This article is part of our MLB Team Previews series.
2015 Milwaukee Brewers Team Preview
The Brewers held down first place in the NL Central for over 150 days in 2014, powered by steady starting pitching and a dynamic offense that featured three players who started in the All-Star game. However, a nightmare 3-16 stretch from Aug. 20 through Sept. 9 knocked Milwaukee from its perch, and a 3-8 run to end the season prevented the team from even playing in the Wild Card round. It was a tough pill for all in the organization to swallow.
Despite the late-season collapse, the front office did not panic, and the 2015 Brewers will look a lot like last year's version. The top seven players in at-bats return to lead the offense, and the entire rotation made at least 10 starts each for the Brewers last season. The club did make a couple notable moves, though, trading long-time Brewer Yovani Gallardo for prospects and acquiring first baseman Adam Lind from the Blue Jays in exchange for pitcher Marco Estrada. The biggest change will come in the bullpen, where the Brewers will turn to a new closer, but most of the players in that group were Brewers last season as well.
The Brewers are going to play to win in 2015, and they have a good chance to do so with most of last year's squad back. However, if they are to finish better than they did a year ago, they will need a better season out of Ryan Braun, and Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson to pitch like veterans. Even if that all happens, it still may not be enough, as the Brewers play in a difficult division that features two 2014 playoff teams and the ascending Cubs. The Brewers will give it their best effort, but they will be hard pressed to come away with a division crown, let alone a playoff spot, in 2015.
Gallardo was a fixture in the Brewers' rotation since 2009, but with him set to become a free agent next offseason, the team decided it was time to move on and exchange him for prospects. The Brewers will miss his stability in the rotation, and will be counting on promising youngster Jimmy Nelson to take his place. Sardinas becomes one of the Brewers' better prospects and is a good bet to win a utility job with the big club during spring training. Knebel could factor into the bullpen mix at some point this season; and Diplan, while a few years away from making a contribution at the big league level, but he could be the most promising of the bunch.
First base was a mess for the Brewers the last couple seasons, but they now have an established player at the position following this offseason trade. Lind will bolster an already formidable lineup against right-handed pitchers, but he really struggles against left-handers and will likely sit in favor of Jonathan Lucroy or almost anyone else when a southpaw starts on the opposing mound. Nonetheless, his career .860 OPS against righties suggests he will be a factor in his first season in Milwaukee.
Signed relief pitcher Neal Cotts to a one-year, $3 million contract.
After losing left-handers Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny over the offseason, the Brewers turned to Cotts to add another left-hander to the bullpen behind Will Smith. Cotts' splits against right-handers and left-handers aren't very dramatic, so he figures to be used situationally, and also for an entire inning here or there.
The Brewers have had a lot of success with reclamation projects in the bullpen over the last few seasons, and this year's candidates are a former Rookie of the Year and a guy who tallied 75 saves between 2011 and 2012. The health of several other bullpen candidates will ultimately determine whether or not one or both of Perez and Willis makes the Opening Day roster.
Claimed Luis Jimenez off waivers from the Angels.
Jimenez played sparingly for the Angels over the last two seasons, but he will challenge for a utility spot with the Brewers. He would provide the team with a backup option at third base, and also some assistance at first base against left-handed pitching.
Lineup vs. RH
Lineup vs. LH
This group should look plenty familiar, with Lind being the only addition to the regular lineup since last season. Gomez has plenty of power to hit lower in the order, but he excelled in the leadoff role last year and figures to remain there with plenty of big hitters behind him. Braun has been a three hitter almost his entire career, so he is the favorite to hit there even coming off a down season. Jonathan Lucroy, Aramis Ramirez, Jean Segura, and Scooter Gennett figure to be near-everyday players, but they will move around the order to some degree based on the hand the opponent's starting pitcher throws with. If the Brewers opt for stability at the top of the order, Lucroy could hit second -- or third, with Braun hitting second -- against both righties and lefties. First base and left field figure to be the positions that require the most sharing of playing time, as Lind is a non-factor against left-handers. Left field presents an intriguing situation given the differing skills and sides of the plate Davis and Parra hit from, so look for the two to split the duties against right-handers in some fashion, with Davis seeing nearly all the playing time against southpaws.
While Yovani Gallardo is no longer in town, the Brewers still possess good depth in their starting staff. Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza provide stability at the top, and three promising young starting pitchers round out the group. Peralta is coming off a season in which he won 17 games at the big league level, Nelson gave up next to nothing despite pitching in the hitter-friendly PCL, and Fiers posted dominant numbers at both Triple-A and in the majors in 2014. There are still questions about each of the youngsters -- Peralta had a 1.30 WHIP last season, Nelson struggled in the majors in 2014, and Fiers does not possess dominant stuff -- and whether or not those get answered will go a long way in determining how much success the Brewers see in 2015.
Jonathan Broxton - The Brewers acquired Broxton from the Reds last season to fill a setup role as the team chased the playoffs, but he is on track to play a more important role this year as he heads into spring training as the Brewers' closer. Broxton faded late last season, but he does have 118 career saves and will be the ninth-inning guy on a Brewers team that averaged 44 saves over the last four seasons. While Broxton will open the season with the closer's job, he is not even a lock to exit spring training with the job, as the Brewers are still kicking the tires on Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon.
Key Bullpen Members
With Francisco Rodriguez, Zach Duke, and Tom Gorzelanny no longer in Milwaukee, the Brewers will be counting on other relievers to fill their void. Behind Broxton, the team's top setup man figures to be Will Smith. A right-handed setup man still needs to be identified, but it's a good bet that job goes to Jim Henderson if healthy, or Jeremy Jeffress otherwise. Beyond all those pitchers, Neal Cotts and Brandon Kintzler figure to be the Brewers' top middle relievers, and Tyler Thornburg figures to be used as a long man given his history as a starter. However, he could end in a more prominent position if the Brewers are able to identify someone -- possibly Dontrelle Willis -- to fill that role.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise
How will Jonathan Lucroy's injury affect his fantasy value?
It was announced in February that Lucroy would miss 4-to-6 weeks with a hamstring strain. The Brewers are hoping he will be ready for Opening Day, so there is a chance the injury will not cost him any games. It could end up costing him some at-bats, however, as Lucroy was expected to see extensive action at first base during spring training, in an effort to prepare him to serve as a regular platoon partner for Adam Lind at first base. With Lucroy out for most of spring training, and having played first base for the first time as a professional last season, he will not see the work he needs at the position. Lucroy should still see at least some work at first base regardless of what happens this spring, but if the Brewers do not trust his defense, another player could sneak in and rob him of at-bats early on. If Lucroy does prove worthy of manning first base, it will help give him extra opportunities that most of his fellow catchers lose out on while taking a day off behind the plate.
Which version of Jean Segura will show up in 2015?
Segura burst onto the scene in 2013 by posting an .850 OPS and stealing 27 bases prior to the All-Star break. He sputtered down the stretch, but he still finished the year with a .294 batting average and 44 steals -- the fourth best mark in the league. Segura was safely a top-10 shortstop coming off that season, but he fell off in nearly every offensive category last year, and saw his WAR dip from 3.9 to 0.6. With vast extremes in his two years in the majors, it's easy to say Segura's 2015 performance will be somewhere in the middle. Just where in the middle will be important to his fantasy value in standard leagues though. While it will be a stretch for him to repeat his early 2013 showing over a full season, he is a good bet to improve on last year's .246 batting average, given his .313 minor league mark and .276 BABIP. His stolen base numbers should increase in turn, but his spot in the batting order will play a key role in his speed output. Segura played as many games last season as he did the year before, but he lost 75 at-bats spending most of the campaign in the lower third of the order, and did not run as much either. For reference, Segura attempted 15 steals in 188 at-bats in the one and two spots last season, and just 12 attempts over 284 at-bats between the seven and eight holes. Segura figures to open the 2015 season in the lower third of the order, so he may not run a lot early on. However, if he proves he can handle the bat better in 2015, the Brewers could be willing to move him back up to the two spot in the order, where he spent most of the 2013 season. Segura will likely be a fringe starter in standard leagues throughout the season unless that happens.
The Brewers opened up a regular spot in the outfield for Davis by trading Norichika Aoki prior to last season, and slotted him in left field with Ryan Braun taking over in right. Davis saw regular at-bats and flashed good power, but he struggled to get on base regularly, and struggled in the field. Prior to the trade deadline, the Brewers acquired noted defender Gerardo Parra, and he cut into Davis' playing time down the stretch. The two figure to share the left field duties in some fashion again in 2015, but don't expect a strict platoon. While Parra will always be the better defensive option than Davis, and Davis hit just .239 against right-handers last season, he did own a .749 OPS to Parra's .705 mark. At the same time, Davis will start over Parra nearly every time a left-hander is on the mound with Parra owning just a .553 mark against southpaws in 2014. Davis' playing time will be limited by his poor ratios and defense, but he should be good for some pop. He has homered once every 19.3 at-bats in his big league career, meaning he should be good for 20 home runs even if he gets only 400 at-bats.
The Brewers have proven major league hitters at every position in the field - offense should not be an issue.
The Brewers lack a proven ace and a top closer, and their lineup, while deep, could be streaky like it was in 2014. They also lack depth beyond the projected top five starters.
Rising:Mike Fiers - He has had his ups and downs the last couple years, but Fiers has averaged a strikeout per inning in his big league career, and is coming off a dominant 2014 season. He has some security in the starting rotation following the trade of Yovani Gallardo, and could push 200 strikeouts if he can make 30 starts, which should make him a mid-round target in most fantasy formats.
Declining:Ryan Braun - This isn't to say Braun is no longer a useful fantasy player, but the facts are clear: his batting average, OPS, and WAR declined each of the last three seasons. A bounceback campaign could be in store if Braun's thumb is truly healthy, but fantasy owners may want to consider taking an ascending player -- think Michael Brantley or Bryce Harper -- before snapping up a 31-year old coming off thumb surgery.
Sleeper:Scooter Gennett - Gennett did not stand out in any of the counting-stat categories a season ago, but he finished the season with the sixth best OPS (.754) among second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances. Gennett stands to see an increase in playing time this season with Rickie Weeks no longer around, but he still has to prove he can hit left-handed pitching. If he can do that even to some degree and maintain a regular spot near the top of the batting order, he could easily outperform his draft slot.
Supersleeper:Will Smith - Injuries would almost certainly need to come into play for this to happen, but it could be said Smith is the Brewers' most talented reliever. He was downright unhittable at times last season, and also possesses a closer's arsenal with a mid-90s fastball and two dominant breaking pitches. He struck out 11.8 batters per inning last season, so he will provide value if he somehow finds himself with the ninth-inning duties.
Orlando Arcia - Arcia entered last season as one of the Brewers' better prospects based almost on defense alone, but a big year with the bat and on the bases has solidified him as one of the team's most promising youngsters. Arcia increased each of his slash stats last season and showed improved power with a career-best 29 doubles. He also was successful on 31 of his 42 stolen base attempts -- all in his age-19 season while playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Arcia is a few years away from making an impact at the big league level, but his development as an all-around shortstop has earned him a spot at or near the top of the Brewers' prospect rankings heading into 2015.
Tyrone Taylor - Taylor put together another quality season with the bat in 2014, tallying 45 extra-base hits and striking out just 58 times in 135 games. He also showed improvement as a base runner, and was thrown out just six times in 29 attempts. Taylor went 1-for-13 in a brief appearance with Double-A Huntsville last year but he will likely be the starting center fielder there in 2015. He is one of the top, if not the top, prospect in the Brewers' system and is well on his way to reaching the big leagues sometime in 2016 or 2017.
Luis Sardinas - Sardinas saw more time in the big leagues in 2014 than the Rangers likely had planned, in large part because of Jurickson Profar's absence. After showing the ability to draw a few walks and get on base at a good clip at High-A in 2013, Sardinas struggled with the bump to Double-A, while showing his best line at Triple-A Oklahoma City over a 60-game stretch in the Pacific Coast League. A good defender at short, Sardinas' glove may enable him to earn big league paychecks for a long time. Sardinas –- who turns 22 in May –- will have an opportunity to begin the season as the Brewers' utility man after being acquired from Texas in the Yovani Gallardo deal in January.
Clint Coulter - Coulter slid down prospect lists after struggling with the bat in 2013, but he put got back on track last season by putting up big numbers with Low-A Wisconsin en route to being named the Brewers' 2014 minor league player of the year. Coulter made strides at the plate, raising his BB/K rate from 0.35 to 0.71, and he also showed a significant boost in power, finishing the season with an impressive .520 slugging percentage and 53 extra-base hits. Coulter was drafted as a catcher, but the Brewers will use him in right field moving forward to save him from the rigors of catching. The move from behind the plate hurts Coulter's prospect status a bit, but that won't matter much if he continues to rake.
Monte Harrison - The Brewers selected Harrison despite a strong commitment to play football collegiately at Nebraska, but they ended up convincing him to play baseball instead, and may have gotten a steal with the 50th pick of the draft. In 50 games with the Brewers' Rookie League team in Arizona, Harrison posted an impressive .402 OBP, and was an ultra-efficient 32-of-34 on stolen base attempts. He is a few years away from being an option for the Brewers, but he is on his way to playing center field for them at some point down the road.
Gilbert Lara - The Brewers had been rumored as suitors for Lara -- one of the top international free agents -- for much of 2014, and they finally got their man when he signed with the team in July for $3.1 million. Lara is just 16 years old, but he possesses plus power potential. He is a shortstop by trade, but may switch positions as he grows. Even if that is necessary, he should still have the power to man a corner infield or outfield spot.
Wei-Chung Wang - A Rule 5 selection from the Pirates in 2013, Wang remains a Brewer after finishing 2014 on the team's major league roster. Wang showed that he was not ready for big league pitching by giving up 21 earned runs in 17.1 innings with the Brewers, but the team liked his potential enough to keep him on the roster in order to avoid offering him back to Pittsburgh. Wang will open 2015 in the minors, and he will spend the year developing after spending most of last season sitting in the Brewers' bullpen.
Devin Williams - Since being taken out of high school in the second round of the 2013 draft, Williams has fooled hitters with 105 strikeouts in 101 innings, thanks mainly to his quality fastball that hovers in the low-to-mid 90s. His ERA slipped from his first season to his second, but he cut his walks in half, and has given up just five home runs as a pro. After spending the last two seasons in rookie ball, he could see his first action at the Low-A level in 2014.
Victor Roache - Roache has delivered on the power potential that made him a first-round pick with 40 home runs through his first two seasons as a pro. However, contact is an issue, as Roache posted a 37:138 BB:K ratio and .298 OBP last season. Roache will be given plenty of chances to succeed given his draft slot, but he is going to have to have make some strides at the plate over the next few seasons to remain a promising prospect.
Kodi Medeiros - The Brewers selected Medeiros with the 12th pick in last year's draft. He possesses three pitches, including a mid-90s fastball and a biting slider. His control needs some work, and his size could limit him down the road, but he should be able to strike out advanced hitters with just his fastball-slider combination alone. Medeiros did not get off to hot start at the professional level, but he did strike out 26 batters in 17.1 innings with the Brewers' rookie league club last season, and is one of the team's better prospects already.