At once, this was a star-studded team. Names like Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, Francisco Rodriguez, and even Rickie Weeks were big-time names leading the charge into the playoffs in 2011.
Now, this team is, by almost all definitions, a young team with talent budding in all areas, ready to flourish and hopefully carry this team to another playoff run. Gone are Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke, and the drastically talent-diminished K-Rod. Braun still remains, though with controversy swirling around him like a swarm of bees to honey, and Weeks is still trying to rehab from a horrific ankle injury that kept him from finding his bat until after the All-Star break in 2012.
I’ll go ahead and tell you now, there are a few certainties on this team, barring some catastrophic injuries (please, for the love of God, let us get through this Spring and the World Baseball Classic only missing Mat Gamel). Guys like Ryan Braun, Corey Hart (once healthy), Aramis Ramirez, and Yovani Gallardo are all proven major leaguers, and I will not classify them as wildcards.
We’re going to take a look at the three biggest wildcards, both from the field, and from the mound, so six players altogether. Part one will be the three position players, and part two will contain the pitchers.
Let’s get started.
Segura was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels last season. The Brewers also got a couple of great minor league pitchers out of the deal (Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena), but neither are likely to see time with the Brewers this season. Segura is, even with the addition of veteran Alex Gonzalez, Milwaukee’s starting shortstop entering the 2013 season. Last season, his first in the majors, wasn’t all that bad. He finished off his time in Milwaukee with a slashline of .264/.321/.331, knocked in 14 RBIs, and stole seven bases in 148 at-bats with the Brew Crew.
Numbers that don’t sparkle, but they don’t tell the whole story, either. After a slow start in August, hitting just .209 with the Brewers, Segura seemed to finally figure out major league pitching, and finished the season strong, going for a .343 BA in the month of September. We also saw his versatility as a middle-infielder, both at shortstop and second base, and is a potential Gold Glover in the future.
Segura is one of the fastest players on this team, and with a full season, it’s likely he’ll steal at least 30 bases. He might add a little bit of pop and hit a few homers, but don’t expect much power out of him. Segura has the potential to be a guy who gets on base frequently, and will be a constant threat to steal. He’ll also take away many hits up the center as he improves his already impressive fielding.
Gomez shouldn’t have to be on this list… he’s been in the majors for six years now. He was once viewed by the New York Mets as a super-prospect, and is the only player Jose Reyes has openly admitted is faster than he is. Gomez, though a six-year vet, is still only 26 years old (he was the youngest player in the MLB when he was called up by the Mets his rookie year). Once viewed as a potential five-tool player, Gomez has never quite found his offensive footing in the majors. Until last season.
He’s always been a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder, and as this team’s full-time CF for the first time in his career, he very well may be in the running for that award this season. He’s also always had unbelievable speed and baserunning skills. The problem has always been getting on base. Before last season, Gomez only had one season in which he hit above .250 (2008 when he hit .258 with the Minnesota Twins), and he doesn’t do a great job of getting on base period, unable to draw many walks. His career slashline of .247/.294/.379 is ugly to look at. His previous career high in homers in a season was 8, in 2011 with the Brew Crew.
But last season, Gomez found his offensive footing and completely exploded… and I don’t think it was a fluke. Gomez put together a much-improved slashline of .260/.305/.463, slugged an impressive 19 homers, drove in 51 runs, and stole 37 bases… all of this in only 415 at-bats, as he spent the first part of the season with very little playing time.
Gomez will rob teams of runs thanks to his defensive prowess in center. He is the fastest player on this team, and will probably steal over 40 bases playing in a full-time capacity. If he can match that power and continue to just hit the ball and continue to find more discipline at the plate, Gomez is going to be a HUGE key for the Brewers.
I truly can’t wait to see Jonathan Lucroy play for a full season. Seriously. He’s been flying under the general public’s radar for the past three seasons, but I think he’s about to emerge as one of the best catchers in the game. If it weren’t for injuries last season, Lucroy could’ve hit 20+ homers and 90+ RBIs, to go along with his slashline of .320/.368/.513. As it was, in 316 at-bats, Lucroy gave the Brewers 12 homers and 58 RBIs, respectable by any catcher’s standards. But you tack on another 200 at-bats, and Lucroy is going to be as big of an offensive cog as anyone on this team, except perhaps Braun.
You add that on to the fact that Lucroy is already a defensive-minded catcher, with a sure glove and a strong arm—teams might not know much about him yet, but they will soon. He fits the title of catcher of the future in Milwaukee, just like Segura fits the title of SS of the future. Both of these positions have been in question for years, but Segura and Lucroy are filling those holes, and filling them in big ways. If Lucroy stays healthy, don’t be surprised to see him hit around .320-.330, hit 20-25 homers, and drive in 90-100 RBIs.
I’m just saying… Yadier Molina and Buster Posey… it’s time to watch out for Jonathan Lucroy.
So that’s it for part one.
I had a tough time not including Norichika Aoki, a rejuvenated Rickie Weeks, and Alex Gonzalez to this list, but I have my reasons. Nori put together one heck of a rookie season with the Brew Crew, but I (unlike many others) saw it coming. I think he’s only going to get better, but I think teams got the message last season… he’s got some pop in his bat, he can hit for average, he’s a good fielder, and he’s much faster on the bases than anyone thought.
Weeks has been a huge part of this offense before, and despite hitting 20 homers last season, still had a subpar season. When he finally found his bat halfway through, he helped bring the Brewers back into contention. I expect another normal bounce-back season for Weeks. Batting average of around .260, 25 or so homers, and 15 or so stolen bases, along with some spectacular plays on defense, and some spectacular blunders on defense as well.
Gonzalez has never played any position but shortstop in the majors, but he’s very likely going to be asked to be a utility infielder this season, especially with the glaring hole at first base until Hart comes back a month into the season. He’ll hit like he normally does, and he’s an excellent defender, so I think he can acclimate to first base, which is, on the whole, easier to play than shortstop.
All three of those guys, and anyone I didn’t mention, are going to be huge for this team. But I think Segura, Gomez, and Lucroy are really the quiet giants that are going to surprise teams the most this season.
In part two of this brief series, I’ll discuss the three pitchers who I think will have wildcard-like seasons with the Brewers.