Tagged: Milwaukee Brewers Rumors

Rumor: Greinke Open to Playing for St. Louis Cardinals?

MILWAUKEE–I try to refrain from mentioning the Redbirds as much as possible here, but this time I’ll have to make an exception.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals could have the potential to be a player in the Zack Greinke sweepstakes as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline nears. Though he remains unsure as to whether the Brewers would be willing to trade Greinke within the division, Rosenthal believes that returning to the state of Missouri — where he started his career with the Kansas City Royals — would be “particularly intriguing.

Here’s exactly what Rosenthal had to say:

Greinke, who began his career in Kansas City, would be particularly intriguing — he likely would welcome a trade to St. Louis and a chance to sign with the Cardinals long term. It is not known whether the Brewers would be willing to trade Greinke within the division, but they should be if the deal would work to their benefit.

Currently just two and a half games out of first place in the National League Central division, the Cardinals’ starting rotation has actually been one of the best in all of baseball this season. According to FanGraphs, St. Louis starters have combined for an 8.3 WAR (wins above replacement) rating, good enough for sixth-best among all Major League rotations and third-best among all those in the National League.  Adding Greinke — who currently maintains the highest WAR rating (3.5) among all MLB starters — could be the ideal situation.

How could this deal be possible?

For starters, the Cardinals maintain a slew of prospects that could potentially lure Milwaukee into dealing Greinke much sooner than later. Baseball America ranked St. Louis’ system as the 10th-best among all minor-league systems. Leading the way are RHP Shelby Miller, third-baseman Zack Cox, and hot-hitting outfielder Oscar Taveras. It is not known whether or not the Cardinals would be willing to deal any of those players in return for Greinke.

Last week, I wrote a collaborative piece with a number of other columnists to see what the Brewers could get back should they deal Greinke. The Rangers, Blue Jays, Yankees, Braves and Red Sox seemed to be the front-runners in the sweepstakes, but if what Rosenthal just recently reported is found to be true, it could be the Cardinals who ultimately nab Greinke prior to or at the deadline.


MLB Trade Rumors: 5 Potential Deals to Get Zack Greinke out of Milwaukee

As Major League Baseball’s annual July 31 non-waiver trade deadline draws nearer by the day, the Milwaukee Brewers continue to question whether or not they should become buyers or sellers come the final day of July. Currently treading water at 34-41, the Brewers haven’t been a complete disaster this season, however, they haven’t looked like a club destined for a postseason berth, either.

Easily the most pressing issue facing GM Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio this summer is the trade status of Zack Greinke, who through the first half of the season has performed nothing short of Cy Young-worthy. His fabulous production this season will consequently offer tremendous trade value as the summer persists, and despite the numerous reports saying Milwaukee will opt not to trade him, you have to believe that if the Brewers continue to slip in the standings that they’ll have no other choice but to deal their ace.

If that’s the case, then the question obviously becomes: Which teams could be interested in trading for Greinke and what would they be willing to relinquish in order to attain his services?

I recently spoke with a few featured columnist on Bleacher Report in the hopes of sorting out a few potential deals that could go down as the trade deadline nears.

New York Yankees

The Rumor

The Deal:

Yankees Receive: Zack Greinke 

Brewers Get: RHP Dellin Betances, SS Eduardo Nunez, OF Slade Heathcott, C Francisco Cervelli

Yankees FC Doug Rush‘s take:

With this trade, the Brewers would get a backup catcher who is MLB-ready, and a super utility infielder/outfielder who is also MLB ready with a bat. With Betances, they get the Yankees #2 prospect who, if he ever straightens out, can be very good. With Heathcott, they get a young outfielder they could use in maybe 2 years.

The Yankees just scouted Greinke’s latest start today. With the injuries to Sabathia and Pettitte, looking into Greinke makes a lot of sense.

My take: The news that the Yankees scouted Greinke in his last start shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, as the immediate and distant futures of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are in deep question after suffering injuries. Needless to say, New York will need to add another guy to their rotation of Greinke’s caliber if they’re to stay atop the AL East.

If the Brewers aren’t able to lock up Greinke between now and the All-Star break, I think they’ll look to deal him away. Unfortunately for the Yankees, I think they’d rather keep him and run the risk of not signing him in the offseason that take this deal up. Betances’ monster 6’8″, 240-pound frame has a ton of potential as so does Nunez, but I don’t think Melvin will have much of an interest in Heathcott or Cervelli.

Chances this deal goes through: Not likely

Atlanta Braves

The Rumor

The Deal:

Braves Receive: Zack Greinke

Brewers Receive: SS Tyler Pastronicky, RHP Todd Redmond, OF Jordan Parraz, RHP Zeke Spruill

Braves FC Chris Stephens‘ take:

With the loss of Brandon Beachy for the year, and possibly next year, the Braves are in dire need of starting pitching, especially considering the performances of Mike Minor and Randall Delgado thus far.

Greinke would be a great addition to the Braves rotation, but there could be a few snags – Greinke is a free agent after this year and will likely carry a high pricetage to re-sign. Because of that, giving up a bunch of talented prospects for Greinke will be hard to come by. The Braves definitely don’t want to get burned like they did in the Mark Teixeira trade, so they’re going to be careful here.

Prospects and/or other guys the Braves would consider relinquishing would be Triple-A Gwinnett’s SS Tyler Pastronicky, P Todd Redmond and/or OF Jordan Parraz, and Double-A Mississippi’s Zeke Spruill. Guys on the big-league team that could be considered are Anthony Vavarro and Jose Constanza. Obviously, not all of these guys will be involved in a trade, but they’re some of the ones I believe they’ll consider letting go. Julio Teheran, Evan Gattis, Todd Cunningham, Christian Bethancourt and Sean Gilmartin won’t be involved in my opinion.

My take: The loss of Brandon Beachy to Atlanta’s rotation was an unfortunate one, as he was in the midst of quite possibly a Cy Young-worthy season. Now, the Braves are stuck trying to decided whether or not Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens will be able to carry the load for their rotation for the remainder of the season.

If the Braves do decided to acquire a veteran power-arm before the deadline, Greinke will likely be atop their wish-list. Given that Atlanta’s farm system has a number of high-ceiling prospects, the Brewers could very well be enticed by a potential deal. Problem is, if the Braves aren’t willing to deal youngsters such as Julio Teheran or Christian Bethancourt, then I just don’t see a viable reason for Milwaukee to pull the trigger — the Brewers will be looking for at least one top-tier prospect in return for Greinke.

Chances this deal goes through: Not likely

Texas Rangers

The Rumor

The Deal:

Rangers Get: Zack Greinke

Brewers Get: 3B Mike Olt, RHP Neil Ramirez, RHP Justin Grimm

Rangers FC Lance Reaves‘ take: 

Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez are probably the two most untouchable prospects in the Rangers organization. Their farm system is very pitching heavy. A starting pitcher that might satisfy the Brewers is 23-year-old Neil Ramirez, who is considered one of the team’s top prospects with a high upside. A guy who could be ready to contribute fairly soon is pitcher Justin Grimm. Another young player with a lot of promise is Mike Olt, a third baseman who is having a great season for the Rangers’ Double A affiliate.

However, even for a player of Greinke’s caliber, it’s very unlikely Texas would be willing to offer both Ramirez and Olt in a deal. Centerfielder Leonys Martin might also be mentioned, but that will have a lot to do with Josh Hamilton’s contract situation.

My take: While the Rangers are absolutely loaded in the bullpen, the injury to Colby Lewis (who was the only real strikeout threat featured in their rotation outside of Yu Darvish) was a wretched one for the AL West front-runners. They may have the ability to ward off the surging Los Angeles Angels for now, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re already in the works to upgrade their rotation — possibly through the acquisition of Greinke.

From the Brewers’ vantage point, anything short of annexing at least one top-caliber prospect through trading Greinke should be considered unrealistic at this juncture. As Lance mentioned, both Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez are all but untouchable. However, I do believe that Milwaukee would be tempted by the prospect of acquiring Mike Olt, who’s been nothing short of a slugger during his stay in the minors. Throwing in two arms that are fairly big-league ready such as Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm might actually be enough to get something done.

Chances this deal goes through: Somewhat likely

Boston Red Sox

The Rumor

The Deal:

Red Sox Get: Zack Greinke

Brewers Get:  RHP Anthony Ranaudo, SS Jose Iglesias, OF Jackie Bradley

Red Sox FC Benjamin Klein‘s take:

The Boston Red Sox starting rotation isn’t in the best shape. The starters have been inconsistent, injured or just flat out bad this season—with possibly the exception of Felix Doubront—but somehow they’re still in the playoff hunt. They really need a front-line starter badly and could be interested in Zack Greinke. Greinke will enter free agency at the end of the season so Boston GM Ben Cherington would have to be sure he could lock him up long-term if a deal were to happen.

If I’m Cherington, I’d be willing to give up three impact prospects from the minor league system—possibly Anthony Ranaudo, Jose Iglesias and Jackie Bradley. I would really have to make sure that Greinke had interest in a contract extension with the Red Sox before completing a deal, though.

My take: Similar to the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox starting rotation has suffered through injuries, and that unfortunate reality could be the incentive they need to try and complete a deal with Milwaukee in return for Greinke.

As with many teams that would love to annex Greinke through a trade, the problem is that Boston won’t part ways with the two top-tier prospects in their system. Shortstop Xandar Bogaerts and RHP Matt Barnes would be two of the names Melvin would love to add to his system, but the odds that Cherington parts ways with either are slim to none. Consequently, settling for a lesser prospect in Jose Iglesias or Anthony Ranaudo doesn’t seem like something Milwaukee would be interesting in doing.

For now, it looks as though the Red Sox and Brewers must look elsewhere to fulfill their needs.

Chances this deal goes through: Slim to none

Toronto Blue Jays

The Rumor

The Deal:

Blue Jays Get: Zack Greinke

Brewers Get: OF Anthony Gose, RHP Deck McGuire, RHP Chad Jenkins

Blue Jays FC Stephen Brown‘s take:

The Blue Jays have become desperate for starting pitching following the injuries to potential All-Star Brandon Morrow and youngsters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison as well as the general ineffectiveness of Ricky Romero. If you take a look at their probably starters for their series against the Angels it includes Carlos Villanueva and Aaron Laffey two guys who were nowhere near the rotation at the beginning of the season.
Greinke would be a great asset for the Blue Jays and they have the assets to acquire him. There are some pieces that would most likely be untouchable (CF Anthony Gose, C Travis D’Arnaud, SP Noah Syndergaard) but there are also many plausible scenarios.
OF Travis Snider and Eric Thames are two of the main pieces that would be included in a trade. Neither are a top tier prospect anymore but definitely an extra piece that could be added.
The Jays have a glutton of SPs like Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins that would have to be involved. Drabek’s injury makes him untradeable at this point but a young SP would most likely be the key piece.

My take: This deal makes a whole lot of sense, honestly. Not only does it satisfy Milwaukee’s need for at least one top prospect to go with a couple other average ones, but it doesn’t severely deplete a Blue Jays organization that many consider to be the most talent-laden farm systems in Major League Baseball.

Needless to say, Toronto needs help with their starting rotation. As Stephen mentioned earlier, injuries to both strikeout machine Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek — among others — has left their rotation destitute of a veteran, power-type arm. Greinke would certainly bring that to John Farrell’s club.

I believe this deal will hinge on the willingness of Toronto to include Anthony Gose. He’s a premier centerfield talent that the Brewers would jump all over if given the chance, as the Nyjer Morgan-Carlos Gomez experiment has failed epically this season and neither will be around for much longer.

Chances this deal goes through: Somewhat likely

Has PED Distraction Already Gotten the Best of Ryan Braun?

Distractions can be a hard thing to combat in any situation.

Just ask Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

After defying the odds to become just the first player in Major League Baseball history to successfully appeal a performance-enhancing drug suspension late last month, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player has struggled mightily this spring for the defending NL Central division champs.

Through eight spring training games against Cactus League pitching, the 28-year-old Braun has gone cold, going a mere 1-for-15 for a .067 batting average, his lone base-knock coming off a home run over 10 days ago.

Braun had this to say to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com last Saturday after going 0-for-2 during an 8-1 Brewers loss to the Los Angeles Angels:

“There’s never a quantity of at-bats in Spring Training that would concern me, ever,” Braun said. “Spring Training has never been result-oriented. It’s always process-oriented. The process is certainly a little different this year. It’s an adjustment I’ll have to make.”

Say what you must about how both spring training fulfillment or failures are meaningless from a statistical standpoint (for the record I completely and utterly agree with that sentiment) and that they are no indication of what a player may or may not accomplish during the regular season.   However, the distractions that have come with being the first player in the history of baseball to have a 50-game drug-related suspension overturned have influenced Braun this spring.

The evidence is pretty conclusive.

Since being drafted by the Brewers in 2005, Braun has lasted through each of the last five spring trainings with Milwaukee, on average compiling roughly four home runs, 12 RBI, nine runs scored and a .315/.370/.647 line (also note that Braun holds true to a .315/.370/.563 career 162-game average for his career).

I’m no math major, but with only seven games remaining this spring, it will be awfully difficult for Braun to boost his numbers up to par with his career spring-training averages.

The only thing left for Braun is to try and establish some type of momentum heading into the regular season.  Clearly, Milwaukee’s poster child and face-of-the-franchise has been out of sorts this spring.  I mean, it’s one thing trying to deal with the casual, everyday heckler, but it’s another thing to hear chants of “Urine sample!” and “You’re a cheater!” during every at-bat.

Still, with the regular season just under two weeks away, pestering from fans isn’t about to subside.  Heckling will only amplify as games become more meaningful and Braun can expect to get an earful on each road-trip this season.  The only way to put an end to the hatred is to produce up to expectations.

So far, he hasn’t been able to do that.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Taylor Jungmann Complete Scouting Report

Though their farm system is still without question one of baseball’s most shallow, the Milwaukee Brewers have drawn a substantial amount of excitement over the past few months with respect to the young talent residing their minor league affiliates.  One of the few youngsters that have made this all possible is right-handed pitching prospect Taylor Jungmann.

At last June’s Major League Baseball’s annual first-year player draft, general manager Doug Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and director of amateur scouting Bruce Seid selected the 6’6″, 220 fireballing right-hander out of the University of Texas with the 12th overall selection, the first of two first-round picks the club maintained (the other being 15th overall).

Jungmann, coming off one heck of a junior season with the Longhorns where he thoroughly dominated the Big 12 Conference, was one of the most highly touted and most coveted pitching prospects featured in last summer’s draft.  Scouts salivated over his physical attributes, durability, multiple plus-pitch repertoire and knowledge of the game coming into the draft.  Needless to say, the Brewers were ecstatic when the lanky right-hander was still available when they went on the clock toward the middle of the first round.

Fast forward through roughly nine months of speculation and anticipation, and Brewers fans are finally getting a glimpse at their prized first-round selection.  Jungmann began his inaugural campaign with the organization as a non-roster invitee in spring training this past Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox, tossing two innings of impressive ball in which he struck out one, walked a pair and allowed one unearned run to cross home.

After an impressive first outing against major league hitting, it’s safe to say Brewers fans are hooked on “Jungmann Mania” (as if they weren’t already).  Now, the knee-jerk reaction of many fans is to try and learn more about Jungmann’s game.  Fortunately, I’m here to provide some insight.  Let’s take an in-depth look at Jungmann’s game with a fully-fledged scouting report on Milwaukee’s new number one prospect.

Statistical Breakdown

Here‘s a brief statistical history of what Jungmann was able to accomplish during his three seasons at the University of Texas.

Year Team Age W L ERA GS  IP SO WHIP H/9 SO/9
2009 Texas 19 11 3 2.00 10 94.2  101  1.06  6.18 9.60
2010 Texas 20 8 3 2.03 17  120.0 129  1.08  6.60  9.68
2011 Texas 21 13 3 1.60 18 141.0  126  0.83  5.17 8.04
College Totals  (3 years) 32 9 1.85 45 356.0  356  0.97  5.92 9.01

Jungmann was one of the most highly touted young talents coming out of Georgetown High School prior to his 2009 freshman season with the Longhorns and its easy to see why.  He came into the Longhorns’ program and was able to contribute right from the get-go and at a remarkable clip.  His impressive production throughout the 2009 season was enough for him to be named to Baseball America’s Freshman All-America First Team.

His final two seasons at Texas were nothing short of spectacular, as well.  Jungmann struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings pitched in his sophomore season while allowing under seven hits.  Unlike his freshman season, though, all of his appearances would come as a starter and that could carry over into his unprecedented 2011 junior campaign where he took home the 2011 Dick Howser Award for being named college baseball’s top player last season.

Physical Makeup and Delivery

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 220 pounds

Jungmann’s tall, lanky build was a great asset for him throughout his college career and that will continue to bode well for him as he progresses through the Brewers’ system.  He doesn’t have to put too much stress on his arm to get velocity on his fastball and that in turn has allowed him to go deep into his starts on a consistent basis.

Jungmann works out of a 3/4 arm slot and that consequently enables his curveball to have more “sweeping” action rather than simply a curveball that drops off as it approaches the hitter.  He does have good movement on his fastball but I’d say that’s more a product of his grip (more on that to come in the coming months) rather than his arm slot.

Here’s a great video clip of Jungmann pitching against Rice around this time last year at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Jungmann’s delivery is fast-paced and fluid from both the windup and stretch.  He throws  his body weight into every pitch and that adds more velocity to his pitches.  As you can see in the snapshot on the right, Jungmann has great tilt and scouts love to see that out of an already promising young pitcher.

It’s clear that the pitching coaches at the University of Texas have made Jungmann conscious of his mechanics.  Jungmann does all the subtle pre-pitch things correctly and that is one of the biggest reasons why he should dart through Milwaukee’s system in a timely fashion.

Fastball Breakdown

Jungmann’s fastball is one of the biggest overarching assets to his game.  He consistently sits in the mid-90s with instances of upper-90s stuff and has proven that he’s capable of sustaining his plus-average velocity deep into each start.  However, his ability to work both sides of the plate is what really separates him from many other young fire-ballers.   Scouts have raved over his command, particularly in regard to his fastball, since he first walked onto campus in the Fall of 2009 and it’s only gotten better since.

Off-speed offerings

Aside from his fastball, Jungmann offers two plus-average off-speed pitches, the first being his curveball.  As I’ve already alluded to, Jungmann’s 3/4 arm slot allows his curveball to have more “sweeping” action rather than simply a “fall-off-the-table” type breaking pitch.  He gets a lot of swings-and-misses with this pitch and it is definitely plus-average.

His second off-speed offering his his changeup, which also not surprisingly grades out as plus-average.  He throws it with great efficiency and induces a fair amount of swings-and-misses.  Since Jungmann’s delivery is exceptionally repeatable, he is able to fool batters consistently when he throws his changeup.


You don’t have to be an accomplished scout to know how that Jungmann has an extremely high MLB ceiling and that he’s presumably destined to be a back-of-the rotation starter in Milwaukee.  Between his physical makeup, durability, three plus-average pitches and collegiate success, Jungmann is the kind of young pitcher who can really make a difference in any MLB starting rotation.

I see him spending the entire 2012 season in the minors, eventually moving his way up to double-A Huntsville by year’s end.  The jury is out from that point on; the Brewers could certainly ponder utilizing his services out of the bullpen by the mid-point of the 2013 season and he could very well challenge for the No.4 spot by the end of that season as well.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Tyler Thornburg Complete Scouting Report

23-year-old Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect Tyler Thornburg made his highly-anticipated spring training debut on Tuesday, conceding two runs on two hits while striking out one over two-thirds of an inning.  The youngster strutted his fastball and change-up and looked smooth on the mound, though his statistical line didn’t exactly reflect that. It wasn’t the most invigorating debut for the young right-hander, but that’s to be expected from a young pitcher facing big-league caliber hitting with less than two complete professional seasons under his belt.

After watching Thornburg get his feet wet in spring training,  Brewers fans are now itching for more.  They now find themselves asking what he brings to the table talent-wise and what he projects to be in the long-term for the franchise.  Luckily for Brewers fans, I’m going to go in-depth and try to shed some light on what this gifted youngster has to offer.

Statistical Breakdown

In less than two professional seasons since being drafted by the Brewers in the third round of the 2010 Draft, Thornburg has produced arguably better than any other Milwaukee farmhand (Wily Peralta excluded).  He dominated rookie ball out in Helena in nine appearances (six of which were starts) shortly after being drafted.  His velocity, which made him one of the most coveted small-school prospects of the entire 2010 draft, manifested itself early on and that led to an impressive K/9 ratio of 14.7, though that should be taken with a grain of salt since he only amassed 23.1 total innings.  He walked a fair number of batters that season but made up for it in striking out just south of 40 percent of the batters he faced (which also should be taken with a grain of salt…).

Thornburg took to low-A ball at the beginning of last season still as a relative unknown through the system, but that would quickly change.  The Charleston Southern product rattled off seven victories (and no defeats) in 12 starts and was named a Mid-West League All-Star.  His performance warranted an appearance in the MLB Futures game in Arizona last July and also a promotion to high-A Brevard County, where he moreover pitched decently against the starkly improved hitting of the Florida State League.  He posted a rather impressive ERA of 3.57 and perpetuated his strikeout success to the tune of a K/9 ratio of 11.1.

Here is a statistical breakdown of Thornburg’s minor-league proficiency, courtesy of Baseball Reference.

2010 21 Helena PION Rk MIL 1 0 1.000 1.93 9 6 1 0 0 1 23.1 15 6 5 2 11 0 38 2 2 3 97 1.114 5.8 0.8 4.2 14.7 3.45
2011 22 2 Teams 2 Lgs A-A+ MIL 10 6 .625 2.57 24 24 0 2 1 0 136.2 94 44 39 8 58 0 160 8 3 9 556 1.112 6.2 0.5 3.8 10.5 2.76
2011 22 Wisconsin MIDW A MIL 7 0 1.000 1.57 12 12 0 2 1 0 68.2 49 14 12 3 25 0 76 4 3 5 274 1.078 6.4 0.4 3.3 10.0 3.04
2011 22 Brevard County FLOR A+ MIL 3 6 .333 3.57 12 12 0 0 0 0 68.0 45 30 27 5 33 0 84 4 0 4 282 1.147 6.0 0.7 4.4 11.1 2.55
2 Seasons 11 6 .647 2.48 33 30 1 2 1 1 160.0 109 50 44 10 69 0 198 10 5 12 653 1.112 6.1 0.6 3.9 11.1 2.87

Physical Makeup and Delivery

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 185 pounds

Thornburg weighs in at a smallish 5’11”, 185 pounds and uses every inch of his frame to its fullest potential.  His physical makeup is noticeably similar to two-time Cy Young award winner and current San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum’s 5’11”, 165-pound shell.

Since he doesn’t have the luxury of a big frame, Thornburg compensates by not only throwing his entire body into his pitches, but also by putting a considerable amount of torque on his arm; this could be a concern down the road.  His lack of size and natural body mass portend that Thornburg could be destined for a bullpen role rather than a spot in a starting lineup.  He’s averaged just under 5 2/3 innings per start over his short-lived professional career.  If he has any intention of breaking through to and staying in a Major League starting rotation, his durability will need to at the very least show signs of improvement.

That said, Thornburg’s over-the-top delivery is sound and exceptionally repeatable.  He  hides the ball well and that helps to give him average to slightly above-average deception.  Thornburg looks great out of the stretch in this clip and is able to pound the outside of the plate (as intended) against this batter, leading to a subsequent ground-out.

As you can tell by the three shots below, Thornburg has a knack for repeating his delivery.  The picture on the far left shows the release point of his fastball, the middle shows his changeup, and the right another fastball.  His over-the-top armslot repeats itself consistently, and his lower body movement and fluidity are near perfect by definition.

Fastball Breakdown

Thornburg’s velocity has been his biggest asset on the mound throughout his professional career.  His fastball consistently sits in the mid-90s with flashes of upper-90 potential early in games.  There isn’t a lot of movement on his fastball to speak of, though there have been flashes of some average movement last season.  He can be somewhat sporadic when he overcompensates to add velocity to his fastball, and that leads to some inconsistencies with respect to his command.  Thornburg’s success as a pitcher will live and die off his fastball and he’ll need to show some subtle improvements on that in double-A this season.

Offspeed Offerings

Thornburg has two respectable off-speed pitches that are able to compliment his above-average velocity well.  He features what many scouts deem to be a “power” curveball to induce a lot of swings-and-misses, but doesn’t throw it for strikes regularly enough to classify it as a plus-average pitch.  The other off-speed offering he throws is a plus-changeup that has the makings of a real go-to pitch should he pitch exclusively out of the bullpen at the big league level.


There are still scouts out there who believe Thornburg has what it takes to be a No.4 or No.5 starter in a big league rotation, however, there are plenty of scouts, or in my case “budding scouts”, who believe Thornburg’s abilities would be best served to pitch out of the bullpen, possibly as a set-up type arm.  His durability issues in the lower minors suggest he simply doesn’t have the stamina to survive in the big leagues.  I do believe, though, that he would thrive out of a bullpen role.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Milwaukee Brewers: Complete 2012 Stat Predictions for Each Top 25 Player

Photo Courtesy of JSOnline.com

**Read this article on Bleacher Report**

A lot has transpired over the past few months for the Milwaukee Brewers.  But with spring training in full swing and opening day just around the corner, players and coaches are finally beginning to focus on getting ready for the regular season.

Of course, the question fans are now beginning to ask themselves is how each player will be able to produce relative to their 2011 numbers.  Will each player improve upon his statistical output or witness a subtle or possibly even an excessive relapse in production?

If you currently find yourself asking any one of those enticing questions, you’re in luck.  Let’s go in-depth to try and predict each top 25 player’s statistical output this season.

25. Manny Parra

2011 Stats: N/A (injured)

162-game average: 5.13 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 154 SO, 168 IP

2012 Projection: 4.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24 SO, 4 HLD, 25 IP

Breakdown: Manny Parra sat out all of last season with a back injury and will attempt to come back and revert back to his productive ways of old on a one-year, $1.2 Million contract.  The 29-year-old former top prospect is arbitration eligible following this season and will be pitching for a new contract next winter.  If he impresses, the Brewers could offer him a short-term deal.  If he disappoints, he might have trouble finding work with any other MLB team.  He currently ranks as Milwaukee’s sixth-best reliever in our preseason rankings.  His left-handed arm could be extremely valuable later in the season, but fans shouldn’t expect to see him much prior to the All-Star break.  Most of his appearances will come when the Brewers are either down-and-out or when they’re extremely short on arms.  Consequently, his ERA doesn’t look to be too attractive.

24. Cesar Izturis

2011 Stats: .200/.250/.200, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 0 SB

162-game average: .255/.295/.322, 2 HR, 40 RBI, 58 R, 15 SB

2012 Projection: .224/.271/.310, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 12 R, 1 SB

Breakdown: In an effort to re-gain depth and defensive prowess off the bench, GM Doug Melvin went out and signed veteran utility infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract in mid-January.  His contract isn’t guaranteed, but all signs point to him being in a Brewers uniform on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Izturis has never been known for his bat, as he is a career .255 batter and holds true to just a .295 on-base percentage.  But that’s okay, though, because the Brewers won’t need his bat — his glove will need to do the talking this season.

23. Taylor Green

2011 Stats (AAA): .336/.413/.583, 22 HR, 88 RBI, 74 R, SB

162-game average: N/A

2012 Projection: .279/.329/.439, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 39 R, 3 SB

Breakdown: After a scintillating 2011 campaign in the Pacific Coast League where he was named as Milwaukee’s top positional prospect, Taylor Green was probably looking forward to holding the full-time starting job at third base to start 2012.  However, those aspirations were all for naught when GM Doug Melvin inked Aramis Ramirez to a lucrative three-year deal.  Instead of a full-time role, Green will be asked to provide youth and defensive readiness when needed.  Since he can play the field at the hot corner, second base and as first base with relative ease, he’ll be able to log a few at-bats this season though probably not more than 150 at-bats.  A good portion of his plate appearances should come during inter-league play.

22. Frankie De La Cruz

2011 Stats: 2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9 SO, 0 HLD, 13 IP

162-game average: 8.16 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 50 SO, 81 IP

2012 Projection: 4.12 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 30 SO, 3 HLD, 40 IP

Breakdown: 27-year-old Frankie De La Cruz has spent nearly all of his journeyman career in the minor leagues, and at one point ventured over to Japan and made nine appearances with the Yakult Swallows.  In his first season in Milwaukee’s system, De La Cruz tossed 137 innings of solid ball, striking out 130 though walking 63 in the Pacific Coast League.   However, De La Cruz’s minor league days are all but behind him.  With the exit of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito, the Dominican native will have a number of relief opportunities this season.  He currently ranks as Milwaukee’s number five reliever in our preseason rankings.  And while history shows that the statistics of back-end relievers aren’t exactly picture-perfect, he should log a respectable amount of innings this season and strike out a few batters.

21. Chris Narveson

2011 Stats: 11-8, 4.45 ERA, 126 SO, 1.39 WHIP, 161.2 IP

162-game average: 11-8, 4.62 ERA, 142 SO, 1.37 WHIP, 170 IP

2012 Projection: 12-7, 4.39 ERA, 155 SO, 1.29 WHIP, 187 IP

Breakdown: In his second straight season capping off Milwaukee’s rotation, Chris Narveson was by all accounts one of the better number five starters in all of baseball, but saw a regression in productivity compared to his 2010 campaign.  His walk rate (8.2% in 2010, 9.3% in 2011) magnified slightly and his K/BB ratio (2.32 in 2010, 1.94 in 2011) took a considerable hit.

If he can show signs of improvement this season, a new contract could be in order this winter.  Narveson lost a few starts due to a freak injury in 2011, but he still tallied a fair number of innings.  A healthy Narveson throughout 2012 should get around 180-190 innings.  I also see him improving his numbers slightly this season, mostly in a reduction of walks, so his WHIP would improve as a consequence.

20. Norichika Aoki

2011 Stats (Japan): .292/.358/.360, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 73 R, 8 SB

162-game average: N/A

2012 Projection: .277/.350/.396, HR, 12 RBI, 24 R, 13 SB

Breakdown: The Brewers sought to find outfield depth with Ryan Braun’s future in doubt and they got that depth when the signed three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki to a two-year contract.  The Japanese left-hander has unquestioned hitting abilities, can play the field effectively and has serviceable abilities on the base-paths.  But can he translate  those successes over to the major league game?  The answer to that question likely won’t be answered for a while.  Fortunately for the Brewers, they won’t need him to be the stud hitter he was during his tenure in Japan.  Ryan Braun’s return means Aoki simply needs to provide depth for manager Ron Roenicke off the bench throughout this season, and his statistical output should reflect that.

19. Marco Estrada

2011 Stats: 4.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 88 SO, 4 HLD, 92.2 IP

162-game average: 5.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 110 SO, 114 IP

2012 Projection: 3.95 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 54 SO, 59 IP, 6 HLD

Breakdown: After minimal opportunities with the Washington Nationals from 2008 to 2009, the Brewers claimed Marco Estrada off waivers prior to the 2010 season.  He only made seven appearances that same year, however, he proved to be a real workhorse out of the bullpen last season.  Strictly as a reliever, Estrada posted a 4.38 ERA in 51.1 innings and garnered a surprising 9.6 K/9 ratio.  He also filled in for Chris Narveson as Milwaukee’s number five starter and performed well.

In all honesty, Estrada should probably be higher on this list, at least in relation to his ranking amongst the rest of the relievers.  He has a solid, repeatable delivery and knows his capabilities.  I see him returning to a similar role from last season as a middle-innings reliever and improving his statistical yield all-around.

18. Jose Veras

2011 Stats: 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 79 SO, 27 HLD, 71 IP

162-game average: 4.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 66 SO, 66 IP

2012 Projection: 3.77 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 77 SO, 17 HLD, 69 IP

Breakdown: Sent to Milwaukee from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for third baseman Casey McGehee, 31-year-old veteran reliever Jose Veras will remain a relative mystery for fans until the regular season gets under way.  Allow me to shed some light onto what he brings to the table: Strikeouts, and a lot of them.  In each of the past two seasons, Veras has amassed a K/9 ratio over 10 and has on average maintained an impressive strikeout rate of over 26 percent.  He fastball reaches the mid to upper 90s with consistency and has an good slider to compliment it.  Veras does walk a fair number of batters, though, so fans can expect a few walks here and there.  Overall, he should be a above-average number four option out of the bullpen for manager Ron Roenicke this season.

17. Kameron Loe

2011 Stats: 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 61 SO, 16 HLD, 72 IP

162-game average: 4.33 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 70 SO, 116 IP

2012 Projection: 3.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 67 SO, 18 HLD, 75 IP

Breakdown: Kameron Loe has done an excellent job out of Milwaukee’s bullpen during each of his first two seasons with the club.  He’s maintained a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, has struck out over seven batters per nine innings pitched and rarely if ever makes mistakes, holding true to a 3.45 SO/BB and 0.5 HR/9 ratio.  For that reason, Loe will be held to a higher standard in 2012.  With LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito gone, the Brewers will count on the California native to be their steady number three option out of the bullpen.  I have no doubt he’ll do just that throughout this season and therefore see a solid statistical yield from the 30-year-old righty.

16. George Kottaras

2011 Stats: .252/.311/.459, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB

162-game average: .223/.306/.411, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 54 R, 2 SB

2012 Projection: .247/.327/.421, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB

Breakdown: George Kottaras may be the best backup catcher in all of baseball.  He’s capitalized on his limited opportunities in the league and drew a lot of interest from teams in need of catching depth around the trade deadline last summer.  In all honesty, his deceiving offensive prowess and dependability behind the plate suggest he should probably get more playing time.

Nevertheless, Kottaras likely isn’t guaranteed more than 100 at-bats this season.  He logged 111 at-bats last season even with Jonathan Lucroy starting 83 percent of Milwaukee’s regular season games.

15. Mat Gamel

2011 Stats (AAA): .304/.376/.498, 28 HR, 96 RBI, 90 R, 2 SB

162-game average: N/A

2012 Projection: .264/.345/.429, 22 HR, 70 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB

Breakdown: Mat Gamel is by far and away the hardest player to project as far as statistical output goes.  He’s crushed the cover off the ball in the minors for each of the past three seasons but has struggled during his limited time at the big league level. As we visited this past winter, Gamel would fit best in the number six hole in the Brewers’ lineup.  His left-handed bat and power potential are best served to be in the middle to lower portion of Ron Roenicke’s batting order.  If that’s the case, then I think he could potentially reach the 80 RBI plateau, though 70 RBI seems more realistic at this juncture.

14. Randy Wolf

2-game average: 13-11, 4.09 ERA, 164 SO, 1.32 WHIP, 209 IP

2012 Projection: 13-10, 3.85 ERA, 139 SO, 1.30 WHIP, 203 IP

Breakdown: 35-year-old Randy Wolf anchored and stabilized Milwaukee’s rotation last season as the No. 4 starter and performed well above expectations.  He led all Brewers starters in innings pitched and eclipsed the 210-inning mark for the second straight season in a Milwaukee uniform.  Can fans expect a similar statistical output from the tried vet in 2012?

The answer to that question at this juncture is uncertain at best.  Wolf has seen a steady decline in his strikeout rate but at the same time has witnessed his walk rate improve considerably.  This could end up as a contract year for Wolf, though, if the Brewers opt not to pick up his $10 Million 2013 option at season’s end.  With that being said, fans should expect another productive yield from Wolf with a slight lapse in production across the board.

13. Carlos Gomez

2011 Stats: .225/.276/.403, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 37 R, 16 SB

162-game average: .243/.291/.357, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 66 R, 28 SB

2012 Projection: .237/.284/.391, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 32 R, 21 SB

Breakdown: Carlos Gomez has been given more than enough opportunities to take the full time starting job in center field over the past two seasons, but injuries and inconsistencies have taken their toll on a once promising young career.  Ergo, it’s difficult to picture Gomez logging more than 75 games this season with the addition of Norichika Aoki.  Nevertheless, Gomez will still have a tremendous impact on the bases despite a likely drop in at-bats.  Manager Ron Roenicke has vowed to play his brand of baseball this season with Prince Fielder gone, and stealing bases will be a key component to Milwaukee’s divison title defense.  If he can stay healthy, there’s no doubt Gomez has the capacity to swipe 30 bases this season.

12. Alex Gonzalez

2011 Stats: .241/.270/.372, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 59 R, 2 SB

162-game average: .247/.291/.399, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 68 R, 3 SB

2012 Projection: .245/.268/.371, 16 HR, 61 RBI, 57 R, 2 SB

Breakdown: While there’s no doubting veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez will be an unambiguous upgrade from Yuniesky Betancourt defensively, there are questions about his bat and whether or not it can sustain itself as retirement inches closer.  For one, Gonzalez doesn’t seem to have much power left.  His career-best .197 ISO from 2010 dropped all the way down to .131 last season.  Secondly, he’s never been known for his plate discipline.  He garnered a walk ratio of just 3.7 percent last season and consequently watched his strikeout rate skyrocket to a career-high 21.1 percent.  Gonzalez should be at the very least serviceable at the plate in 2012, but if he’s unable to stay within the strike-zone then things could get ugly in a hurry.  I look for a decline in several offensive categories for Sea Bass this season.

11. Francisco Rodriguez

2011 Combined Stats: 2.64 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 79 SO, 23 SV, 17 HLD, 71.2 IP

162-game average: 2.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 91 SO, 33 SV, 73 IP

2012 Projection: 2.81 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 69 SO, 2 SV, 35 HLD, 61 IP

Breakdown: The Brewers will be shelling out $8 Million to 30-year-old setup man Francisco Rodriguez this season, and while they probably didn’t want to forfeit that much dough to anyone out of the bullpen other than John Axford, they should get a nice return-on-investment for their compensation.

Rodriguez has proved to be one of the best strikeout artists in all of MLB since his 2000 rookie season, posting gaudy punchout ratios consistently year in and year out.  He amassed 33 strikeouts in 29 inning with Milwaukee last season and proved to be the perfect setup man for Axford.  K-Rod will get a ton of opportunities as there isn’t a truly dependable reliever after him and Axford.  His ERA could rise as a consequence, but it shouldn’t be anything worth stressing over.

10. Jonathan Lucroy

2011 Stats: .265/.313/.391, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 45 R, 2 SB

162-game average: .260/.307/.366, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 53 R, 5 SB

2012 Projection: .271/.317/.398, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 3 SB

Breakdown: I’d be lying to you if I said Jonathan Lucroy is anything more than an average offensive catcher.  His numbers aren’t great but you can’t expect much from the guy who bats in the No. 8 spot in an MLB lineup.  This season will be Lucroy’s third big-league season after breaking onto the scene in 2010.  He struggled with strikeouts last season, hoarding a strikeout ratio of 21.1 percent.  Lucroy doesn’t draw a lot of walks either and that greatly affected his on-base percentage.  Fans shouldn’t expect too much offense out of Lucroy this season, but there should be a number of subtle improvements to his game.  Look for him to cut down on his strikeouts and become a more disciplined hitter in the box in 2012.

9. Nyjer Morgan

2011 Stats: .304/.357/.421, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 61 R, 13 SB

162-game average: .288/.347/.374, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 83 R, 37 SB

2012 Projection: .280/.345/.380, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 49 R, 15 SB

Breakdown: Nyjer Morgan played like a man on a mission last season and it will be extremely difficult for him to live up to the expectations he’s garnered for himself heading into spring training.  Many fans would love to see him post similar numbers in 2012, but in reality that’s not likely to happen with Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki vying for at-bats.  That said, Ron Roenicke is cognizant of Morgan’s “clutch” gene.  In late and close games last season, Morgan batted .333 with a BABIP of .455.  Can those impressive numbers carry over to and throughout this season?  Odds are that they won’t, so a decline in production is likely on the horizon.

8. Shaun Marcum

2011 Stats: 13-7, 3.54 ERA, 158 SO, 1.16 WHIP, 200.2 IP

162-game average: 12-8, 3.77 ERA, 154 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 192 IP

2012 Projection: 15-10, 3.69 ERA, 163 SO, 1.18 WHIP, 203 IP

Breakdown: Shaun Marcum was exactly what the Brewers needed him to be last season: A dependable, steadfast starter who eats innings and limits mistakes.  He set career-highs in starts (33) and innings pitched (200.1) in his first season with Milwaukee.  But for as sturdy as Marcum was during the regular season, his postseason struggles were equally as concerning and ought not to be ignored.  He allowed 16 runs to cross home plate in his first three playoff starts, totaling just 9.2 total innings of work.   It should be interesting to see how (and if) he rebounds from such an uncharacteristic breakdown.  Marcum could be pitching for a new contract at season’s end if the Brewers choose not to extend him during the season.  With a lot to prove and some self-respect to regain, Marcum’s 2012 output should look comparable to his 2011 campaign.

7. Rickie Weeks

2011 Stats: .269/.350/.468, 20 HR, 49 RBI, 77 R, 9 SB

162-game average: .255/.345/.435, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 111 R, 21 SB

2012 Projection: .272/.355/.469, 25 HR, 88 RBI, 80 R, 10 SB

Breakdown: Rickie Weeks has become the poster child for how injuries can derail a player’s career.  Only in 2010 did Milwaukee’s second baseman register enough games (160) to be considered a full season’s worth of play over the course of his eight-year career.

Nevertheless, Weeks comes into spring training in good condition after injuring his ankle last July, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  If that’s the case, then fans can only look forward to a promising 2012 campaign for the Brewers’ 29-year-old second baseman.  Weeks’ production this season will largely hinge on where he is placed in Milwaukee’s lineup.  If he resumes his prior role as leadoff man, then fans should expect him to log a fair number of runs.  But if he plays protector for Aramis Ramirez, then his run count will be considerably lower and he will have the opportunity to reach the 90 RBI plateau.

6. Aramis Ramirez

2011 Stats: .306/.361/.510, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 80 R

162-game average: .284/.342/.500, 30 HR, 108 RBI, 84 R

2012 Projection: .295/.360/.515, 29 HR, 107 RBI, 87 R

Breakdown: Aramis Ramirez’s better days are probably behind him as far as productivity goes, but playing on a new lucrative contract in a much more potent offense portends that he could be in for a big year offensively in his first season in Milwaukee.  Prince Fielder thrived out of the cleanup spot in the Brewers’ lineup and Ramirez should do the same, though admittedly not to the extend that Fielder did once upon a time, of course.   Ramirez has proved he can still hit for average and power even at 33 years old and that is a huge plus for the Brewers as opening day creeps closer.  I do see his average dropping slightly but nothing to be overly concerned about.  His home run tally should be anywhere from 27-35, additionally.

5. Corey Hart

2011 Stats: .285/.356/.510, 26 HR, 63 RBI, 80 R, 7 SB

162-game average: .277/.334/.487, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 89 R, 16 SB

2012 Projection: .283/.349/.519, 32 HR, 80 RBI, 95 R, 12 SB

Breakdown: There are a lot of differing opinions out there about where Corey Hart should be placed in Milwaukee’s lineup to start 2012.

After once again flashing his power to the tune of 26 home runs, many believe Hart would be best served to protect Aramis Ramirez in lieu of batting at the top of Milwaukee’s lineup.  But after carving a niche as Ron Roenicke’s lead-off man in August, many (this writer included) believe the 6’6″, 225 pound outfielder with deceptive speed would better help the team in that role.  Either way, fans can count on a career-best season from Hart.  He will be one of the biggest beneficiaries to Prince Fielder’s exodus and his statistical output should reflect that.

Update: Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that Corey Hart must undergo surgery to repair a meniscus tear and will likely be out three to four weeks.

4. Zack Greinke

2011 Stats: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 201 SO, 1.20 WHIP, 171.2 IP

162-game average: 12-11, 3.82 ERA, 177 SO, 1.26 WHIP, 200 IP

2012 Projection: 20-7, 3.40 ERA, 220 SO, 1.10 WHIP, 205 IP

Breakdown: GM Doug Melvin conceded three top prospects in return for Zack Greinke last winter and that gamble payed off in the form of a NL Central division title.  Without his veteran arm, it’s hard to imagine the Brewers making the postseason much less taking the division crown.

After a disheartening first-half of the regular season, Greinke would return to Cy Young form after the All-Star break.  In 15 starts, the longtime strikeout artist went 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA while striking out over nine batters per nine innings pitched and logging a .234 BAA.  He went on to finish with an MLB-best 10.54 K/9 ratio, additionally.  This season is a contract year for the agent-less Greinke and there’s no doubt he’ll look to continue his momentum from the end of 2011 into and throughout 2012.

3. John Axford

2011 Stats: 46 SV, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 86 SO, 73.2 IP

162-game average: 37 SV, 2.26 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 89 SO, 72 IP

2012 Projection: 41 SV, 2.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 85 SO, 70 IP

Breakdown: The Brewers’ bullpen was without question one of MLB’s best last season and John Axford was the cornerstone to their successes as a unit.  In his first full season as Milwaukee’s closer, Axford re-wrote the record books by notching a club-record 46 saves in 48 opportunities which was enough to tie for the league-lead in that category.  He also garnered the league’s best ERA (1.95) and struck out an impressive 11 batters per nine innings pitched.  After such a productive inaugural campaign, Axford will be held to lofty expectations in 2011 and it should be interesting to see how he handles the pressures that come with being a top MLB closer.  Granted, he likely won’t have as many save opportunities with a weakened Milwaukee offense, but he can still control his strikeout rate and how many batters he puts on base.

2. Yovani Gallardo

2011 Stats: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 207 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 207.1 IP

162-game average: 15-10, 3.63 ERA, 214 SO, 1.29 WHIP, 208 IP

2012 Projection: 18-9, 3.30 ERA, 210 SO, 1.25 WHIP, 210 IP

Breakdown: Statistically speaking, 2011 was the most impressive of Yovani Gallardo’s young career.  Not only did he set career-highs in wins (17), innings pitched (207.1), strikeouts (207), ERA (3.52) and quality starts (23), he also led all Brewers starters in each of those categories.

However, what’s most impressive are the subtle improvements Gallardo has made to further improve his game.  He lowered his BABIP from .324 in 2010 to .291 in 2011 and witnessed his walk rate drop from 9.3% to 6.8%, not to mention an pronounced betterment in WHIP (1.37 in 2010, 1.25 in 2011).  This will be Gallardo’s sixth season in the league despite turning 26 years old last week.  He’s seen his numbers improve steadily since his rookie year in 2007, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t take his game to the next level in 2012.

1. Ryan Braun

2011 Stats: .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 109 R, 33 SB

162-game average: .312/.371/.563, 36 HR, 118 RBI, 112 R, 21 SB

2012 Projection: .320/.385/.595, 34 HR, 115 RBI, 107 R, 30 SB

Breakdown: After becoming the first player in MLB history to successfully appeal a drug-related suspension, Ryan Braun comes into spring training with a tremendous chip on his shoulder as he looks to clear his name that’s been dragged through the mud over the past three or so months.  But will that affect his productivity this season?  As much as I’d like to believe it will, I can’t in good conscience see that happening.  The loss of Prince Fielder will play a key role in Braun’s stat line this season.  Whether or not Aramis Ramirez is able to provide sufficient protection for the reigning NL MVP this season will go a long way toward how much Braun is able to produce.  And since Ramirez is no Fielder, it’s only inevitable that Braun will witness a subtle decline in production in 2011.  Still, a .320/.385/.595 line is nothing to slouch at — that could be enough to take home MVP honors for a second consecutive season.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Milwaukee Brewers: Biggest Questions Facing Club with Ryan Braun Now Exonerated

The Milwaukee Brewers came into their first spring training workouts this week with what looked to be a plethora of question marks and concerns about their club moving forward.  But when news broke over Ryan Braun’s reported successful drug-testing appeal to Major League Baseball that would eradicate his previous 50-game suspension, a large chunk of their uncertainties were put to bed.

But even with Braun now set to join the Brewers in Maryvale Baseball Park in Arizona for what now looks to be a promising start to their NL Central title-defense, there are plenty of question marks concerning Milwaukee as preseason workouts and games begin to commence.  Let’s take a gander at a few of those question marks.

Is Rickie Weeks Anywhere Near Full Health?

Rickie Weeks has grappled with injuries throughout his career, but his latest wound could be a real concern moving forward.  Suffering a serious ankle injury in late July, Weeks’ struggled to find his rhythm offensively after returning late in the regular season and all through the postseason.  Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was quoted earlier this week saying that an injury of Weeks’ magnitude will likely have an impact on how well he is able to perform on a day-to-day basis.  If that’s the case, then what should Brewers fans expect out of Rickie Weeks this season?  How well is his ankle currently?  These are just a few questions concerning the future of Milwaukee’s second baseman as spring training heats up.

Who Will Bridge the Gap Between the Starters and Late-Inning Relievers?

Veteran relievers Takashi Saito and LaTroy Hawkins were able to bridge the gap between Milwaukee’s starters and their go-to late-inning relievers with great efficiency last season.  Unfortunately, both left through free-agency this past winter — who will step up and assume that key role?

Cameron Loe has always been considered at the very least a serviceable middle-inning reliever but has been inconsistent at times.  Newly-acquired right-hander Jose Veras (left) has proved to be a strikeout-oriented relief-man throughout his career.  How about Marco Estrada or potential 22-year-old call-up Wily Peralta?

Needless to say, Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz have quite the conundrum on their hands as opening day creeps closer.

Can Mat Gamel Be Trusted?

Mat Gamel has been waiting in the wings for his shot at the full-time staring job at first-base for a while now.  And while he brings a tremendous amount of minor-league proficiency, his short-lived tenure in the big-leagues has been disheartening to say the least.

Since breaking through to the majors back in 2008, Gamel has logged 194 plate appearances but has only a .222 BA to show for it.  He has also notably struggled with strikeouts and is probably below-average with the glove, as well.

According to Brewers beat-writer Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gamel says he’s currently in the best shape of his life and has refined his craft considerably over the offseason.  If that holds true, Gamel could be in for a breakout season at first-base.  But right now, Brewers fans will have to see it before they can believe it.

With Braun Back in the Picture, Where Does Nori Aoki Fit In?

General manager Doug Melvin inked three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki last month to help fill the void that would have been left by Ryan Braun if not for his overturned suspension.  But with Braun now back in the picture, where does (and will) Aoki fit in?

With his potent bat and substantial experience playing every corner of the outfield, one would have to assume that manager Ron Roenicke can find a spot for Aoki in the lineup — but where and how often will he take the field?

Is Shaun Marcum Past His Postseason Woes?

After a scintillating regular season where he staked his claim as arguably baseball’s best away-from-home pitcher, Shaun Marcum struggled greatly during postseason play.  In his first three career playoff starts, Milwaukee’s first preeminent offseason acquisition logged just 9.2 total innings and conceded 16 runs, all of which were earned.  He only managed to strike out five batters and allowed an uncharacteristic three home runs, additionally.

Marcum is a seasoned veteran with a ton of experience but his postseason mishaps have left fans worried throughout the offseason.  Will he rebound and return to his steadfast self or will his indelible struggles perpetuate into this season?

Is Alex Gonzalez Really a Substantial Upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt?

Expectations for newly-acquired veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez will be very high this season.  After watching Yuniesky Betancourt commit 21 errors in 149 games last season with little dependability in 2011, Gonzalez will be on a rather short leash when it comes to making mistakes in the field.

But do fans even need to worry? Gonzalez, who has north of 12 seasons playing shortstop at the major league level, has become notorious for his efficiency and range with his glove.  With a career .972 fielding percentage and 4.23 range factor, he’s been  one of the most dependable defensive shortstops in baseball since entering in the league in 1998.

Nevertheless, two questions need to be asked: Firstly, Will Gonzalez’s defensive capabilities be worth the $4.25 Million the Brewers will fork over to him this season and secondly, and more importantly, will there be a noticeable difference between Gonzalez’s game and Betancourt’s game in the field?

Will Aramis Ramirez Provide Enough Protection for Ryan Braun?

Ryan Braun may be back, but that doesn’t necessarily solve the Brewers’ problems on offense.  Now without Prince Fielder for the first time in close to eight seasons, free-agent addition Aramis Ramirez now likely protecting Braun in Milwaukee’s lineup.  The appropriate question now worth asking is: Can Ramirez provide adequate protection for Braun this season?

Ramirez, who will turn 34 years young in July, has seen his production slip gradually over the past few seasons, and hasn’t put together a “full” season since he played 149 games back in 2008.  Will his aging body hold up as the season progresses?  For that matter, will his waning bat even be enough to give the 2011 NL MVP protection?  His production at the plate will go a long way in determining whether or not Milwaukee makes it back to the postseason.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.