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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Milwaukee Brewers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The most intriguing player on the Brewers this season isn't Ryan Braun, the disgraced 30-year-old slugger who served a 65-game suspension last season.

It's Rickie Weeks, the 31-year-old second baseman who has been on a downward spiral the last four years, culminating in a nightmare 2013 season which saw Weeks hit just .209 with 10 home runs, seven steals, 40 runs scored, and a .663 OPS. Weeks eventually lost his job to Scooter Gennett (before being shut down completely in August to have surgery for a torn hamstring), but in past seasons, Weeks was pretty much guaranteed a return to the starting role. As 2014 approaches, it looks like Weeks may be relegated to bench duty.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Weeks set a career high for strikeout rate (26.3 percent) and ground ball percentage (49.4 percent) in 2013, which accompanied a career-worst .268 BABIP. But these new marks weren't dramatically worse than previous seasons (although it's safe to say they were markedly worse), so Weeks' stats just falling off a cliff like that remain somewhat mysterious. Peripherals and injuries might suggest a slight drop in production; Weeks fully bottomed out and has gone from a third-round pick to an NL-only middle infield gamble in just three seasons. On the same note, it's going to be tough to fully embrace Gennett as long as Weeks remains on the roster. If Weeks is traded, Gennett becomes a late-round mixed league draft pick. But with Weeks -- and his promise of power and speed -- lurking, Gennett becomes a risky middle infield play in deeper Roto formats.

As for the projected starters for the Brewers, they have an overlooked treasure chest of young talent, headlined by two power/steal threats in Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez. Segura's power and average tailed off after the All-Star break (.241 average, one home run), but it was his first full season in the majors, and he still finished with a .294 average and 44 steals. Gomez had career highs in home runs (24), doubles (27), steals (40), and batting average (.284). He was one of a handful of players to hit 20 home runs, 20 doubles, and steal 20 bases. Both Segura and Gomez have legitimate cases to be off draft boards by the third round in most formats.

The Brewers also cornered the market in the "players who hit a good amount of home runs in limited at-bats" category last season. Jonathan Lucroy -- one of Fantasy's top catchers -- could hit 20 home runs this year (he had 18 in 2013), Aramis Ramirez may have a couple more 25-homer seasons left in him (he hit 12 over 304 at-bats last season), Khris Davis hit 11 home runs in 136 at-bats in 2013, after carrying an .898 OPS through five minor league seasons, and Juan Francisco hit 18 home runs over 348 at-bats last year, with 13 coming after he was traded from the Braves in June. Lucroy, Davis, and Ramirez should all have full-time roles this year, with Francisco likely splitting at-bats with Mark Reynolds (who fits in nicely with this group -- 25-30 home run potential if he gets 500-plus at-bats).

The rotation got a major boost with the January addition of Matt Garza. Despite some recent struggles with injury (which could be cause to proceed with caution), Garza has finished with a sub-4.00 ERA every year since 2007. He has a solid 1.28 career WHIP and while his K/9 had jumped around earlier in his career, it seems to have found some footing, with an average of 8.4 over the last three seasons. The 30-year-old has played in a pitcher-friendly park before, so the move to Miller may not have a big effect on his numbers.

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Yovani Gallardo finished 2013 with a 4.18 ERA and 7.2 K/9 -- both were career worsts. His average fastball velocity also took a hit last season -- dropping a full mph (from 91.7 to 90.7) from 2012, after it had already dropped significantly from his 2011 level (92.6 mph). Despite his velocity hovering around 90 mph over his final 15 games, Gallardo did put together a nice run at the end of the season, with a 3.09 ERA and 1.24 WHIP after the All-Star break. But both Garza and Gallardo carry some injury risk, despite having put up very good ratios and decent strikeout rates for the last half-decade. Fantasy owners will have to decide on Draft Day if the upside is worth the continued (and future) hiccups.

The rest of the rotation is filled out with the super-reliable Kyle Lohse -- who has a 3.19 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in the three seasons since his 2011 breakout, making at least 30 starts in each of the last three seasons (more on him below) -- and Marco Estrada, whose merits as a (relatively) soft-tossing strikeout artist were summed up wonderfully by Jason Collette in this FanGraphs piece. The fifth spot is shaping up to be a competition between Tyler Thornburg (who had a 2.16 ERA in four September starts) and Wily Peralta (4.37 ERA over 32 starts last season). Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson, and Mike Fiers are the darkhorses in that race.

Jim Henderson is the no-doubt closer for the Brewers, after John Axford was traded to the Cardinals at the deadline. Henderson saved 28 games last season, with a 2.70 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched. He should end up being a top 15 closer this year, but could slip late enough in drafts to be a decent, low risk bargain.

This Brewers team could go either way -- it's a group of easily-embraceable Fantasy assets, but there's a little moment of pause (Should I worry about his injury? Is his second half slide an indication of who he really is? Can he handle a full season in the majors?) attached to each one. Approach with a bit of caution, but smart/lucky gambles here could pay off with big returns.

Underappreciated ... Kyle Lohse, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Jean Segura SS
2. Carlos Gomez CF
3. Ryan Braun RF
4. Aramis Ramirez 3B
5. Jonathan Lucroy C
6. Khris Davis LF
7. Juan Francisco 1B
8. Scooter Gennett 2B
Bench Mark Reynolds 3B/1B
Bench Rickie Weeks 2B

From 2001 to 2010, Lohse had a 4.79 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Since then, Lohse has put up a 3.19 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 95 starts. Based on his past performance, you could have chalked up 2011 (3.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP) as a fluke -- Lohse had one hot season and would eventually return to his high ratio ways. But he actually improved in 2012, with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. And he was able to keep this string of solid seasons up even after a move to hitter-friendly Miller Park in 2013, with a 3.35 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. The bottom, it appears, isn't going to fall out for Lohse, as many of us had predicted. If you're looking for answers in the peripherals, good luck. Lohse threw fewer fastballs and more sliders in 2013 than at any time in his career, but those numbers flip-flop through each of the last three years (in other words, there's no connecting of the dots with these numbers in his hot streak). His curveball frequency went up in 2013, but it was significantly lower in his superior 2012. Lohse's xFIP suggests he should have a higher ERA, but that's been the case for the last few years. It might be time to stop trying to understand Lohse and just enjoy his efficiency and solid ratios. You won't get a lot of strikeouts here, but there's plenty of Fantasy value in a pitcher who can keep a low ERA and WHIP over 200 innings each season.

Bust ... Ryan Braun, outfield

This "bust" tag is going beyond the Biogenesis suspension and all the theories springing from it (decreased production from being off PEDs, pressure dealing with fans, etc.). Braun has a few extra factors working against him in 2014 that should help further dampen his production. He'll be moving to a new position (right field), while coming back from a season ravaged by injury (thumb and neck). While the 65-game suspension afforded Braun the luxury of extra rest and healing time, there's going to be some rust involved, and there's always a chance of reaggravation. The bulk of Braun falling off in 2014 will likely be traced back to the PED usage, but don't let it cloud these other elements, which would downgrade even a controversy-free player. We could see a .280 average with 20 home runs and 25 steals from Braun this year, making him more of a sixth-round pick than a second-round one.

Breakout... Khris Davis, outfield

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Yovani Gallardo RHP
2. Matt Garza RHP
3. Kyle Lohse RHP
4. Marco Estrada RHP
5. Tyler Thornburg RHP
ALT Wily Peralta RHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Jim Henderson RHP
2. Brandon Kintzler RHP
3. Will Smith LHP
4. Tom Gorzelanny LHP
5. David Goforth RHP

Davis played the bulk of his games in the post-Braun suspension era, when most casual observers tuned out the Brewers. But there was late-season value to be had here, as Davis hit .279 with 11 home runs over 136 at-bats, stealing three bases and adding 10 doubles. The 26-year-old has a career .288 average in the minors, with an .898 OPS over 415 games. He hit 13 or more home runs in each of his last four seasons, despite getting over 450 at-bats just once in that span. In the two seasons with over 400 at-bats, Davis stole 10 or more bases. His average is prone to fluctuation, but it should settle in the .270 range. Davis' real value, though, comes from his power potential. He was on pace for well over 30 home runs last year, with all 11 coming after Braun was suspended and out of the lineup. Davis flexed power in the minors, carried it over to the majors, and is now in a very hitter-friendly park. He could hit that 30-homer mark by the end of the season.

Prospects Report

Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee's top prospect, pitched 10 innings for the Brewers in 2013, allowing one run and striking out eight. The 24-year-old has produced a mixed bag of results over four minor league seasons (a 4.38, 2.83, and 3.25 ERA in his last three), but has developed some nice strikeout potential lately and could enter the fray for the fifth spot in the rotation with a strong spring. ... Johnny Hellweg came to the Brewers as part of the Zack Greinke/Jean Segura deal. He's produced a sub-4.00 ERA in his last three minor league campaigns, but accompanied that with a 1.40-plus WHIP in each of those years. Hellweg's strikeout rate has also suffered since being converted to a starter in 2012, dipping from 11.4 K/9 in 2011 to 6.4 in 2013. ... Taylor Jungmann, the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft, had a 4.33 ERA over 26 starts last year at Double-A. He's still probably a full year away and has to improve his numbers to get that promotion. ... David Goforth followed up two seasons of 4.40-plus ERA in the lower levels of the minors with a semi-breakout in 2013, posting a 3.17 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 125 innings in High-A and Double-A. After a season-and-a-half stint as a starter, Goforth -- who can hit the high 90s with his fastball -- finished the season as the closer for the Hunstville Stars, with four saves over his last eight games. The 25-year-old could earn a spot in the bullpen this season.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS .

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Player News
Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ hit hard again in start Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Mariners pitcher J.A. Happ gave five runs on 11 hits in five innings of work Sunday against the Padres in his second consecutive rough outing.

"I was being way too tentative early on," Happ said to MLB.com. "I just wasn't finishing and as aggressive as I was later in the game. Maybe trying to be a little too fine after the previous outing. I think if I throw like I did the second part of that game, I'll be OK."

Happ, who is expected to be the fourth starter in Seattle's rotation, is now 1-3 this spring with a 7.90 ERA.


Rangers release outfielder Ryan Ludwick from minor league deal
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(3/29/2015) The Rangers have released outfielder Ryan Ludwick from his minor league contract, the team announced Sunday.

Ludwick hit .200 with one home run and three RBI in 30 plate appearances during spring training.


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(3/29/2015) Yankees pitching prospect Domingo German may be on the shelf for awhile. German may reportedly need Tommy John surgery for his injured elbow, according to MLB.com.

The team is yet to confirm the report. German went 9-3 in 25 starts with a 2.48 ERA in Class-A Greensboro in 2014.


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(3/29/2015) Indians relief pitcher Austin Adams still has a chance to make the final roster, reports MLB.com.

Adams, who was a non-roster invitee to camp, has posted a 5.87 ERA in eight appearances this spring with nine strikeouts and 11 hits allowed.

"We wanted to tell him he'd done a really good job," manager Terry Francona said of his morning conversation with Adams, "but we still don't know."


Rangers remain undecided on pitcher Keone Kela
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Rangers pitcher Keone Kela tossed one scoreless inning Sunday with no hits and two strikeouts against the Dodgers. Kela has now gone 8 1/3 innings without giving up a run this spring, but the team is undecided still on his role this season, reports MLB.com.

"I haven't said if he was or wasn't on the team," Banister said. "That decision will be made at the appropriate time. You see what he has done. He has been impressive this spring."


Indians pitcher T.J. House gives up four runs in six innings
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Indians pitcher T.J. House, who was given a spot in the starting rotation Sunday, struggled in his appearance Sunday. House gave up four runs on six hits with two walks in six innings of work against the White Sox.

"This spring it looks a little glaring, that one inning is kind of getting to me in the box scores," said House to MLB.com. "It's nice to get them out of the way now and maybe during the season we won't see them.

"My ball kind of flattened out a little bit [in the fourth]. Besides that, I felt good. I pounded the zone and got to see some guys I'm going to see during the season, so I'll make a mental note of that."


White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson has edge in position battle
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson appears to be in the lead for the position when the season begins, reports MLB.com. Manager Robin Ventura likes what he's seen from Johnson enough to give him a vote of confidence at the position, even though nothing has been officially set.

"He's done well enough to kind of be the leading guy," said Ventura of Johnson, who had two hits in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Indians.

Third base coach Joe McEwing likes the progress Johnson has sowed on defense this spring.

"Initially what we wanted to do was try to slow things down because everything Micah does, he does fast," McEwing said. "Everything in his game is fast. Just, defensively, try to slow him down and allow him to focus on his feet and his hands and everything working together."


Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman posts another stellar performance
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(3/29/2015) Athletics pitcher Kendall Graveman continues to impress this spring. Sunday, he went 6 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits with three strikeouts and no walks. Manager Bob Melvin loves how the young pitcher has performed this spring, reports MLB.com.

"He doesn't blow you away, although you look at the radar gun and at times we've seen 93, 94 this spring," Melvin said. "But he's a pitcher; he's pretty cerebral in the way he does it.

"He reads swings very well. You know, it's late movement off the barrel of the bat, whether it's sink, whether it's cut, offspeed just enough. But he knows what he's doing and he's aware of what the hitters are trying to do against him."

Graveman has a minuscule 0.74 ERA in five starts this spring.

"There's a reason that he went from [Class] A-ball to the big leagues [in 2014 with Toronto], and then continued to pitch this well for us. It means he's real confident in what he's doing," Melvin said.


Nationals pitcher Doug Fister struggles again in outing Sunday
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(3/29/2015) Nationals pitcher Doug Fister surrendered six runs in four innings of work Sunday against the Marlins, pushing his spring training ERA to 7.02 in five starts. Fister gave up three more home runs in the outing.

"I can't let any of that affect me. I know I have to get the ball down regardless," Fister said to MLB.com. "I felt good today. I felt I was almost back in the swing of things. There are obviously some things I have to fine tune at the end of spring.

"I left the ball up, and it allowed the Marlins to get good contact on the ball. I don't let outside influences affect the game. It's a game I have to control and make adjustments."


Tigers targeting 200 pitches for pitcher Anibal Sanchez
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(3/29/2015) Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez tossed 10 strikeouts in Sunday's game against the Phillies, going 6 1/3 innings and surrendering four runs on five hits. 

"That means he's hitting his spots. It means he's locating," manager Brad Ausmus said to MLB.com. "When a guy takes a pitch, he thinks it's a ball or just off the corner and they end up getting the call. ... So he must have been locating. It looked like he was locating his fastball."

Ausmus also indicated he hopes to see Sanchez reach 200 innings this season.

"If we get 200 innings out of Sanchy, I'll be extremely happy. I think we'll be in a very good spot," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Sunday morning. "We talk about a lot of things, but if Sanchy can stay healthy, that would be an enormous plus for us."


 
 
 
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