Compiling this list of Top 5 fantasy players on the Milwaukee Brewers has been my most difficult to date. Now I've only officially written the Twins, Orioles, and Mets (I <3 Ray and his editorial powers), but I've made my own lists for most of the other teams we've done to this point and the Brewers have been the hardest to pin. There is a ton to like here, but an equal amount of uncertainty with all of it that leaves me wondering where I would draft any of these players. Take the players who had ‘up' years last season: Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, and Scooter Gennett - do you feel confident that any of these players are for real? Gomez has the skills, Segura has had the pedigree so maybe there is some reason for optimism, but it's tough to justify paying full price for them to repeat (or maintain) their 2013 pace.
How about the players with down years: fantasy staples like Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Yovani Gallardo. Sure it's easy to suggest a bounce back is likely in 2014, but to what extent? Braun has legitimate concerns post-steroid debacle like his ability to maintain productivity without any performance enhancement supplements, plus the pressure of being vilified in every stadium across the majors. Aramis has been a model of consistency, so a rebound isn't out of the question in 2014. But he's also 35 years old and possibly facing a diminishing skillset and aging body that can't support the 25 HR, .280 AVG, 90 RBI we used to expect year in and year out. Yovani Gallardo has been an electric arm and a lock for big strikeout numbers, solid win totals, and a respectable ERA/WHIP. If anyone knows what happened to him in 2013, please let me know so I can adjust my expectations properly.
The Brewers are a collection of players coming off career-worst or career-best performances and trying to predict their 2014 values appears to be a practice in futility. But I'm going to give it a shot here. Without further ado, my Top 5 fantasy players for the Brew Crew.
1. Ryan Braun - The narrative can go either way. 1. Ryan Braun has something to prove and is going to come out and prove everyone wrong by putting up a monster season fueled by doubters. Or 2. He doesn't have PEDs to help him any more so he's going to fall off the face of the map. Personally I disagree with both lines of thought. The first assumes he didn't try his hardest in previous seasons, and that he has some sort of extra ability that he never offered up on the field. The second assumes that the PEDs Braun used actually had a meaningful impact on his performance. To be clear, I'm entirely against the use of PEDs and find it difficult to root for any former user, but until the impact of their use can be quantified I have a hard time devaluing any fantasy player for a change in usage patterns.
So what to expect from Ryan Braun? I think it's safe to expect the old Ryan Braun. Yes, the consensus Top 5 pick and arguably third best option in the entire fantasy baseball universe. Speed, power, productive lineup surrounding him, league-leading batting average, Braun runs the gambit of fantasy credentials. I will select him in all redraft leagues where he falls to me. If he starts falling in to second rounds, picks 12 & 13 at the turn will be the optimal place to draft this season and it won't even be close.
2. Carlos Gomez - The second best fantasy player last season on a strictly value basis (behind Chris Davis), Gomez has thrust himself into elite fantasy company. The best part about his breakout is that it looks almost completely sustainable. The HR/FB% and BABIP are a little on the lucky side, but changes in his batted ball profile tend to support the positive shifts in these numbers. Gomez is entering his age 28 season so he's well in his prime and is a safe bet for at least 20 HRs and 30 SBs.
I expect the career-high in AVG he put up last season to regress closer to the .260-.270 range but even at that level he's deserves to go in the top 3 rounds. An interesting shift in Gomez's value might be coming after the trade of Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals. Gomez will remain in CF but is a possible candidate to move to the top of the Milwaukee order to fill Aoki's place. MLB Depth Charts currently has him slotted in the #2 hole. His career .303 OBP clearly wouldn't fit well there, but his .338 OBP in 2013 to go with the game-changing speed could be a nice table-setter for the Brewers. Whether he moves to the top or stays in the middle his R or RBI opportunities will be far better this season with the return of Ryan Braun to the lineup. There was some early buzz for Gomez as a First Round pick and while I think that's far too high for him, a late second, early third round draft pick feels right for Gomez. We saw his ceiling in 2013. Don't let those numbers dictate his 2014 value.
3. Jean Segura - A savior for not only fantasy owners but for the SS position in general, Jean Segura has established himself as a legitimate offensive threat. Off the top of my head, I'm only taking Tulo, Hanley, Desmond, Reyes, Bogaerts, and probably Everth Cabrera ahead of Segura. Double digit power and league-leading SB totals (I'm so excited to begin using the Billy Hamilton caveat for steals) hitting in front of Ryan Braun is a package worth drooling over when it comes from the middle of the diamond. He may not have the major league track record you'd like to see, Segura was a highly-touted prospect ranking 57 and 55 in BA's Top 100 in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
My largest unanswered question with Segura is what's the power going to look like this year and beyond? His minor league numbers maintain a similar ~50 AB/HR rate so there wasn't much of a power spike, but his numbers did fade in the second half, leading me to wonder if he just tired out or if the first half was a hot start we aren't likely to witness again. His AVG/HR numbers by month were:
Segura was pretty useless the last 3 months of the season. He did manage to steal 6+ bases every month, which is nice but not enough to sustain his value if the power isn't real. I have always believed there is something to the idea of lineup protection (sup Giancarlo) and even though it's difficult to quantify in a scientific testing model, anecdotal examples like Stanton and Segura here make me believe there's something to it. Segura's struggles almost directly begin and extend through the period of Ryan Braun's suspension last season. I'm willing to put faith that Braun's return lifts Segura's value closer to what we say in the first 3 months as opposed to the last 3.
4. Aramis Ramirez - Old Faithful, Aramis Ramirez was plagued with injuries in 2013 and managed only 92 games. Outside of his two DL stints, Ramirez still looked the part of a 25 HR, 80 RBI, .280ish AVG guy. He's been a model of excellence and consistency throughout his entire career and finally, entering the twilight of his career, us fantasy owners might finally be able to get a piece of A-Ram for a nice discount. There is no reason to expect Ramirez to struggle bouncing back from his injuries; in fact he tore up Sept/Oct pitching to the tune of .338/.413/.538 in 22 games. His age and poor raw numbers last year should shy managers away from him, especially with the exciting names breaking out at 3B (Donaldson, Arenado, etc.) and garnering more attention.
Coming off a 2012 season that earned him a few MVP votes, Ramirez was the 8th overall 3B off draft boards on final ADP reports. His value was at a high point then, but I don't have too many problems taking him at that point this season. He should drop a few spots lower providing a nice value opportunity in a position that has grown more and more polarizing - the gap between top tier and second tier continues to grow. I'd take Ramirez over Sandoval, Headley, Frazier, Seager, Arenado, and Alvarez next season.
5. Khris Davis - A guy I'm learning to like, Khris Davis had the Quad-A label written all over him even after his impressive major league debut. That is until the Brewers decided to ship away Norichika Aoki and commit to playing Khris Davis full time in leftfield. The Brewers aren't rebuilding so it's not a move that allows the Brewers to "see what they have". It's a move designed to give who they feel is their best 3 OFs (Braun-Gomez-Davis) a chance to play every day and free of platoon situations. The clubs willingness speaks volumes of positive future they see for Davis and their plan to stick him in the middle of their lineup with full expectations of major league production.
Davis' power has never been in question as he was considered a slugger in the minor leagues long before hitting 11 HRs in only 153 PA's in Milwaukee. The strikeout rate of 22% is nothing alarming and he's shown the ability to take a walk. His 29% HR/FB ratio screams regression, but I don't think anyone was expecting him to maintain his 35 HR pace either. What we could be looking at with Davis is a 20-25 HR OF with a handful of steals, an AVG that keeps the line moving and R/RBI totals reflective of a middle of the lineup hitter surrounded by quality hitters. 70/20/80/9/.270 is a good starting point for a projection. And all that will cost you is a late 20th round flier pick. The SB/HR/AVG will never come together in a package to make him a star or sexy fantasy player a la teammate Jean Segura, but he's currently an undervalued asset that can provide depth if needed.
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