Fantasy owners that are looking to leave a disappointing football season behind can now turn their attention to baseball, with the start of spring training a little more than a month away.
As I continue to take a position-by-position view of teams from a fantasy baseball perspective for 2013, here’s my look at the Milwaukee Brewers.
Catcher- Jonathan Lucroy’s 2012 season was derailed by a midseason hand injury, but he was otherwise very productive, hitting .320 with 12 home runs and 58 RBI over 316 at-bats. His notable improvement in batting average compared to 2011 (.265) directly correlated with a big jump in his contact rate (86 percent in 2012, 77 percent in 2011). As long as he stays healthy, Lucroy has legit sleeper potential as part of a potent Milwaukee lineup.
First Base- Corey Hart made the move to first base last season due to injuries elsewhere and had a nice season, hitting .270 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI. His days as a legit stolen base threat (23 steals in both 2007 and 2008) are gone, but he is a solid power source for fantasy owners that now has multi-position eligibility at first base and outfield. Hart will likely miss the early part of the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee recently, but that stands to make him a potential value pick on draft day.
Mat Gamel missed the majority of 2012 after tearing the ACL in his right knee, but he should now start at first base while Hart is out. The once highly-touted prospect may find at-bats hard to come by once Hart returns to action, but he could see time in the outfield or at third base as well. Gamel may be worthy of a late-round flier in NL-only leagues, but even that is optimistic.
Second Base- Injuries and inconsistency have made Rickie Weeks a source of frustration for his fantasy owners, and 2012 was no different as there was good (21 home runs, 16 stolen bases) and bad (.230 batting average) in his stat line. But he has now hit 20 or more home runs in three straight seasons, and his performance from July 1 on (15 home runs, 41 RBI) brings hope for this season. Drafting Weeks is not for the risk-adverse, but he is a legit top-10 option at second base with the upside to be even better.
Shortstop- Jean Segura was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zach Greinke trade last July, and he stepped right in as Milwaukee’s starting shortstop. His defense should keep him in the lineup even with limited offensive production, and there is no real competition for him currently on the Brewers’ roster. Segura’s youth makes his value greatest in keeper leagues right now, but he could become worthy of a waiver wire addition in NL-only leagues at some point.
Third Base- Aramis Ramirez had a big first season in Milwaukee in 2012, hitting .300 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI while setting career-highs in doubles (50) and stolen bases (nine). He will turn 35 during the coming season, creating some durability concern, but there aren’t many more reliable fantasy options at third base.
Right Field- Norichika Aoki put together a nice rookie season in 2012, hitting .288 with 10 home runs, 50 RBI and 30 stolen bases. Even out elite-level upside, fantasy owners can expect solid contribution in three categories-runs scored, batting average and stolen bases-and Aoki will not be a liability in any of the five standard fantasy categories as Milwaukee’s leadoff hitter.
Center Field- Carlos Gomez had the look of a perpetual underachiever heading into last season, but he finally put things together some, setting career-highs in home runs (19) and stolen bases (37) while topping 400 plate appearances for the first time since 2008. An improvement in plate discipline is still needed, as he took just 20 walks last season, but Gomez’s power and speed potential makes him an intriguing fantasy option if can prove he has turned the corner in his career.
Left Field- Ryan Braun followed up his 2011 MVP season with an even better campaign last season, as he led the National League in home runs (41) and runs scored (108) while hitting .319, driving in 112 runs and stealing at least 30 bases for the second straight season. He has always been a solid five-category producer for his fantasy owners, and an legitimate argument can be made for Braun to be the first player drafted in any league this year.
Yovani Gallardo is the ace of the Brewers’ starting rotation, and he has now struck out at least 200 batters with an ERA below 3.90 in each of the last four seasons. The only real black mark on his resume has been issues with control (3.6 BB/9 last season), which hurts his WHIP and leads to short starts when his pitch count gets elevated. Gallardo has the upside to become an elite fantasy option if he can harness his control more consistently, and his overall downside is low.
It’s hard for fantasy owners to know what to expect from the rest of Milwaukee’s starting rotation, with Michael Fiers, Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta among the unproven options to fill the spots after Gallardo. Veteran Chris Narveson made just two starts in 2012 before being sidelined by a shoulder injury, but all indications are he will be ready for spring training and he is also in the mix. Fiers and Estrada look like locks to win a starting rotation spot out of this group, so both guys are worthy of a late-round pick in deep mixed leagues.
There are some definite red flags in John Axford’s numbers last seasons, most notably 10 home runs allowed and control problems (5.1 BB/9), which led to an elevated ERA. But eight of his nine blown saves came before mid-August, and a 2.93 ERA with 13 saves over his final 17 appearances of the season lends hope for a rebound in 2013. Fantasy owners should set their expectations for Axford this season somewhere between his stellar 2011 (1.95 ERA, 46 saves) and his up-and-down 2012 (4.67 ERA, 35 saves).
Should Axford start the season poorly, right-hander Jim Henderson and left-hander Mike Gonzalez may get some save opportunities.