2018 record: 96-67, lost to Los Angeles Dodgers in NLCS
SI’s predicted 2019 record: 95-67, first in NL Central
Key additions: C Yasmani Grandal, re-signed Mike Moustakas
Key departures: SP Wade Miley, OF Keon Broxton
1. CF Lorenzo Cain
2. RF Christian Yelich
3. 1B Jesus Aguilar
4. 3B Travis Shaw
5. LF Ryan Braun
6. 2B Mike Moustakas – 2B
7. C Yasmani Grandal
8. SS Orlando Arcia
C: Manny Piña
1B/OF: Eric Thames
INF/OF: Hernan Perez
OF: Ben Gamel
RHP Jhoulys Chacin
RHP Brandon Woodruff
RHP Freddy Peralta
RHP Corbin Burnes
RHP Zach Davies
LHP Josh Hader (Closer)
RHP Jacob Barnes
LHP Alex Claudio
RHP Taylor Williams
RHP Matt Albers
RHP Junior Guerra
RHP Chase Anderson
Injured List: RHP Jimmy Nelson, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Corey Knebel.
Movin’ On Up! Travis Shaw slashed .258/.347/.497 with a 120 OPS+ during his first two seasons with the Brewers. He hit 31 home runs in 2017 and 32 last year. The one knock on Shaw is, so far, he doesn’t hit lefthanded pitching (.209/.303/.296 in 2018). If he improves against lefties, Shaw will be a star in a deep Brewers’ lineup in 2019.
Sell! Corey Knebel: Knebel’s breakout 2017 campaign was remarkable–– a 1.78 ERA and a 40.8 strikeout percentage––but it looks as though his best is already behind him, especially if his elbow injury requires reconstructive surgery. Manager Craig Counsell may be wondering if the injuries to Knebel and reliever Jeremy Jeffress have to do with workload issues from last season.
Appreciate This Man! Mike Moustakas will be the Brewers’ starting second baseman in 2019, a position he has never played before at any level of professional baseball. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t do it. He was drafted as a shortstop before he moved to third in the Royals farm system, and with all the shifting the Brewers do, he’d be playing all over the diamond regardless of the position next to his name on the lineup card. Besides, being in the order is the most important thing for Moustakas anyway, because the Moose can hit. Over the last four seasons, he’s posted a 115 OPS+, each year between 108 and 119 (Talk about consistency!). He hit 38 home runs in 2017 with the Royals and 28 last year between Kansas City and the Brewers. Give him a full season in Milwaukee, without the persistent trade rumors that he faced with the Royals, and in a lineup with lots of protection for him, and Moustakas should continue doing what he does best with the Brewers this season.
A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: The Brewers got within a game of the World Series last season by riding their bullpen. Their starters threw just 847 innings, fewest of any NL playoff team ever, and second-fewest of any playoff team to last year’s A’s. From that rotation, they’re down Brent Suter to Tommy John surgery and Wade Miley to free agency. If Craig Counsell is going to run a more conventional staff this year, he needs righty Jimmy Nelson back on the mound. Nelson was having a career year in 2017, with a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts, when he tore his right labrum diving into first base. Nelson missed all of 2018 coming back from surgery to repair the tear, and his absence was a big reason the Brewers leaned on their pen. Nelson is the one Brewers’ starter who has shown front-of-rotation potential, and having him make 25 starts and throw 160 innings is the key to their winning the NL Central again.
MLB.TV rating: 7.6
Unless Christian Yelich is on Triple Crown watch again this season, the Brewers won’t be the most exciting team to watch in their division. Josh Hader dominating out of the bullpen with his elastic left arm should be the same attraction it was in 2018, and there is some appeal to the innovative in-game moves that manager Craig Counsell makes, but without any true elite starting pitchers, an element of the game is missing in Milwaukee. Marquee pitching matchups still matter for fans, and the Brewers likely won’t have too many of those with the way their rotation stands right now.
Keep an Eye Out for… Zack Brown will open the year in the minor leagues, but the starting pitcher will be with the Brewers at some point this season, maybe even soon. The 24-year-old righthander is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this December if he doesn’t make it to the majors. Given the Brewers’ lackluster rotation and some the injury history of some of their starters––Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies and Chase Anderson––they made need Brown if they’re going to return to the postseason. Cory Spangenberg had a disappointing five-year tenure with the Padres, but he definitely has the potential to be a suitable major leaguer. He was a first-round selection (10th overall) in the 2011 amateur draft and can play both the infield and outfield. He isn’t expected to make the Brewers’ Opening Day roster, but he could be a valuable call-up as the season progresses because of his versatility. The Brewers’ outfield is pretty much set, but Corey Ray, their No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, could be a contributor down the stretch. A first-round pick in 2016, Ray hit 27 home runs last season with Double-A Biloxi. The power-hitting outfielder will start the year in Triple-A, but if he hits there, it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself in the big leagues.
A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers
What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?
Do they have enough starting pitching? They don’t have that top of the rotation guy. And they did it last year without that guy. They had a great bullpen, and they had some depth, but do they have enough starting pitching to get to the World Series? They’re hoping that Jimmy Nelson’s getting ready for some time this year, and I’ll tell you, Dallas Keuchel, if they could afford him, he would be great addition to replace Wade Miley. Milwaukee has made some additions and they’ve added some payroll, but Keuchel would be the guy they need in that rotation.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
I’d probably say Jesus Aguilar. He was claimed from Cleveland and he hit 35 home runs last year. He hits good pitching and he’s got power.
Who is the most overrated player on the team?
Ryan Braun. The arrow is definitely pointing down on him. He’s slowed a little bit. It’s a lot of money, and you’re not getting that production.
What young player(s) is/are on the brink of stardom?
Orlando Arcia. He is just so talented. He had a great run in last year’s playoffs, and he’s very young. Just scouting him coming through, you’re like, this guy, down the road, once he learns to get better pitches to hit, he’ll hit for some power, and he’s a great shortstop. He can be someone they hit down in the line up, where you can hide him a little bit and then you’ve got a chance to get some power from the back of the lineup, and you get great defense.
Who gets the most out of his talent?
Travis Shaw. This guy’s made himself into a really good player.
Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?
Not even close. It’s Josh Hader. He’s Andrew Miller 2016. It’s that good. He makes good hitters look bad. Watching him in that Cubs game last year, he made Daniel Murphy, a great hitter, look like a minor-leaguer. You don’t see that a lot. He’s just filthy.
But no doubt, when you have guys pitching multiple innings like that, you worry about how they might hold up. Miller was never the same after his 2016 season, so you worry about the same thing with Hader. Kenley Jansen’s gone through that, you ride these guys hard and go deep into the playoffs and then you have to back off a little bit the following year.The Brewers have a good coaching staff, and a good front office, so they’ll definitely monitor that, and he won’t be used like that during the season.
Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?
Christian Yelich. He just has a really good feel for everything.
Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop.
You know, people might not know this, but when Christian Yelich was in Miami, he was never a power guy—last year was the first year he hit a lot of home runs. If you watch him, it’s a flat swing, it’s a whole field approach, but if you go early to watch BP, he’ll hit balls in the upper deck. It’s just like, ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me, is this the same guy?’ The first time I saw him in batting practice, I was like, ‘this isn’t Yelich, it can’t be Yelich, he’s hitting balls in the upper deck in Miami, just, wow.’ He’s not a launch angle guy, but he has just monster power. It is just shocking he can have that much juice.
Who are two guys you’d immediately trade for?
Lorenzo Cain and Yelich.
Name the guy (or guys)on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.
Braun can be a guy who you’d hear in the past wouldn’t always play for it.
Whose effort could use a jolt?
Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?
The kid Corey Ray has a chance to be that guy. He has power, he can play centerfield, he can run, so if something happens to Cain or Yelich or Braun, he could be one to use at some point in the season.
Is Craig Counsell the manager that you would want for the team?
Yeah. He seems to mix well with the front office, they’re heavy on analytics, and he doesn’t have a ton of issues with the players. He’s done a good job.
What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?
They have more pieces to trade than the Cubs do. St. Louis is obviously in this division race too now with Paul Goldschmidt, but this lineup from top to bottom is great. I love it. I mean, the additions—bringing Moustakas back, adding Yasmani Grandal, these were great pick-ups. They needed a catcher and they went out and got one of the best ones in the league. I like their bullpen, they have depth in the pitching staff. As for their starters they have guys like Peralta, Woodruff, Burns, but I still think they need to go out and make that trade or addition to take them over the top. I definitely think they’re a playoff team, a wild card team, possibly a division winner, but they’re going to have to add that top of the rotation guy. They have the prospects to trade, but I don’t know about the finances, if they can go buy anything, they’re a serious World Series contender.
As for the next three years, it’s good. A lot of their prospects are at the upper levels. The guys they’ll move earlier, Ray, Mauricio Dubon, I think they’ll be good. They’ve got Cain, Yelich locked up, Aguilar, I think they’re in good shape. Obviously, in that middle market, with finances, they’ve got to be really smart with money, but you’ve got to give them good odds.
Emptying the notebook:
I think one thing with Moustakas, a lot of people worry about him at second base, if he’s going to be playing there, but I don’t think he’s going to be exposed that badly because of the defensive positioning and shifts that this club uses. I thought that was a great signing. He’s great in the clubhouse and I think that’s one of the main reasons they brought him back. I like the moves they’ve made here, they had a great offseason.