Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Milwaukee Brewers. Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Brewers players. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
Milwaukee turned a corner in 2011, winning 96 games (19 more than in 2010) on their way to their first division title since 1983. The Brewers were in the NLCS, Ryan Braun won the MVP, and for a brief time, people actually cared about what Nyger Morgan and/or his alter-ego T-Plush had to say.
Of course, the Brewers then lost the NLCS, Braun was accused of using PEDs, and Prince Fielder left for The D. The 2012 team will try to prove that 2011 was not a fluke, but it appears that they will be fighting an uphill battle. They will have help, in the form of new signing Aramis Ramirez and hopefully (for all of us, babe) some better luck for Zack Greinke. If the Brewers were to fall behind the pace early, General Manager Doug Melvin may be motivated to revitalize his farm system by moving some of his players who are in the last year of their contracts, a group that includes starters Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Randy Wolf. The Brewers' payroll is nearing $100 million, so the common thought is that the team will either contend or they will rebuild from the ground floor.
Miller Park is consistently in the top ten ballparks for home runs and runs alike, thanks to a climate-controlled environment and short fences down the lines. The park yields more home runs to left than right, but don't be fooled - left-handed pull hitters do not suffer when they visit Milwaukee. Most any power hitter will thrive in this environment, and similarly, fly ball pitchers suffer. I feel that no discussion of Miller Park is complete without mentioning last year's shortest home run, which officially landed 53 feet away from home plate.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Ron Roenicke, who will be in his second full season with the Brewers in 2012, has a reputation for being a people manager who is loyal to his players. He understands statistics and isn't likely to issue free passes or make his non-pitching hitters lay down a bunt. Milwaukee has a new hitting coach in Johnny Narron, who was most recently Josh Hamilton's accountability but before that worked in the Brewers' minor league system. The familiarity he shares with many of the team's young players like Mat Gamel is expected to pay dividends, which sounds great in theory, but will it translate?
Expected Position Battles
The Brewers are set pretty much everywhere, but there is the pesky question concerning who mans left field in the event of Ryan Braun's suspension, which may or may not happen (but probably will). New signing Norichika Aoki, a three-time batting champ with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, is a natural left fielder and a logical choice to play as a stopgap. Nyjer Morgan could slide over, but that would break up the Morgan/Gomez platoon in center field.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Corey Hart - RF
Nyjer Morgan/Carlos Gomez - CF
Ryan Braun - LF
Aramis Ramirez - 3B
Rickie Weeks - 2B
Mat Gamel - 1B
Alex Gonzalez - SS
Jonathan Lucroy - C
If you aren't a close observer of the Brewers, you might be surprised to learn that Corey Hart actually led off the majority of the time down the stretch in 2011 while Rickie Weeks moved down to the 5-hole. This whole thing probably looks different if Aoki (or somebody else) is forced to play left field in the absence of Braun, but there are way too many unknowns to try to project a lineup in that case.
Yovani Gallardo | Zack Greinke | Randy Wolf | Shaun Marcum | Chris Narveson
Milwaukee returns its entire rotation, and all 5 pitchers are expected to retain their jobs. If a spot starter were to be needed, they could turn to Michael Fiers, whose AAA numbers are ridiculous (in a good way) or Amaury Rivas, whose AAA numbers are decidedly more pedestrian. Consensus #1 in-house prospect Wily Peralta could find himself in the mix as well, but the smart move may be to let him spend the year in AAA.
The fantastically mustachioed John Axford will once again close games and contribute to four categories in the process. Francisco Rodriguez, who threw a wrench into the team's offseason spending plans when he actually accepted arbitration, will set up and contribute to roughly one and a half categories. Brandon Kintzler and new trade acquisition Jose Veras are interesting middle relief options for helping with rate stats and strikeouts.
Potential Fantasy Sleeper
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Your impression of Mat Gamel is likely that of a 4-A player. If that's true for you, this fact may surprise you: Gamel only has 194 plate appearances in the major leagues, and those are spread over four seasons. The truth is, he's never had the chance to settle in, and we don't have enough of a sample size to really determine much about his game in the first place. Last season in AAA, Gamel hit .310 with 28 homers, 96 RBI, and 90 runs. That's not to say that he'll do the same in the show, but he's finally getting an opportunity to grab a starting spot and hold on to it for a while, which could be the impetus he needs to get going. Gamel doesn't show up on Mock Draft Central's ADP list, which runs 488 deep. Who would you rather have: Chris Davis (who has proven over 1082 plate appearances that he is a Quad-A player) at pick 387, or Mat Gamel (who may be wearing the label unfairly) at pick 489+?
Spring Training Storylines to Watch
The Ryan Braun situation is certainly worth monitoring, but any news on that front is going to reach you whether you want it to or not. If you want to go deeper, my darling, take a look at some of the prospects and how they fare in big league camp. Milwaukee's farm system isn't exactly highly rated, but it's top-heavy with pitchers. Could one or two of them turn some heads and possibly make one or more of the big league guys with expiring contracts look a little more expendable in July (assuming the team is out of the race)?
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Adam McCalvy (Blog | Twitter)
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat reporter: Tom Haudricourt (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Brew Crew ball (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.