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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
The Milwaukee Brewers have answered nearly all of the question marks that faced them coming into their 2011-2012 offseason, and now wait in anticipation for spring training to commence roughly two months from now. Let’s take a look at how their lineup might look on opening day 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
1. Corey Hart, RF
Nearly half of Corey Hart’s plate appearances last season came as Milwaukee’s lead-off man but I suspect 100 percent of his at-bats to be at the top of Milwaukee’s order on opening day against the Cardinals. Roenicke toyed with a number of players at lead-off before Hart returned to the lineup from an abdominal strain in late April but none definitively fit the role.
In 256 at-bats at the top of Milwaukee’s order, Hart posted a .301 BA, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 47 runs as well as a .366 on-base percentage, roughly comparable to Jose Reyes’ .388 from a season ago. Many feel the Rickie Weeks is best suited here as he clearly has the most background at the top of Milwaukee’s order. However, Aramis Ramirez will need adequate protection and Weeks’ game is slowly converting to power first, speed second. Hart is the right man for the job.
2. Nyjer Morgan, CF
Nyjer Morgan may be best suited to be a lead-off type hitter, but there’s simply no ignoring what he accomplished out of the No.2 hole last season.
In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them in batting second — exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with 2 HR and 31 RBI, 46 R and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League. With either Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter, both right-handed, likely to take the mound for St. Louis, expect Morgan to get the nod over Carlos Gomez strictly because of Morgan’s left-handed bat.
No matter what the final verdict is on Ryan Braun’s alleged PED-usage, GM Doug Melvin says he is going about his normal business as through he expects him to be in the starting lineup on opening day. So, we’ll do the same. Do you really need an explanation?
4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Aramis Ramirez has lingered in either the third or fourth spot for most of his career, and since the No.3 spot is already taken, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll bat cleanup next season. Out of the cleanup spot last season with the Cubs, Ramirez batted .291 with 8 HR, 32 RBI and a .450 slugging percentage in a feeble Chicago lineup.
While we shouldn’t expect him to completely fill Fielder’s shoes next season, we should expect a solid middle-of-the-order bat that can protect Braun. Anything short of a .275 BA, 25 HR and 85 RBI would be considered inadequate on Ramirez’s behalf.
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B
Gone are the days of Rickie Weeks being Milwaukee’s lead-off man. At 29 years of age and a bevy of past injuries, he’s clearly entering the second phase of his professional career in that he’s much more of a power-first, speed-second type player. Last season, Weeks amassed 20 home runs and 49 RBI with a .269/.350/.468 line despite missing a substantial chunk of his season due to a ankle injury.
With Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun still facing a 50-game suspension to start his season, Weeks will much more better suited to be batting either fourth or fifth in Milwaukee’s lineup. He has the potential to hit 30 or possibly even 35 home runs next season and should be the one protecting Aramis Ramirez new season.
6. Mat Gamel, 1B
Incumbent 26-year-old prospect Mat Gamel has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in six minor-league seasons, but filling the shoes of Prince Fielder at first base won’t be a cakewalk by any means.
Last season in triple-A, Gamel managed 28 home runs and 90 RBI with a .310/.372/.540 line. Impressive to say the least, but he’ll need to vindicate his career .222 BA and .309 OBP with the Brewers in a timely fashion. Batting behind Rickie Weeks is most likely the best spot for him on opening day. He’ll be a modest defensive upgrade from Fielder but don’t expect him to be a gold-glove caliber first baseman as he’s been known to be a bit lackadaisical from time to time.
One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of this offseason was to upgrade at shortstop. He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 Million deal with a $4 Million 2013 option.
During his 12-year career, Gonzelez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age. His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season, and will be a noticeable upgrade from Yunieksy Betancourt.
Gonzalez’s pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Roenicke’s job that much more easy.
8. Jonathon Lucroy, C
Jonathon Lucroy is by no means a superstar talent behind the plate nor in the batter’s box, but 2011 certified just how important he is to Roenicke’s ballclub.
Last season, Lucroy committed just seven errors on his way to a .993 fielding percentage — a commendable feat given Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches from a season ago. He also posted a 7.87 range factor that ranked fifth-best among all MLB catchers. At the plate, he managed a .265 average with 12 HR and 59 RBI, but garnered a 21.2 K%. Improving his plate discipline and on-base percentage will be key moving forward. Expect him to be in the No. 8 hole on opening day nonetheless.
9. Yovani Gallardo, P
Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter. When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.
Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 GS). He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA, and strikeouts and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96). Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012. There’s really no question as to who will take the mound for Milwaukee on opening day.
Updated Starting Lineup and 25-Man Roster Projection
1. RF Corey Hart
2. CF Nyjer Morgan
3. LF Ryan Braun
4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
5. 2B Rickie Weeks
6. 1B Mat Gamel
7. SS Alex Gonzalez
8. C Jonathon Lucroy
9. P Yovani Gallardo
C George Kottaras
CF Carlos Gomez
3B Taylor Green
OF Logan Schafer
RHP Yovani Gallardo
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Shaun Marcum
LHP Randy Wolf
LHP Chris Narveson
RHP John Axford
RHP Francisco Rodriguez
RHP Kameron Loe
RHP Jose Veras
RHP Frankie De La Cruz
LHP Zack Braddock
LHP Mitch Stetter
RHP Wily Peralta
by Richard Dean, MLB.com
All systems are go as Zack Greinke will make his Brewers debut on Wednesday at Atlanta with a pitch count around 90.
Recovering from a cracked rib he suffered in Spring Training, the right-handed Greinke made the last of his three scheduled rehab starts for Triple-A Nashville on Friday, throwing 75 pitches — 50 for strikes — in five innings.
“I’m healthy, for sure, I’ve been healthy for awhile,” Greinke said in the Brewers’ clubhouse prior to Saturday’s game. “I’vegot good arm strength. I was looking forward to coming back [to the Majors], I was just trying to get ready.”
Greinke was the 2009 American League Cy Young winner with the Royals. On Friday, he allowed seven hits and two earned runs with seven strikeouts and one walk. He took the loss in a 4-1 defeat to Albuquerque and allowed a home run.
“I felt good,” he said. “I stretched pretty good. All my stuff was decent, I located pretty good.”
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said that Greinke felt good during his final rehab appearance.
“He felt like he could throw another 20 pitches,” Roenicke said. “He felt really strong, which is a good sign.”
Greinke said he is about where he would be if he had one start before Spring Training.
“I should be good enough to pitch my game,” said Greinke, who was acquired from Kansas City in a six-player trade. “It’ll be cool. I’m really anxious. I’ve been enjoying watching the games and looking forward to getting back.”
Without Greinke, the Brewers have been getting quality outings from a number of their starters.
“Everyone’s been pitching real good,” said Greinke. “I was like, do they want me back or make me stay down there [Nashville] for a while?”