Noah Jarosh is the site manager over at our SBN sister site Brew Crew Ball and handles the @BrewCrewBall twitter account. Both are well worth the pixels they illuminate on your screen if you'd like to regularly keep up with what the Brewers are up to. Noah and I exchanged e-mails several times last year, and his responses were always insightful and educational to read for the fan of an opposing team. They remain so in 2015.
1. Although Jimmy Nelson's fangraphs page isn't all that exciting right now, I've seen him a couple of times this year where he's looked quite good, and those weren't even his best starts of the year. Are you any more or less optimistic about his future now compared to before the year? What is he now and what do you think he will be long term?
I think the fact that Nelson is holding his own in his first real long-term shot at a major league rotation spot is extremely encouraging. He might be the best pitching prospect the Brewers have had since Ben Sheets, though for whatever reason he tends to be overlooked even by Brewers fans. Nelson reached Baseball America's top 50 prospects nation-wide last year, the first Brewers prospect to do so since...I'm not even sure. Alcides Escobar five years ago or so? I'd never expect someone to come up and immediately start dominating MLB hitting, so Nelson sporting a 3.90 ERA and looking reasonably sharp is a great sign.
The Sheets note is also a bit interesting because, well, we've made that comparison before. Sheets was a fastball/curveball pitcher with little else, Nelson has been a fastball/slider guy. Nelson also added a curveball to his arsenal this spring to help with variety.
Right now, Nelson is a back-rotation pitcher with hefty talent. He's shown flashes of brilliance this year, but needs to work on his command to be great more consistently. He has a chance to be a top pitcher, though I'm not sure he quite reaches that. My gut feeling is, in a couple of years, Nelson will earn his place as a very solid number-two guy.
2. Is Mike Fiers now a rotation fixture going forward? He's had a strange career arc, but seems to be mostly backing up his impressive if brief 2014 as a big league pitcher, though he has been dinged by dingers.
Fiers is so tricky because he relies so much on deception and keeping hitters off-balance. He's not going to beat guys purely with his stuff -- a high-80s fastball is rarely going to blow hitters away. It's also why, when you look at his splits you see the following:
First time through order, opponent OPS: .607
Second time through order, opponent OPS: .853
Third time through order, opponent OPS: 1.263
That's troubling, because it very well could mean that batters are figuring him out after seeing what he's got. It's also why he's only pitched a full six innings twice this year. It's not the worst thing; Fiers could always still find a niche in the bullpen if it comes to that -- but if he can continue to be successful starting, that's obviously more valuable.
The good news is the home runs have died down over his last few starts and are leveling off towards his career norms, and his other peripheral stats are still great -- dude's striking out 11 batters per nine innings with an 89-MPH fastball!
For the Brewers, for now, Fiers is going to stay in the rotation unless he completely blows up a la Marco Estrada last year. Milwaukee doesn't have anybody that could immediately step in and fill a rotation role, so they kind of need to stick with what they have. If some prospects pan out, that could change in a couple of years. For now, Fiers is safe as long as he's reasonably competent.
3. Is Ryan Braun fixed?
Oh man, I hope so! But I also don't feel comfortable answering that question more definitively until after the full season has played out. Why? Because Braun said he felt good in spring training last year and hit .320/.358/.573 with eight homers through May. This year, he's hitting .264/.340/.506 with 12 homers. For the rest of 2014, Braun hit for a .716 OPS and got worse and worse as the year rolled on.
I want to be optimistic. Last year, Braun simply tried to rest his thumb with his extra time off and hoped that was enough. This time, Braun actually had a cryotherapy procedure to numb the nerve that was troubling him. He's also been on an upswing last year as opposed to getting worse month-over-month in 2014. Braun has also said he's needed to rebuild muscle memory after not being able to swing correctly the past two years because of the injury.
So in the end, who knows? If Braun keeps this up over the whole year, then oh sweet baby jesus thank you. Until that happens though, it's too early to say anything for sure. He showed last year how we can't rely on early-season numbers just yet.
4. On to more depressing matters: From the outside, I think it's time for your favorite team to sell everything that doesn't project to still be valuable in 2017 or maybe even 2018. This isn't to say the current group can't be supplemented to make the team pretty good, but rather it looks like the next cycle in the NL Central is going to require something beyond the "pretty good" that has often won the division in many recent seasons.
And yet, I read that the Brewers have made it known that Lucroy and Gomez are not particularly available. What is the next stage for the Brewers, and how will they make the transition to it?
I'll never believe any team that says such and such player isn't available. Everybody is available, on any team, for the right price. The Nationals would trade Bryce Harper if they got a big enough package. Same with the Angels and Mike Trout, the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw, the Cubs and Kris Bryant, and so on and so on. Of course, some players being traded are unrealistic because of the quality of players that would have to be sent in return, but if it was available and offered it would happen.
So the Brewers saying xxxxx isn't available is more: "Yeah, we're going to want something really good for this guy." That's especially true for Lucroy, because the Brewers have no need to move him. He's under team control through 2017 extremely cheap and is arguably the most valuable catcher in baseball at this point. He's also sign-able long-term (I think the Yadier Molina deal would be the blueprint for a Lucroy extension). The Brewers could keep him for their rebuild, or trade him next year for virtually the same package they could get now.
Gomez, on the other hand, should probably be on the block and that really hurts to say. Trading him is almost certainly best for the team long-term, but my heart wants Gomez to be a Brewer forever because he's delightful to watch and root for, and comes across as a great person. He has fun when he plays, and that makes me have fun watching. Unfortunately, he's signed through next year only and is probably looking at $100+ million in free agency. The Brewers won't get as much next year as they would now, so it's probably time to shop him around. I hate typing that.
Of the rest of the team, there aren't many players the Brewers should trade that would have much value, sadly. Gerardo Parra could bring back an OK prospect, maybe. Kyle Lohse has sucked this year and Matt Garza has a fairly hefty contract that makes him trade-able but not super valuable. Ryan Braun won't bring back much with his contract.
The only players that could bring back a bigger return -- outside of Lucroy and Gomez -- are younger players like Jean Segura and Wily Peralta. If the Brewers trade them, it's a sign of a bigger rebuild than simply a retooling. And, again, the Brewers will need a good return to deal them.
I think I'm at the point where I'm ready for the Brewers to start over again and build from the bottom up. Rebuilds are far from a sure thing and going back to the 1990s-early 2000s Brewers is terrifying, but they can't keep up with stopgaps anymore. I do think they need to keep at least one of Lucroy/Gomez (the former, almost certainly) to keep fans somewhat interested, but otherwise I'm fine with them working with a goal of contention in 3-5 years again. The farm system is improving greatly and a handful of trades and high draft picks could get it back to being one of the best. That would be nice to see again.
5. Was Ron Roenicke's dismissal justified? What do you make of Craig Counsell?
Eh, managerial moves are always hard for me to really judge. I think Ron Roenicke was a fine manager and seemed to be well-liked by players, but I don't know how inspiring he was given how poorly the team played over his final months of managing. The 'I don't know' is the crucial part there. With no clubhouse access, and not being around the team I really have no idea.
That said, I think it's one of those things that just kind of had to happen. Milwaukee needed to try something while they still had a snowball's chance of getting back into contention. It didn't work, the team has performed basically the same since the change, but they tried.
I think Counsell is a good choice given all the praise he's gotten around baseball. He's turned down jobs from the Rays and Red Sox in the past and seemed to really be an up-and-coming managerial prospect. He's been with the Brewers since retiring in a front office role and grew up near Milwaukee. His dad worked at County Stadium. Fans love him. He clearly has a ton of baseball knowledge. And he's willing to do things like bat the pitcher eighth. Based on early returns, I think he'll be a fine manager.
6. Adam Lind looks like a prime target for the Cardinals to acquire. What sort of return do you expect the Brewers to seek?
It probably won't be anything too special. A mid-tier, B-minus type prospect maybe? The Brewers didn't have to give up much for him, but a strong start to the year makes him look a bit more valuable. And any acquiring team has the opportunity to keep him through 2016 with an $8 million option. That helps his value in that he wouldn't necessarily be just a half-season rental.
An in-division trade could mean a slightly higher quality of prospect coming back to Milwaukee. The Brewers and Cardinals last made a deal in 2013 with the John Axford/Michael Blazek exchange, which was the first trade between the two organizations in 10 years. The Brewers typically want players close to the majors in trades, and are especially lacking in corner-infield prospects. Maybe their philosophy will change based on long-term outlook and they'll be willing to take someone further away from the MLB. It's difficult to say exactly what Lind is worth, though.
7. Is Jean Segura a part of the team's future core?
He can be, but he really needs something good to happen. Last year he dealt with a concussion from an errant Ryan Braun practice swing and the unfortunate death of his young son. This year he's been hit in the head by a pitch twice and was on the disabled list with a broken finger. Just a string of awful events both on and off the field.
Segura is still very valuable though, and it's important to remember that he virtually skipped Triple-A. I'm never a big fan of that kind of jump, and it seems to me like players that do it often need a couple of years before really showing what they can do. Shortstop has such a dearth of talent right now around the league that Segura hitting as well as he is (.282/.320/.408) this season makes him very valuable along with his average defense and above-average speed.
The thing is, though, is Segura might need to move to second or third at some point with Orlando Arcia tearing up Double-A pitching and on his way up to the majors sooner than later. That's not a huge issue, right now the Brewers don't have long-term stability at either of the other two positions. He'll need to keep hitting at a good clip to play at third, though, and if Scooter Gennett can regain his job at second that takes away that option. Segura is naturally drawing a lot of interest in trade rumors, it seems. If the Brewers get a good offer they can afford to deal him. If they don't, he has a place on the team unless he keeps hitting like 2014.
8. What was the problem with Scooter Gennett? His K% is through the roof. Will he be back?
Speculatively, it seems like Gennett is the kind of player who can let bad performances get in his head. He started off the year poorly, and I think he started over-swinging and trying too hard to make up for his poor play. That also affected him defensively, as well, as he just could not seem to do anything right.
They aren't near the same caliber of prospect, but look Kolten Wong last year. He hit terribly enough that he needed a stint in the minors, hit a little better in the second half, then is doing wonderfully this year. The Brewers once sent Rickie Weeks back to the minors early in his career due to under-performance.
I'm not as high on Gennett as some, nor am I as low as some. I think he's a capable starter, but if the Brewers find better he's far from ensured a spot. He's been hitting a bit better in the minors, and I think he'll stay there a while until he forces Milwaukee's hand to call him back up. I do think he'll be back sometime in 2015, though.
As always, we thank Noah for his time. My responses to his questions can be found here on Brew Crew Ball