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Playing Pepper 2013: Milwaukee Brewers

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 2:30 PM
Filed Under: Milwaukee Brewers | Playing Pepper
For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat.  If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers.  We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.

Milwaukee Brewers 
83-79, third in the NL Central 

After winning the NL Central in 2011, the Brewers knew it'd be a tough road to repeat the feat after losing Prince Fielder.  They avoided a double whammy when Ryan Braun's appeal of a failed drug test was upheld, but the Reds and Cardinals proved to be a bridge too far.  Milwaukee did put a scare into the Cardinals late in a surge for the wild card, though, which gives some hope to Brewer fans for the coming season.

To talk about 2013, I was able to get Nick Michalski of The Brewers Bar and J.P. from Disciples of Uecker to open up.  You can find them on Twitter @TheBrewersBar and @JP_Breen.  After the jump, they'll talk about the rotation and how this season may play out, so keep reading!

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C70: How would you grade the Brewers' offseason? 

BB: I would give the Brewers a B-. They brought in some fresh faces for the bullpen (Badenhop, Gorzelanny, Gonzalez, Olmsted, etc.). The lineup didn't need much help, and even with injuries to Corey Hart and Mat Gamel, they have enough depth with Alex Gonzalez and others to get on OK. I think they really missed out on an opportunity to improve the rotation, though. I understand their reluctance to play the free-agency game but I felt they could've brought in a low-risk starter on a minor-league contract to potentially provide some veteran presence. Instead they brought in swingman Alfredo Figaro from Japan and are going to let it ride with the young guys and see what happens. 

DU: The offseason gets a solid B or B-. Although it's no secret the Brewers lack top-end starting pitching, Doug Melvin didn't get overaggressive an endanger future seasons by handing out multi-year contracts to free agent starters. The Brewers will have a very difficult time competing in the National League this year because the league should feature some really good squads, and it's encouraging that the organization didn't jeopardize future seasons for the illusion of "going for it." 

Milwaukee is more than one mid-rotation starter away from competing with the Cincinnati Reds for the NL Central crown. There's no point in signing an Edwin Jackson type pitcher for the money that he commanded and be forced to deal with that contract down the road -- especially for an organization that claimed to have lost money last season and cut payroll almost $20 million.

C70: Is there more behind Yovani Gallardo than meets the eye? 

BB: Yes and no. If Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers and Wily Peralta can pitch like they did in the latter part of 2012, the rotation will be good. Marco Estrada is really more of a #3 or #4 starter at best, but the Brewers flatly refused to spend money this winter when they didn't feel it was in the best interests of the club. They also have lefty and former Cardinal Chris Narveson (returning from injury) as well as the previously mentioned Alfredo Figaro and others for rotation depth. I think the Crew's rotation is full of no-names behind Gallardo, but if they pitch well, it will be a solid group. If one or more of those guys seriously struggle or get hurt, the team will be in a tight spot. The bottom line is the team didn't feel the market offered what they wanted at a reasonable price, and they have several guys (Narveson, Rogers) who are out of options and they didn't want to give a starting job to a mediocre veteran based simply on a contract and lose potentially more valuable starters for nothing. 

DU: It's easy to forget the Brewers' starting rotation had the highest strikeout rate in the majors last season, and that wasn't simply due to Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Four returning starters struck out more than a batter per inning in 2012: Mark Rogers, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, and Mike Fiers. That doesn't even include top prospect Wily Peralta, who struck out 8.78 batters per nine innings in Triple-A before getting a late-season call-up and posting a 2.48 ERA. 

The Brewers have sneaky talent in the back-end of their starting rotation. It's just volatile talent. The organization really doesn't know what to expect from the rotation as a whole. Can Mike Fiers be the pitcher he was for the first couple months of his rookie campaign before running out of gas in September? Can Mark Rogers throw enough strikes to take advantage of his plus-repertoire? Can Marco Estrada repeat his stellar 2012 season? Can Wily Peralta shrug off the command troubles and be the starter he was during his 29 big-league innings last year?

There are just so many question marks. It's truly a boom-or-bust rotation for the Brewers. As the team showed in August and September last season, the team can win as currently constructed. It will score a ton of runs and has the ability to pitch well enough to be above .500. It's just important to recognize that the other end of the spectrum exists as well -- in which Peralta had a 4.66 ERA in Triple-A, Rogers walked almost five batters per nine innings in Triple-A, Fiers imploded in September, and Estrada struggled to pitch deep into games. 

It will be interesting to see what happens this year with the Brewers' rotation. Many outcomes are possible.

C70: Is this Mat Gamel's last chance to shine? (Editor's note: Question was posed before Gamel tore his ACL for the second straight year.) 

BB: I hope not. A lot of fans find it easy to beat up on the guy (especially now that he's out for the season, AGAIN), but I was rooting for him and looking forward to him playing this year (and last year). I hope he can somehow stick with the Brewers and make another run at it because he has a lot of talent. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out thus far. 

DU: Unfortunately, these questions were drafted before spring training began because Gamel suffered another torn ACL, which ended his season. Gamel will turn 28 years old this season and has never seen more than 150 plate appearances in a single big-league campaign. I still believe in the bat. He's always been able to hit. I just don't believe he will be able to hit for enough power to carry a first-base profile, and his defense doesn't project well enough at any other position. 

Gamel is one of those tough baseball stories. He raked in the minors and was blocked by Prince Fielder. When presented with opportunities to win an everyday job, he suffered a crippling ACL injury ... twice. It was tough to listen to him talk about his injury this spring. He was obviously heartbroken. 

Here's hoping he gets a chance at the big-league level in 2014, even if that opportunity doesn't come in Milwaukee. He deserves it.

C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013? 

BB: I think it would probably be starting pitcher Wily Peralta or first base prospect Hunter Morris. Hopefully it's Peralta because if Morris is up in the big leagues, things will likely be quite discombobulated at the major league level to invite his presence this year. 

DU: Jean Segura doesn't qualify as a rookie this season, which is too bad because I adore Segura at shortstop this season, so I'll go with Wily Peralta. The right-hander has a mid-90s fastball and a wipe-out slider that will allow him to miss plenty of bats at the big-league level. I've always liked his changeup. It flashes as a league-average offering, but he doesn't seem to trust it enough to be a legitimate third pitch. Still, he has the potential to be a strong number-three starter who can strikeout hitters and generate ground balls. It all hinges on his command. 

He may start the season in Triple-A if the Brewers decide to break camp with Chris Narveson in the rotation, but I believe Peralta will see plenty of time in the majors this year. Narveson hasn't been a league-average starter in his career and is now coming off a shoulder injury. It's hard to have too much confidence in that combination.

C70: What will be the team's final record and where will they finish? 

BB: 85-77 and in 3rd place, looking enviously up at the physically superior and in all ways morally correct St. Louis Cardinals, who will be looking up at the Cincinnati Reds. I want to be optimistic and I think the Brew Crew is better than the Pittsburgh Pirates, but if I'm being realistic, I think this team needs a lot to fall right to win the division or a second wildcard. I'll be happy if the Cardinals miss the playoffs. 

DU: I've gone on record saying the Brewers will go 82-80 this season and finish third in the division. I'll stick with that prediction. I'm a little nervous considering Rogers, Peralta, and Narveson have struggled in spring training, but it's too early to drastically change any season projections.

C70: What one thing are you most looking forward to watching? 

BB: I'm looking forward to watching how it all plays out. The front office has made repeated references to the Oakland A's and their run in 2012 to a division title with an unknown rotation. I doubt the Brewers can replicate that, but it will not be a boring season. From boldly (perhaps stupidly) going with a very young and unproven rotation to new faces in the bullpen to a powerful and fun-loving lineup, the Brewers are never dull to watch. That's one thing I think the Crew has going for it over the Cards and Reds. They're a whale of fun to watch and they have style to burn. 

DU: The development of the young players. The Brewers are realistically looking evaluate their homegrown talent in hopes of seriously contending once again in 2014. The rotation has some volatile arms in Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, and Wily Peralta. It will be entertaining to watch their progress throughout the season, as will the progress of Jean Segura, who I believe will be a two-win player this season at shortstop. He handles the bat well. He can line the ball gap-to-gap and has the speed to be a .280-.290 hitter with 20+ stolen bases with enough playing time. 

Switching gears a bit, it will also be exciting to see whether Carlos Gomez has turned a corner in his career. He seemingly flipped a switch in the second half last season, hitting .278/.321/.488 with 14 home runs after the All-Star Break. He's continued that with a red-hot start to spring training. It's obviously a small sample size, but he's hitting .462/.588/.769 in the Cactus League and showing signs that his second half was no fluke. Add in his plus-defense in center field, and the Brewers could have a gem. 

And how crazy is it to think Carlos Gomez is only 27 years old? He's just hitting the prime of his career, and this season could be his breakout campaign.

My thanks to Nick and J.P. for their time and effort.  There's been an interesting rivalry with the Cardinals and Brewers the last few years and we'll see if that continues with some different characters in the mix this season.  Nick left us with a parting comment that I think we all can agree with:

Cards fans everywhere: good luck in 2013; the NL Central rivalries are great and a lot of fun, especially when we're all cool about it.
Can't argue with that!

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