Brewers Season Outlook: Mat Gamel


-Curt Hogg-

With the loss of Prince Fielder to free agency this season, a large void at first base has been opened for former top prospect Mat Gamel. Throughout his prior tenure with the Brewers, Gamel was stuck behind Fielder at first base and struggled too mightily defensively at third base to be considered an everyday starter at the hot corner. But now, it’s Gamel’s time to shine.

Expect Gamel to hit the lower-middle of the lineup, especially now with Ryan Braun back in the order and hitting third. His left handed power bat will be utilized by Roenicke to “clean up” the remnants of the damage wrecked by Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Aramis Ramirez, much like the role Hart has played in the previous two seasons in the fifth and sixth slots in the order.

Gamel’s mechanics have been significantly simplified since his first stint of significant playing time in the Big Leagues in 2009. In 141 at bats that season, he hit .242 with 5 homers, 6 doubles, and 20 RBI. His eye at the plate and pitch selection will be key to his success in 2012. It’s difficult to read too much into Gamel’s career stats with Milwaukee; each of his stints at the Major League level have been brief.

The California surfer look-alike has been given the vote of confidence from Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. The job, for now, is his to lose. Hopefully, Gamel can fix his defensive woes that plagued him at third base in the past. It doesn’t require much defensively to be an upgrade from Fielder at first base, after all. Nobody by any means is asking him to become the next Prince Fielder, but a good season would take away a majority of the pressure burdened on him.

Mat Gamel Season Prediction: .259, 22 HR, 72 RBI, .331 OBP, 0.0 dWAR, a whole lotta chew

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Ryan Braun Suspension Overturned: How This Affects the Brewers in 2012


-Curt Hogg-

Ryan Braun will be in the lineup, batting third for the Brewers on April 6th. Brewers fans, rejoice.

Not only does the successful appeal on Braun’s positive drug test maintain his image, but it may have saved the Milwaukee Brewers season. With the off-season loss of three-time All Star Prince Fielder, the Brewers could not have afforded losing the reigning National League Most Valuable Player for 50 games to begin 2012. Though the pitching staff–primed with upper-echelon arms in Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum–may have been able to keep the Brewers from locking themselves in the cellar by the end of May, the offense would have been stagnant without Braun and Fielder.

Let’s face it: Ryan Braun’s vindication saved the Milwaukee Brewers season.

All along, Braun denied any allegations, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the positive drug test report was “BS”. Throughout the entire process, including a five-week appeal in court, Braun was nothing short of professional. That same approach was taken Thursday by the Brewers outfielder, who said in a statement, “I’ve always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball. Everything I’ve done in my career has been with that respect and appreciation in mind.”

In a division with no evident front-runner, the Brewers now have as good a chance to make the Playoffs as any team in the NL Central. The   defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals lost the face of the franchise and arguably top player in the game, Albert Pujols. Cincinnati, though much-improved with the addition of starter Mat Latos, has much to prove with a plethora of question marks surrounding the back end of the rotation and bullpen.

The Brewers back end of the bullpen, comprised of 46-save-man John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, is easily the best in the division. The starting rotation is proven and can compete with the likes of the Chris Carpenter-led St. Louis arms.

What may be overlooked in all this may be the fact that the Brewers retained a Gold Glove in left field with what may have been the worst defensive infield in the National League with the likes of Rickie Weeks and Mat Gamel. The outfield is now one of the best, boasting UZR-gem Carlos Gomez (27.5 UZR in 2011), the speedy Nyjer Morgan and his alter ego, Tony Plush, and the underrated Corey Hart in right field.

The effect will be most obvious under the ‘R’ column in the scoreboard. The Brewers gain a .330 hitter who can bop 30 homers and drive in over 100 in addition to stealing 30 bases. As much love as there may be for Carlos Gomez and Japanese import Nori Aoki, it’s borderline-impossible that the two could match that production. I mean, there is a reason the man was the National League MVP.

The debate over the Most Valuable Player award typically is along the lines of “Well, is he really the most  valuable to his team? Or is he just the top performer?” As if that line isn’t spoken enough, it would as overused as the driver’s seat in a 1994 Buick by the time his 50 game suspension would have been over. I’ll just do us all a favor and call it out right now, on the spot.

Ryan Braun will prove to be most valuable to his team in 2012.

Ryan Braun’s Released Statement on Overturned Drug Test


Ryan Braun has become the first player to overturn a positive drug test. Thursday, he was informed that a third-party arbitrator had ruled that he is, indeed, innocent and will not be suspended 50 games. To my knowledge, it is because something went wrong with the test, which sound a lot like the news I broke last week.

Braun released the below statement following the news of the successful appeal.

That, my friends, is the face of a vindicated man.

“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision.

“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.

“We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances.

“I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.

“I would like to thank my family and friends, my teammates, the Brewers organization led by Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Gord Ash and Ron Roenicke, and other players around the league who have expressed their support and our great fans in Milwaukee and around the country who stuck by me and did not rush to judgment.

“I’d also like to offer special thanks to Michael Weiner and the Players Association for believing in me since day one and to my attorneys.

“I’d like to thank my agent Nez Balelo and Terry Prince of CAA Sports and Matthew Hiltzik of Hiltzik Strategies for all of their help and counsel through the process.

“This is not just about one person, but about all current and future players, and thankfully, today the process worked.

“Despite the challenges of this adversarial process, I do appreciate the professionalism demonstrated by the Panel Chair and the Office of the Commissioner.

“As I said before, I’ve always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball.

“Everything I’ve done in my career has been with that respect and appreciation in mind.

“I look forward to finally being able to speak to the fans and the media on Friday and then returning the focus to baseball and working with my Brewers teammates on defending our National League Central title.”

Ryan Braun Wins Appeal of Positive Drug Test, Avoids Suspension


Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun has been informed along with the Associated Press that he has won his appeal to overturn a positive drug test, and will avoid a 50 game suspension. Braun is the first player in Major League history to have a positive drug test overturned. The decision comes after five weeks of deliberation in the court hearing.

Major League Baseball is reportedly upset with the decision of neutral arbitrator Shyam Das. They released the following in a statement:

“As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”

Braun is the first player in MLB history to successfully overturn a positive drug test.

Braun appealed the positive test that took place in early October, at the outset of the playoffs. His hearing before a three-man arbitration panel was held in New York on Jan. 19-20, when noted attorney David Cornwell presented his case against the test result and suspension. Braun won the appeal 2-1, with the MLBPA and the arbitrator in his favor with, obviously, the MLB against it.

An official with knowledge of the situation said the test was overturned primarily on evidence that something went wrong with the test. Sounds EXACTLY like what Plushdamentals reported last week. A source exclusively told me that the test was mishandled and sent in later than it should have been. Read that article here. 

Braun is expected to report to Brewers Spring Training facilities in Maryvale, Arizona on Friday. The announcement comes right at a time when Braun and the Brewers would be faced with their toughest media situation in team history. Now that the cloud of doubt and suspicion are gone and Braun’s image has been restored, the team can resume baseball activities without anxiety.

ESPN’s Outside The Lines reported in December that Braun tested positive for a performance enhancing drug at the outset of the Playoffs, which was reportedly synthetic testosterone. From the beginning, Braun denied any allegations, telling the Journal Sentinel that the report was “BS”. The test reportedly contained “insanely high” levels of testosterone, far above any test ever before.

Not only does Braun retain his reputation of one of the game’s elite, but the Brewers avoid a huge blow by avoiding a 50 game suspension to the reigning National League MVP. After losing Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers, suffering without Braun could have been excrutiating.

More to come.

Brewers Season Outlook: Corey Hart


-Curt Hogg-

While there is a flurry of questions surrounding Corey Hart entering the 2012 season, one thing is for sure: with the loss of Prince Fielder, Hart’s production in the lineup is crucial.

Hart gives a curtain call after hitting his third homer in a game vs. Washington in May 2011

Hart is coming off of his first back-to-back productive seasons. Production from the 6’6″ right fielder had been sporadic throughout his career, to say the least. In 2011, however, he simplified his swing, removing any unnecessary movements that tended to get him off balance. Hart batted leadoff for Ron Roenicke’s squad in 63 games last season, including 11 Playoff games in addition 62 consecutive games to finish the season. Despite not fitting the prototypical mold of a leadoff batter, Hart flourished in the role. He batted .301 with 15 home runs and 36 RBI, providing a jolt of pop at the top of the lineup.

Hart enters the season as the leading candidate to bat leadoff for the Brewers, but recent comments by Rickie Weeks may play a role in how that turns out.

Dario Melendez tweeted that Weeks said, “I’ll like to bat anywhere else but 5. I just feel stagnant when I’m there like ‘drove in run, what’s next?”

Though the decision still remains ambiguous, the looming suspension of Ryan Braun would open up the 3-hole for the first 50 games until its rightful owner called its name. Neither Hart nor Weeks has ever batted third significantly in their careers (Corey only has 20 starts in the third slot). It wouldn’t surprise me to see Weeks hit first and Hart move down to third with Nyjer Morgan smushed in between. I wouldn’t read too much into his comments, however.

The loss of Fielder opens up more than vacant spots in the batting order; the opening at first base has been a point of emphasis and speculation throughout the off-season, now seeping into Spring Training. Mat Gamel, the former top prospect known for hitting cannon shots but being  an ancient mariner at third base, is finally getting his chance at consistent playing time in the Majors. Roenicke considers Gamel to be the front-runner now at first, but the option of Hart’s lanky frame switching from right to first hovers over Gamel. Most likely, the Brewers will carry four additional outfielders (Morgan, Carlos Gomez, Nori Aoki, Ryan Braun) throughout the season, leaving the door open for Hart at first if need be. Odds are that Corey will stay in right and Gamel and, possibly, Taylor Greenwill man first base.

Hart’s production at the plate in 2012 will need to be consistent with that of the past two seasons. Continual work with former batting coach and current Cubs manager Dale Sveum got Hart back to an All Star level of play. Hart raked the ball all over the pasture in 2010 and 2011, hitting a combined 124 extra base hits. Last season, in only130 games, he finished with 26 home runs and a modest 63 RBI given the fact half his season was spent in the RBI-deprived leadoff spot. One spot of emphasis will be improving upon last season’s mark of .236 with two outs and RISP. The Brewers lost one of the best two-out hitters in Fielder (.299, 25 RBI with 2 outs & RISP in 2011) and two out production from hitters such as Hart is a key to repeating as National League Central champs.

Expect nothing short of an All Star-type season from Hart in 2012. I predict he, not Aramis Ramirez or Weeks, will be the bat that carries the offense throughout the season.

2012 prediction: .281, 28 HR, 81 RBI, 7 SB, .345 OBP, still does that funky one-hand-in-the-air-and-hip-twist celebration after a base hit.

Brewers Player By Player Season Outlook Schedule


I’ve decided to run a season outlook on every player that is expected to play even a minor role on the Big League club in Milwaukee this season. The schedule is tentative and subject to change, but here’s what can be expected:

#1 Corey Hart- Thursday 2/23

#24 Mat Gamel- Saturday 2/25

#48 Tim Dillard- Sunday 2/26

#13 Zack Greinke- Tuesday 2/28

#9 George Kottaras- Thursday 3/1

#5 Taylor Green- Friday 3/2

#38 Chris Narveson- Saturday 3/3

#50 Kameron Loe- Sunday 3/4

#11 Alex Gonzalez- Tuesday 3/6

#43 Randy Wolf- Thursday 3/8

#40 Jose Veras- Saturday 3/10

#27 Carlos Gomez- Sunday 3/11

#23 Rickie Weeks- Monday 3/12

#20 Jonathan Lucroy- Wednesday 3/14

#61 Brandon Kintzler- Saturday 3/17

#3 Cesar Izturis- Sunday 3/18

#22 Logan Schafer- Tuesday 3/20

#41 Marco Estrada- Wednesday 3/21

#49 Yovani Gallardo- Thursday 3/22

#7 Norichiki Aoki- Friday 3/23

#60 Wily Peralta- Saturday 3/24

#26 Manny Parra- Sunday 3/25

#16 Aramis Ramirez- Tuesday 3/27

#18 Shaun Marcum- Wednesday 3/28

#14 Brooks Conrad- Friday 3/29

#57 Francisco Rodriguez- Saturday 3/30

#33 Eric Farris- Sunday 3/31

#8 Ryan Braun- Tuesday 4/2

#2 Nyjer Morgan- Wednesday 4/3

*Expect additional posts on any player that impresses during Spring and creates a chance at making the Brewers. (i.e.- Travis Ishikawa,  Mike McClendon, Michael Fiers, Tyler Thornburg, Zach Braddock, Caleb Gindl)

Predicting the Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day Roster


An Infectious and Unconditional Love for The Game

FIFTH INNING

Mat Gamel is expected to be the Opening Day first baseman for the Brewers

-Curt Hogg-

For the sake of my inability to type words at the moment, I’m just going to cut straight to the chase. It saves you the obligatory feeling of having to read my opening morceau and restrains me from writing some sixth grade level jibberish. So let’s just cut to the chase, you and I.

With Opening Day now a mere 46 days away, there remains large speculation as to which players will fill out the 25-man roster. To spare you the agony of predicting which guys will begin the season in a Brewers jersey, I stepped up to the plate. Heroically, I know.

Short enough of an intro? Good.

Quick key: *=starter, (1)=batting order slot, +=Opening Day pitcher

Outfielders**

LF*- (2) Nyjer Morgan– Plush will platoon with Carlos Gomez in center with Ryan Braun in the lineup, but will get the majority of starts in left to begin the year, assuming the MLB hands out a 50 game suspension to Braun.

CF*- (7) Carlos Gomez– To me, the defensive whiz’s key to keeping a regular role in the Brewers outfield rotation is, simply, to hit over .220. For most players, offensive numbers like Gomez’s would find them a spot on the bench, but the 26-year-old’s prowess in center field saves enough runs to put up with his offensive struggles. A place towards the bottom of the order would place much less of an emphasis straining to draw walks, Gomez’s primary struggle, and more toward driving in clutch runs and stealing bases.

RF*- (1) Corey Hart– Not the league-accepted ideal leadoff hitter, the 6’6″ Hart filled the role well for Ron Roenicke in 2011. He posted a .301 average with 15 homers and 36 RBI in his last 62 starts, all coming as the leadoff hitter. Expect him to keep the spot atop the Brewers lineup until Roenicke has to play his hand because of any struggles from Hart.

Norichika Aoki– The off-season transfer from Japan has yet to prove what he can do at a Major League level, but beats out any other competition from youngsters Caleb Gindl and Brock Kjelgaard. Once again, the Brewers won’t have any shortage of left handed bats on the bench.

Logan Schafer– Based on a whopping five plate appearances in 2011, Schafer appears to be the leading candidate to take the fifth outfield spot. He provides speed off the bench (swiped 16 bases in the Minors last season) and could find a spot on the Big League club even with Braun’s return if he outplays Aoki. It wouldn’t be surprising, however, to see the Brewers go with only four outfielders and leave Schafer off the roster to add a right handed bat.

**Each of these outfield predictions is assuming Braun is suspended for the first 50 games.

Infielders

3B* – (4) Aramis Ramirez– It’s going to take a good month or so to get used to it, but let’s face it: Aramis Ramirez is a Brewer. All I ask in order to forgive him for being a Cub is 100 RBI. Nothing much.

SS*- (6) Alex Gonzalez– Another offseason acquisition by Doug Melvin, Gonzalez is an obvious upgrade at shortstop, both offensively and defensively. He may not possess the pop of Yuniesky Betancourt, but his glove and patience at the plate make up for it. Maybe he can make Brewers fans not cringe as much anymore when JJ Hardy goes yard in Baltimore.

2B*- (5) Rickie Weeks– Coming off back-to-back productive seasons, including an All Star Game start in 2011, Weeks needs to produce even more with RISP in 2012. With no Fielder and, most likely for the first 50 games, Braun, teams will find ways to work around Ramirez in the cleanup spot if Weeks and Gamel don’t produce. Just as he is the pivot man on a double play, Rickie is the pivotal hitter for Milwaukee this year.

1B*- (3) Mat Gamel– Young man, it’s your time. I mean, it’s not like you’re taking over for a three-time All Star, Home Run Derby champ, All Star Game MVP, the youngest player to hit 50 homers in a season, career .282 hitter with 230 homers in six seasons. No pressure.

UTIL- Taylor Green– The youngster impressed in 20 games in 2011, batting .270 and making the Postseason roster. I like him. You like him. Ron Roenicke likes him. This kid better be on the Opening Day roster.

UTIL- Cesar Izturis– He was invited to camp as a non-roster invitee, but Izturis’ experience and glove will be beneficial off the bench. Brooks Conrad, a notorious pinch hitter, could pose a challenge for this spot. Conrad has a career 14 home runs while in Atlanta, most of which came off the bench. Izturis, a Gold Glove winner in 2004, provides a more reliable option to back up Gonzalez, Ramirez, or Weeks and is a much better contact hitter (averages one strikeout per 10 at-bats over 11 seasons).

Catchers

C*- (8) Jonathan Lucroy– With yet another year of experience behind the plate, Lucroy enters 2012 uncontested for the starting catcher role. Pitchers love his improving abilities behind the plate. He’s no slouch at the plate, either. He hit .265 with 12 dingers and 59 RBI in front of the pitcher throughout 2011.

C- George Kottaras– Randy Wolf’s personal catcher was solid as a backup in his second season as a Brewer. He set career highs in average, OBP, SLG, and OPS in 2011. There’s no reason to think he won’t improve both behind and at the plate this year.

Starters

1- + Yovani Gallardo

2- Zack Greinke

3- Shaun Marcum

4- Randy Wolf

5- Chris Narveson

Expect nothing less than a great season from the intact staff from 2011 that was one of the National League’s best. Greinke, barring any setbacks and pick-up basketball games, will have a full season under his belt after striking out over 200 in 28 starts in 2011. Randy Wolf’s ability to pick up the dreaded stat of quality starts and Chris Narveson’s first couple innings are focal points for the season. We know what to expect out of the three studs at the top, but will Wolf and Narveson be as productive as they were last year?

Bullpen

John Axford (closer)

I like Tim Dillard. A lot. So much that I might even invite him to my wedding.

Francisco Rodriguez (set up man)

Jose Veras

Kameron Loe

Marco Estrada

Manny Parra

Tim Dillard

As much as I would love to see a guy like Wily Peralta or Santo Manzanilla or last year’s extra inning hero in Philadelphia, Brandon Kintzler, make the Opening Day roster, there isn’t the space to fit in all the options. I don’t see Roenicke and Melvin sending Parra down again and, essentially, ending his chances with the Brewers. With a lack of southpaw options for the ‘pen, his job will primarily be to retire possibly multiple left handed hitters in an inning. The Dillard selection, however, can be attributed more to an educated guess. With Estrada and Parra, Roenicke doesn’t need any more inning eaters and The Tim Dillard Experience has a repertoire much more suited to retire one or two batters than Brandon Kintzler. Just ask the Marlins.

* Predicting the Milwaukee Brewers Opening Day Roster is the “fifth inning” in a series of nine posts on An Infectious and Unconditional Love for The Game. Read each of the first four posts here.