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Feb 17, 2013; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks (23) poses for a picture during photo day at Maryvale Baseball Park. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

2013 Milwaukee Brewers Preview

Heading into last season, the Milwaukee Brewers were viewed as a team that could potentially repeat as NL Central Champs. Yes, despite the departure of Prince Fielder, most felt the offense wouldn’t sputter as much as previously viewed with the addition of Aramis Ramirez. And it didn’t either.

Milwaukee also had a good, experienced and supposed deep starting rotation with the likes of Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum as the 1-2-3 punch. The bullpen was one of the better ensembles in baseball.

Well, 2012 didn’t quite go that way. The bullpen faltered as it went from one of baseball’s best to one of baseball’s worst. Greinke was traded prior to the deadline. Marcum missed time. If you get the picture, the pitching was the culprit. It certainly wasn’t the bats as Milwaukee led the NL in runs scored.

February 21, 2013; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke (10) watches during spring training at Maryvale Baseball Park. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

As skipper Ron Roenicke enters his third season at the helm of the Brew Crew, he sees, for one, a bullpen that has been revamped with the departures of Francisco Rodriguez (FA), Kameron Loe (SEA), Jose Veras (HOU) and Manny Parra (CIN). Enter Tom Gorzelanny (WAS), Mike Gonzalez (WAS) and Burke Badenhop (TB).

Last season, the Brewers finished with a record of 83-79. At one time. they put a fierce run together and had some thinking they may sneak into the second NL wild card. One thing that didn’t help them was their 6-9 record against the Reds and that would have been worse if not for a Brewers three-game sweep at Miller Park in early August.

1. Projected starting lineup

Pretty much the same as least season…except for that little issue of first base. At this point, 2013 has already gotten off to a bad start for the Brew Crew. Mat Gamel is once again done for the season with knee issues. He was supposed to get the chance to display his talents as Corey Hart recovered from surgery. It was thought Hart wouldn’t return until the end of May, but Hart is more optimistic.

And what makes that all the more confuzzled is there is no real option there. MLB Depth Charts has prospect Hunter Morris as the guy. The Brewers team site displays Hart as the #1 and Alex Gonzalez as the #2. There have been mentions that Gonzalez might be the one to fill the void in Hart’s absence.

The only other question I would have is Jean Segura. Might be more known as being in the trade that sent Greinke to Anaheim. His minor league numbers were pretty darn good (.313/.367/.439 with 139 SB), but he did not produce near that level in 2012. All things considered, he has never played a game at Triple-A, so maybe we see him take a step to reclaim what he had built in the minors. Then again, we know the guy that bats 8th in a National League lineup isn’t expected to produce extraordinary offensive numbers either. And the Brewers did have issues at short last season.

And be honest here. Did anyone honestly believe Ryan Braun would post the 2012 season he did? Even with all that talk? If that’s the case, what about for 2013? There’s the same chatter again…

Here’s a look at the lineup and what each player produced in 2012.

AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
Norichika Aoki 520 81 10 50 30 .288 .355 .433
Rickie Weeks 588 85 21 63 16 .230 .328 .400
Ryan Braun 598 108 41 112 30 .319 .391 .595
Aramis Ramirez 570 92 27 105 9 .300 .360 .540
Jonathon Lucroy 316 46 12 58 4 .320 .368 .513
Carlos Gomez 415 72 19 51 37 .260 .305 .463
Hunter Morris* 571 77 28 113 2 .303 .357 .563
Jean Segura 151 19 0 14 7 .264 .321 .331

*-MiLB numbers

2. Projected starting rotation

Some changes here. I mentioned Greinke. Marcum is now a Met. The pleasant surprise last season was Mike Fiers. His name was mentioned as a potential NL Rookie of the Year candidate. And at other times, you might have thought he was the staff ace especially after the Greinke trade.

Manager Ron Roenicke may be forced to rely on a couple of guys with little MLB experience in Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta. Rogers, the #5 overall pick in 2004, does have 9 starts with 7 of those coming last season. Peralta is the Brewers top prospect and has 5 MLB starts to his name.

Of course, that holds true if Chris Narveson cannot be ready by the beginning of the season as he recovers from surgery. All signs currently say Narveson will be ready to go, leaving the question as Rogers or Peralta.

The starting staff with their 2012 numbers…

W L IP BB SO ERA WHIP
Yovani Gallardo 16 9 204.0 81 204 3.66 1.304
Marco Estrada 5 7 138.1 29 143 3.64 1.142
Mike Fiers 9 10 127.2 36 135 3.74 1.261
Chris Narveson 1 1 9.0 4 5 7.00 1.556
Wily Paralta 2 1 29.0 11 23 2.48 1.207
Mark Rogers 3 1 39.0 14 41 3.92 1.282

3. Player to watch: Rickie Weeks

To say last season was a poor one for Weeks would be an understatement, but I think you have to look at his 2012 as two separate seasons: before and after the All-Star break. He was at a woeful .199 BA when the break arrived. Yes, below the Mendoza line. After the midsummer classic, Weeks found his swing and triple slashed his way to the tune of .261/.343/.457.

I’ll go to this step. Within the past two years, there had been a rumbling or two that Weeks might actually be the better offensive second baseman than Cincy’s beloved Brandon Phillips. We know that’s not the case from a defensive standpoint, but we also have to look at Weeks’ contribution with his bat. Weeks has been moderately successful at the very least.

4. Prospect watch: Wily Peralta

Peralta seems destined for a rotation spot this season. Exactly which spot is another matter (4 or 5, but it’s not a big deal).

Over the past two years, he’s been Milwaukee’s top rated prospect and has landed on Baseball America’s top 100 the past two years (#56 in 2012 and #69 in 2013). He did face minor issues in Triple-A last season (increase in walk and hit rates with decrease in whiff rate), but I doubt anyone would say this guy’s not ready.

5. Prediction

Any offensive concerns will partially revolve around Hart’s absence and the length of that absence. Even that may not completely slow them down. With legit leadoff guy in Aoki, that’s why I pegged Weeks as the guy to watch this season. A successful Weeks would greatly enhance Milwaukee’s probability for success as well…offensively.

Let’s not mince words here. The Brewers are not one of the better defensive teams in baseball. In using Baseball Reference’s stat called Defensive Efficiency, the Brewers were next to last in the NL for the 2012 season. A quick definition of that would be the conversion of balls in play into outs…and yes, there are other factors involved with this.

The starting staff may not pose the punch it did prior to last season, and I hardly believe the return of Narveson will strike fear into any opponents. This rotation can be solid, but with three guys (Estrada, Fiers and Peralta) having so limited experience in the starter’s role, there could be moves made during the season. Last season was Estrada’a first extended look as a starter and he did pitch well.

Is Milwaukee a sub-.500 team? It would seem that way, but whenever anyone wants to writes these guys off, the Brew Crew bounces back similar to the run they made last season whe nthey were pretty much forgotten until that run. One projection I saw had this for the NLC:

1. Cincinnati 84-78
2. Pittsburgh 82-80
3. St. Louis 81-81
4. Milwaukee 77-85
5. Chicago 71-91

I would give the Brewers around 80 wins, but do not be completely shocked if they win more than 80.

Tags: Milwaukee Brewers MLB NL Central Spring Training

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