Talk about a buzz kill.
After winning their division for the first time in 29 years and making the playoffs for only the second time during that stretch, the Brewers had to wave goodbye to longtime cleanup hitter Prince Fielder this offseason. And though they at least attempted to fill the void by signing Aramis Ramirez, they can't expect the same MVP-caliber production from the aging third baseman. The bottom line is, without Fielder, they're not as good as they were last year.
It could have been worse, though. They could have also lost Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP, for 50 games because of a failed drug test. But Braun won his appeal and, in doing so, gave the Brewers hope of a repeat title.
True, he may be the team's only true elite hitter now, but it's not like he's surrounded by scrubs. Ramirez has been a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter for more than a decade. Rickie Weeks is one of the few pure power hitters at second base. Corey Hart is always good for 20-plus homers. Even Fielder's replacement, Mat Gamel, packs enough punch that he may someday be worthy of an All-Star nod.
Besides, the real strength of this team is its pitching staff. In Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, the Brewers have dual aces at the top of their rotation. Both are on the right side of 30 and only got better over the course of last season, so Fantasy owners have no reason to worry about them. Third wheel Shaun Marcum did have some issues last September and fell apart in the playoffs but chances are he simply needed an offseason of rest. And if not, whatever shortcomings develop in the rotation the Brewers can counter with top prospect Wily Peralta, not to mention a lights-out late-inning duo of Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.
So clearly this team's success last year wasn't all Fielder. Without him, the Brewers may not be the run-scoring machine they were a year ago but they'll compete all the same.
Breakout ... Yovani Gallardo, SP
Gallardo may not be the textbook definition of a "breakout player." In fact, he'll probably get drafted as a top-20 starting pitcher. But of those 20, he's one of the most likely to creep into the top 10. See, the current rendition of Gallardo isn't as flawed as his numbers would have you believe. During his five years in the majors his shaky control has condemned him to an ERA over 3.50 and a WHIP over 1.20, and that was the case again last year. But he seemed to overcome the problem in the second half. Over his final 15 starts, he issued 16 walks, posting a 3.06 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. And it's not like he sacrificed deception for control. His strikeout rate actually rose during that stretch. In those 15 starts Gallardo turned a corner, which isn't so difficult to believe considering he's only 26. If he can pick up where he left off he'll be as much of a bargain as a top-20 pitcher can be.
Bust ... Aramis Ramirez, 3B
Ramirez did last year more or less what he has done over the last 11 years, so Fantasy owners have little reason to doubt him in his move from Chicago to Milwaukee, right? Well, not exactly. Ramirez's 2011 season may not stand out as anything exceptional over the entirety of his career but compared the previous two years it was a full-fledged outlier. It was the first time during that stretch he played as many as 125 games, finishing with nearly 150. That alone gave him a boost in the rankings that Fantasy owners seem to think he's going to sustain. But let's be reasonable: He turns 34 this year. A player that age with that injury history will get hurt at some point and if his numbers begin to decline along with it he could easily drop out of the top 12 at the position. It's coming sooner than later. Why take the risk when you can land a Pablo Sandoval at about the same point in the draft?
Sleeper ... Mat Gamel, 3B
After biding his time at Triple-A for most of the last three seasons, Gamel is poised to replace Prince Fielder at first base this year. It won't be the first time the career .304 minor-league hitter had a shot at regular at-bats -- that came in 2009, when relative unknown Casey McGehee seized the third base job from him -- but it is the first time he's been the overwhelming favorite. So why isn't there more hype in Fantasy? For one thing, Gamel is already 26, so he doesn't exactly qualify as a prospect anymore. For another, he hasn't impressed in his brief major-league opportunities so far. To be fair, though, the Brewers haven't cared to give him the benefit of the doubt, unwilling to live through his defensive lapses at third base for no more than prospective production. With him at first that's not an issue anymore. He'll have all the time he needs to get comfortable and if his minor-league numbers are any indication he'll be an impact player as a result.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Corey Hart||RF||1||Yovani Gallardo||RH|
|2||Nyjer Morgan||CF||2||Zack Greinke||RH|
|3||Ryan Braun||LF||3||Randy Wolf||LH|
|4||Aramis Ramirez||3B||4||Shaun Marcum||RH|
|5||Rickie Weeks||2B||5||Chris Narveson||LH|
|6||Mat Gamel||1B||Alt||Marco Estrada||RH|
|7||Jonathan Lucroy||C|| |
|8||Alex Gonzalez||SS||CL||John Axford||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Francisco Rodriguez||RH|
|R||Norichika Aoki||OF||RP||Jose Veras||RH|
|R||Taylor Green||UTL||RP||Kameron Loe||RH|
|R||Carlos Gomez||OF||RP||Manny Parra||LH|
|The hard-thrower profiles as a workhorse and is poised to step into Milwaukee's rotation in 2013 at the latest. If Narveson folds or anyone else gets injured he'll arrive even sooner.|
|After a slow recovery from wrist surgery Green put up a silly .997 OPS at Triple-A in 2011. He's a good enough hitter and a versatile enough defender to be the next Ben Zobrist.|
|3||Taylor Jungmann||22||SP||DNP -- signed late||Class A|
|The 2011 first-rounder should be a staple of the Brewers rotation before too long, but he's more like a No. 2 option than a true ace. Still, he's a solid long-term keeper.|
|4||Jed Bradley||21||SP||DNP -- signed late||Class A|
|Bradley is kind of the left-handed equivalent of Jungmann and was taken only three picks later. If you're looking for a quick payoff, he should only need a couple years.|
|5||Tyler Thornburg||23||SP||Class A||Double-A|
|Tornburg has piled up strikeouts in the minors, but his funky delivery compromises his command and could ultimately force him into relief. Double-A will be a good test for him.|
|Best of the rest: Norichika Aoki, OF; Logan Schafer, OF; Ryan Gennett, 2B; Cody Scarpetta, SP; Brandon Kintzler, RP; Michael Fiers, RP; Santo Manzanillo, RP; Caleb Gindl, OF; Kentrail Davis, OF; Hunter Morris, 3B; D' Richardson, OF; Eric Arnett, SP; Eric Farris, 2B; Kyle Heckathorn, SP; Lucas Luetge, RP; Martin Maldonado, C; Dan Merklinger, SP; Mike McClendon, RP; Yadiel Rivera, SS; Mark Rogers, SP; and Zelous Wheeler, 3B.|
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