Sunday, April 8, 2012

2012 Milwaukee Brewers Initial Player Rankings

After winning the N.L. Central in 2011 most of the national media is picking the Brewers to finish no higher than 3rd in the N.L. Central in 2012 thanks in large part to losing Prince Fielder to the Detroit.

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers have 162 chances to prove those national pundits wrong. If they do, it will be thanks in large part to the 25 guys that made the opening day roster for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. Just like I did last year, here are my initial rankings of the Milwaukee Brewers opening day roster:

#25) Travis Ishikawa (1B/OF): Tough to see utility man Brooks Conrad miss out on the final roster spot to Ishikawa, especially since Conrad is a switch hitter while Ishikawa is just another left-handed bat on the bench at this point.

#24) Cesar Izturis (SS): I don't usually put too much stock in spring training numbers but with how bad Izturis played in spring training it is clear that absent suffering a serious injury Izturis had a guaranteed roster spot at the start of spring training. That's a ton of faith to put in a guy in his early 30's that missed most of 2011 with various injuries.

#23) Tim Dillard (RHP): After getting the Carlos Villanueva treatment (being shuffled between the bullpen and starting rotation based on need) the last few years, Dillard looked like a lost pitcher. In 2010 the now departed pitching coach Rick Peterson suggested that Dillard try a sidearm delivery. That's the best advice Dillard ever got because just a few years later Dillard (out of minor league options) earned his roster spot using his sidearm approach (posted a sub-3 ERA in spring training).

#22) George Kottaras (C): Although I am an unabashed fan of Martin Maldando thanks mostly to his barber skills, it makes baseball sense to keep Kottaras instead of Maldanado as the back-up catcher.

#21) Kameron Loe (RHP): Hard to say whether Loe failed to live up to expectations or got Dusty Bakered the last few years by Macha and Roenicke. If you don't understand the Baker reference, read any article about Mark Prior's injury issues. The Brewers have their 7th (Veras), 8th (K-Rod), and 9th (Axford) inning options set heading into 2012 so Loe has a chance for a breakout year because the Brewers have a ton of quality relievers and expectations are low (no pun intended) for Loe in 2012.

#20) Manny Parra (LHP): Speaking of low expectations, after an injury riddled 2011 season the fact that Parra is out of minor league options basically forced the Brewers to keep Parra over fellow lefty reliever Zach Braddock because Braddock still has minor league options. Once the regular season starts Parra will have to actually perform well because his injury history, lack of minor league options, and shaky performances even when healthy makes Parra a prime candidate to get cut in 2012.

#19) Norichika Aoki (OF): The former member of the Yakult Swallows of Japan's Central League is a three time batting champ and six time Gold Glove winner over eight seasons. Aoki looked lost at the plate at the start of spring training but after what is now being deemed a magical meeting with manager Ron Roenicke, Aoki turned things around at the plate by the end of spring training. Aoki ended up hitting just below .300 in spring training to help the Brewers feel more comfortable about bidding $2.5 million for the right to sign Aoki to what ended up being a two-year, $2.25 million contract with a $1.5 million club option ($.25 million buyout) for 2014.

#18) Jose Veras (RHP): The Brewers acquired Veras from the Pittsburgh Pirates for the under achieving Casey McGehee. I know McGehee looked lost at the end of 2011 but I still would rather platoon McGehee with Green instead of signing Ramirez. Since the Brewers made the trade, let's deal with Veras. Most avid Brewers fans know that Hawkins and Saito were the 7th inning options for the Brewers last year. Since both guys are pitching elsewhere in 2012, the Brewers are looking for Veras to be the 7th inning guy this year.

#17) Carlos Gomez (CF): The guy that was essentially the centerpiece of what the Twins acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade looks like just another guy with speeds. Luckily for Gomez the Brewers plan to be aggressive on the base-paths this year so Gomez's speed will be utilized to the fullest extent.

#16) Marco Estrada (RHP): Held up fairly well last year despite shifting between the starting rotation and long-relief. Since 3/5ths of the 2012 starting rotation (Greinke, Marcum, & Wolf) can be free agents after this season, Estrada looks like a prime candidate to move into the starting rotation in 2013.

#15) Mat Gamel (1B): Although Gamel struggled defensively at 3rd base it would be downright shocking if Gamel isn't a better defender at 1st base than Price Fielder. Keep in mind that Fielder lead the National League in errors with 15 last year. Plus Gamel will have much more range than the stout and short Fielder. Defensive improvements is the good news, the bad news is that Gamel is a shell of Fielder offensively. Fortunately if Gamel can play better defensively there might be a smaller drop-off at first than is currently expected.

#14) Shaun Marcum (RHP): The regular season road warrior of starting pitching last year (lead the league with a 2.21 ERA) absolutely collapsed in the playoffs. Marcum decided to tweak his delivery in the off-season and predictably struggled with injuries throughout spring training. I will see Marcum pitch in-person with Cheesehead Chick, UP, & Sam tomorrow night against the Cubs at Wrigley Field so hopefully Marcum picks up where he left off in the regular season as opposed to the post-season.

#13) Alex Gonzalez (SS): The Brewers had a .982 fielding percentage last year, which seems good, but they only finished 22nd out of 30 teams. Yuniesky Betancourt had the 3rd most errors at shortstop with 21 errors but much like Braun, Betancourt is so limited defensively that if he could get to more balls his error total would be even higher. The Brewers signed Gonzalez almost entirely for his glove but after he hit close to .500 in spring training, expectation are mounting for Gonzalez not only defensively but offensively as well.

#12) Chris Narveson (LHP): Performed great in 2011 and might be the best 5th starter of my lifetime following the Milwaukee Brewers. At least some of Narveson's success has to do with the fact that he faces mostly 5th starters though so its hard to tell whether Narveson could ever be a middle of the rotation guy.

#11) Francisco Rodriguez (RHP): Posted a 1.86 ERA in 31 games after joining the Brewers in a shock trade from the New York Mets. K-Rod thought that impressive performance for the Brewers last year would net him a closer job this off-season. Obviously it didn't so K-Rod came back to the Brewers as possibly the most expensive set-up guy in baseball despite voicing displeasure with that role towards the end of last season.

#10) Nyjer Morgan (CF): Other guys that remind me of Morgan are Milton Bradley, Stephen Jackson, and Metta World Peace. When things are going good guys like Bradley, Jackson, World Peace, and Morgan seem like great teammates. Once the losing streak hits though watch out, because all of the guys just mentioned turn into locker room cancers. Hopefully the Brewers challenge for the division title in 2012 but if they struggle, Morgan will turn into a locker room cancer.

#9) Randy Wolf (LHP): The rich-man's A.J. Hawk of the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers bears a striking resemblance to former Brewer Geoff Jenkins. This post is getting long so let's keep moving.

#8) Aramis Ramirez (3B): When Casey McGehee was Ramirez's backup the Chicago Cubs tried to pass McGehee through waivers but the Brewers scooped up McGehee. As late as opening day last year I thought McGehee was the long-term answer at 3rd base but after an extended slump at the plate it became apparent that McGehee is a below average defender and a streaky hitter at best. Instead of simply promoting Taylor Green the Brewers woefully overpaid for Ramirez who is a below average defender (like McGehee) but is a much better contact hitter (unlike McGehee). Ian Stewart is currently playing 3rd base for the Cubs this year so if history is out guide he better get ready to start at 3rd base for the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers.

#7) Jonathan Lucroy (C): My buddy Sug's nephew is a huge Lucroy fan. In fact he likes Lucroy so much that he dislikes Wolf because Kottaras was Wolf's person catcher. Something tells me the Jonathan Lucroy Fan Club is fairly empty but after signing a very club friendly contract I am guessing Sug's nephew will have some competition for President of the Jonathan Lucroy Fan Club.

#6) Corey Hart (RF/1B): After plodding through a second consecutive injury riddle spring training the Brewers are taking a leap of faith that Hart can stay healthy and thrive in the 5th spot in the line-up hitting behind Ramirez instead of Fielder. It may sound overly simplistic but if Hart struggles in the five hole there will be a big negative waterfall effect felt throughout the entire line-up.

#5) John Axford (RHP): It's going to be hard for Axford to best his 2011 performance after converting 46 saves of his 48 save opportunities. Odds are that Axford regresses slightly but even if Axford converts 90% of his save opportunities he will give the Brewers a good chance to challenge for the N.L. Central title again.

#4) Rickie Weeks (2B): Even after missing a month and a half of the 2011 season Weeks tied for the most errors of any 2nd baseman in the National League. Normally Weeks covers up his defensive limitations with his offensive prowess but Weeks struggled at the plate when he returned from injury in 2011. Hopefully Weeks can return to the healthy version of himself in 2012.

#3) Yovani Gallardo (RHP): In 2011 Gallardo posted his third consecutive season with 200-strikeouts, which is for the first time any pitcher did that in franchise history. Thanks in large part to those strikeouts, Gallardo notched a career best 17 wins and 3.52 ERA in 2011. As crazy as it sounds, I expect Gallardo to improve in 2012. Although FIP (fielding independent pitching) is a much better indicator of performance, wins is still how most fans measure starting pitchers so to give a prediction everyone can appreciate, I expect Gallardo to post 20 wins in 2012 for the first time in his career.

#2) Zack Greinke (RHP): Although Gallardo was the opening day starter, Greinke (and his quirky personality) is the best starting pitcher on the roster according to almost any statistical measure.

#1) Ryan Braun (LF): After pulling the Reverse Al Capone, Braun still refuses to tell the whole story about his "failed" drug test. Unless Braun shares the whole story that unearths some nuggets that have not become public knowledge if I had to bet my life I would say Braun used some form of performance enhancing drugs last season.

I hope you enjoyed the wall-to-wall Milwaukee Brewers coverage throughout the last week. Check back tomorrow for my quick thoughts on seeing the Brewers in person at Wrigley Field. Check back throughout the upcoming weeks for other Cheesehead sports coverage.

Related Posts:
- Quick Thoughts - Top 2012 Milwaukee Brewer Minor Leaguers
- Quick Thoughts - 16 Brewers made ESPN's Top 500 MLB Players
- Wednesday What Happened - Most Overpaid and Most Underpaid 2012 Milwaukee Brewers
- Quick Thoughts - 2012 Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day Roster
- Quick Thoughts - Braun pulls the Reverse Al Capone
- Wednesday What (Should) Happen - 2012 Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training Preview

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