The Birds head up to lovely Milwaukee for 3 games with the division-leading Brewers, winners of 9 straight and recent sweepers of Pittsburgh.
- The series opens this evening at 7:10 central with Lance Lynn and Matt Garza pitching
- Shelby Miller and Marco Estrada are up tomorrow night at 7:10
- Joe Kelly and Wily Peralta are set to finish the series Wednesday at 12:10
The Brewers appear primed to re-join the division race this season with a healthy lineup and a solid rotation. In lieu of the regularly scheduled preview, here's what Noah Jarosh, editor of our SBN sister site BrewCrewBall, has to say about his team.
1. How do you feel about the jobs Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin are doing?
Overall, pretty well. Both of them -- Attanasio in particular -- want this team to compete year in and year out, which is nice to see. Attanasio has been willing to open his wallet when he feels it necessary, making splashes like trading for CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke and signing players like Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza. Without Attanasio in town, Ryan Braun might already be off the team. Instead, they have him signed to by far the largest contract in franchise history, a deal that is looking pretty damn good considering recent contracts being handed out (looking at you, Miguel Cabrera).
Melvin is an interesting case. He has proven himself to be a deft hand when it comes to trading. For example: The team traded Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress for Greinke originally. Only one of those players he traded away (Odorizzi) looks like he might be anything more than average. Then Melvin turned around when Greinke was set to be a free agent and acquired Jean Segura along with two talented pitching prospects. Just an amazing two deals, in retrospect. Melvin has also been very good at finding talented pieces off the trash heap. Players like Casey McGehee, John Axford, Scott Podsednik, Salomon Torres and more have all made key contributions after being overlooked by other clubs.
Of course, along with the winning attitudes come some issues. The Brewers future is much talked about and, it's true, the minor league system is a little weak at the moment. Trades end up sending away some of the top prospects while a few consecutive poor drafts have not helped much, either. The Brewers also gave up their 2013 first round pick for Kyle Lohse, a decision that was apparently made mostly by Attanasio. In addition, management has a strange obsession with having a bad player on the roster for veteran leadership or whatever, so the Brewers get stuck with Mark Kotsay, Yuniesky Betancourt or, this year, Lyle Overbay. But overall, I would give Brewers ownership and management a solid B, at least.
2. Gallardo, Lohse, and (if healthy) Garza are fairly known quantities. What do you consider the best and worst-case likely scenarios this season for Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta?
Best-case scenarios is that both players become aces. That is a legitimate possibility, if a somewhat slim one. Estrada's biggest issue has been staying healthy. His second biggest issue has been a propensity to allow home runs. But at the end of 2014, it would not surprise me one bit if he ends up having been the best pitcher on the team. Since joining the Brewers', he has put up excellent K:BB stats. He doesn't throw hard, but he makes it work. Peralta was the best pitching prospect the team has had in a while and showed why with a 3.15 ERA and 661 opponents OPS in the final three months of 2013.
Worst case: Estrada gets hurt and only pitches around 120 -140 innings again. In the worst case, his home run issues will recur and turn him into a fifth starter, Dave Bush-type. For Peralta, the worst case is his control issues coming up in spades. He's never been the best at limiting walks and if batters show real patience against him it may not turn out pretty. I don't think either guy could be bad enough to be forced out of the rotation, but they truly could range anywhere from No. 5 starters to the best pitchers on the team.
3. Jean Segura had a tale-of-two-halves first season. What do you expect from him going forward?
I think this season we'll see something right in the middle of his two halves last year. The good news is he didn't play winter ball this year, so he hopefully won't get worn out midway through this season like he seemed to last year. Of course, his first half may have been a bit of an aberration as major league pitchers get used to him.
He's not going to be a superstar hitter or anything, but I think it's reasonable to expect something around a .280/.320/.400 line which, for a 23-year-old shortstop is pretty darn good. His speed is also killer -- he'll have a chance to win the NL steals crown year in and year out unless Billy Hamilton is as good as advertised. Segura's defense is also underrated. He's probably not a gold glover, but he'll stick at shortstop as long as the Brewers need him to.
Overall, I think Segura could end up having a similar career to Asdrubal Cabrera without the precipitous drop-off last season. Segura will probably be a little better, and will certainly steal more bases, but I think it's a fair comp for the most part. Of course, he so far has been unwilling to sign a contract extension with the Brewers and seems to be waiting for a larger deal, so who knows whether he'll be a Brewer after a few more years.
4. Are there any current backups or prospects you expect to make an impact this season? Who?
Not really, sadly. I think the Brewers' depth is their biggest weakness this season. They are a playoff contender, but one or two key injuries may effect the Brewers more than they would any other team. None of the back-ups on the current 25-man roster can hit a lick. Logan Schafer, Jeff Bianchi, Martin Maldonado...they're all defensive specialists, more or less. Rickie Weeks hasn't hit since 2012. Lyle Overbay hasn't hit since 2010.
And, as has been stated by plenty of people over the offseason, the Brewers minor league system is not great, at least not in the upper levels. If Ryan Braun is forced to miss time due to injury, or any other outfielders for that matter, it's possible Caleb Gindl could be a bright spot in a platoon role. Other than him, I'm not sure I see any hitters doing much of anything.
On the pitching side, Jimmy Nelson could be pretty good if he is needed in the starting rotation. He's probably the best prospect the Brewers have right now, and a fringe top-100 guy. But Tyler Thornburg will be the first player moved into the rotation if a starter gets hurt, so Nelson will need a couple guys to go down before he gets a chance.
5. I recently noticed that Khris Davis positively tore up the minors prior to replacing Ryan Braun last year, but I don't recall reading much about him as a prospect. What was the knock on him that kept him from being touted more? And what do you expect out of him this season?
I absolutely love, love, love Khris Davis and championed his cause throughout spring training last year, albeit for the first base job after Corey Hart went down.
The thing with Davis, is he has always hit. He's shown an outstanding understanding of the strike zone, consistently posting big OBP numbers in the minors. He also put up surprisingly good home run totals despite not being the biggest guy. However, he was always a bit old for each minor league level and didn't advance to Triple-A until 2012 when he was 24 years old. But he hit the cover off the ball that year, with a .350/.451/.604 line and 15 homers.
That make people pay attention a little bit more to him and, going into last year, he finally made some top-20 organizational prospect lists. But his age was a factor, along with his inability to play any position more difficult than left field. He also has/had a bit of a big swing, which could have some holes.
Still, there's no reason to bet against Davis at this point. He's proven in the minors he can hit, and he proved it in the majors last year with a 949 OPS and 11 home runs in 56 games. The Brewers certainly believe in him, so much so that they traded Norichika Aoki and moved Ryan Braun to right field just to open up a spot for Davis. He won't be as good as he was in his call-up last season, but he can be a similar hitter to what Corey Hart had been for the Brewers, I think.
6. Speaking of Braun, what's up with his thumb? Why wasn't this addressed last year?
He's been dealing with nerve damage in his right thumb since early in 2013, which ended up sapping some of his power and resulted in his worst career season up until his suspension last year. When news first came out last week that the thumb was still bothering him, he said he opted not to have surgery because it was not a sure-fire fix. I thought that was a little strange -- with an extended offseason, I didn't see any harm in giving it a shot. Then more clarification came out that surgery could actually make the injury worse, if it's not successful.
Thus, it looks like surgery is a last resort for him right now. He doesn't seem too worse for the wear with a great spring training and a three-homer game against the Phillies. But he can't tell how hard he is gripping a ball or bat, resulting in pretty bad blisters in the area. He's changed around the padding in his glove a bit and says it's helping, but certainly it's concerning and something that merits watching going forward.
Milwaukee really has a very slim margin of error if they hope to make the playoffs this year. Braun not being Braun could be devastating. Even worse would be Braun missing a couple of months if he needs surgery. Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino had surgery in mid-December to release a nerve in his thumb, and he still hasn't made it back.
7. How are you feeling about 2014 and the next several years?
In 2014, I feel pretty good. As I said above, there's not a big margin for error, but I think Milwaukee may have the second-best chance at the playoffs from the NL Central, after the Cardinals. The Pirates are good, but I don't like their pitching after Gerrit Cole at all and think their offense is overrated. They are certainly a team on the rise, but I think the 2013 success won't carry over into this season entirely. The Reds, meanwhile, have great pitching but no offense. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce have to do everything there with no more Shin-Soo Choo. The Brewers have a strong pitching staff and a strong offense. It should be a dogfight between the three for second in the NLC, though. At least, I hope it is.
Beyond this season, though, the Brewers are in a weird spot. Next offseason will be crucial to the direction of the franchise. They'll have options on Yovani Gallardo, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez: Weeks is almost assuredly gone, but the Gallardo and Ramirez decisions will be interesting. Depending on what happens, they may have up to $40 million in payroll space to play with and no key free agents.
The team has to be mindful of future contract talks with Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy (signed very cheaply through 2017 still), and possibly Marco Estrada. Carlos Gomez has is signed through 2016 after agreeing to a deal last year. So do the Brewers look to sign all those guys in the next couple years and maybe bring in another free agent or two next off-season? That would seem to fit the always-competing mindset the Brewers have.
The smarter option might be to admit the window is closing after this year and start trading away the few desirable pieces they have that aren't key parts of the future. Unfortunately, the team doesn't have many. Carlos Gomez would bring back the most, but would not go over well with fans. Kyle Lohse could also be dealt, but how much would Milwaukee get in return, really? After those two, there just isn't much the team should deal.
The direction the Brewers end up going in will depend on performances this year. If Davis, Estrada, Peralta, etc. are strong and give reason to believe in them moving forward, Milwaukee could very well decide to keep pushing towards the playoffs. It'll be tough with the Cardinals, Pirates and, in a couple of years, the Cubs all being excellent, but as long as they don't forfeit any more draft picks for free agents I don't know that I'd mind too much. Though I'm sure my glasses are a little rose-tinted. The smart option would probably be to rebuild, but I don't think we'll see any Marlins-type firesales. It will be a slower process with fewer big trades and maybe a few hovering around .500 seasons.
I'm happy to answer any further questions in the comments, too! Good luck to you folks this year, though I don't think you need it. The Cardinals seem to have their own dark magic that allows them to turn any mediocre prospect or pitcher and turn them into an All Star. And now y'all have one of the top farm systems in the majors, too? Get outta town with that.
Many thanks to Noah for his time. You can read the other half of our joint Q&A over at BrewCrewBall.com