last season.
Last week, Milwaukee also added free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez to a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2013. With Ramirez now locked up, the left-side of Milwaukee’s infield will have a completely different outlook in 2012.
Money was tight before this deal went down, which more than likely ends what hope remained for Brewers fans hoping for a potential re-signing of Prince Fielder this offseason. The future of incumbent third-baseman Casey McGehee is now murky at best, and the likelihood of a trade is now at an all-time high.
GM Doug Melvin may or may not still be looking for a late-inning reliever, but with Francisco Rodriguez accepting arbitration last week, the Brewers’ need for a eighth-inning setup man probably isn’t as high as it was before the Ramirez signing.
Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp, and read his blog.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted just minutes ago on how the club has reached an agreement with the veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez on a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2013. The monetary figure is unclear, but we will continue to update you as information becomes available.
According to Rosenthal himself via Twitter:
Last season, Gonzalez, 34, batted .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI in 149 games played with the Atlanta Braves. The veteran infielder was considered to be a potential target for Milwaukee at the beginning of the offseason, when GM Doug Melvin began to contemplate the many options that could upgrade his infield from a season ago.
After two grueling days at the 2011 MLB Winter Meetings, the Milwaukee Brewers and GM Doug Melvin may have finally found their replacement for former slugger Prince Fielder.
Late last night, sources confirmed that the Brewers are now considered the “favorites” to land former Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The Phillies and Angels were considered to be Milwaukee’s only real competition to land the slugger this winter, but talks have subsided and Philadelphia may be pulling out of the sweepstakes altogether.
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Paul Kinzer, Ramirez’s agent, last night saying:
“He likes that team. He wants to go to a team that has pitching and gives him a chance to win a ring. He thinks the Brewers can do that.”
Ramirez has made it known that he is seeking either a four-year deal or a three-year deal with an option for a fourth. Many believe that since the Brewers aren’t likely to retain Fielder, Ramirez has become the club’s next best option. Last season, the 33-year-old, batted .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI last season in Chicago.
In addition to Ramirez, the Brewers also have a strong interest in free-agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins, as sources affirmed on Tuesday. No proposal has been made, but there nonetheless remains an active pursuit of the veteran shortstop.
With the Winter Meetings winding down, expect the rumor mill surrounding the club to be at full-force. With the mutual interest in Ramirez coming into focus, we could see a preliminary offering on the table by nightfall.
Many of Major League Baseball’s top prospects can be found at or near the top of many club’s minor league affiliates. Double and Triple-A affiliates generally bear many of the most seasoned young talents down on the farm, and are consequentially much more likely to be promoted to the majors.
While that is largely the case with most organizations, a quantity of less developed prospects dwell in the lower ranks of minor-league systems. Rookie, single-A and advanced-A affiliates can additionally garner any number of top prospects. And even though these prospects are typically less tried, they are still of great importance to a major league club’s future.
Here are the Milwaukee Brewers’ top low (class-A, class-A advanced) minor league prospects for 2012.
RHP Jimmy Nelson
A second-round pick back in 2010, Nelson burst onto the scene in impressive fashion. He posted a 3.71 ERA while striking out 33 in just 12 appearances (26.1 IP) with Helena in rookie ball. He then followed up his first professional season by being promoted to single-A, where he went 8-9 while accruing a 4.38 ERA in 25 starts. The power right-hander also managed 120 SO in 146.0 innings to go with an impressive 0.55 HR/9.
With the clear lack of pitching depth in Milwaukee’s system, Nelson has the opportunity to make massive strides next season, and could even make a double-A start by the end of 2012.
Baseball America ranks Nelson as the Brewers’ 10th overall prospect heading into next season, and additionally boasts the best slider among all pitchers in Milwaukee’s system. I had the opportunity to speak with Nelson back in October. You can view our entire conversation by clicking here.
One of the more athletically gifted prospects in Milwaukee’s system, Davis has an undeniable amount of upside to his game. He has not, however, proved to be as consistent as most would like to see in the batter’s box.
Taken with the 39th overall pick in 2009, Davis skipped rookie ball and went straight to single-A where he torched opposing pitching to the tune of a .335 BA, 3 HR and 46 RBI. Promoted to class-A advanced, the speedster finished out his 2010 campaign by batting .244 with no home runs and 17 RBI.
Last season, Davis flashed his struggles at the plate, batting just .245 in 132 games with Brevard County. However, his 33 stolen bases and 76 runs scored caught the eyes of many scouts. He was able to reconcile his past woes at the 2011 Arizona Fall League, batting .325 with 12 RBI and a .429 OBP in 23 games. If he’s able to carry that momentum into next season, he’ll be in triple-A in no time.
RHP Jorge Lopez
Overshadowed by Milwaukee’s two first-round sensations from last June’s draft — Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley – the 18-year-old Lopez, a third-round pickup, put together an outstanding inaugural season.
In four starts in rookie ball, the third-round selection from last June garnered a 2.25 ERA, struck out 10 and held batters to a .265 BA in 12 innings of work. Not a particularly rigorous test in his first taste of minor league ball, but it was enough for Baseball America to rank him as Milwaukee’s ninth overall prospect heading into this offseason.
Expect him to start 2012 in single-A and work his way up from there. He clearly has all the potential in the world, now it’s time to see if he can put it all together in a full season of work
Thornburg may be the closest there is to a sure thing in Milwaukee’s system — which isn’t saying much — making leaps and bounds down on the farm in less than two complete minor-league seasons.
With Helena back in 2010, the 5’11″ 176-pound righty started six games, managing a 1.93 ERA while punching out 38 in 23.1 innings.
Management didn’t hesitate to promote the youngster to class-A at the beginning of last season, and it turned out to be the 23-year-old’s coming-out party. In 12 starts, Thornburg posted a staggering 1.57 ERA while holding batters to a .200 BA, striking out 76 in the meantime.
He struggled somewhat in 12 class-A advanced starts toward the end of last season (3-6, 3.57 ERA, 33 BB), but there’s no questioning his raw talent. Look for the Tim Lincecum-esque youngster to start next season in class-A advanced and attempt to move up to double-A by the end of the season.
RHP Taylor Jungmann
The Brewers nabbed college baseball’s top player from last season with the 12th overall selection in last June’s draft, and the good news is, he’s ready to make an immediate impact.
Last season, Jungmann cruised to a 13-3 overall record while hoarding a 1.60 ERA, .165 BAA and amassing 126 strikeouts in 141 innings of work with Texas. He’s shown the ability to consistently go deep into games throughout his collegiate career thanks to an outstanding fastball-curve-changeup combination.
There’s an outside chance the 21-year-old sensation could start his 2012 campaign in double-A, but at the very least he’s set to begin his season in class-A advanced ball. Ideally, the Brewers would like to keep youngster in the minors for no more than three seasons, best-case scenario being a September call-up in 2014.
LHP Jed Bradley
The fact that Bradley has yet to make a professional appearance is already a top prospect speaks volumes about his skill-set.
Last June’s 15th overall selection went 7-3 in 16 starts with Georgia Tech, collecting 106 strikeouts and an outstanding 0.09 HR/9 in 98.0 inning of work. He got some experience under his belt in this fall’s Arizona Fall League but is still extremely raw and will need time to get acclimated with the minor-league pace. Many expect him to make the transition in a timely fashion.
The Brewers have announced he will start his 2012 campaign in class-A advanced ball.
Not many 19-year-old prospects garner reputations as an organization’s top defensive infielder. Then again, not many prospects are like Rivera.
Drafted fresh out of high school in 2010, Rivera’s exceptional glove aptitude and skill-set were enough for Baseball American to rank the youngster as Milwaukee’s top overall infielder heading into this offseason. Keep in mind he’s spent his entire professional career in rookie and single-A ball.
While his glove is a once-in-a-lifetime asset, his bat has yet to approach its potential.
His debut in 2010 consisted of a .209 BA, no home runs, 22 runs scored and 23 RBI in rookie ball. He followed that up by batting a combined .236, 9 HR, 43 RBI and seven stolen bases between rookie and class-A last season. Plate discipline will be a stressing point for Rivera moving forward. If he can clean up his act there, we could see him in a Brewer uniform by 2014.
Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter @alecdopp.
Next week (Dec. 5-8), the baseball cosmos will shift it’s collective focus to the 2011 MLB Winter Meetings, where many of the top available free-agents from the 2012 class are likely to ink brand new deals.
Between the apparent need for a veteran shortstop and eighth-inning setup man, GM Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t likely to be big players at this winter’s meetings (unlike last winter). However, there are needs that will be addressed and noteworthy names that could be acquired.
Here are five names Melvin and the Brewers will target at next week’s crucial meetings.
Furcal, 34, is clearly on the downswing of professional career, but that doesn’t mean the Brewers aren’t interested in signing him. The speedster was a centerpiece to the Cardinals’ late regular season push toward the postseason, batting .255 with 7 HR and 16 RBI, drawing 17 walks and only striking out 18 individual times. While he’s in no way the threat he once was on the bases, many believe he can still hold his own in the field. His durability may become a cause for concern, as he’s played just 174 games over his last two seasons. Melvin has been in brief discussions with Furcal’s agent, Paul Kinzer.
Outside of finding an upgrade at shortstop, there’s no doubting that Melvin’s No. 2 priority is to find a power reliever that can adequately replace Francisco Rodriguez next season.
Former Texas Rangers closer Frank Francisco could catch Melvin’s eye, as he’s proven to be one of the best strikeout relievers in all of MLB over the past few seasons. With the Blue Jays, Francisco garnered a 3.55 ERA while striking out 53 in 50.1 IP. He also notched 17 saves to go with a 9.41 K/9 ratio in 2011.
The market shouldn’t be too demanding for his services, so if the Brewers aren’t able to lock him up next week, they should be able to compete for him shortly thereafter.
If not for the acquisition of Jerry Hairston at the trade deadline last season, who knows how the Brewers’ season would’ve ended.
Acquired from the Nationals, the 35-year-old veteran utility-man extraordinaire batted .385 with 4 RBI and a .961 OPS in 11 postseason games as the full-time starting third baseman with Milwaukee. Reports suggest Melvin has already offered Hairston a one-year deal to return as a Brewer next season, however the price and duration have not yet been disclosed.
Obviously, Hairston will look to explore his options with such a high demand for quality infielding gloves this winter. His time for beating around the bush won’t last too much longer. Expect the Brewers to offer him a new-and-improved deal at next week’s meetings.
With the uncertain future of Casey McGehee at third base and Prince Fielder likely on his way out, now could be the time for the Brewers to act and sign a prominent name to bolster their lineup. Aramis Ramirez might be that chief addition.
Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer, has said that at least four or five teams are seriously interested in signing the former Cub this winter. Could the Brewers be one of them? According to sources, Milwaukee could very much be a potential destination for Ramirez.
Last season, the long-time Cub batted .306 with 26 HR, 93 RBI and a .510 OPS. He’s reportedly seeking a four-year deal or three-year deal with an option. While the Brewers may or may not be willing to bestow such a contract, Ramirez remains a top target for Milwaukee at next week’s meetings.
I’m not sure if there’s any one player more qualified to fill Milwaukee’s shortstop void than Rollins.
Even at 33 years of age, the long-time Phillie can still swing the bat with great efficiency (.268 BA, 16 HR, 68 RBI last season). He’s also relatively volatile on the basepaths, notching 33 stolen bases last season with Philadelphia, which would work wonders in Ron Roenicke’s aggressive-style of running on the basepaths. More importantly, though, his seasoned glove would be a sumptuous add-on to Milwaukee’s infield. Yielding a .988 FPCT and 2.9 UZR last season, Rollins was still one of the top defensive shortstops in all of baseball.
Reports have shown Rollins is looking for a five-year deal this offseason, which is probably out of Milwaukee’s price range. However, Melvin has said he intends on touching base with Dan Lozano, Rollins’ agent, on a possible short-term deal.
Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter @alecdopp