Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2012 Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training Preview

Welcome to my third annual Milwaukee Brewers spring training preview (2010 and 2011).

Five new players were added to the 40-man roster: Norichika Aoki (OF), Jeff Bianchi (UTL), Alex Gonzalez (SS), Aramis Ramirez (3B/1B), Jose Veras (RHP) while nine players are no longer on the 40-man roster from last season: Yuniesky Betancourt (SS), Craig Counsell (UTL), Prince Fielder (1B), Jerry Hairston Jr. (UTL), LaTroy Hawkins (RHP), Mark Kotsay (OF/1B), Casey McGehee (3B), Takashi Saito (RHP), and Josh Wilson (UTL).

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers enter spring training with at least 56 players in contention for 25 roster spots. Absent injury, 20 roster spots are virtually locked down leaving 5 available roster spots. Below you will find a quick analysis of the roster heading into spring training along with my predictions of which players should make the opening day roster.

- Guaranteed: Jonathan Lucroy
- Borderline: George Kottaras and Martin Maldonado
- Long-shot: Patrick Arlis, Anderson De La Rosa, Paul Phillips, and Mike Rivera

Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: Johnathan Lucroy looks like the best young the Brewers catcher since B.J. Surhoff. After Lucroy, the Brewers need to decide whether to keep Randy Wolf's personal catcher (Kottaras) or the best barber on the roster (Maldonado). Maldonado strikes me as a "glue" guy that everyone on the roster likes. For that reason along, I would keep Maldonado, which doesn't even account for the offensive tear he was on at the end last season. I would keep Lucroy and Maldonado but my guess is that the Brewers keep Lucroy and Kottaras.

- Guaranteed: Mat Gamel (1B), Alex Gonzalez (SS), Aramis Ramirez (3B/1B), and Rickie Weeks (2B)
- Borderline: Brooks Conrad (2B/3B), Taylor Green (3B), Travis Ishikawa (1B), Cesar Izturis (UTL), and Brock Kjeldgaard (1B/OF)
- Long-shot: Jeff Bianchi (UTL), Eric Farris (2B), Edwin Maysonet (2B/SS), and Zelous Wheeler (SS/3B)

Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: I find it borderline delusional that the Brewers are putting all their post-Prince eggs in the Mat Gamel basket. Gamel put up big numbers in a hitter friendly AAA league last year so he is bound to regress offensively this year. Add in that Gamel is injury prone and I would make sure that Hart and Ramirez get ample opportunities at first base during spring training since Gamel will be on the DL at some point this season. Plus, the Brewers have a good backup option at 3rd base in Green so Ramirez could easily move to first base. It looks like a five horse race for the last back-up infield spot with Izturis as the odds on favorite to win the race. Only time will tell but at this point if I were in charge I would keep Gamel, Gonzalez, Green, Ramirez, and Weeks.

- Guaranteed: Norichika Aoki (OF), Ryan Braun (LF), Carlos Gomez (CF), Corey Hart (RF/1B), and Nyjer Morgan (CF)
- Borderline: None
- Long-shot: Caleb Gindl (OF) and Logan Schafer (CF)

Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: Whether the Brewers want to admit it or not, they signed Aoki thinking Braun would be suspended for the first 50-games of the season. If Braun isn't suspend (a huge if by the way) the outfield looks set with Braun in left, Morgan/Gomez platooning in center, and Hart in right field. Absent injury I would be shocked if the Brewers kept any other outfields than Aoki, Braun, Gomez, Hart, and Morgan.

Starting Pitching:
- Guaranteed: Yovani Gallardo (R), Zack Greinke (R), Shaun Marcum (R), Chris Narveson (L), and Randy Wolf (L)
- Borderline: None
- Long-shot: Jed Bradley (L), Taylor Jungmann (R), Amaury Rivas (R), Mark Rogers (R), and Cody Scarpetta (R)

Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: The Brewers got great offensive contribution from Braun and Fielder last year but it was their impressive starting pitching that they rode to the playoffs. The Brewers only used six different starting pitchers in 2011 and they might have only used five if Greinke didn't hurt himself playing pick-up basketball. The five regular starting pitchers all posted double digit wins in 2011. The Brewers have two potential stud post-season starting pitchers in Gallardo and Greinke. The rest of their starting rotation is comprised of innings eating regular season pitchers. Greinke, Marcum, and possibly Wolf are set to become free agents after the 2012 season. Luckily the Brewers have two potential starting pitchers that they drafted in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft in Jungmann and Bradley. Much like the outfield, absent injury, the starting rotation looks set heading into spring training with Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, Narveson, and Wolf.

Relief Pitching:
- Guaranteed: John Axford (R), Marco Estrada (R), Kameron Loe (R), Francisco Rodriguez (R), and Jose Veras (R)
- Borderline: Zach Braddock (L), Brandon Kintzler (R), Manny Parra (L), and Wily Peralta (R)
- Long-shot: Josh Butler (R), Frankie De La Cruz (R), Tim Dillard (R), Mike Fiers (R), Santo Manzanillo (R), Mike McClendon (R), Dan Meadows (L), Juan Perez (L), and Tyler Thornburg (R)

Cheesehead Sports Nut's Prediction: Thanks to a depressed market for closers the Brewers are wildly overpaying K-Rod to be Axford's set-up guy. Hopefully K-Rod is generous with the $8 million he is set to earn in 2012 since that is more money than current closer John Axford might earn over his entire career. Axford is arbitration eligible next year for the first time but with how volatile closers are, the Brewers might as well go year-to-year with Axford for the next four years since he cannot be a free agent until 2017. The Brewers already have a long reliever/spot starter in Estrada to go along with the back-end of their bullpen: Veras (7th inning), K-Rod (8th inning), and Axford (9th inning). That leaves room for three other pitchers. My guess is that Loe and a left handed reliever (either Braddock or Parra depending on if either can stay healthy for the first time since 2010) take the 5th and 6th spots in the bullpen. That leaves one spot that will go to the most live arm in spring training but since I have to predict before seeing anything from spring training I am going to guess that the Brewers keep: Axford, Estrada, Loe, K-Rod, Kintzler, Parra, and Veras.

Opening Day Lineup:
1. Rickie Weeks (2B)
2. Nyjer Morgan (CF)
3. Ryan Braun (LF)
4. Aramis Ramirez (1B)
5. Corey Hart (RF)
6. Mat Gamel (1B)
7. Jonathan Lucroy (C)
8. Alex Gonzalez (SS)
9. Zack Greinke (R)

Starting Rotation:
1. Yovani Gallardo (R)
2. Zack Greinke (R)
3. Randy Wolf (L)
4. Shaun Marcum (R)
5. Chris Narveson (L)

1. John Axford (R)
2. Francisco Rodriguez (R)
3. Jose Veras (R)

Check back for more Brewers coverage throughout spring training.

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