Fantasy Baseball Team Previews – Milwaukee Brewers

(Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

In 2015 the Milwaukee Brewers won only 68 games, which was their lowest total since winning 67 back in 2004. Over the past decade, Doug Melvin served as the Brewers general manager and was a master at drafting and developing stars through the farm system. It’s no secret that Milwaukee is a small-market team and doesn’t have the payroll capacity to lure in big name free agents. As a result they must rebuild through the draft and succeed with homegrown players while placing an emphasis on scouting. Last November 30-year-old Harvard grad David Sterns took over for Melvin as the Brewers general manager. Since that time Sterns has arguably been the most active GM in baseball. Since taking over the reins Sterns has made nine trades and turned the 40-man roster over by close to 20 players.

The most recent trade Sterns made was dealing away Khris Davis to the Oakland A’s for minor league prospects Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby. At first glance this trade doesn’t seem to benefit the Brewers much in the short-term but let’s take a second look.  The Brewers are deep in the outfield with Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Rymer Lirano, and Eric Young Jr. While no one in that group can replace the power that Davis possesses they do offer an immediate upgrade defensively and also in the speed category.

The pieces they got back are all about the future with Nottingham being the centerpiece of the deal. Nottingham is one of the top catcher prospects in the game and Baseball Prospectus ranked Nottingham 66th on their 2016 Top 101. And with Nottingham in the organization, a strong start from him in Double-A this season might help motivate the long-awaited (and long-lamented) trade of star catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the coming months. New skipper Craig Counsell will make the most of the youth movement but make no mistake there will be plenty of growing pains in 2016. In the early stages of a full rebuild don’t expect much north of 60-wins for the Brew Crew. They will be a fun team to watch with all their young talent oozing with loads of potential.

Key Additions: 2B Aaron Hill, OF Rymer Liriano, OF Keon Broxton, SP Chase Anderson, SS Jonathan Villar, 1B Chris Carter, 3B Garin Cecchini, 3B Will Middlebrooks, OF Eric Young Jr.

Key Losses: RP Francisco Rodriguez, SP Kyle Lohse, 1B Adam Lind, OF Khris Davis

AL East

AL Central AL West NL East NL Central NL West

Baltimore

Chicago WS Houston Atlanta Chicago

Arizona

Boston

Cleveland Los Angeles A Miami Cincinnati Colorado

New York Y

Detroit

Oakland New York M Milwaukee

Los Angeles D

Tampa Bay

Kansas City Texas Philadelphia Pittsburgh

San Diego

Toronto Minnesota Seattle Washington St. Louis

San Francisco

Projected Lineup

  1. Jonathan Villar
  2. Jonathan Lucroy
  3. Ryan Braun
  4. Chris Carter
  5. Domingo Santana
  6. Scooter Gennett
  7. Aaron Hill
  8. Keon Broxton/Rymer Liriano

Ryan Braun, OF

The lone bright spot to an otherwise dismal 2015 season for the Brew Crew was the resurgence of Ryan Braun. After a slow start to the season Braun warmed up in late April hitting .293 with 24 homers and 27 doubles over his final 116 starts. Braun quietly put up his fourth-career 20-20 campaign since his debut back in 2007. Braun finally got over the nagging wrist injury that plagued him all of 2014. Braun returned to form pulling the ball with authority allowing him to launch 25 homers.  It was his highest home run total since his 2012 MVP season and post-PED fiasco.  Braun also proved that he could still run by swiping 24 bags despite dealing with nagging back issues. Braun also answered durability questions by gutting it out, managing to play in 140 games. Braun isn’t going to win another MVP award anytime soon but still offers a high-ceiling with his five-tool makeup. In the fantasy world he’s still in discussion as a top 10 outfielder who fills up the stat sheet going off draft boards in the fifth round (#57 overall on FantasyPros).

Jonathan Lucroy, C

Will Jonathan Lucroy survive the massive rebuild in Milwaukee?

Will Jonathan Lucroy survive the massive rebuild in Milwaukee?

In 2015 Jonathan Lucroy was hit hard by the injury bug after suffering a fractured toe in his left foot on a foul tip in late April. The injury cost him 38 games and when he returned he wasn’t the same All-Star caliber player that he was in 2014. I’ll give him credit for gutting it out and playing through the injury but his numbers suffered across the board. His disappointing season culminated in early-September after suffering a nasty concussion. Lucroy is one of the best contact hitters at his position, in addition to being a patient hitter with decent pop and the ability to use the whole field. Injury concerns aside if Lucroy can return to his previous All-Star form he could be a value this year at a paper-thin catcher position. Also keep in mind that he’s 30 years old and entering the final year of his contract. He might have a little extra motivation to get paid like a top catcher which could mean the All-Star version of Lucroy returns. Considering the Brewers are in the middle of a major rebuild you can expect Lucroy will most likely be on the trade block. If he proves that he’s healthy and still capable of hitting in the heart of the lineup, I’d expect him to be one of the clubs most valuable trade chips.

Chris Carter, 1B

Adam Lind was shipped off to the Mariners in December for a trio of low-level minor league pitchers. This created a hole at first base that Sterns filled promptly by signing free agent Chris Carter formerly with the Houston Astros. Carter has been one of the top power hitters in the game over the last three seasons averaging 30 homers over that stretch. Over the past three seasons Carter’s 90 home runs rank eighth in the Majors, and his .241 isolated power mark places him 11th among qualified batters. With his massive power comes a boatload of strikeouts, Carter’s 33.7 percent strikeout rate in that time span is the highest in baseball. Carter is an all or nothing type of player who reminds me a lot of Adam Dunn. Carter has walked, struck out, or hit a home run in 50.4% of his 2,001 major league plate appearances. Carter is one of the streakiest hitters in baseball so when he’s dialed in he can do some major damage and help you win a H2H matchup. Carter’s power should play well at Miller Park and playing time shouldn’t be an issue with very little competition at first base. Carter will obviously give your team a boost in the power and walks cats but just be prepared for him to drain your batting average.

Aaron Hill, 2B/3B

Veteran utility man Aaron Hill was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a five-player trade that sent starting shortstop Jean Segura to the desert. The Brewers also acquired starting pitcher Chase Anderson and minor league shortstop Isan Diaz in the deal. Hopefully the change of scenery will rejuvenate Aaron Hill who is coming off back-to-back disappointing injury-marred seasons. Hill has played 11 seasons in the majors really enjoys hitting at Miller Park where he has hit .429 with four home runs in 10 career games. Hill is a former All-Star but has been declining since his last noteworthy season in 2012 when he hit .302 with 26 homers, 93 runs, and 85 RBI. In 2016 I’m not expecting a major spike in any of his counting stats and keep in mind he’ll be learning a new position at the hot corner. Hill will bring a veteran presence to the clubhouse and can help mentor the younger players on the team. In fantasy I’ll choose to ignore him unless he proves that his career numbers at Miller Park are for real.

Jonathan Villar, SS

One of GM David Stearns first moves was acquiring Jonathan Villar from the Astros in exchange for minor league right-hander Cy Sneed. The acquisition of Villar made Segura expendable since he’s a shortstop by trade but also has experience at second base and third base. Villar was the odd man out last year in Houston and it wasn’t until Jed Lowrie was injured that he got regular playing time. Even then it was just a small window before mega-prospect Carlos Correa was called up and set the league on fire. Villar made 53 appearances in 2015 but was mostly limited to spot-start and pinch-hitting duties. He still managed to post a respectable .284 batting average, .752 OPS, with 10 extra-base hits. Villar also spend time at Triple-A Fresno where he scored 59 runs and swiped 35 bases in 70 games. At ripe age of 24 Villar is a perfect reclamation project for the Brewers and I’m curious to see what he can do with 450 at-bats. If you wait to draft a shortstop and are looking for cheap speed late, Villar is your guy. He could also offer dual-eligibility at shortstop, second base, and third base which makes him even more valuable as a super utility player.

Any Other Business?

Domingo Santana, OF

Will Domingo Santana breakout in 2016?

Will Domingo Santana breakout in 2016?

Domingo Santana was acquired before the trade deadline last July from the Houston Astros as a key piece in the Carlos Gomez trade. He’s a long, rangy athlete with light tower power as scouts would say. His big-time power should play well at Miller Park where the fences are shorter and the roof helps keep the element of Mother Nature away. Santana had no problem hitting in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League where he slashed .333/.426/.573 with 18 bombs in 95 games. Since 2012, Santana has 90 home runs in 384 professional games. The issue for Santana has been his high strikeout rate in the minors and in his short stint in the big leagues. Between the Astros and the Brewers last year Santana struck out a mind-blowing 63 times in 55 games. If Santana can tweak a few things while improving his contact rate and discipline at the plate he should earn regular starts in right field. The upside is there and more importantly the opportunity for playing time with Khris Davis now out of the picture. Santana has been raking this spring and Counsel has even plugged him in as his leadoff hitter. Santana is a very intriguing high-upside player who could make a lot of noise this year in Milwaukee. He’s a player that I’d highly recommend to draft late if you’re looking for cheap power. Cheap light tower power that is.

Keon Broxton, OF

Is Keon Broxton finally ready for the big leagues?

Is Keon Broxton finally ready for the big leagues?

As I mentioned earlier, the Brewers are loaded with a laundry list of outfielders vying for starting positions mainly in center field after the departure of Carlos Gomez. Keon Broxton is relatively unknown but won’t be for much longer. He was acquired last December for next to nothing from the Pittsburgh Pirates. So far this Spring Broxton has turned plenty of coach’s heads and is regarded as the front-runner to win the Opening Day job in center field. As his minor league track record can attest too Broxton has a unique skill-set. He can steal bases, hit for power, and was one of the best defensive center fielders in the Pirates farm system. Broxton has toiled in the minors for seven years allowing him to hone his skills and develop better plate discipline. He owns a career batting average of .253 with 75 HR, 337 RBI and 150 stolen bases in 826 minor-league games. Broxton is a speed demon and has produced 20+ stolen bases in five of his seven professional seasons. Last year Broxton split his time between Double-A Altoona (45 games) and Triple-A Indianapolis (88 games) and batted a combined .273 with 10 HR, 68 RBI and 39 stolen bases in 133 games. I’m buying Broxton and he can be had for next to nothing so why not take a flier on him in the last couple rounds of your draft. If he wins the job he could be a poor man’s version of Dexter Fowler but with less power and more speed. I’ve also heard a few Brewers beat writers claim that he could be the next Carlos Gomez so he’s obviously got their attention.

Rymer Liriano, OF

Rymer Liriano was another young outfielder that David Stearns managed to acquire on the cheap from the San Diego Padres. Liriano was one of the Padres most highly regarded prospects but apparently they grew tired of waiting for him to develop. It could be because he’s struggled in limited action in the majors. Regardless he still possesses all the tools that made such an intriguing prospect coming up. Liriano has always produced at the minor league level when on the field. Coming up scouts praised him for his ability to hit to all fields with power. Unfortunately he never fulfilled their lofty expectations in that regard with only 68 career homers over seven minor league seasons. Speed has been his calling card with 190 career steals in the minors and in 2011 he had an eye-popping 66 steals. I’m not really sure where Liriano fits in the Brewers plans this year but he will be given an opportunity to prove whether or not he’s ready to stay up for good or not. My best guess is that he makes the team and plays more of a platoon role in addition to being utilized as a pinch-hitter or runner when needed. Add Liriano to the list of cheap speed guys who are very enticing to add late or off the wire, so keep an eye on Liriano.

Projected Rotation

  1. Wily Peralta
  2. Jimmy Nelson
  3. Matt Garza
  4. Taylor Jungmann
  5. Chase Anderson

Wily Peralta

Wily Peralta set the bar pretty high with 17 wins in 2014. Last year he looked like a completely different pitcher and it’s highly likely that a strained oblique suffered in May was to blame for a disappointing season. Peralta allowed a career-high 4.72 ERA and his average velocity was down from 95.8 mph to 94.3 mph in 2015. Peralta is a three-pitch starter who lives and dies on his power pitch so the decrease in velocity is very troublesome for his long-term outlook. With the decrease in velocity came a drop in his K/9 from 6.0 to 5.0 K/9 in 2015. Peralta lacks the secondary out-pitches in his repertoire therefore he’ll need to rediscover his fastball in 2016 or risk losing his spot in the rotation. In fantasy Peralta is a NL-only pitcher who might be a streaming option in deeper mixed-leagues if the matchup is prime for the picking.

Jimmy Nelson

Will Jimmy Nelson lead the Brewers rotation in 2016?

Will Jimmy Nelson lead the Brewers rotation in 2016?

Jimmy Nelson is a tall, lanky power pitcher who works off a mid-90s two-seamer. Nelson’s secondary offerings include a new spike curveball and slider that he uses as his out-pitches. Nelson is arguably the Brewers top starter and showed glimpses last year of his potential ace stuff. He’s still a work in progress but needs to work on throwing quality strikes, retiring lefthanded hitters and limited his free passes. Nelson won’t win a lot of games on a Brewers team that is in full rebuilding mode but should provide a sub-4.00 ERA and 160-180 strikeouts which makes him a mixed-league worthy starting pitcher. Another feather in his cap is his fine ground ball rate which is crucial for a pitcher who calls homer-happy Miller Park home. I’d be willing to gamble on Nelson in mixed leagues as an upside SP5 or SP6 with breakout potential.

Matt Garza

Matt Garza struggled in 2015 mostly due to right-shoulder tendonitis and also some bad luck as his opponents .319 BABIP indicates. The combination of both led to Garza’s worst season since his rookie campaign with the Twins in 2007. Garza lost a career-high 14 games while posting a 5.63 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. He also finished the season with his worst strikeout rate and walk rate of his career. If all of his struggles weren’t enough to deal with he publicly attacked the organization and refused to work out of the pen after getting yanked from the starting rotation in September. At age 31 Garza needs to make adjustments for his declining stuff in order to rebound and stop being so selfish. I got a chance to watch an interview with Garza and he spoke about getting back to his old form by changing his diet and workout program. This Spring Garza appears to be in great shape so it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back season. With that being said Garza should be nowhere near your mixed-league roster so leave him on the waivers until he shows something.

Taylor Jungmann

Taylor Jungmann has a similar build to Nelson in regards to being tall and lanky. Jungmann is a homegrown prospect that the Brewers drafted in the first-round (12th overall) back in 2011. He throws across his body which can be deceptive to opposing hitters but relies more on location than overpowering stuff. Jungmann lives on a low-90s two-seamer with late life while also relying on an 11-to-5 curveball that generates a lot of whiffs. As a rookie Jungmann displayed the ability to pound the ball down in the zone (46.7 percent groundballs) while posting a solid 8.1 K/9 rate. Jungmann was a pleasant surprise for the Brew Crew compiling a 2.42 ERA in his first 16 starts, whiffing 86 batters over 96.2 innings. The heavy workload caught up to Jungmann late in the season as he appeared to run out of gas. Jungmann posted a 7.85 ERA in September allowing 24 earned runs over 22 2/3 innings over his last five starts. I’m willing to overlook the late season collapse due to the heavy workload (career-high 178 IP). Jungmann is an interesting back of the rotation arm with the potential to be an innings eater with a high K/9 rate. Jungmann makes my sleeper list and deserves to be drafted in deeper mixed-leagues.

Closer:

Will Smith

The closer carousel is in full swing this year in Milwaukee after Francisco Rodriguez was dealt to the Tigers during the offseason. The most logical replacement to take over the ninth-inning gig is Will Smith. I know it’s early but I’m hedging my bets on Smith over Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel. It’s typically unorthodox for a team to use a southpaw as their closer but Smith has the stuff and resume to be the guy. Smith sports a low- to mid-90s fastball and a hard slider that generates lots of empty swings. His slider is definitely his out-pitch and drew nearly a 30 percent whiff rate in 2015. It was responsible for 68 of Smith’s 91 strikeouts last year. Smith is coming off a career-year in which he posted his best ERA (2.70), FIP (2.47), and K/9 (12.9) while only yielding five home runs. If Smith can prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke (.193 vs RH) and that he’s capable of getting out powerful righties in high-leverage situations, he should retain the role. If you draft Smith just know that he comes with a lot of risk baked in. There’s no guarantee that he won’t excel at his new role and then get shipped out-of-town right before the trade deadline.

Next Man Up:

Jeremy Jeffress

Jeremy Jeffress is a power arm whose fastball hits the high-90s. The 28-year-old journeyman right-hander was finally given a chance to pitch a full season in the Majors after being claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays. Jeffress made the most of his opportunity and developed into one of K-Rod’s top setup man. Needless to say he was one of the team’s few bright spots with a 2.65 ERA, 8.9 K/9 rate and 23 holds. He also was a ground-ball machine inducing one on a whopping 58.2 percent of batted balls. With K-Rod gone Jeffress is the dark horse candidate to close for the Brewers. If Smith wins the job Jeffress may still get some save opportunities if skipper Craig Counsell decides to play the matchups in the ninth inning. If you’re the gambling type and like to wait to draft closers and setup guys Jeffress is a great target in the late rounds to stash in hopes of wrestling the job from Smith at some point in 2016.

Prospect Watch

Orlando Arcia, SS

Can Orlando Arcia be this year's hottest rookie sensation?

Can Orlando Arcia have a Carlos Correa type of impact as a rookie?

Jean Segura’s departure creates space for Milwaukee’s top prospect, Orlando Arcia, to crack the big league roster soon. The 21-year-old is among the top shortstop prospects in the minors. He’s touted for his advanced defense and hit .307 with eight home runs, 69 RBIs and 25 stolen bases with Double-A Biloxi last season. Arcia has Gold Glove potential and profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter who makes solid contact and drives the ball into the alleys. Arcia tore up the Southern League with 52 extra-base hits last season and it will be hard to keep him down for long if this continues. Arcia is a great stash in keeper leagues where his solid contact skills and speed will make him a valuable asset in June.

Brett Phillips, OF

Brett Phillips was the prize jewel of the Carlos Gomez trade last summer with the Houston Astros. Phillips profiles as a lead-off hitter with speed and nice pop. Defensively he displays the range and cannon arm to become an elite center fielder. Offensively Phillips enjoyed a breakout season last year with 64 XBH and 16 homers between Class A and Double-A. Phillips has a short compact swing that allows him to spray the ball all over the field. With the Brewers in the middle of a full rebuild I wouldn’t be shocked to see Phillips get the call in September.

Jorge Lopez, RHP

Lopez got a cup of coffee in the big leagues making a couple of spot starts late in the season. It wasn’t anything spectacular but he sure did dominate Double-A hitters in the Southern League. Lopez took home the hardware winning pitcher of the year after leading the circuit in wins (12) and opponent batting average (.205) while finishing second in ERA (2.26) and third in strikeouts (137). Lopez boasts an impressive fastball in the mid-90s and a plus curveball with great movement. I’m betting that Lopez starts the season in Triple-A but could easily find himself in the back of the Brewers starting rotation by May.

 

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