Tagged: MLB Spring Training 2012

Has PED Distraction Already Gotten the Best of Ryan Braun?

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

Just ask Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.

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

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

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

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

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

The evidence is pretty conclusive.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Is Rickie Weeks Anywhere Near Full Health?

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

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

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

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

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

Can Mat Gamel Be Trusted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Shaun Marcum Past His Postseason Woes?

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

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

Is Alex Gonzalez Really a Substantial Upgrade over Yuniesky Betancourt?

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

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

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

Will Aramis Ramirez Provide Enough Protection for Ryan Braun?

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

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

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

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.