The Brewers have been run over in the NL Central in back-to-back seasons. They finished 32 games out of first place in 2014 and 30.5 in 2015. They scored 16 runs more than 2015 (655) while finishing 11th in the National League in runs scored (671) and 6th in home runs. Milwaukee missed the playoffs in each of the last five years and 32 of their last 34 seasons.
The only player of value lost to free agency was 1B Chris Carter who signed with the Yankees. They took a flier on 1B Eric Thames after he hit 124 HRs over the last three seasons in Korea. The Brewers traded RP Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for 3B Travis Shaw, SS Mauricio Dubon, and SP Josh Pennington. Milwaukee sent C Martin Maldonado to the Angels for C Jett Bandy and RP Drew Gagnon. The only other two players added were SP Tommy Milone and RP Neftali Feliz.
Milwaukee ranked 8th in the NL in ERA (4.08) and 12th in the majors in bullpen ERA (3.61) with 23 wins, 25 losses, and 46 saves.
The starting rotation is made up of a handful of inning eaters with a couple arms still offering room for growth. Neftali Feliz is expected to take over the closing role in the Brewers bullpen in transition in 2017.
The starting lineup has multiple positions that may be at risk. Ryan Braun remains the anchor of the offense with Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez playing better than expected in 2016.
Overall, it looks like another rebuilding year for the Brewers while finishing below .500 for the third straight year.
1. 2B Jonathan Villar
The Brewers gave Jon a starting job in 2016, and he ran his way to a great season. His walk rate (11.6) supported a top of the lineup opportunity, but Villar did strike out too much (25.6). He led the NL in steals (62) and stolen base attempts (80). Jonathan had a huge CTBA (.405) leading to better than expected value in batting average. His bump in power came from his improved AVH (1.601). Villar played at a high level against LH pitching (.309 with eight HRs and 27 RBI over 165 at bats) while coming in above the league average against righties (.276 with 11 HRs and 36 RBI over 424 at bats). After a quiet April (.236 with a HR, three RBI, and five SBs over 72 at bats), his bat had strength over the next four months of the season (.307 with 64 runs, 10 HRs, 44 RBI, and 45 SBs over 420 at bats). His batting average had risk in September (.227) with a huge step forward in power (eight HRs, 16 RBI, and 12 SBs over 97 at bats). His swing path still delivers a high volume of ground balls (55.6 percent in 2016 and 56.5 in his career). His jump in power was due to a huge improvement in his HR/FB rate (19.6). Over eight seasons in the minors, he hit .261 with 47 HRs, 297 RBI, and 252 SBs over 2480 at bats. His speed is for real while his batting average and power should regress in 2017. I bet his batting average falls below .265 with fewer than 15 home runs. If he steals 50+ bags, he’ll still be an edge for his draft position.
2. SS Orlando Arcia
Over five years in the minors, Arcia hit .282 with 30 HRs, 247 RBI, and 104 SBs over 2074 at bats. His walk rate (7.3) was below the league average with a low K rate (12.1). Orlando has a AVH (1.636) that is trending upward pointing to more power. He struggled over 201 at bats in the majors (.219) with fade in his K rate (21.9) with a similar walk rate (6.9). Arcia did deliver four HRs and eight SBs, which is a good sign for 2017. This season he’s expected to start at SS with Villar shifting to second base. Getting stronger where 15 HRs isn’t that far away plus Orlando has 30+ SBs upside. The key to his value will be his slot in the batting order. Let’s set the bat at .270 with 70 runs, 12 HRs, 60 RBI, and 25 SBs.
3. OF Ryan Braun
There’s something to be said for drafting a professional hitter. Last year I saw Ryan slide to the 5th round in some drafts in the high-stakes market. He finished with his best season since 2012. His AVH (1.763) remains in an area to deliver 30+ home runs. His CTBA (.378) still has strength while falling short of his seasons when he was on the juice. He had a league average walk rate (8.2) with improvement in his K rate (17.4). Braun was very good against lefties (.344 with eight HRs and 27 RBI over 122 at bats). Over the first three months, he hit .325 with 13 HRs, 44 RBI, and six SBs over 249 at bats. Ryan was nonproductive in July (one HR, two RBI, and six SBs) despite hitting .307. He regained his power stroke over the last two months of the season (16 HRs and 45 RBI over 187 at bats). His RBI total finished lower than expected due to short chances (341). Braun has an RBI rate of 18 or higher in nine of his ten years in league with his off year being 17 percent. Even with bounce back in HRs, he had a regression in his swing path leading to career high ground ball rate (55.7) and a career low FB rate (25.1 – 35.7 percent in his career). Ryan had the highest HR/FB rate (28.8) of his career. Proven major league hitter with value in all five categories. To maintain a 30 opportunity, Braun needs to hit a lot more ground balls. His floor should be .280 with 80 runs, 25 HRs, 80 RBI, and 10 SBs with upside in all areas.
4. OF Eric Thames
Thames struggled to make contact in the majors in 2011 and 2012 (25.6 K rate) while hitting .250 with 21 HRs, 62 RBI, and three SBs over 633 at bats. He decided to take a drop down in class by playing in Korea in 2014, 2015, 2016. Eric was a man among boys for three seasons where he hit .348 with 346 runs, 124 HRs, 379 RBI, and 64 SBs over 1347 at bats. He turned in an amazing season in 2015 (.381 with 130 runs, 47 HRs, 140 RBI, and 40 SBs over 472 at bats). His K rate came in at 17.9 in Korea with 14.4 percent walk rate. The Brewers signed Thames to a three-year $15 million contract so he should have a clear path to full time at bats. In his minor-league career, he hit .305 with 53 HRs, 269 RBI, and 23 SBs over 1487 at bats. Intriguing sleeper as his power appears to be real while falling short of his overseas success. My early thought would be .270 with 25+ HRs, 80 RBI, and a chance at double digit steals.
5. 3B Travis Shaw
The Red Sox and Fantasy owners thought they struck gold with Shaw over the first two months of 2016. He hit .292 with seven HRs, 35 RBI, and three SBs. Travis did have 55 Ks over 195 at bats (25.5), which should have been a sign of his future risk. Over the last four months of the season, he hit only .207 with nine HRs, 36 RBI, and two SBs over 285 at bats. His swing came up empty on many nights against LH pitching (.187 with four HRs and 19 RBI over 107 at bats). Shaw finished with a high K rate (25.1) with a league average walk rate (8.1). Over five seasons in the minors, he hit .261 with 69 HRs, 280 RBI, and 29 SBs over 1898 at bats. 20/80 type player with 550 at bats, but he’ll sit on most nights against lefties when he’s struggling. Travis will have batting average risk until he improves his approach at the plate.
6. OF Domingo Santana
Santana will go down as bust in 2016. Fantasy owners had hopes of 25+ HRs with some value in speed. He missed 11 weeks of the season with a shoulder and an elbow injury. His K rate (32.4 in 2016 and 34.6 in his career) continues to show risk while offering a solid walk rate (11.4). After 423 at bats in the majors, Domingo hit .239 with 19 HRs, 58 RBI, and six SBs. He did nice job against lefties (.312 with four HRs and 13 RBI over 77 at bats). Santana needs to improve vs. RH pitching (.231 with seven HRs and 19 RBI over 169 at bats). In September, he hit .289 with seven HRs, 17 RBI, and two SBs over 97 at bats while improving slightly in his K rate (29.5). Domingo has a huge HR/FB rate (27.1) to start his major-league career, but he hits a low number of fly balls (27.1 percent). Over eight years in the minors, he hit .282 with 110 HRs, 445 RBI, and 45 SBs over 2595 at bats. Tempting as his AVH (1.746) points to 30+ HRs and Santana does have a high CTBA (.406). His first step would be a healthy season. Let’s shoot for .250 with 25 HRs, 75 RBI, and 10 SBs with 500+ at bats.
7. OF Hernan Perez
The early structure of the Brewers’ starting lineup appears to put Perez on the outside looking in. His versatility will create at bats for him. Over eight seasons in the minors, Hernan hit .264 with 31 HRs, 285 RBI, and 114 SBs over 2917 at bats. His speed appears to be his biggest asset. His bat was unimpressive over 263 at bats as a part-time player in 2015 (.243 with one HR, 21 RBI, and five SBs). With part time at bats over the first three months of the seasons, Perez hit .272 with three HRs, 16 RBI, and nine SBs over 114 at bats. He gained a starting job in July, which led to a great run over two months (.276 with 29 runs, 10 HRs, 32 RBI, and 17 SBs). Hernan lost his power (no HRs over 105 at bats) in September while still stealing eight bags. He had more of an edge against lefties (.278 with six HRs and 28 RBI over 144 at bats). His success in 2016 projected over 550 at bats would be an impactful season. His short resume in power is a concern even with growth in his AVH (1.573). His K rate (21.9) is above the league average with a weak walk rate (3.3). I believe in his speed, and double digit HRs should be achievable. His batting average will range between .260 and .280 unless he lowers his K rate.
8. C Andrew Susac
Sucac made it to AAA in 2014 (.268 with 10 HRs and 32 RBI over 46 at bats), but health and Posey stopped him from making a push to the majors. Over five years in the minors, Andrew hit .256 with 41 HRs, 176 RBI, and two SBs over 1138 at bats. He had a high walk rate (12.2) with a below par K rate (22.0). In his limited at bats (238) in the majors, Susac hit .239 with seven HRs and 35 RBI. He’s struggled to make contact in the majors (29.0 percent K rate). Injury prone guy with a 15/60 skill set with 400+ at bats. Backend flier with potential playing time risk.
9. OF Keon Broxton
Broxton delivered a nice combination of HRs (9) and SBs (23) over 207 at bats in the majors, but he had a huge K rate (36.1). Keon flashed the ability to take a walk (14.8 percent). He struggled against righties (.210) with success vs. LH pitching (.289 with four HRs and eight RBI over 83 at bats). In his career, Broxton tends to have a high CTBA (.420 in the majors in 2016) with an AVH (1.780) worthy of 25+ home runs. In his minor-league career, he hit .255 with 83 HRs, 363 RBI, and 168 SBs over 3187 at bats. He struck out 28.4 percent of the time in the minors with strength in his walk rate (10.2). With 550 at bats, Keon could deliver a 25/25 season with batting average risk. For now, he’ll try to get 400+ at bats.
10. OF Brett Phillips
Over five seasons in the minors, Phillips hit .278 with 49 HRs, 232 RBI, and 64 SBs over 1738 at bats. He did struggle at AA (.229 with 16 HRs, 62 RBI, and 12 SBs) in 2016 with regression in his K rate (29.8). Phillips played well in 2014 and 2015 (.310 with 191 runs, 33 HRs, 145 RBI, and 40 SBs in 998 at bats). Even with speed on his resume, he isn't a great base stealer based on his low success rate (62.1). His K rate (19.5) was much stronger before 2016. He did strike out more at AA in 2015 (23.0 K rate) suggesting he needs more time to develop. Brett should be an above-average defender with a plus arm. He's added strength over the last two years, which is highlighted by a better AVH (1.733). This year he'll start the year at AAA with a chance to reach the majors, but his game doesn’t look ready to make an impact.
C Jett Bandy – The Angels gave Bandy 209 at bats in 2016 leading to eight HRs and 25 RBI. He had a reasonable K rate (16.5) with a low walk rate (4.8). Over six years in the minors, Jett hit .265 with 42 HRs, 227 RBI, and seven SBs over 1470 at bats. Double digit power even with fewer than 400 at bats. May win the starting job.
IF Scooter Gennett – Even with his best season in the majors last year (.263 with 14 HRs, 56 RBI, and eight SBs over 498 at bats), Scooter looks to have a weaker opportunity this year. His K rate (21.0) was a career high while regressing in the last two seasons. He did have a career-high walk rate (7.0). Surprisingly, he hit almost the same against RH (.264) and LH (.260) pitching after struggling against lefties early in his career. Possible starter if Villar is pushed to centerfield, but Gennett won’t play every day.
OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis – In 2016, Kirk hit .209 for the Brewers with 13 HRs, 44 RBI, and eight SBs over 335 at bats. He’s a career .224 hitter in the majors with 30 HRs, 116 RBI, and 20 SBs over 952 at bats. His K rate (33.9) remains in a losing area while posting career-high walk rate (14.3). Looks like the odd man out in 2017 unless Milwaukee has an injury in the outfield.
1. SP Jimmy Nelson
Nelson led the National League in walks (86) in 2016 while throwing the most wild pitches in the NL in back-to-back seasons (13 and 17). His lack of command led to more HRs allowed (25 – 1.3 per nine) and a weaker batting average against (.268). His failure came in two ways. First, Jimmy had a poor strikeout to walk ratio (1.24) vs. lefties. Second, his arm regressed against RH batters (.283 with 14 HRs over 375 at bats). Nelson pitched well at home (3.40 ERA), but he did walk 40 batters over 95.1 innings (3.8 per nine). Over his first 11 starts, Jimmy had a 2.88 ERA with 59 Ks over 72 innings. He also threw the ball well in July (2.83 ERA). Over the last two months of the season, his arm lost all value (7.28 ERA with 10 HRs allowed over 55.2 innings). His AFB (94.1) was a career low by a minimal amount. His slider (.137 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.240 BAA) still have value, but his sinker (.315 BAA) was crushed by batters. Nelson is a ground ball pitcher (49.4 percent) with a rising HR/FB rate (14.5). His minor-league resume (3.12 ERA) seems miles away. Not as bad as it looks if Jimmy regains his command. With a walk rate under 3.0, a 3.75 ERA is achievable.
2. SP Junior Guerra
Guerra had a poor resume (4.42 ERA with 242 Ks over 275 innings) over eight seasons while pitching in Venezuela. His arm made a step forward in 2015 (2.86 with 49 Ks over 56.2 innings) leading to him signing with the White Sox. At AAA in 2015, Junior had a 3.13 ERA with 105 Ks over 83.1 innings. The Brewers gave him a shot in the majors last season. Guerra was up to the task (9-3 with a 2.81 ERA and 100 Ks over 121.2 innings). His walk rate (3.2) still needs to improve while his K rate (7.4) came in flat. He dominated lefties (.191) with solid success vs. RH batters (.231). Junior did spend time on the DL in August due to a bum right shoulder. His AFB came in at 94.3 with hitters struggling to hit his slider (.172 BAA) and his split-finger fastball (.115 BAA). Squirrelly path with a short resume in the majors. With any regression in his command, Guerra will have plenty of downside risk. Only a flier due to his age (32).
3. SP Zach Davies
Davies did a nice job in his first season in the majors as a full-time starter. His walk rate (2.1) had growth with a slight step up in his K rate (7.4). He did allow too many HRs (1.1 per nine). After a disaster April (8.78 ERA), Zach went 8-1 over the next three months with a 2.84 ERA and 75 Ks in 92 innings. He struggled August (5.56 ERA with 49 base runners and six HRs allowed over 34 innings). Davies didn’t have the edge over RH (.255) and LH (.272) batters. His AFB (90.2) is below the league average. He has plus changeup (.214 BAA) and edge curveball (.188 BAA). Batters had no problem with his four-seam fastball (.321 BAA and .566 SLG) and his sinker (.300 BAA). Over five years in the minors, Zach had a 3.53 ERA with 445 Ks over 510.1 innings. Decent backend arm with more upside once he adds more bulk. His strikeouts have limited upside. Next step: sub 3.75 ERA with 150+ Ks.
4. SP Wily Peralta
Wily looked to be on the uptick after his 2014 season (3.53 ERA), but he’s now struggled in back-to-back seasons (4.72 ERA and 4.86 ERA). His walk rate (3.0) remains too high when looking at his weak K rate (6.6). Over the first three months of the season, Peralta had a 6.68 ERA with 124 base runners allowed over 66 innings. This led to a trip back to AAA where he had continued struggles (6.75 ERA). The Brewers gave him another shot in August. Over his last 10 starts of the season, Wily had a 2.92 ERA and 1.151 WHIP. On the year, his arm had no value against righties (.304) or lefties (.307). His AVB (95.8) remains elite while offering no value to get batters out (four-seam – .320 BAA and .515 SLG and sinker – .343 BAA and .506 SLG). His slider (.231 BAA) still offers upside. Peralta needs better command of his fastball in the strike zone and a third pitch of value would help him reach another level. May surprise and his price point will be free.
5. SP Tommy Milone
Milone pitched his way off the major-league roster after five games in 2016 (5.79 ERA). He threw the ball great at AAA (4-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 41 Ks over 48.2 innings). Tommy has been a great pitcher at AAA (21-8 with a 2.73 ERA and 278 Ks over 274 innings) in his career. After a decent July (3-1 with a 3.99 ERA), he struggled over seven appearance in August and September (10 runs and 16 base runners over 9.2 innings) due to biceps injury. Milone is a soft tosser (88.2 mph fastball) with major league command (2.3 in his career). His downfall tends to be the long ball (15 allowed over 69.1 innings in 2016 – 1.3 per nine in his career). Over six years in the majors, Tommy is 44-33 with a 4.14 ERA and 493 Ks over 688.1 innings. Backend innings eater with possible value in double starts weeks if he wins a starting job.
6. SP Luis Ortiz
Over 2+ seasons in the minors, Ortiz went 11-10 with a 2.52 ERA with 143 Ks over 161 innings. His walk rate (2.1) offer upside with a steady K rate (8.0). Last year he made 14 starts at AA (3.29 ERA with 50 Ks over 63 innings), which points to him moving to AAA in 2017. Luis throws a mid-90s fastball and slider with high upside. His changeup has a chance to being an edge. He tends to be a soft player while lacking motivation. In addition, Ortiz has missed time in the majors due to injuries. Getting closer and the Brewers lack talent at the major-league level in the starting rotation.
7. SP Josh Hader
Hader pitched at two different levels of the minors over the last five seasons. He has 3.04 ERA in the minors with 559 Ks over 489 innings while allowing only 375 hits. His walk rate (3.8) has risk, which is offset with his plus K rate (10.3). Over 14 starts in AAA in 2016, Josh went 1-7 with a 5.48 ERA and 88 Ks in 69 innings. He relies on his fastball while his curveball and his changeup aren’t ready to make an impact in the majors. With a fresh start at AAA, Hader may push his way to the big league quickly. I expect growing pains.
8. CL Neftali Feliz
It appears Feliz will get the first shot at closing for the Brewers. Over eight years in the majors, he’s converted 99 of 119 saves. After struggling in 2015 (6.38 ERA), Neftali became an asset in the bullpen in 2016 (3.52 ERA). He had his highest K rate (10.2) since his rookie season (2009 – 11.3). His walk rate (3.5) remains a liability plus Feliz allowed 10 HRs over 53.2 innings. He did a nice job against lefties (.180) with above average success against RH batters (.231). From May through August, Neftali had a 2.76 ERA and 46 Ks in 42.1 innings. A right arm injury late in August cost him most of September. His AFB (96.9) was his best since 2011. Batters struggled to hit his slider (.192 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.205 BAA). Feliz has the fastball to succeed plus experience, but his command and struggles with HRs does invite job loss risk. Reasonable backend closing gamble, but I would keep my insurance card close by.
9. Corey Knebel
Knebel started the season on the DL with an oblique injury. He made his first appearance in the majors on June 9th. Corey allowed four runs and 11 base runners over his first 3.1 innings due to poor command (six walks). His early struggles led to a trip back to AAA. Over 13.2 innings in the minors, Knebel allowed two runs with 14 Ks. Over 17 games in July and August, he had a 3.18 ERA and 21 Ks over 17 innings. Corey lost his rhythm in September (5.56 ERA). His stuff worked well against lefties (.172), but RH batters hit him hard (.333). Over four seasons in the minors, Knebel went 9-4 with a 1.99 ERA, 26 saves, and 146 Ks over 108.1 innings. His walk rate (3.6) had risk in the minors with repeated failure with the Brewers (4.4). His AFB (96.2) was a career high. He threw a curveball as his out pitch (1.94 BAA). Future closer for Milwaukee once he figures out how to throw more strikes.
10. RP Jacob Barnes
Over six years in the minors, Barnes had a 3.36 ERA and 386 Ks over 441.2 innings while starting his minor-league career in the starting rotation. He threw the ball well in relief in 2016 in the minors (1.08 ERA) leading to his first appearance in the majors. Over 27 games with the Brewers, Barnes had a 2.70 ERA and 26 Ks over 26.2 innings. He had strength in his walk rate (2.0) with a solid K rate (8.8). He dominated against righties (.185) with plenty of work to do against LH batters (.318). His AFB (95.6) was tough to hit (.245 BAA) along with his slider (.222 BAA). A player to keep an eye on just in case Feliz trips up.null