When you look at a team that is coming off of a 74-88 season, you typically see several holes that need to be filled, and, potentially, a team that could be headed towards a rebuild. However, when you look deeper at the Milwaukee Brewers, you can see that they are a team that isn’t too far away from actually contending, and it could happen in 2014.
Sure, the farm system doesn’t appear to have anything of immediate value, featuring a big, fat zero prospects within the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 and just one (Jimmy Nelson, No. 83) in the MLB.com Top 100, but IF the 25-man roster can maintain health and production, there is a tremendous chance that they could look a lot like the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates – minus the youth.
This is a club that won 96 games in 2011, and while they did lose Prince Fielder to free agency, they still managed to finish with 83 wins in 2012. In 2013, a lot of things went wrong:
- Ryan Braun was injured and suspended for his PED use
- Rickie Weeks had another unproductive season
- Yuniesky Betancourt received over 400 plate appearances – something that should never be forced upon the eyes of fans or the other 24 men of any Major League Baseball roster EVER AGAIN!
Fortunately for Milwaukee and their fans, there were several things that went right, which is why this team will improve in 2014…dramatically.
Yovani Gallardo suffered from another drop in velocity in 2013, and he had a very difficult time adjusting to that, posting a 4.83 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over his 20 first half starts; however, the second half brought much better results, as Gallardo managed a 3.09 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 11 starts. There should still be some concern over his velocity issues and his drop in strikeout rates (7.17 in 2013 is, by far, the lowest of his career – 8.24 in his rookie 2007 season is the next lowest), but if Gallardo has learned to pitch with what he has, he could find the same success that he had in the latter part of the 2013 season going forward. Keep in mind, he is turning just 28 years old later this month.
On the surface, going 11-15 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 32 starts and 183.1 innings isn’t all that impressive, but, at 24, Wily Peralta was actually much better than those numbers. From June 21 to September 22 (17 starts), Peralta posted a 3.05 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 103.1 innings, going 7-7 during that time. Peralta doesn’t strike out 10 batters per nine, posting just a 7.3 K/9 over this impressive 17-start span, but he does possess solid stuff (his fastball averaged 94.8 mph in 2013) and he keeps the ball in the park, even when pitching half of his games in Miller Park (19 home runs allowed in 2013). If Peralta can improve his 9.2 percent career walk-rate, he’s going to be capable of an All-Star season. He’ll turn just 25 in May of 2014, giving the Brewers a piece to continue to build around.
Jean Segura was a piece received from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zack Greinke deal, and while Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena may not do much of anything for the Brewers after coming over in the deal with Segura, the Brewers clearly won the trade when Greinke signed with the Dodgers last winter, gaining several years of control of the Dominican shortstop. Segura, then, had a huge 2013 season, posting a 3.9 WAR (Baseball Reference) and earning a spot on the National League All-Star team. He became a fantasy baseball darling, amassing 20 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs, and 44 stolen bases. His second half was not good (.241/.268/.315), but if he can get somewhere between those numbers and his breakout first half (.325/.363/.487), he’ll continue to be an asset for the Brewers and fantasy geeks alike.
Jonathan Lucroy became a near-elite offensive catcher in an injury-shortened 2012 and he continued that trend in 2013, posting a .795 OPS to go along with his 18 home runs and 82 RBI. Those 82 RBI led all catchers in the majors and his nine stolen bases were a nice addition, as well. At 28, Lucroy is in his prime and could post more impressive numbers in 2014 with a healthy and present Ryan Braun protecting him in the Milwaukee lineup.
Carlos Gomez posted an 8.4 WAR in 2013 (Baseball Reference) and went nuts, posting an .843 OPS along with his 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs, 73 RBI, and 40 stolen bases. He made his first All-Star game and won a Gold Glove for his tremendous defensive prowess, even earning a 10 percent share in the NL MVP voting by finishing 9th for the award. It is fair to wonder if this type of success can hold up from Gomez, considering his past and his continued plate discipline issues (146:37 K:BB in 590 plate appearances), but the potential was always there, and despite being around since 2007, he’ll be just 28 in 2014.
Khris Davis made his debut for Milwaukee on April 1st as a pinch-hitter. He then rotted on the bench collecting all of two starts and 18 plate appearances before being sent to the minors, where he would get regular playing time. Davis then returned to the majors to sit on the bench for part of July before taking over left field full-time on July 30. Over the next 36 games and 129 plate appearances, Davis posted a .287/.357/.617 triple-slash, blasting 10 home runs and driving in 26 runs. Over 162 games, that is a 32 home run player. I’m not saying that Khris Davis is going to do that, but he has posted an .898 OPS over his 1,705 minor league plate appearances prior to this big league outburst. The guy can hit, and while he’s already 26 years old (he was a college senior draftee out of Cal-State Fullerton, while missing most of 2012 due to a leg injury), he has pushed Braun to right field and cleared a path to become a producer.
Aramis Ramirez is still the third baseman, and while that may be an issue defensively, his bat is still useful. Another issue still remains that ARam will be limited by some sort of ailment that will keep him off of the field. At 36, it could be enhanced, but if he gives the Brewers 145 games, you’re going to see 25 home runs and 90-plus RBI with something close to his career .285/.345/.501 triple-slash.
First base has been an issue in Milwaukee since Fielder bolted for Detroit after the 2011 season, but there could be an interesting platoon. Juan Francisco posted his typically horrific strikeout totals and low average in 2013, but he did hit 13 home runs in 270 plate appearances for Milwaukee. He couldn’t hit a left-hander if the pitcher actually put it on a tee for him, but with the addition of Mark Reynolds (.852 career OPS vs. left-handers), the two could combine to post 40 home runs while striking out nearly 300 times – the power is an asset, though. If the Brewers choose to scrap Francisco, who turns just 27 in 2014, they did sign Lyle Overbay to a minor league deal, and he could also platoon with Reynolds.
The list seems to go on and on, but it doesn’t stop here. Kyle Lohse is a solid innings-eater and effective weapon in the rotation, Marco Estrada is a fine back-end of the rotation option, Jim Henderson established himself as a shutdown reliever, Brandon Kintzler and Francisco Rodriguez will be very good setup men (if they don’t steal some saves), Tom Gorzelanny is a solid left-handed option out of the bullpen, and Logan Schafer makes for a respectable fourth outfielder. Add in the depth at starting pitcher with Jimmy Nelson, Hiram Burgos, and Mike Fiers as possible rotation fillers (in the event of an injury), and you have a group that has enough depth to withstand the grind of a 162-game season.
With the addition of Matt Garza, the Brewers have built an above-average rotation that could stand toe-to-toe with most teams in baseball. If Garza, Lohse, and Gallardo stay healthy and the Brewers get steady production out of Peralta and Estrada, this could easily be an 85 to 90-win team. Offensively, if Davis and Segura produce, and Braun, Gomez, and Ramirez stay healthy, the offense is legitimately scary.
The national media will clamor over the St. Louis Cardinals, due to their long-term success, and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be the darlings after reaching the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, but there isn’t any reason to think that the Brewers can’t become contenders again in 2014. While the farm system leaves a lot to be desired, there is talent at the major league level, and it is enough to be taken seriously.