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Chat with Bryan from Against the Grain

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting down to discuss my favorite subject with a fellow Brewers blogger: Bryan, of Against the Grain.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Brew Crew Ball: What single player do you think the Brewers 2005 season success rides on?

Against the Grain: I don't know if I would say there is one person. I think that the biggest thing for the team will be the back 3/5 of the rotation. The difference between the first half and the second half in 2004 was how guys like Santos and Capuano gave them quality starts at the back of the rotation. When Cappy got hurt and Santos wore down at the end of the year (obviously with the fact that the offense was brutal) the Brewers fell into a tailspin. Will Santos/Capuano/Obermueller/Glover/Hendrickson be able to hold together the back of the rotation? Those are the player(s) who I think the success of the 2005 season depends mostly upon.

BCB: They are certainly the guys who could turn the Brewers into an 85-win team instead of a 70 or 75-win team.  I just hope that if one those guys really isn't doing the job, they only get a few chances to right themselves.  Obermueller doesn't deserve another 10-12 start trial.  Do you think any of the possible 3/4/5 starters will step up and give us a Doug Davis type surprise?

ATG: I think there is a lot of upside in the back end of the rotation. I agree that Obermueller probably doesn't deserve 10-12 starts to prove he can be a big league starter, but he has good stuff and is still relatively new to pitching, as he was a converted OFer in college. Chris Capuano was solid in the majority of his starts, he just ran into injury problems and then had a few rough outings before he was shut down for the season. Hendrickson looked bad in his big league trial in 2004 and I am somewhat down on him at the moment, but with how dominant his numbers were in AAA it still is possible that he could put together a solid big league campaign if he gets the opportunity.

BCB:  I really like Capuano too.  Obviously he'll have to cut down on the longballs, but if he stays healthy for the majority of the season, he could be a major contributor.  It doesn't hurt that he can actually hit.  When I ran my 2005 Diamond Mind simulation, I was struck at how much it hurt the team that Sheets and Davis are basically automatic outs.  The difference between somebody hitting .025 and .175 may not be a huge difference in the totals at the end of the year, but it sure has a psychological impact.  I wouldn't mind seeing Obermueller get a shot pinch-hitting some, Kieschnick-style, but I suppose one two-way player is enough for one team.  What do you think about the way the bullpen has shaped up so far?

ATG:  Well if there's anything Doug Melvin has done well as GM of the Brewers it has been to find guys basically off of the scrap heap and put together a solid bullpen. If they break camp with Adams, Bottalico, Capellan, Lehr, Kieschnick, de la Rosa, Wise, and then whoever else--be it Turnbow, Glover, Obermueller, Bennett, etc., I think it will be all right. Mike Adams performed so well in 2004, but will he be able to repeat it as a closer? I'm glad that they added a veteran with closer experience like Bottalico in case Adams doesn't work out. I think it's probably the weakest part of the team, but they do have a lot of options, which may help them get over their lack of experience.

BCB: That's really the test of a small-market team: can they put together a bullpen out of spare parts?  When Bob Wickman signs a multi-million-dollar deal, you know the Brewers aren't going to be in the market for any big free-agent bullpen arms, but it seems like every year there's a Danny Kolb somewhere in MLB who breaks out.  Sentimentally, I'd love to see Mike Adams be that guy this year, but I'm not sure it'll happen.  My sleeper pick for important innings this year is Turnbow.  His injury history is pretty scary, but under Maddux's tutelage, he could be positively electric.  As could Capellan, for that matter, but I'd hate to see him turned into a reliever when he might make a bigger impact in the rotation in '06 and beyond.

ATG: I'm not so sure Capellan will work as a starting pitcher. I'm worried at his inability to throw any other pitch effectively for a strike. Still he is young and has displayed solid mechanics. With Mike Maddux as his pitching coach maybe Capellan could reach his full potential by developing a solid #2 and #3 pitch. It's nice that he has the potential to "fall back" to being a power arm in the bullpen and potential closer if being a starter doesn't pan out.

BCB: I'm not sure either, but I'm worried that the team will rush into a decision.  The guy started last year in the Sally League, for crying out loud!  All of the sudden, partly because of his breakout 2004, and because of his inclusion in the Kolb trade, he's become (rightly) the top pitching prospect in the organization, and there's an expectation he'll contribute this year.  Maybe he will; maybe he's destined to be the Brewers closer from the all-star break this year until 2009.  But most pitchers not named Felix Hernandez take a little more time to develop, and I trust the Brewers player development system enough to spend a bit more time with him.  Capellan seems to me like the kind of guy who will, one of these days, learn to throw a nasty slider and could rack up 200 K's in a season.  Or, I guess, join the pile of injured young arms in the Milwaukee system.  That's always the risk when you're trading for pitching prospects.

ATG:  It looks like they're leaning towards at least starting out with Capellan on in the bullpen this year. Maybe they're hoping to follow the Minnesota Twins/Johan Santana paradigm of developing a young arm.

BCB:  That would be nice.  Any comparison to Johan Santana is welcome.  I did just read that he was reassigned to AAA to start the season, so we'll have to see what they try to do with him in Nashville.

ATG:  What would you like to see be done with Dave Krynzel?

BCB:  I haven't seen him play much, so I can really only go on stats.  The projections I've seen for him in 2005 aren't all that flattering, and John Sickels told me that he sees Krynzel's ceiling as a 4th outfielder.  I tend to agree.  I think he'd be a very useful guy off the bench for the Brewers, especially if they go with Cirillo instead of Durrington.  Krynzel could be a defensive replacement for Lee and an all-purpose pinch-runner.  The Crew has their share of excruciatingly slow guys, so there's room for a speedster on the roster.  I don't think they'll do it--Melvin has all but announced that Krynzel will be starting in AAA for the time being--but I'd like to see Krynzel get one or two starts a week to spell Brady or Jenkins and see how he fares.  

ATG: I think sending Krynzel to AAA to start 2005 would be a good move. Let him play everyday for at least the first half of the season...Then you can see how Clark is doing in CF (I'm really not all too worried about him) and then if the Brewers have a need for a 4th outfielder let Krynzel fill that role. I have spent some time on Against the Grain talking about Krynzel's ceiling, and I tend to see him as a 4th outfielder. Krynzel has however been one of the youngest players at each level he has played at so far. He has shown an ability to hit for average, draw walks, and run the bases effectively--just inconsistently. There are no questions that his defense is MLB-ready, but will his plate discipline develop? That will be what makes him a Kenny Lofton type player or a Doug Glanville.

BCB:  If Krynzel doesn't turn out to be any more than a 4th OF, what do you think the situation will be in CF in 2006 and '07?  I don't see Brady Clark as the long-term solution, especially if 2004 turns out to be an anomaly and he returns to his career norms.  The Brewers have a lot of possible corner outfielders, but unless Tony Gwynn Jr. really steps up his game, no major prospects for the future of center.

ATG: If Krynzel doesn't pan out then the Brewers are going to be in some trouble. If they have the offense everywhere else on the diamond they might be able to get away with a below-average offensive CF who can field his position. It's always tough to find a CF who can field and hit, but if Krynzel doesn't work out I suppose they could trade some prospects for somebody, draft and develop a player or maybe even sign a free-agent CF not named Jeffrey Hammonds.  Also, Nelson Cruz, who was acquired in the Keith Ginter trade supposedly can play CF.

BCB:  Supposedly, yes.  I don't believe he's considered any more than functional in center, and he'll be playing RF in the Brewers system.  It occurred to me as you said that that the Brewers may end up with a glut of 2B prospects.  Obviously Weeks is the second baseman of the future, possibly starting as soon as the all-star break this year.  That leaves Hernan Iribarren, Steve Sollmann, and Callix Crabbe without a clear path to Milwaukee.  I don't know enough about any of those guys to say how well they'd take to learning CF, and I don't know that Sollmann and Crabbe have ceilings any higher than utility guys.  But they certainly rank right up there with any of the centerfielders in the system right now.

ATG: Which Brewer do you think is least likely to enjoy as much success in 2005 as they did last season?

BCB:  It feels to great to say this, but I don't see anybody taking a big dive.  I can't see Santos performing up to his first half last year, nor do I think Overbay will improve much on last year's numbers.  And it's reasonable to think that Brady Clark might regress a bit.  The only real risk I see is an injury to someone like Damian Miller, Geoff Jenkins, or--fingers crossed here--Ben Sheets.  Short of a breakout from Corey Hart, there's no real protection if one of the corner OFs goes down for any length of time, and if Miller gets hurt, well, I'm sure Pat Borders is a great guy and a wonderful clubhouse presence.  What do you think?

ATG: I hope the Brewers don't need Pat Borders to do anything but be Crash Davis to some minor league pitchers...I agree that I don't see anybody falling off the face of the Earth, but I'm most nervous about Doug Davis. He was one of the top 20 pitchers in MLB according to Baseball Prospectus' Value Over Replacement Player. I don't think he'll have an ERA over 5.00 or anything, but I have a feeling he'll end up with an ERA around 4.15. Really though, there aren't many Brewers who had success in 2004, so this is a very limited category.

BCB:  I suppose the one thing that may prove the saving grace of Milwaukee's pitchers not named Ben Sheets is the NL Central.  Pittsburgh is hardly a run scoring machine; Cincinnati is a couple of likely injuries away from a mediocre offense; and Houston could have Jose Vizcaino, Willy Tavares, and Brad Ausmus in the same starting lineup.  The Cubs and Cards will do their part to send some ERAs into the stratosphere, but with the unbalanced schedule, there'll be a heck of a lot of games against below-average offenses.  Getting right to the heart of the matter, do you think this is Milwaukee's year to get out of the basement?

ATG: I think so. The interesting thing about the NL Central is the division between the "have's" (STL, CHC, HOU) and the "have-nots" (PIT, CIN, MIL). All three of the "have-nots" got better this off-season, while two of the top-tier teams got worse (CHC and HOU). I think St. Louis will win the division, and pretty much the other five teams in this division could finish anywhere from 2nd to 6th.

BCB:  Yeah, it's odd to say this a year after everyone picked the Cards for third, but I can't really foresee a scenario in which St. Louis doesn't win the division.  Probably by a lot.  I find it hard to pick the Cubs below third, because even with one or two of their starting pitchers hurt, they still have one of the best rotations in baseball.  But the Brewers could well sneak into third place.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and pick Pittsburgh for last.  They've earned it.

ATG: Who is somebody on the Brewers that you just love to watch play? I know the obvious guy is Ben Sheets, but is there anybody on the club that might not have the best numbers but you just like to watch play? My guy has been Brady Clark for a few years now. He was undrafted, doubted every way up the professional baseball latter and now has finally won a starting job. I know my love of guys who play hard sometimes opens me up to criticism from other more SABR-minded bloggers, but I like watching guys compete. I'm not saying give Clark a 5-year 50 million dollar deal, just I like to watch guys give it their all day in and day out.

BCB:  Brady's a great story.  As are a lot of guys on the Brewers.  Spivey came from nothing; guys like Branyan and Davis bounced around the minors for what seems like forever...a team of cast-offs can make for great feature writing.  But my favorite guy, beyond all question, is Brooks Kieschnick.  Branyan has taken over the role of "Brewer most likely to smash your windshield by hitting home run 700 feet out of Miller Park," but Brooks can still mash, and he's turned into a very useful cog in the bullpen.  I wish Yost would be even a bit more creative in utilizing him.  When I managed my DMB simulation, I found myself relying on him as a 4th OF more than anyone else.  He may be subpar in the field, but man, can that guy hit.  And if the game goes extras, he can warm up quick and pitch the 14th, 15th, and 16th innings for you!

ATG: Well the Brewers are very staunch in their belief that Kiesch is a pitcher who happens to pinch hit. It would be nice if he was able to play a little LF or RF here and there, but with his injury last year I doubt that happening anytime soon.

BCB:  Who's your pick as the sleeper, maybe along the lines of 2004 Mike Adams, who'll have the biggest impact this year?

ATG: I think Matt Wise could be that guy. I could see him getting a few starts as well as being a reliable arm in the pen.

BCB:  I would love to see Matt Wise be that guy.  I don't think it'll happen, but he could be a decent #5 starter.  More realistic is that he could be useful in a role like Justin Duchscherer's in Oakland, and if he puts up numbers like Duke's, I'll be thrilled.  I know somebody--maybe Turnbow, maybe Julio Santana--will essentially replace Vizcaino as the set-up man, but I'm pretty sure it won't be any of the current contenders, like Bottalico or Lehr.  If that guy is solid, he's my pick for 2005 sleeper.  One last thing.  Win total for 2005?

ATG: I want to say 81. Believe me, I want to...I just can't. I'm going to go with 76-86. Your prediction, and then I have one last question for you...

BCB:  I want to say 81, too.  I'll be a shade more optimistic and say 78-84.  

ATG: Give me your predictions for team Most Valuable Player, MVPNNBS (Most Valuable Pitcher not named Ben Sheets), and Russell Branyan's season totals given 500 at-bats.

BCB:  Team MVP: Carlos Lee, but not by much.  If Junior Spivey is healthy and still on the team in September, he might make a claim, too.  MVPNNBS: I'll be boring and say Doug Davis.  If he gives us 30 starts in the general vicinity of last year's numbers, he'll be one of the best #2 starters in baseball--again.  Branyan: .250 avg, 35 HRs, roughly 95 RBIs.  And count me in the camp that really, really wants him to get those 500 at-bats.  And your predictions for those three?

ATG: Well, this probably isn't the best to spark interest in my opinions, but I have the same players selected. I think Carlos Lee will step in and put up something similar to a .295/.360/.535 line with 35+ bombs. He's my MVP. I know I said that I'm worried about Davis, but still I think he should log a lot of innings and keep an ERA around 4.15.  Branyan with 500 at-bats:  .230/.325/.495, 33 HR, 85 RBI.  And 200 strikeouts

BCB:  I'll take the under on 200 K's, but not by much.  Thanks for doing this Bryan, I enjoyed it.  

ATG: Absolutely, it was a good time. Good luck with your blog and everything, lets do this again in the future.