Tagged: MLB Predictions 2012

Odds of Each Player on Milwaukee Brewers’ 25-Man Roster to Make 2012 MLB All-Star Game

Thanks in large part to their loyal fan-base, the Milwaukee Brewers have sent a number of their top players to Major League Baseball’s mid-summer classic — otherwise known as the MLB All Star game — over the past few seasons. Last year, former first-baseman Prince Fielder stole the show with a three-run home run that propelled the National League to a 5-1 victory over the American League.  Second baseman Rickie Weeks also earned a starting spot on the NL roster while Ryan Braun was elected as a reserve outfielder.

With some of the most devoted fans in baseball who aren’t afraid to fill out as many All-Star ballots as possible, it’s almost inevitable that a number of Brewers will take the field for the National League next summer in Kansas City.  But which players have the best odds at making the trip to Kauffman Stadium? Let’s take an A-to-Z look.

Norichika Aoki

Chances he’s an All-Star: one percent

The Brewers brought in three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki this past winter to add depth and a valuable left-handed bat to their outfield. He will be forced to battle for playing time with Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez in center field, and based on that fact alone, there isn’t much of a chance he’s elected to the NL roster this spring.

I’d hate to deem it an impossible task for the former Japanese slugger to be selected to the All-Star roster. For now, we’ll keep it at a slim one percent chance.

John Axford

Chances he’s an All-Star: 75 percent

How John Axford wasn’t able to make it to the All-Star game last season is beyond me. Prior to the break last season, Milwaukee’s 29-year-old closer garnered a 2.83 ERA, notched 23 saves in 25 opportunities and boasted a 11.54 K/9 that finished second among all National League closers.  He completed his campaign with an league-best 1.96 ERA and tied for the league lead in saves (46).

Judging by how well he was able to gain continuity throughout the league toward the latter portion of last season, it’s hard to imagine him not being able to find his way on the National League roster next July.  Barring some unforeseen decrease in production, I give Axford a great shot at making the All-Star roster.

Ryan Braun

Chances he’s an All-Star: 95 percent

Ryan Braun has been named to the NL roster each of the past four seasons, and that doesn’t look to change much this season. Sure, there will be a good number of fans who will be hesitant to vote for Braun after his battle with a 50-game performance enhancing drug suspension, however, there are just as many if not more who will fill in the dot for Braun based strictly off his productivity.

At the end of the day, it’s nearly impossible not to vote for a career first-half line of .306/.368/.543 with an average of 16 home runs, 54 RBI, 52 runs scored and 11 stolen bases.  Given his scintillating late-spring training successes and unambiguous motivation to silence his critics, I’d say he’s ready for another trip to the mid-summer classic.

Tim Dillard

Chances he’s an All-Star: zero percent

There was a fair number of those who doubted Tim Dillard would even make the opening day 25-man roster.  While the 28-year-old skyscraper of a pitcher managed to do that, there’s isn’t much chance he finds a spot on the National League’s roster this summer.

Since Dillard was one of the last to be named to the roster, there won’t be many opportunities for him to strut his stuff out of the bullpen.  The only way Milwaukee’s notorious clubhouse comedian will be able to make the trip to Kansas City is if he’s virtually unhittable in his brief appearances. Since there’s probably no chance at that happening, the odds of him making the NL roster aren’t too high, either.

Marco Estrada

Chances he’s an All-Star: one percent

Marco Estrada has been a solid bullpen arm for the Brewers in each of the past two seasons, and has even found success as a fill-in starter from time to time.  However, he is not going to be an All-Star in 2012.

Overshadowed by the likes of John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe and Jose Veras out of Milwaukee’s ‘pen, Estrada doesn’t look to have many opportunities for success this season. Ergo, it’s hard to imagine him gathering neough praise from fans to have any real shot at the NL roster.

Yovani Gallardo

Chances he’s an All-Star: 75 percent

Yovani Gallardo was simply amazing last season, leading all Brewer starters in wins (17), ERA (3.52), strikeouts (207) and quality starts (23), but his best work clearly came prior to the All-Star break. In 16 starts, Milwaukee’s 25-year-old ace went 10-2 with a 3.00 ERA, 104 strikeouts and held opponents to a .261 BA and maintained a 4.28 SO/BB.  If there was one Brewer starter most deserving to make the 2011 All-Star roster, it was Gallardo.

Supposing that he can perpetuate his impressive strikeout ratio while somewhat lowering his ERA, there’s no question Gallardo will have a legitimate shot at be selected to this summer’s All-Star game.

Mat Gamel

Chances he’s an All-Star: 15 percent

Mat Gamel had the most success of any Brewer at spring camp, managing a solid .246/.317/.596 line with six home runs and 14 RBI in 21 preseason games.  If Milwaukee’s new first-baseman can transfer his momentum from this spring to the regular season, he’ll have a puncher’s chance at a reserve spot on the National League roster.

Many of his doubters point to his career .222 BA as cause for concern. However, should Gamel’s “take nothing for granted” attitude from this spring continue well into — at the very least — the first half of this season, there’s no doubt he could vie for the NL’s final roster spot.

Carlos Gomez

Chances he’s an All-Star: two percent

No one will question what Carlos Gomez brings to the table from a purely baseball talent standpoint. He can steal bases, play the outfield with great efficiency and is willing to take one for the team. The only knock to his game would be his inconsistencies at the plate.

Unfortunately, those deficiencies will be enough for force him into a three-man platoon in center field for the Brewers. Consequently, his lack of playing time won’t give him enough opportunities to make his case to be selected to the NL All-Star roster.

Alex Gonzalez

Chances he’s an All-Star: eight percent

Alex Gonzalez has but once been selected to an All-Star roster over the span of his 13 year career, his lone appearance coming in 1999 as a member of the Florida Marlins. He’s never been known for his bat, however, he has been known for his exceptional play at shortstop. The question is, will his defensive prowess be enough to convince voters to select him to this year’s NL roster?  The answer to that question is likely a “no”.

Still, Milwaukee’s newly acquired shortstop had a tremendous spring at the plate, amassing a .440/.472/.780 line with four home runs, 14 RBI and 12 runs scored. If he can produce above expectations at the plate while rekindling his defensive proficiency of year’s past, he could find himself in a reserve role for the NL in the mid-summer classic.

Zack Greinke

Chances he’s an All-Star: 80 percent

Zack Greinke was flat out dominant in the second half of his first year in Milwaukee’s rotation and he continued his success this spring.  In four starts against Cactus League hitters, Greinke posted a feeble 1.04 ERA, 0.75 WHIP while striking out 26 in just 17.1 innings of work.

Unlike last season, Greinke comes into 2012 at full health and a ton of confidence to go with it. He missed his first two scheduled starts of 2011 due to a hairline fracture of his ribs.  This season, the former Cy Young Award winner is ready to thrive as the Brewers’ No. 2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo. If he is anywhere close to what he was toward the end of last season, not only will he compete to be the starter for the NL in the All-Star game, but he’ll gather a ton of votes to take home Cy Young honors for the second time in his career.

Corey Hart

Chances he’s an All-Star: 30 percent

Despite missing the first month of his 2011 campaign, Corey Hart was notably productive last season for Ron Roenicke. He managed a .277/.334/.487 line with 26 home runs, 63 RBI to go with 80 runs scored. If not for injury, who knows what Hart might have accomplished last season.

Though he was forced to sit this spring out after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair an torn meniscus, it looks like he’ll be a go when the season kicks off this Friday. Hart made the NL All-Star roster in both 2008 and 2010, averaging a .276/.320/.492 line with 26 home runs, 97 RBI, 84 runs scored and 15 stolen bases between the two seasons. If he is productive right from the get-go to start his 2012 campaign, there’s no doubt he can eclipse those averages and have a good shot at an All-Star roster spot this summer.

George Kottaras

Chance he’s an All-Star: zero percent

George Kottaras is everything the Brewers could possibly want out of a backup catcher. He can hit fairly well, play solid defense behind the dish and can handle a big-league starting rotation. That said, I’m not sure if a backup catcher has ever been selected to an All-Star roster.

Kottaras is a dependable second-string catcher behind Jonathan Lucroy, however, if he can’t manage to be his team’s starter, then how does he plan to beat out the best of the best for an All-Star roster spot?

Kameron Loe

Chances he’s an All-Star: zero percent

Kameron Loe pitched modestly as Milwaukee’s set-up man prior to the acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez last season, garnering a 4.23 ERA and a .236 BAA with 32 punchouts in 38.1 innings of work in the eighth inning. But with Rodriguez cemented into the setup role and newly acquired Jose Veras likely to work the seventh inning, Loe will be demoted to Milwaukee’s No. 4 arm out of the bullpen. Loe’s opportunities to find success will be limited this season and that will ultimately take away from the All-Star votes he otherwise would have received.

Loe is a solid reliever and there’s no doubt he’ll get his innings this season.  The likelihood of him making the trip to Kaufmann Stadium in mid-July just isn’t realistic at this juncture, however.

Jonathan Lucroy

Chances he’s an All-Star: 10 percent

The Brewers rewarded Jonathan Lucroy for his exceptional play behind the plate by extending his contract for five-years and $11 million last week, and by no means was it a publicity stunt.

In his first full season as Milwaukee’s starting catcher, Lucroy garnered a .993 fielding percentage, 8.99 range factor and a caught-stealing percentage of 28 percent, all of which ranked in the top 15 of all MLB catchers. He also batted .265 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI despite batting in front of the pitcher’s spot on Ron Roenicke’s lineup.

All things considered, Lucroy is one of the better all-around catchers in the game today. The only thing holding him back (and it’s a big reason) from an NL roster spot is the superior depth and talent at the position. Brian McCann, Buster Posey and Miguel Montero will have things under wraps for a very long time.

Shaun Marcum

Chance he’s an All-Star: 20 percent

Shaun Marcum was the anchor that stabilized Milwaukee’s rotation throughout last season, and it’s fairly surprising that he didn’t get more All-Star recognition. Posting a 3.39 ERA with SO/BB rate of 3.06, one could make the case that Marcum was Ron Roenicke’s most efficient starter prior to the break.

While Marcum made just one spring training appearance this spring due to shoulder soreness, reports show that he’ll be ready to take the mound as Milwaukee’s No. 4 starter to start 2012. If he can improve upon his numbers from the first-half of last season, there’s a legitimate chance he gets selected to the NL roster.  The competition will be stiff, though, so he’ll really need to put on a show in the early stages of 2012.

Nyjer Morgan

Chances he’s an All-Star: 10 percent

Nyjer Morgan was simply incredible even out of a center-field platoon role in manager Ron Roenicke’s lineup, providing a great deal of offensive production whenever asked. But with a healthy Carlos Gomez and the addition of Norichika Aoki, will Morgan get enough opportunities at success get a spot on the NL roster?

We all know Morgan will get his fair share of fan votes strictly based off his popularity, however, splitting time with two other players will significantly lower his offensive output. For that reason, it will be tough for the scrappy 31-year-old to make his first All-Star appearance.

Chris Narveson

Chances he’s an All-Star: five percent

Chris Narveson was as solid as they come as Milwaukee’s No. 5 start last season, and after a couple nice outings this spring, there’s a chance he makes even more strides during his 2012 campaign.

Unfortunately, the odds of Narveson hoarding enough votes to make the NL roster are tremendously high. Even if the 30-year-old southpaw somehow manages to put together a superb first-half, it will extremely difficult to gain enough recognition throughout the league to make a serious run at a roster spot.

Manny Parra

Chances he’s an All-Star: zero percent

Manny Parra and the Brewers agreed to terms on a one-year contract in January that was said to be worth $1.2 Million.  He followed up his new deal with a solid spring, garnering a 1.86 ERA with 11 strikeouts and three walks over 9.2 total innings. After an injury-plagued 2011 season, Parra will look to hold an important role in Milwaukee’s bullpen this season. The problem is, he’ll only be reduced to pitching in low-leverage situations, which will significantly decrease his opportunities to strut his stuff to All-Star voters. I’d hate to give him a zero percent chance to make the NL roster, so we’ll leave his odds of making the mid-summer classic at a healthy one percent.

Aramis Ramirez

Chances he’s an All-Star: 75 percent

New Brewers add-on Aramis Ramirez will be asked to mitigate the offensive productivity lost when Prince Fielder officially departed town last January. While no one will argue that producing Fielder-type numbers will be near impossible, Ramirez will still have a great shot at putting up his gaudy numbers of year’s past. With Ryan Braun in front of him, the 33-year-old Ramirez will have an exorbitant number of opportunities to drive in runs this season, and All-Star voters should give him enough recognition to make his third appearance at the mid-summer classic because of it.

Heck, if Ramirez took home Silver Slugger honors (.306/.361/.510, 26 HR, 93 RBI) last season in a porous Chicago Cubs lineup, then it’s safe to assume he’ll thrive as Milwaukee’s cleanup man in 2012. Look for Ramirez to have a monster first-half and at the very least lock up a reserve spot on the NL roster this summer.

Francisco Rodriguez

Chances he’s an All-Star: 60 percent

Francisco Rodriguez performed magnificently after making his way to Milwaukee’s bullpen following the All-Star break. He posted a feeble 1.86 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per nine innings pitched in 29 innings as Ron Roenicke’s setup man down the stretch last season.

Rodriguez has been selected to four All-Star games over the course of his Hall of Fame-bound career, his latest coming in 2009. If he’s anywhere near as effective as he was during his abbreviated stay with Milwaukee last season, you’ve got to believe a pitching-needy team will have a handsome new contract waiting for him next winter. K-Rod is already considered to be the best eighth-inning man in the National League. But when you add in the fact that he’s due to be a free-agent next winter, there’s no doubt the added motivation will give him a great shot at another All-Star appearance.

Jose Veras

Chances he’s an All-Star: nine percent

If there’s one player that could make a “dark-horse” type run at an All-Star selection this season, it would be Milwaukee’s newly acquired reliever Jose Veras.

The 31-year-old Veras has been a strikeout machine over the course of his six-year career, punching out over nine batters per nine innings pitched while conceding just over seven hits per nine innings. He struggles with walks at times, but if he’s able to polish his command there’s an outside chance he could make a run at the NL roster as Milwaukee’s primary seventh-inning man.

Rickie Weeks

Chances he’s an All-Star: 50 percent

Rickie Weeks avoided injury and put together a terrific 2011 first-half, putting up a .278/.351/.486 line with 17 home runs, 39 RBI and 67 runs scored and was named the NL’s starting second baseman in the mid-summer classic. It was Weeks’ first ever trip to the All-Star game.

With Prince Fielder gone, Weeks will have the opportunity to put up even better numbers in 2011. The question is whether or not Milwaukee’s second-baseman can stay healthy and produce up to his capacity. Brewers fans have yet to witness Weeks at his best, but this year could very well be that year. If that’s the case, expect to see him suiting up for the NL come mid-July.

Randy Wolf

Chances he’s an All-Star: 12 percent

Randy Wolf didn’t receive much notoriety for what he accomplished as Milwaukee’s No. 4 starter last season. He led the team with 212.1 innings last season and his 21 quality starts were second only to Yovani Gallardo’s 23.

He also didn’t receive much love from All-Star voters, either, and that will in all likelihood stay the same this season.  Wolf is a solid starter that many teams would love to have at the end of their rotation, however, at 35 years old, a spot on the NL roster this summer is just a pipe dream at this juncture.

So, Who’s Going?

Nothing is impossible in baseball, especially when it comes to the All-Star selection process. Since fans ultimately have the final say in who goes to the mid-summer classic and who doesn’t, there’s always a chance that a player gets selected who isn’t actually deserving of a roster spot.

Today, we tried to remain as forthright as possible when assigning All-Star odds for each player on the Brewers’ 25-man roster. Yes, every player is fully capable of being selected to the mid-summer classic, however, which players have a realistic shot at accomplishing such a feat?

Here are the guy’s we’re banking on to make the trip to Kansas City this July:

– Ryan Braun

– Zack Greinke

– Yovani Gallardo

– John Axford

– Rickie Weeks

– Aramis Ramirez

On the fringe:

– Francisco Rodriguez

– Corey Hart

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: Power Ranking Top 25 Players Heading into Spring Training

The Milwaukee Brewers have endured massive roster transformations over the past few months.  Consequently, many of the club’s top players have changed dramatically.

With Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee all leaving through either free-agency or trade and potentially (but not officially) Ryan Braun missing the first 50 games of the regular season due to suspension, a number of the players that led the Brewers to an NL Central division title last season have come and gone.

Now under two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, how does each player on the Brewers’ roster stack up against one another?  Let’s go ahead and rank Milwaukee’s top 25 players heading into preseason action.

*These preseason rankings will also incorporate a stock report, with which we plan to update bi-weekly.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks to see how each player’s performance impacts their placement on our top-25 rankings*

25. Manny Parra

Manny Parra’s 2011 season was all for naught after suffering a back injury late in spring training. Yet, the Brewers felt the need to bring him back to the bullpen by signing him to a one-year, $1.2 Million deal for this next season. While he’ll be shelved in the ‘pen to start 2012, the 29-year-old lefty still has some valuable traits to his game that could prove valuable.  As a reliever, Parra maintains a career 3.19 ERA, 9.7 K/9 IP ratio, .257 BAA and 3.05 SO/BB.  Nothing to write home about, obviously, but if he can come out of the gates strong, his stock could rise into the top 15 by the time June comes around.

Current Stock Analysis: Right now, Parra’s stock is rising because, quite frankly, there’s nowhere else for it to go.  I would advise fans to track his progress this spring.

24. Cesar Izturis

In light of their failure to re-sign utility-man Jerry Hairston Jr., the Brewers signed veteran infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract.  And while he isn’t yet guaranteed a spot on the opening-day roster, I think it’s safe to say he will be. For his career, Izturis boasts a career .980 fielding percentage, committing just 93 errors in 1168 games played.  He also carries a career 4.07 range factor as a shortstop, comparatively better than many utility infielders in the game today.  His bat is second-rate, to say the least, but his glove makes him a valuable piece to Milwaukee’s puzzle heading into this season.

Current Stock Analysis: Since there’s really no reason to believe his stock could be going down at this point, I think his value remains steady, if not slightly on the rise.  The importance of having a quality backup of Izturis’ caliber is invaluable to a major league roster.

23. Taylor Green

Taylor Green slugged his way toward being named Milwaukee’s top positional prospect last year, and he got a limited shot at the big leagues toward the end of last season.  The 25-year-old corner infielder played in 20 games and amassed 37 at-bast, registering 10 hits.  He was on the Brewers’ postseason roster but wasn’t able to get a plate appearance in the playoffs.  While the Brewers were able to sign Aramis Ramirez to play the hot-corner, Green will continue to play an important role for Ron Roenicke.  Speculation around the club says he could eventually find a platoon role with Mat Gamel at first base by season’s end.

Current Stock Analysis: Right now, Green’s stock is at a steady rate.  However, it’s only inevitable that his stock will rise as his value to the team has nowhere to go but up.

22. Frankie De La Cruz

Longtime prospect and journeyman Frankie De La Cruz has the makings of a solid power-type arm out of the bullpen.  He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and continues to make progress on his command.  Last season, De La Cruz made 23 starts in triple-A ball, flashing his durability and strikeout abilities to the tune of 126 strikeouts in 137 innings, enough for a 8.3 K/9 IP ratio. He also held batters to a .249 BA and .297 BABIP.  He struggles with walks and hits, but he’s got potential — and Ron Roenicke is aware of that. The Brewers will need his talents throughout next season.

Current Stock Analysis: De La Cruz could emerge as a star out of Milwaukee’s bullpen this season.  And since his stock is comparatively lower than the rest of the relievers, I think he’s on the rise as we speak.

21. Chris Narveson

Say what you will about Chris Narveson’s raw statistics, but there’s no doubting he’s one of the best end-of-the-rotation starters in all of baseball.  Last season, he went 11-8 and posted a 4.45 ERA with a respectable 7.0 K/9 IP ratio.  Narveson’s spot in Milwaukee’s rotation is all but sealed up at this juncture, though it remains to be seen how well he performs in spring training.  If he struggles, that could open the door for Marco Estrada, but that doesn’t seem likely as the Brewers will need to utilize his lefty arm throughout next season.

Current Stock Analysis: Expectations for Narveson are extremely low, so he’ll have a chance to shoot up our boards early on.  For now, though, his stock is unwavering.

20. Norichika Aoki

Depth and player personnel is of the highest importance in MLB, and the addition of three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki will give the Brewers the support they need.  The two sides agreed to a two-year, $2.5 Million contract last month and, needless to say, Aoki will have big shoes to fill in left field with Ryan Braun likely to serve his 50-game suspension.  Aoki has a sound, contact-oriented bat and drives the ball to all corners of the field.  He also has speed on the basepaths and could emerge as Ron Roenicke’s lead-off hitter if he produces enough in spring training.

Current Stock Analysis: Aoki has already had a spring training, of sorts.  Both Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin scouted Aoki at a private workout prior to their announced signing, so it’s safe to say they know how high his ceiling might be.  That said, his stock is on the rise, regardless.

19. Marco Estrada

Often overlooked, Marco Estrada was a serviceable arm out of the bullpen last season.  He posted a 4.38 ERA and struck out 55 in 51.1 innings of work, hoarding an impressive 9.6 K/9 IP ratio and 2.89 K/BB.  Where Estrada separates himself from the rest of the relievers, though, is that he can also contribute as a starter.  Filling in for Chris Narveson, Estrada went 3-2 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.087 WHIP in seven starts last season.  He has good command and limits his walks, something that Ron Roenicke will embrace throughout 2012.

Current Stock Analysis: The Brewers will return their entire bullpen from last season, and unlike 2011, 2012 will prove to be a season where Estrada is used on a regular basis.  His stock is definitely going up.

18. José Veras

In an effort to clear room for incoming third-basman Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers dealt Casey McGehee to Pittsburgh in return for 31-year-old reliever Jose Veras.  A seasoned relief arm with much experience, Veras looks to bring depth and talent to Milwaukee’s bullpen.  Last season with the Pirates, Veras appeared in 79 games and posted a 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and struck out 79 in 71 innings, enough for a 10 K/9 IP ratio.  He can struggle with walks and command at times but brings a solid repertoire with a history of having above-average strikeout abilities.

Current Stock Analysis: Veras will be called upon to augment Milwaukee’s success out of the bullpen all through next season.  He should get a ton of opportunities to get settled this spring, and for that reason alone, his stock is on the rise.

17. Kameron Loe

Save for John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe will be undoubtedly Milwaukee’s most steadfast and dependable reliever in 2012.  Last season, the 6’8″, 220 pound right-hander utilized his upper-90s fastball and impressive command religiously.  He posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, struck out 61 while only walking 16 batters in 72 innings, good enough for a sumptuous 3.81 K/BB ratio.

Current Stock Analysis: With LaTroy Hawkins gone, Loe’s value and relevance out of the bullpen will skyrocket.  Consequently, his stock is on the rise as we draw nearer to spring training.

16. George Kottaras

If catcher is the most important position to a major-league ballclub, then back-up catcher is the second most important.  Luckily for the Brewers, George Kottaras is arguably one of the most productive backup catchers in all of baseball.  Playing second-fiddle to Jonathan Lucroy last season, Kottaras posted a .252 BA, five home runs, 17 RBI and a .459 slugging percentage in just 111 at-bats.  The highlight to his season came back in early September where he hit for the cycle against the Astros, marking just the seventh time in franchise history a player has accomplished such a feat.  His left-handed bat makes him extremely valuable in tight situations and has the capabilities to fill-in for Lucroy should he hit a rough patch and need a few days off.

Current Stock Analysis: The Brewers came to terms with Kottaras in early December, avoiding arbitration.  Needless to say, the deal was absolutely necessary given his aptitude both at the plate and in the field.  As far as I’m concerned, his stock is always on the rise.

15. Mat Gamel

After years of waiting and a few false starts, 26-year-old first-baseman Mat Gamel will finally get his shot to be in the everyday starting lineup.  He’ll have big shoes to fill, obviously, but the Brewers seem confident in his capabilities.  Last season in triple-A, Gamel torched the Pacific Coast to the tune of a .310 BA, 28 home runs and 96 RBI.  He finished second among Brewers prospects with a .540 slugging percentage and also posted an impressive .912 OPS.  Gamel has had limited chances at the majors and 2012 will go a long way in determining his future with the organization.  If he produces up to his standards, he could get a contract extension.  If he falters, his future with the club will be in serious question.  He will be on a short leash with Milwaukee this season.

Current Stock Analysis: Gamel figures to come into spring training with an enormous chip on his shoulder.  His doubters have said he won’t effectively replace Prince Fielder and that he won’t be able to be a consistent contributor at the big league level.  I look for him to come out of the gates strong and improve his stock considerably.

14. Randy Wolf

Randy Wolf is the epitome of an “innings-eater”, averaging 209 innings of work per season through is 13 years in the big leagues.  And contrary to popular belief, he’s actually gotten better with age.  In 2010, his first season with Milwaukee, Wolf amassed a career-high 215.2 innings and posted a 4.17 ERA.  Last season, he nearly surpassed that, hoarding 212.1 innings with a 3.69 ERA.  He finished first in innings pitched and second in quality starts (21) among all Brewers starters last season.  While the front-end of Milwaukee’s rotation will garner most of the attention, it’s Wolf who provides the steadfast mentality and play needed to compete in such a competitive division.  Few pitchers in the game are able to do what he does on a start-to-start basis.

Current Stock Analysis: Strictly based of expectations, Wolf was filthy last season and performed well-above expectations.  If he is able to perpetuate his execution, Milwaukee will have no choice but to pick up his $10 Million 2013 option next winter.  His stock is on the rise.

13. Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez was nothing short of sensational last spring.  In 13 games, he batted .390 with 13 runs scored, two home runs, seven RBI and finished second among all Brewers with 30 total bases.  For whatever reason, though, he wasn’t able to translate his spring training successes over to the regular season.  He batted just .225 with six home runs, 31 runs scored and garnered just a .273 on-base percentage prior to the All-Star break before suffering a broken collarbone in late July.  There’s no doubting Gomez’s defensive and base-stealing prowess.  He’s one of the biggest speed-threats in the game today.  However, his bat remains an enigma, or sorts.  He’ll need to prove he’s worth bringing back next season with a solid 2012 campaign from the batter’s box.

Current Stock Analysis: Gomez thrives in spring training.  He’s proven to be one of the best preseason players in all of baseball over the past few seasons.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much.  Right now, his stock is declining ever so slightly.

12. Alex Gonzalez

The Brewers had an acute need for a defensive upgrade this past winter, particularly at shortstop.  After declining Yuniesky Betancourt’s 2012 club option, GM Doug Melvin turned to Alex Gonzalez early on in December.  Gonzalez, 34, brings a seasoned veteran glove to a Milwaukee infield that ranked as one of MLB’s worst last season.  He maintains a career .972 fielding percentage and has tremendous range, even for his age, garnering a 5.938 zone rating last season in Atlanta.  His production at the plate has waned a bit and while he may not have as much raw power as Betancourt, he certainly knows how to put the ball in play and remain a contact-oriented hitter.

Current Stock Analysis: Gonzalez’s stock throughout this season will hinge largely on his serviceability in the field.  He’s had an above-average glove for his entire career and with Milwaukee’s strong lineup, all he’ll need to do is remain steadfast at shortstop.  His stock is a constant one at the moment.

11. Francisco Rodriguez

Acquired shortly after the All-Star break last season, Francisco Rodriguez took on an instrumental role in Milwaukee’s regular and postseason successes.  In 29 regular season innings, the 30-year-old proved he still has what it takes to be an effective late-inning reliever, posting a 1.86 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while striking out 33 and walking just 10.  In the playoffs, he pitched just five innings but struck out eight and gave up only one earned run.  The Brewers avoided arbitration with Rodriguez, signing him to a one-year, $8 Million deal last month.  A lofty monetary figure of that caliber for a pitcher his age wasn’t exactly ideal for Milwaukee, but if they have any hopes of returning to the postseason they’ll need his veteran arm the whole way.

Current Stock Analysis: K-Rod has a lot to prove this season as he’ll be a free-agent at season’s end, and you can count on him jumping up our boards as the year progresses.  He’s currently treading water in our rankings.

10. Jonathan Lucroy

Everyone has their fair share of doubters to some extent, but it seems Jonathan Lucroy has been subject to an awful lot of slander in his two big-league seasons — why?  In his first season as Milwaukee’s full-time backstop in 2011, Lucroy posted a .265 BA with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and a .317 BABIP batting in front of the pitcher for nearly the entire season.  The 25-year-old is as sturdy as the come from the batter’s box and considering he’s still relatively new to the big-league pace, I’d say he’s performed well.  Defensively, though, Lucroy really excels.  He garnered a .992 fielding percentage and allowed just one passed ball last season despite Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches.

Current Stock Analysis: Lucroy is truly one of the most steady players on the team, and I honestly don’t think his stock will rise or fall much at all this season.  Likewise, his stock is also firmly in place.

9. Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan, Tony Plush or Tony Gumbo (whatever you want to call him) Nyjer Morgan was simply remarkable in his first season with the Brewers.  As a late-spring training pickup last season, Morgan resurrected his previously washed-up career as Ron Roenicke’s primary center fielder.  In 119 games, T-Plush batted .304 with four home runs, 61 runs scored and 37 RBI.  He also provided speed on the bases, nabbing 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts.  As with Rodriguez, the Brewers eluded arbitration by inking Morgan to a one-year, $2.35 Million deal, making him arbitration eligible each of the next two seasons.  If he can prolong his services through this season, there’s no questioning he’ll be back with the club in 2013.

Current Stock Analysis: Morgan’s ceiling on our rankings is limited, as he’ll have to split time with a healthy Carlos Gomez in center field.  It’ll also be hard to surpass his own number from a season ago as they’re simply astounding all-around.  Nevertheless, his stock is at a steady pace.

8. Shaun Marcum

Shaun Marcum was brought in last winter to help bring stability and durability to Milwaukee’s needy rotation.  Needless to say, he managed to do just that, having his best season to-date all the while.  Last season, the 30-year-old former Blue Jay set career-bests in innings pitched (200.2), games started (33), opponent’s OBP (.284) and slugging percentage (.372).  He also tied his career-high for wins by going 13-7 with a 7.09 K/IP and 2.77 K/BB.  Milwaukee agreed to terms with Marcum on a one-year, $7.725 Million deal to avoid arbitration last week and it remains to be seen whether or not the Brewers will try to re-sign him at season’s end.  Regardless, he’s worth every penny GM Doug Melvin hands over to him.

Current Stock Analysis: Many surmised that Marcum’s postseason mishaps and struggles could transfer over to spring training.  We’re now under two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting and it doesn’t look like that will happen.  He’s a veteran who knows the ropes and for that reason, his stock is currently unwavering.

7. Rickie Weeks

Injuries aside, Rickie Weeks is one of the best all-around second basemen in the game today.  He can hit for power and average, run, play the field and utilize his strong arm when needed.  Last season, Milwaukee’s 29-year-old infielder was well on his way toward a career-best year prior to spraining his ankle in late July.  He batted .278 with 17 home runs, 39 RBI and 67 runs scored before the All-Star break and was consequently elected to start at second-base for the NL in the mid-summer classic.  Weeks will be looking to complete just his second injury-free season of his career (2009) this year.  He tends to catch fire early on and watch his production wane slightly from then on out, but he seems poised to put together a complete season in 2012.

Current Stock Analysis: Weeks struggled in the postseason, garnering just a .146 BA with two home runs and four runs batted in.  He’ll need to vindicate those mishaps early on this season if he is to move up our boards.  His stock is declining slightly.

6. Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez is 33 years old and surely has his better days behind him, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Brewers will need his big bat to shoulder the offensive load for at least the first third of the season.  Last season, Ramirez batted .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI in a destitute Chicago lineup.  The Brewers are hoping that he can add to those numbers with a far better supporting cast.  While no one player can possibly replace Prince Fielder’s offensive productivity, Ramirez will still be held accountable to being a viable power threat out of the clean-up spot in the lineup.  He’s proved that he can still do it, but it remains to be seen how he performs early on.

Current Stock Analysis: Ramirez’s stock will remain a relative mystery until spring training rolls around.  However, given his resume as a big-league hitter, he’s clearly deserving of a high ranking prior to preseason competition.

5. Corey Hart

Corey Hart was sensational in 2010 and if not for injury, it’s conceivable that 2011 would have been his best season to-date.  After sitting out the first month of the regular season with an abdominal strain, Hart returned to Milwaukee’s lineup and returned to his ways of old.  In 130 games last season, the Brewers’ lanky outfielder batted .285 with 26 home runs and 63 RBI.  He also logged eight stolen bases and scored 80 times.  Though it remains to be seen where he’ll be stationed in Ron Roenicke’s lineup, there’s no doubting that he’ll produce regardless of where he’s placed in the batting order.

Current Stock Analysis: Hart’s postseason efforts were pedestrian but his August and September endeavors were scintillating.  Prince Fielder’s departure puts Hart in a unique position to produce at a career-best clip and for that reason his stock is on the rise.

4. Zack Greinke

The first half of Zack Greinke’s 2011 campaign with the Brewers was nothing to write home about and had many fans questioning whether or not he was worth Milwaukee’s three top-tier prospects. That scrutiny was quickly put to bed.   Following the All-Star break, Milwaukee’s preeminent off-season addition went 9-3 and boasted a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts. He held batters to a .234 BA and finished with MLB’s best strikeout per nine innings ratio (10.54), additionally, going 11-0 in 15 home starts.  Reports suggest Greinke has a vested interest in returning to Milwaukee after this season. He is set to make $13.5 Million this year and will command a ton of interest from other teams next winter.

Current Stock Analysis: After a marvelous finish to his 2011 season, Greinke’s stock is on the up-and-up and if he’s anywhere close to where he was at the end of last year, he could elevate to No. 1 on our boards.

3. John Axford

John Axford was filthy good in his first full season as Milwaukee’s go-to ninth inning man, exceeding expectations in a fashion no one had previously thought was possible.  The 6’5″, 195-pound Canadian-born righty led all National League closer in with a remarkable 1.95 ERA in 73.2 innings of work, striking out 74 and holding batters to a feeble .211 BA in the meantime.  Axford tied for the league-lead with 46 saves, enough to set the franchise benchmark for saves in a single season.  It will be a formidable task for him to outperform his 2011 campaign this season as he probably wont’ get as many save opportunities with Milwaukee’s weakened lineup.  Still, I wouldn’t put it past him to have another historic season out of the bullpen.

Current Stock Analysis: Coming off arguably the greatest season a closer has ever had in a Brewer uniform, Axford’s stock is soaring.  Look for him to get his reps in at spring training and to come out of the gates strong in 2012.

2. Yovani Gallardo

Given his success and time in the league, it’s easy to forget Yovani Gallardo is only 25 years old and still has his best day ahead of him.  Last season was without question his greatest, though, setting a career-high in wins by going 17-10 with a career-best 3.52 ERA in 207.1 innings.  He finished fifth in the NL with 207 strikeouts and ninth in K/BB (3.51) and led all Brewers starters in almost every meaningful statistical category.  If Gallardo can continue to lower his ERA while still maintaining his impressive strikeout abilities, he’ll stack up against the competition nicely and will have a shot at taking home NL Cy Young Award next season.

Current Stock Analysis: Gallado’s stock has been on the rise since his rookie season of 2007, and that doesn’t look to fluctuate much as spring training draws nearer.  However, since he comes in second on our board, his stock remains steady as there isn’t much more ground to gain on the rest of the team.

1. Ryan Braun

It’s been an indelibly disappointing off-season for Ryan Braun and his collective legacy as a Brewer, but how can you deliberately rank anyone higher than the 2011 NL MVP heading into spring training?  Simply put, you can’t.  Braun facilitated Milwaukee’s lineup to the tune of a .332 BA, 33 home runs and 111 RBI.  He led the league with a .597 slugging percentage, .994 OPS and his .397 on-base percentage ranked fifth.  He’s still in the appeal process to overturn his 50-game suspension and word on the street says we should know what his future holds in store shortly.  Suspension or not, he’s No. 1 on our list heading into spring training.

Current Stock Analysis: Braun’s stock can’t get any higher even if it wanted to, and if his suspension is upheld, the only realistic direction it can go is down.  Right now, though, his stock is even-keel.

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

MLB Predictions 2012: Forecasting How NL Central Will Shake out in 2012

Fully realizing America’s attention is fixated on the Super Bowl (I like the Patriots over the Giants in a close shootout, 27-24), I figured now would be the perfect time to get some thoughts down on how the NL Central will shake out this season.  We’re just days away until pitchers and catcher report to spring training and opening day is just around the corner, believe it or not.  Let’s go ahead and break-down each team’s offseason transactions as well as how I think the division will shake out before preseason action gets under way.

6. Houston Astros

Key additions: INF Jed Lowrie

Key losses: (?)

Breakdown: No matter how you slice it, the Houston Astros were simply awful last seasonThey finished with MLB’s worst regular-season mark at 56-106 and were statistically atrocious in nearly every facet imaginable.  Trading Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn at the deadline for young talent may be one positive for the Astros moving forward, however, there’s no denying that manager Brad Mills won’t have much offensive firepower to work with to start next season.  It should be interesting to see how his opening-day lineup looks.  Houston ranked 28th in team ERA (4.51) and 26th in BAA (.266) last season, and failed to bring in any noticeable pitching to help bolster their dismal staff.  Still, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, Brett Myers and J.A. Happ are three respectable arms that make up Houston’s rotation.

Why they’ll finish here: Every team in the division managed to improve in one way or another this winter with exception to Houston.  The fact is, they’re just not ready to compete.  Look for 2012 to be another rebuilding year for the Astros as they try and work in their bevy of acquired prospects.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates

Key Additions: SS Clint Barmes, RHP Erik Bedard, OF Nate McLouth, 3B Casey McGehee

Key Losses: OF Ryan Ludwick, RHP Jose Veras

Breakdown: The Pirates showed massive signs of improvement early on last season, particularly on the mound.  Prior to the All-Star break, they ranked eight in team ERA (3.44), sixth in saves (27) and 18th in BAA (.256).  Their stellar pitching carried them to a 47-43 overall mark at the All-Star break, however, things would only go south from there.  Post All-Star break, their staff posted a 4.78 ERA and allowed a opponents to bat .288.  Needless to say, their offensive offered little to no support, ranking 28th in runs (256), BA (.241) and OBP (.301). Losing Ryan Ludwick will have an obvious impact to their offensive production.  However, they were able to make up for it by adding Clint Barmes, Casey McGehee as well as bringing back Nate McLouth.

Why they’ll finish here: While there’s no doubting the Pirates are a young team on the rise with a ton of potential, the stiff competition in the NL Central will limit their success in 2012.  They were able to add some pieces this offseason, but they’re talent just isn’t ready to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the division.

4. Chicago Cubs

Key Additions: 1B Anthony Rizzo

Key Losses: 3B Aramis Ramirez, RHP Carlos Zambrano, 1B Carlos Pena

Breakdown: The Cubs have clearly elected to go young with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer running the show.  And while that may not equate to immediate success, it will prove to be the more sensible move for the organization moving forward.  Last season, Chicago finished second to last in the division at a 71-91 mark, mainly due to the fact that their rotation failed to produce even after acquiring Matt Garza.  Collectively, they finished with MLB’s sixth-worst team ERA (4.33) and hoarded just 76 quality starts.  Rumor had it that they were shopping Garza this winter, but nothing came to fruition.  With Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena now gone, the Cubs will be desperate for power while 22-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo gets his feet wet.  Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro will remain the only true power threats to start 2012.

Why they’ll finish here: Long-term, the Cubs have as bright a future as any team in the division.  Right now, though, there’s simply too much ground to make up for he pieces that were lost this winter.

3. St. Louis Cardinals

Key Additions: OF Carlos Beltran, LHP J.C. Romero

Key Losses: 1B Albert Pujols

Breakdown: Albert Pujols’ absence will hurt St. Louis’ chance at the division crown, without question.  His importance to the Cardinals’ lineup over the past few seasons has been immeasurable.  However, these Cardinals are still a very potent bunch.  Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese all return and with the addition of Carlos Beltran, it’s only inevitable they’ll rank at or near the top of all offensive categories in 2012.

Adam Wainwright, who missed all of last season with a right elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, be a refreshing addition to St. Louis’ rotation that will return Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and possibly prospect Shelby Miller.

While they’ll finish here: Without Pujols, the Cardinals figure to be a team predicated off their strong rotation and bullpen.  Beltran will prove to be a sumptuous addition but, in reality, does this team have the offensive firepower necessary to take the division? I’ll have to see it before I believe it.

2. Milwaukee Brewers

Key Additions: 3B Aramis Ramirez, SS Alex Gonzalez, RHP Jose Veras

Key Losses: 1B Prince Fielder

Breakdown: The Brewers cruised to their first division title in franchise history last season thanks to NL MVP Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and their refurbished rotation.  This year, they look to do the same.  The only difference is they’ll have to do it entirely without Fielder and partially without Braun.  Last season, Milwaukee led the National League in slugging percentage (.425) and second in OPS (.750).  Without Fielder, those figures are certain to drop, though they managed to go out and get Aramis Ramirez to help shore things up.  Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf make up one of baseball’s best front-four starting rotation.  Greinke’s 3.83 ERA was the highest among the four and if not for his rib injury to start last season, each would have eclipsed the 200 inning mark.

Why they’ll finish here: A team typically known for their slugging ways, the Brewers must figure out how to play small ball in start 2012.  Without Ryan Braun for the first third of the season, it will be difficult for Milwaukee to keep pace with the upper-echelon teams in the division.

1. Cincinnati Reds

Key Additions: RHP Mat Latos, RHP Ryan Madson

Key Losses: RHP Edinson Volquez, INF Yonder Alonso, RHP Francisco Cordero

Breakdown: When healthy, the Reds have proven to be a near unstoppable force in the batter’s box.  Between perennial MVP-candidate Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Drew Stubbs, they’re easily the most well-balanced lineup in the division right now.  But if there’s one clear things that’s limited their success, it’s their pitching.  The Reds finished fifth-worst in team ERA (4.16) and tied for last in shutouts last season.  The addition of Mat Latos will give Dusty Baker’s rotation some much-needed talent to complement Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.

Why they’ll finish here: After capturing the division crown in 2010, the Reds’ 2011 campaign was certainly nothing to write home about.  Yes, they’ve been relatively quiet this winter and haven’t added much new talent, but that shouldn’t take away from the talent that’s already in place.  Their offensive firepower will simply be too much for the rest of the division to handle.

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

Corey Hart: Why Milwaukee Brewers Right Fielder Is Poised for MVP-Type Season

In any other off-season, you’d be labeled insane if you believed any player on the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster beyond Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder would have a legitimate shot at taking home the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Then again, this past offseason has been anything but ordinary.

After one of the most forgetful winters in recent memory (Fielder leaving through free-agency and Braun inheriting a 50-game suspension under MLB‘s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program to start his 2012 campaign) the offensive hierarchy in the Brewers’ lineup has been all but obliterated.   This, in turn, will give a number of players an opportunity to make a statement to the franchise and fanbase by leading the team and shoulder the proverbial load to start next season.

But if there’s one player who seems poised to separate himself from the pack, assume the “leader” role of the clubhouse and push for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award with Braun and Fielder likely out of the picture, you need not look farther than Corey Hart.

At 29 years old (he’ll turn 30 in late March), Hart is widely considered to be one of the better outfield talents in the game today, and he is still very much in the prime of his career as far as production would lead you to believe.  Granted, he’s no Albert Pujols by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s something to be said about what Hart has accomplished up to this point in his career.

In four true seasons as a starter (excluding an injury-plagued 2009 campaign), he’s averaged a .283 BA, 25 home runs, 84 RBI, and a .508 slugging percentage per season.  Keeping in mind the fact that he’s missed (on average)12 percent of each season do to injury, that’s pretty impressive.

Last season, Hart batted .285 with 26 home runs despite missing all of April due to injury.  His 18.92 AB/HR (at-bat per home run) ratio was comparable to Braun’s 17.06 AB/HR, believe it or not, and his .510 slugging percentage ranked fourth among all NL right fielders last season.

Yet his impressive offensive production isn’t where Hart’s game ends, like many of the MVP-caliber players that have come and gone through the years.  He also has the ability to be crafty on the base-paths and play solid, if not above-average defense.

In 2008, the year Hart was selected to the All-Star team, he notched 23 stolen bases on his way to a 6.2 SPD (speed score) according to fangraphs, topping 2008 AL MVP Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s 5.6 SPD.  If not for injury, it’s presumable that Hart would have maintained his success into the seasons following.

Defensively, Hart carries a career .988 fielding percentage and 2.10 range factor.  Last season, he committed just two errors on his way to a .992 fielding percentage that ranked fifth among all MLB right-fielders, noticeably better than the likes of Jeff Francoeur and Torii Hunter – two of the most reputable outfield defenders in history.

Seldom do you find a player who excels at every phase of the game quite like Hart (five-tool players aren’t exactly a dime a dozen), and I think that speaks volumes to what he could accomplish in an injury-free season for the Brewers, who even without Braun or Fielder, still have a very capable lineup.

With a healthy start to spring training and the absence of two preeminent sluggers, 2012 may very well turn out to be a breakout, MVP-worthy season for Milwaukee’s 29-year-old right fielder.

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

Predicting Milwaukee Brewers’ 2012 Opening Day Lineup Without Ryan Braun

Braun's absence will have a tremendous impact on Ron Roenicke's lineup in 2012

It’s been a long, difficult, often perplexing offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fanbase.  But if recent indications prove valid, things may take another turn for the worse.

Last month, we learned from a report leaked by ESPN that Brewers left fielder and recently named 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun had reportedly tested positive for either a performance enhancing drug and/or banned substance during Milwaukee’s historic playoff run last October.  Major League Baseball subsequently gave Braun a 50-game suspension for his actions, and Braun is currently in the appeal process.

Many fans remained optimistic regarding the future of their beloved left fielder, however, Braun’s appeal to the league doesn’t seem likely to be overturned, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote.  Should Braun not be in Milwaukee’s lineup on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals, there are dozens of potential directions manager Ron Roenicke might set his starting lineup.  Let’s take a look at the most logical approach to how it might look.

1. CF Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez is still very much in the prime of his career and with the opportunity to be the everyday starter in center-field to start next season, I expect him to be where he batted on opening day 2011: At the top of Ron Roenicke’s lineup.

Being one of the fastest center fielders in baseball as well as being one of the best bag-stealers (he has a career 78% stolen base percentage), Gomez clearly should be Milwaukee’s lead-off man to start next season.  Granted, he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and work on getting on base, but I still believe he’s the right man for the job.

2. LF Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan probably fits the bill to be the Brewers’ leadoff hitter better than anyone on the roster.  Based on what he did last year in the No.2 hole, though, he’ll probably stay put — at least for opening day.

In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them batting second — exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with two HR and 31 RBI, 46 runs and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League.  Without having to split time in center-field with Carlos Gomez to start the season, GM Doug Melvin will be able to adequately judge whether or not Morgan is worth re-signing at season’s end.  If he can bat over .300 as he did in 2011, there’s no question he’s worth keeping around.

3. RF Corey Hart

I have to admit — Rickie Weeks originally came to mind as the best option to take Ryan Braun’s spot in the lineup, but after doing my research, I found Corey Hart is simply the better overall substitute.  Not only did Hart’s numbers from a season ago (26 HR, 80 RBI, .510 SLG, .226 ISO) trump Weeks’ (20 HR, 77 RBI, .468 SLG, .199 ISO) from a power standpoint, but their career statistics also marginally favor Hart.

Since entering the league in 2005, Hart has stockpiled 124 home runs, 425 RBI, a .487 slugging percentage and maintains a 19.6 K%.  Weeks, who also broke onto the scene in 2005, has 109 home runs, 314 RBI, a .435 slugging percentage and has struck out 22.6 percent of the time.  While the raw numbers don’t substantially favor Hart over Weeks, the subtle contrast coupled with how strong he finished his 2011 campaign should give Hart the nod.

4. 3B Aramis Ramirez

After agreeing to terms with Milwaukee to a three-year, $36 Million contract, Aramis Ramirez knew expectations would be high with Prince Fielder on his way out.  However, with Braun’s suspension now likely to be upheld, expectations have risen considerably.  The pressure on Ramirez to help carry the Brewers through the first 50 games next season is mounting quickly.  So, where does he best fit in Milwaukee’s lineup?

Ramirez, 33, has a great deal of experience hitting third and fourth, and his bat seems to be the best possible protection for Corey Hart to start the season.  He’ll probably hit behind Braun once his suspension is up, moreover.

5. 2B Rickie Weeks

If Rickie Weeks can stay healthy, for a full season, for the first in his career, there’s no doubt he’ll reach 35 home runs and there’s an outside chance he could hit 40.  He has a tremendous amount of power that has concealed itself over the past few seasons, and I’ve gone on record saying that if not for injury last season, he would have been the is the best offensive second baseman in baseball.

I originally had him batting third, but quickly found out Corey Hart would be better suited for the job.  That consequently puts Weeks fifth in Roenicke’s lineup and inherent protector of Aramis Ramirez to start next season.

6. 1B Mat Gamel

Mat Gamel has been an exceptional talent at the minor league level for a number of seasons, but there are some concerns over how well his game will translate as a full-time starter in the big leagues.  In 171 career at-bats, the 26-year-old holds true to a .222 BA, .309 on-base percentage and in 2009 (his only true taste of the majors) he struck out in 36.5 percent of his plate appearances.  He has a lot of upside and potential but he definitely has his work cut out for him at the start of next season.

That said, there isn’t yet a discernible spot for him in Roenicke’s opening-day lineup.  He could potentially be placed in a number of spots to start the season.  Given how evident his power was in triple-A last season, though, I can’t see him falling any lower than sixth in the order.

7. SS Alex Gonzalez

One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of the 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.

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 Ron Roenicke’s job that much easier. For now, though, batting seventh seems to be the most logical spot for Gonzalez.

8. C Jonathan Lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy isn’t a superstar, and he probably never will be.  But that’s okay — he’s exactly what the Brewers need him to be: Dependable.

After splitting time Gregg Zaun in 2010, Lucroy inherited the starting role at the beginning of last season, and boy did he make the most of it.  In 430 at-bats, he batted .265 with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and boasted a .391 slugging percentage.

In the field, though, he was a superstar.  He committed just seven errors (.993 FPCT) despite having to deal with a staff that administered a league-high 70 wild pitches.  Lucroy spent 64 percent of his at-bats out of the eight-hole last season. Expect him to be in familiar scenery on opening day this season.

9. P Yovani Gallardo

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 easily 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.

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

Milwaukee Brewers: Predicting Their Top 10 Performers for 2012

Every player on the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2011 roster contributed in some fashion or another to the club’s most thrilling campaign in nearly30years, resulting in an NL Central crown as well as the opportunity to host the National League Championship Series.

However, ample changes to their roster from a season ago will largely reshape what Milwaukee’s lineup might look like in 2012. The addition of third baseman Aramis Ramirez and shortstop Alex Gonzalez — as well as the likely subtraction of first baseman Prince Fielder — will bring about a number of new play-makers and top performers next season.

Let’s try our hand at predicting Milwaukee’s top 10 performers in 2012.

10. Alex Gonzalez

The Brewers were one of the worst defensive teams in baseball last season (they finished with MLB‘s seventh-worst fielding percentage collectively), and GM Doug Melvin made it a point to upgrade defensively this offseason.

After declining Yuniesky Betancourt’s 2012 option, the Brewers found their new shortstop in veteran Alex Gonzalez.  Needless to say, the move firmly improved Milwaukee’s infield.  The 34-year-old boasts a career .972 fielding percentage and 6.3 UZR.

Gonzalez will be expected to hold down the unstable fort that is the left side of Ron Roenicke’s infield with above-average efficiency, and fans should expect him to do just that.  They should also expect something close to a .250/.290/.400 line offensively — nothing too overwhelming.

2012 Statistical Projection: .265 BA, 15 HR, 65 RBI, .310 OBP

9. Shaun Marcum

Shaun Marcum was absolutely sensational in his first season with the Brewers, however, his best work came away from Miller Park.

Last season, the 30-year-old right-hander went 8-3 with league-leading 2.21 ERA on the road proving essential in Milwaukee’s regular season successes.  Without Marcum, it’s arguable the Brewers don’t even challenge for the division in 2011.  Next season, much will stay the same in that Marcum will be largely responsible for providing stability and dependability to the rotation.  Expect his stat line to comparable to last season, as well.

2012 Statistical Projection: 15-8, 3.60 ERA, 150 SO, 210 IP

8. Francisco Rodriguez

When Milwaukee offered arbitration to setup man Francisco Rodriguez after the season, they probably had no intention of actually bringing him back at or near his $13.5 Million salary from last season.  Nevertheless, he accepted, and will assume his role as the Brewers’ eighth-inning man in 2012.

Last season, the seasoned vet posted a 1.86 ERA, punched out 33 and amassed 17 HLD in 29.0 innings of work with the Brewers, and will be held to a high standard next season as he is begin paid much more than he is actually worth.

2012 Statistical Projection: 2.60 ERA, 40 HLD, 75 SO, 70 IP

7. Aramis Ramirez

With Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun potentially missing the first third of next season, Aramis Ramirez could be responsible for shouldering a good portion of the offensive load for the Brewers to start next season.  While he likely won’t put up the gaudy numbers he did in Chicago over the past eight seasons, he will be expected to perform at a high level nonetheless.  Even at 33 years old, he has a power bat at the plate and could outperform expectations in a still very lethal Milwaukee lineup.

We would’ve ranked him higher than seventh, but since he is getting up there in age and his bat is a bit in question, this seems like the appropriate spot.

2012 Statistical Projection: .295 BA, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .530 SLG

6. Rickie Weeks

From the beginning of the 2011 season until an untimely ankle injury in late July that led to him missing a month’s worth of time, Rickie Weeks may have been the best offensive second baseman in all of baseball.

Prior to the All Star break, Milwaukee’s 29-year-old second baseman posted a .278 BA with a league-high 17 home runs and 67 runs scored, 39 RBI and a .486 slugging percentage, subsequently earning a trip to the MLB All Star game for the first time in his once promising career.

Of course, he wouldn’t return to his previous form after the injury, but he nonetheless maintains a considerable amount of success and momentum at the plate that can carry over to 2012.  With Prince Fielder now gone, Weeks will take on a whole new role in Ron Roenicke’s lineup.  Will that result in an increase in production at the plate?  I think so.

2012 Statistical Projection: .280 BA, 31 HR, 95 RBI, .370 OBP

5. Corey Hart

Corey Hart has become an essential piece to Milwaukee’s lineup over the past five seasons, but has yet to even come close to reaching his potential.  Next season will be his official coming-out party.

An abdominal strain halted the beginning of his 2011 campaign, yet Hart still managed to hit 26 home runs with a solid .822 OPS.  The season prior, he batted .283 with 31 home runs and broke the 100 RBI barrier for the first time in his career.  The guy knows how to hit the ball.

If he can stay healthy throughout next season, there’s absolutely no doubt he can reach the 40 home run plateau and may find his slugging percentage at a healthy .525 to top it off.  His RBI count will hinge on where he is placed in the lineup, but you can expect him to get his fair share.

2012 Statistical Projection: .280 BA, 35 HR, 83 RBI, .510 SLG

4. John Axford

Outside of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, John Axford was clearly Milwaukee’s MVP last season.

In his first full season as the Brewers’ ninth-inning man, the 28-year-old was nothing short of sensational. He posted a league-best 1.95 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 73.1 IP while tying for the league-lead for saves (46), setting the franchise’s single-season mark for saves in a regular season.

With a full season’s worth of production and experience under his belt, Axford looks poised for another impressive season — potentially surpassing his numbers from a season ago.  If he can do that, who’s to say he won’t challenge to be the NL Cy Young?

2012 Statistical Projection: 2.10 ERA, 48 SV, 95 SO, 85.0 IP

3. Yovani Gallardo

Now looking toward his third straight season as Milwaukee’s undisputed ace, Yovani Gallardo has a lot to build off of for 2012 after a staggeringly successful 2011 campaign.

Last season, Gallardo went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA, 207 strikeouts and 8.99 K/9 IP, setting career-highs in wins, ERA and strikeouts.  He also led all Brewers starters in just about every meaningful category to boot.

If last season was any indication of what this season holds in store, Gallardo will not only have a spot on the All Star roster, but he should vie for a considerable amount of Cy Young votes.  Look for Milwaukee’s 26-year-old ace to take his game to the next level in 2012.

2012 Statistical Projection: 18-10, 3.15 ERA, 215 SO, 200 IP

2. Ryan Braun

Obviously, Ryan Braun’s production next season will ride largely on whether or not his 50-game suspension holds up, but since there hasn’t been any official word as to what’s to come, we’ll just assume he’ll be in the starting lineup on opening day.

Last season, Milwaukee’s beloved left fielder batted .332 wtih 33 home runs, 111 RBI and a league-leading .597 slugging percentage.  Without the protection of Prince Fielder, Braun’s numbers are bound to slip ever so slightly.  Nevertheless, Braun will surely be vying for consecutive NL MVPs next season.

2012 Statistical Projection: .320 BA, 35 HR, 105 RBI, .580 SLG

1. Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke knows as well as you and I know that he simply underperformed last season and wasn’t worth anything near the four top prospects Milwaukee gave up in return for his services.

That being said, one could argue there wasn’t a better pitcher in the second-half of 2011 than Greinke.  In 15 starts, he went 9-3 and posted a 2.59 ERA with 202 strikeouts in 97.1 innings.  If Greinke can extend the startling success that ended his 2011 campaign, there’s no doubt he’ll be Milwaukee’s top performer in 2012.  Look for Milwaukee’s preeminent addition from a year ago to return to Cy Young form next season and for Melvin to re-sign him at season’s end.

2012 Statistical Projection: 20-8, 2.90 ERA, 215 SO, 200 IP

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