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