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January 29, 2014

Fantasy Team Preview

Milwaukee Brewers

by Ben Carsley

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There is a lot of fantasy talent on the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers roster. Their tumultuous 2013 season and consensus ranking of “fringe contender” for next season have made the Brewers somewhat anonymous nationally, but that shouldn’t be the case. They have batters who can hit for power and run. They have pitchers who are better than you think. And even their bullpen has a few high-strikeout options of note. It’s a flawed team, to be sure, but one that could produce some fantasy steals this year.

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. SS Jean Segura
  2. 2B Scooter Gennett
  3. RF Ryan Braun
  4. 3B Aramis Ramirez
  5. C Jonathan Lucroy
  6. CF Carlos Gomez
  7. 1B Mark Reynolds
  8. LF Khris Davis

This is pretty much a fantasy goldmine. Braun is still one of the best 10-15 fantasy players in the game and could be a relative bargain on draft day due to his suspension. Segura and Gomez enjoyed breakout campaigns in 2013, and while neither is a great bet to be quite as good as they were last year, each is still a significant five-category contributor. Segura should challenge for a top-five shortstop finish, while Gomez should be considered a top-20 outfielder. Ramirez is old but still quite good when healthy, and Lucroy is a no-brainer top-10 catcher.

The remaining players lack crazy upside but are interesting for their own reasons. Gennett’s only tool is his bat, but he can hit for respectable averages and could see more playing time than you think in 2014. Reynolds’ only tool is his power, but he could challenge for 30 bombs with 400 PA at Miller Park. Davis is a solid sleeper pick in NL-only leagues, as he could hit 15-20 bombs with a decent average. His defensive deficiencies could limit his playing time, though.

Projected Bench

There’s not a ton here from a fantasy point of view, although it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that Weeks could have some value, which I’ll address below. Francisco has power but it comes with an unusable average, and he shouldn’t be let within 500 feet of lefty pitchers. Bianchi and Maldonado are total non-factors, while Schafer has some speed but had yet to prove he can hit MLB pitching.

Lyle Overbay could make this team,” is a sentence I can somehow type in 2014, as could Caleb Gindl, but neither is particularly interesting. Hunter Morris’ shot at fantasy relevance ended with the Reynolds/Overbay signings.

Projected Starting Rotation

This rotation has a chance to be better than most people think. The addition of Garza was a major boon for a team that badly needs impact pitching, and he gets a slight uptick in fantasy value thanks to the move back to the NL. Sure, Miller Park isn’t Petco Park, but it’s better than the Ballpark in Arlington, and it plays only a little worse for pitchers than does Wrigley Field, where Garza was productive for many seasons. He’s a top-40 fantasy starter once more.

Beyond Garza, you have two high-risk, moderate-reward arms in the maddeningly inconsistent Gallardo, who has regressed for three straight seasons but who shouldn’t be washed up at age 28 despite his declining velocity, and the inexperienced Peralta, who could be a high-strikeout starter but who could also kill your WHIP. Lohse is a better MLB pitcher than a fantasy one, though certainly relevant in deep mixed and NL-only leagues, and Estrada isn’t special but has shown the ability to post strong numbers in spurts. He carries more risk and more upside than Lohse.

Finally, Tyler Thornburg, whom I’ll address below, could factor into the mix here at some point in the season. Jimmy Nelson, the team’s top prospect, and good old Mike Fiers could see starts as well.

Projected Closer Candidates

Yuck. Henderson just had a nice season and the job is his to lose in Milwaukee. Some might be wary of him as a “late bloomer,” but his stuff is legit and the high strikeout rates should remain. If others undervalue him due to age or lack of name recognition, feel free to pounce.

The rest of the bullpen is pretty uninspiring, though Smith has legitimate talent and could grow to be Milwaukee’s primary setup man. Kintzler doesn’t have the strikeout rate to be of interest for fantasy purposes, but might be the Brewers’ second-best right-handed reliever. Once again, I’ll cover Thornburg’s prospective roles below.

Positional Battle to Watch: Second Base: Scooter Gennett vs. Rickie Weeks
I think most people expect Weeks to begin 2014 as the starter and might take issue with me giving the job to Gennett above. But Weeks has been in a steady fantasy decline for three years now, and even if you want to blame his 2013 season on BABIP woes, he’s on the wrong side of 30 and seeing a marked drop in power and speed. You can live with a .250 average if it comes with 20 homers and 15 steals, but not so much if the power sinks to the teens and the speed evaporates.

Gennett, meanwhile, is a much more boring fantasy player, but has proven his ability to hit for average at every stop in the minors. While his .380 BABIP is obviously unsustainable, his hit tool is real. Unfortunately, that’s basically all that Gennett brings to the table, as he’s unlikely to reach double-digit steals or homers and is a poor defensive second baseman, too. Given Milwaukee’s right-handed-heavy lineup I think Gennett will at least begin the year as the starter against RHP, with Weeks starting against lefties and threatening Gennett’s playing time should he return to form. Either way, this isn’t a very appealing situation for fantasy owners.

Player to Target: Ryan Braun
Moralize all you want about Braun on Twitter and talk radio. We’re talking numbers here, and at the end of 2014 I would be surprised if Braun is not once again a top-15 overall player. He’s a lock to hit above .300, he can challenge for 30-plus homers and at age 30, 20-plus steals are still attainable as well. Braun’s situation is likely to cause some owners to overlook him this season, but if he’s sitting on the board past the fifth or sixth overall pick, I’m seriously considering him. He’s as legit a five-category contributor as we have today (non-Trout division).

Player to Avoid: Yovani Gallardo
The optimist in me wants to say Gallardo will rebound in 2014, but he’s regressed for two straight seasons and it’s worrisome that his velocity is already in noticeable decline after just 1,097 MLB innings. Gallardo did lower his HR/FB last season, as well as improve his walk rate, but the drop in strikeouts and jump in line-drive rate don’t portend a happy ending for his fantasy value. Could he improve enough to mirror his 2012 stat line? Probably. But I don’t see a return to his dominant 2011 campaign, which is disappointing for a player who looked like he was ready to excel in his prime. Gallardo is still very much fantasy relevant, but don’t count on him being more than a no. 4 fantasy starter.

Deep Sleeper: Tyler Thornburg
Much to the chagrin of colleagues Bret Sayre and Craig Goldstein, I’ve been the Internet bandwagon leader on Thornburg for a while. I’m fully cognizant of the issues with his size and the straightness of his fastball, but I believe that batters—especially right-handers—are uncomfortable when they face him thanks to his unorthodox delivery, and I think his curveball is better than people give him credit for.

Regardless of how you feel about Thornburg, the signing of Garza complicates his role in 2014 and moving forward. He could be sent to the minors to serve as Milwaukee’s “sixth starter,” ready should injury strike one of the five primary guys or should Peralta get rocked early on. He could serve as the long man in the bullpen. Or he could prove to be quite a late-innings weapon in a thin bullpen. He’ll have value in deep or NL-only leagues in the first or final roles outlined above, so monitor his status this season closely.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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