2017 Reds / NL Central Preview

Milwaukee Brewers 2017 Preview

The 2016 Milwaukee Brewers and the 2016 Cincinnati Reds were in a grueling battle for last place in the NL Central last season. The Brewers “lost” that competition, but just barely. Are we in for more of the same in 2017?

There are a lot of parallels between the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers, not only when looking ahead to the 2017 season, but also when looking back quite a bit. Both teams started the 2010s with very good teams – the Brewers won 96 games in 2011, and the Reds won 97 the year after. And, as Major League Baseball ebbed and flowed as it’s known to do, both of those talented teams were disassembled, resulting in two small-market teams near the bottom of the barrel.

For as bad as the final record was for Milwaukee, only narrowly missing out on joining the 90 loss club, there were a lot of positives to come from the 2016 season. In fact, if not for starting the year with an 8-15 April, which saw two different three-game losing streaks and a four-game losing streak to end the month, we might be telling a different story about the 2016 Brew Crew.

Guys like Junior Guerra, Jonathan Villar and Keon Broxton enjoyed breakout seasons. Ryan Braun had his best season since 2012, Chris Carter led the league in home runs, and a bright young star in Orlando Arcia got his feet wet with 216 plate appearances. Things are looking up for the Brewers. How will 2017 treat them?

 

Key Additions:

RP Neftali Feliz
1B Eric Thames
1B/3B Travis Shaw
C Jett Bandy
SP Tommy Milone

Key Subtractions:

1B Chris Carter
RP Tyler Thornburg
2B Scooter Gennett (!!)
RP Blaine Boye
C Martin Maldonado
RP Chris Capuano

 

Starting Rotation

Until a few days ago, when the Reds decided to throw a couple of young guys directly into the flames of the starting rotation, the Brewers and Reds were in a similar position with their starting rotation: seven guys for five spots. The Brewers coaching staff have still been mum on who will be occupying the third, fourth and fifth starters spots to start the season, with only Junior Guerra, the opening day starter, and Zach Davies being a sure thing for the Opening Day roster.

Wily Peralta’s throwing schedule, should it stay the same, would allude to him taking the third start of the year. The Brewers have also listed Matt Garza and Jimmy Nelson as the starting pitchers for two preseason exhibition games before the start of the season. While this doesn’t necessarily mean much, and Milwaukee’s front-office has said there’s no decision made just yet, it certainly looks like Peralta, Garza and Nelson have the timing right to be included on the roster come Opening Day.

If that’s the case, it means rotation hopefuls Chase Anderson and Tommy Milone will either be sent to the ‘pen or sent to the minor leagues to start the season. Skipper Craig Counsell hasn’t said for sure, though, so things are still a little up in the air with Opening Day now only a few days away.

Who to Watch:

I’ll be keeping an eye on Junior Guerra, and his projected regression. It’s definitely warranted – not many 31 year old waiver claims with no prior MLB success can claim to have pitched 120 innings with a 2.81 ERA, and even fewer can claim to have replicated that success in a second straight season. That being said, the projections still see him as a middle of the pack starter, which is probably closer to what he actually is at this point in his career.

Zach Davies is also primed for a big year. He’s probably the Brewer’s best pitcher right now, and if he can stay healthy, has the potential to really turn some heads this season.

Not shown here is the 2.0 zWar projected for top pitching prospect Josh “Bill” Hader. ZiPS projects the youngster to have almost 11 K/9, which is awesome. Hader won’t start the year in Milwaukee, but he may very well see time in the big leagues soon.

Edit: Since the publishing of this article, the Brewers announced that Matt Garza will start the year on the DL, and Chase Anderson will be taking his spot in the rotation. The rotation was finalized as Guerra/Davies/Peralta/Anderson/Nelson. As expected, Tommy Milone will start the season in the bullpen.

 

The Bullpen

Here are some names the Brew Crew may call on for relief to start the season. The roster isn’t final, so some of these guys won’t be with the team to start the season:

Who to Watch:

Neftali Feliz. After spending most of the beginning of his career as the closer for the Texas Rangers, Feliz got hurt and travelled around a bit, finally bouncing back with the Pirates last season. He spent a lot of the offseason on a lot of Reds fans’ wish list, but ultimately signed with Milwaukee to presumably be their closer. He’ll need to lower his HR/9 (a career high 1.46 last season) if he wants to keep that role over some of Milwaukee’s more talented relievers. Whether the spike in homers was due to bad luck or Feliz still attempting to regain his previous form, we’ll have to find out in 2017.

Feliz will bolster an already good Brewer’s bullpen, which ranked 6th in the National League in combined-ERA last season.

A small note here – Taylor Jungmann, who got off to an awful start last season (9+ ERA in April) has been told he’ll need to make the team as a reliever and earn his way back into the rotation. My money is on him starting in the minor leagues and working his way back that way.

 

The Offense

The Brewers lineup is one to watch in 2017. Each position has a storyline attached to it that make this team an interesting one to keep tabs on. Here are the projections for the players who project to get the bulk of the playing time for Milwaukee:

There are ten players here, because there’s a lot of position utility in this lineup. Hernan Perez is well known as a super-utility guy, and has even been named the team’s emergency catcher. He played every position in 2016 except pitcher and catcher, but may be given the opportunity to strike one of those from his list. His ability to play all over the field gives Craig Counsell the ability to come up with some differentiated lineups.

The Brewers have a very good young core of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and they’re only getting younger. With a number of players who have either broken out recently or are prepared to break out in 2017, the lineup has the potential to have some pretty big numbers at the end of the season.

Who to watch:

There are obviously a lot of big names to watch here, but I’ll have my eyes on Eric Thames. The 30 year old first baseman makes his return to the MLB, after spending 3 seasons obliterating baseballs in Korea. He hit .347/.448/.714 in foreign ball, with 124 homers in that span. Whether or not he can replicate that in the majors is yet to be seen. He’s struggled with some extreme shifting in Spring Training, but if he can make that adjustment, there’s a lot of upside there.

Guys like Orlando Arcia, Jonathan Villar, Keon Broxton, and of course Ryan Braun should also turn in quality seasons. And it’d be foolish to sleep on Hernan Perez and Manny Pina, two players who started to put things together last year, and project to have solid big league seasons this year. The projections don’t really think as highly of the Brewer’s lineup as I do, but it’s likely accounting for the high upside nature of the talent, which seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to this team.

Another (less serious) sidenote: If we’re casting a movie about the 2017 Brewers, I think Eddie Redmayne would make an amazing Craig Counsell. Might even get Brendan Fraser back into the acting game to play Ryan Braun. If you’re reading this in Hollywood, send me a tweet!

 

The Farm

And how! Speaking of high upside talent, the Brewers have been loading up on guys who fit this mold to a T. For that reason, they rank highly on just about every pre-season farm system ranking list you can find. I’ve used MLB.com’s prospect ranks in the table below, outline the club’s top 10 prospects, broken down into a hitters list and a pitchers list:

Of the top 10, Brinson, Ray, Hader, Ortiz, and Diaz all made the MLB.com Top 100 Prospect list, with Diaz bottoming out the list at 65. That’s five of the top 65 prospects in baseball – not an easy feat to accomplish. From what I’ve seen and heard, most of these guys are seen as high ceiling players vs the more high floor guys you see on the Reds prospect lists. The Brewers are hoping each of them hits – something you definitely shouldn’t count on, but having that talent floating around in the system will never be a bad thing.

Who to Watch:

I think a few of these guys probably make their MLB debuts in 2017. Brinson and Hader, specifically, could really add even more dynamic talent to this roster. The Brewers front office have shown in the past they aren’t scared to start their prospects to let them get their feet wet, having done that very thing with Orlando Arcia in ’16.

 

Conclusion

The Brewers, in my opinion, have the pieces to take a step forward this season. They won’t win the pennant, and if they get to .500, it’ll be by the skin of their teeth. However, the future looks bright again in Milwaukee. They’ll be a definitely hurdle for the Reds down the line for the Next Great Reds Team.

18 thoughts on “Milwaukee Brewers 2017 Preview

  1. In “key subtractions” from last season, you might want to add Jonathon Lucroy. Although he was traded last year, as we all know he has been a fixture behind the plate for the Brewers, and a very good player for some time.
    With several very promising outfielders coming up, how soon do the Brewers trade Ryan Braun for a stud pitcher to anchor their rotation?
    Braun is a very good player, but is actually not that popular in Milwaukee, for some very obvious reasons.

    • The cutoff for the list was the day after the World Series, but Lucroy is still an important missing piece.

      I think, if he’s movable, Braun will be gone this season. You’re right, I think the target is a young stud pitcher to anchor that rotation. Zach Davies has the opportunity to be that, and a three headed monster of Davies, Hader and un-named third pitcher could be a nightmare.

      However, as you alluded to, Braun’s unpopularity might make trading him for a premier piece a little difficult, which is probably why they’ve held on to him for as long as they have.

      • Yes, that’s what I understood from your listing. Just that Lucroy was a big “subtraction” from the Brewers team we have seen the last few years. Just thought it was worth mentioning.

  2. Per radio around here yesterday afternoon, Garza is going to the DL to start the season. Projected rotation now stands as: Guerra, Perralta, Davies, Anderson, and Nelson (not necessarily in that order, other than Guerra for sure).

    • Thanks for the info! I’ll reflect that in the article once the team confirms, if they haven’t already.

      • Just went to brewers.com after I posted and checked.. It’s up there now. Just switch Davies and Perralta in the order I had them. Nelson is slotted for the 5th spot.

  3. Also, looks like they’re going to bring along Jesus Aguilar, picked up off waivers from the Tribe just before Spring Training. 26 years old, crazy power guy in the minors, just the type of guy the Crew likes to have around in their stadium. He had a torrid spring. In other words, another Brewer primed to rock the Reds pitching staff and few others! Nooooo.

    But here’s a question: Based on their current set ups, whose rebuild would you rather have over the next 5 years? Cincy or Milwaukee? I feel like Milwaukee is building a better everyday lineup and minors, Cincy should have better long term pitching. Tough call. I might, in a vacuum, lean toward the Brewers right now. Tough call.

    • You’re right, it is a tough call. Call me a homer, but I think I’d take the Reds system right now, if only because there are more projected major leaguers throughout the system. The Brewers have more potential All-Stars, but also are at a high risk for having it all collapse on them if a few of their top guys don’t pan out. The more I look at the Reds ‘next man up’ situation, the more I really like it.

  4. Good stuff, Jordan!

    After the Cubs, I’m actually more worried about the Brewers than any other team in the Central for the next few years.

    • I tend to agree with you. There’s a lot of upside here. The Brewers will either be really, really good, or really, really bad.

    • That’s what I’m saying. If I can step away from my Reds fandom, there’s a good thing going in Milwaukee. And, not coincidentally, it really started fast forwarding when they brought on their young and analytically open GM, David Stearns, to replace Doug Melvin.

      • One thing Milwaukee did right was they brought the new young guy in at the start of the rebuild. The Reds mis-timed their transition by at least a year.

        • And that’s just considering the timing of the GM switch. They also mis-timed the start of their rebuild (should have been starting in ’14). Had they committed sooner, their trade pieces would have been much more valuable.

          • The All Star game really smashed that timing. I understand why they didn’t start perhaps when they should have started. Also, I thought, if the stars aligned correctly, the Reds had a chance to compete in 2015. I don’t think I was alone in that thinking.

          • You certainly weren’t alone in thinking that. I remember the debate around that time in ’14 and leading up to the ASG about whether they should keep the team together for another run (or at least not sell off running up to the host of the ASG). It was my perception that Bob didn’t pull the trigger on a rebuild/reload because of the ASG.

            I just thought they were going backwards when they faltered at the end of ’13 and really deflated in the 2nd half of ’14. But, they certainly missed some big opportunities to get good value on some trades and maybe not necessarily have to rebuild but reload.

          • I think some revisionist history is being used.

            The Reds were 1.5 games out in July of 2014….then Votto missed the rest of the year and the wheels fell off

            Going into 15′, they had Votto coming back and 1 more year of Cueto and Leake. They had a very reasonable chance to compete and then Bailey and Mesoraco were hurt and it was over.

            Given the opportunity to sell season ticket packages tied to the ASG, there was no way they were going to tear it all down after 2014. Their window had 1 last year and they went for it and it didn’t work out. Given those circumstances, no team starts a rebuild in 2014.

          • Maybe some revisionist history, Chuck. But at least going into ’15, I seem to recall the Reds had Marlon Byrd, Brennan Boesch, Tyler Holt, Jason Bourgeois, Skip Scumaker, Jason Marquis, David Holberg, Kevin Gregg and Kris Negron on the 25 man. What did we think was going to happen? There’s no way you can revise that…

      • In an interview a few years ago, Craig Counsell talked about the analytics that Tampa Bay was using when he interviewed for that job. Counsell is big on analytics, if I understood that interview. So what you are saying is no surprise at all. I think Milwaukee has a bright future if they make the right personnel moves.

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