The official start to the Brewers season is just one week away. Are you getting excited? Of course you are! I know I am. Today we're beginning our three part look at the Brewers roster. To kick things off we're projecting what the lineup will probably look like. I say probably because the Brewers have until 11 am CT on Sunday to finalize their roster and they'll probably use every last minute to decide.
I'm going to take a stab at projecting where each Brewers starter will hit in the lineup. But the team hasn't made that official. So the actual lineup may look different on opening day. And they may even switch things up based on daily match-ups. That would be ideal, but it's also something we won't know until the season is under way.
Lead-Off: 2B Scooter Gennett/INF Colin Walsh
I expect Scooter Gennett to lead off most games. Wow. I can actually hear you all groaning. That's right. Your collective dissatisfaction with my statement broke the time barrier and transpired what is probably many miles of physical space. Impressive. But here me out. All you really need from a lead-off hitter is on-base percentage. While Gennett isn't known for that (he barely draws walks) he actually has a .339 OBP vs RHP. That's solid. And when you look at the rest of the lineup, it's probably the best mark outside of Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun.
I figure there's a good chance Colin Walsh makes the team. Furthermore, should that come to pass I expect there's an equally good chance Walsh plays the majority of games at second base vs LHP. This will be Walsh's first taste of the majors. But he had a staggering .395 OBP during his time in the minors. He's a switch hitter but he's best vs LHP. If he can translate that success in a limited role at the major league level we could be looking at a very strong OBP tandem.
Second: C Jonathan Lucroy
The sabremetric lineup has the team's best hitter batting second. That would be Ryan Braun. But we know that's not going to happen. All spring manager Craig Counsell has said the only lineup spot he's got figured out is the No. 3 batter, which is Ryan Braun. It seems pretty clear to me that leaves the two hole open for Jonathan Lucroy. And this is the spot he's been hitting in for the last year or so. The only thing that may change this is if he's traded before the season start. But now that we're just seven days away, I'm pretty sure the eventual trade will happen well into the season.
Lucroy (while he's still a Brewer) should see the majority of starts behind the plate. But he'll also get some starts at first base. This is something the Brewers have been doing over the last three seasons. The only other back-up option at first base is going to be Ramon Flores. I've no idea which figures to see more time there or how many games Chris Carter will sit.
Last year was Lucroy's worst as a major leaguer. But he dealt with a hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of spring training, a broken toe that cost him over a month of playing time, and a concussion at the end of the year. After returning from the broken toe and leading up to the concussion he was mostly back to his former hitting self. The only thing that didn't come back all the way was the power. But I'm not sure that's unexpected given the broken toe. I'm expecting Lucroy to be a good hitter again this year. And that means he won't be staying with the team for very long.
Third: LF Ryan Braun
The trade of Khris Davis had a pretty big impact on the Brewers. Not only did they acquire their catcher of the future (Jacob Nottingham), they also were able to optimally align their outfield. Half of that means Ryan Braun gets to move back to left field. He play in right the last two seasons and it didn't go so well. He was never a plus defender in left field, but the metrics show he was worse in right. I think in part that relates to his throwing arm. It's not weak, but it's better suited to left.
Offensively Braun is easily the Brewers best threat. Last season he was (mostly) healthy for the first time since the thumb became an issue in 2013 (also the year he was suspended). All he did was hit 285/356/498 with 25 HR and 24 SB. The back scares the hell out of me. But if he can manage it, I expect more of the same from Braun. If he can't, then we'll see the Brewers impressive OF depth put to the test.
Fourth: 1B Chris Carter
Chris Carter has never played a full season in the field as he's served in a partial DH role with the Athletics and Astros. That's not an option with the Brewers, so how he'll hold up over the season might be a concern. But it should come as some relief that last season saw him make the most starts at 1B in his career: 105. The Brewers will probably want him to make another 30-40 this year. And there's really no reason to think he can't do that. Although that doesn't mean he'll field the ball well...
Things are no less murky on the offensive side. There's no doubt he possess 30+ home run power. The problem has been contact. Last year was a career low for him as he struck out 33% of the time and only managed a .199 AVG. But he still hit 24 home runs and owned a 12.4 BB%. If he can make just a little bit more contact this year, he'll be an above average offensive player and hit a lot of long home runs.
Fifth: RF Domingo Santana
The other half of the optimal outfield has Domingo Santana starting in right field. He has average to slightly above average range and a plus throwing arm. He'll be a better fielder than Braun was in right field and Braun will be better in LF than Davis was so the two should combine to save more runs than last year's duo.
Offensively Santana is a bit of a mystery. It's possible he's not entirely dissimilar to Carter. He could strike out over 30% of the time, own a walk rate in the double digits, and hit 20-25 home runs. That's not great, but it's solid. If he can cut down on the strike outs and make a bit more contact, the upside is pretty similar to Khris Davis' offense (which is a good thing).
Sixth: 3B Aaron Hill
There was some debate about what role Hill would serve when the Brewers first acquired him. Now it's clear he'll be the primary third baseman in 2016 (until he gets traded). Hill has logged over 10,000 innings at second base, but only 640 innings at third base (almost half of which came in 2005). He's looked fine in spring training, but it's not clear how well he will handle the position over the long haul. It'll probably be fine though.
Offensively we can hope for a rebound, but shouldn't expect one. He was a well below average hitter the last two season. But he was well below average from 2010-11 and rebounded the following two seasons. So it's not impossible he can figure things out again. However at age 34 the odds are stacked against him. So hope, but don't expect.
Seventh: SS Jonathan Villar
Looking at this projected lineup, I find Jonathan Villar to be the most intriguing to me. That's not to say I think he's the best player or anything. He's just very interesting. He hasn't done much with his career to day. But he has all the tools to be a special player. And at 25 years of age, he's not too old to have a break out season.
If you just look at the tools (fielding ability, speed, arm strength) he has the potential to be a strong defender at either shortstop or second base, maybe even third base too. His problem has always been with errors. He makes mental mistakes. That's not a good thing, but it is a cause for optimism. You can't teach arm strength or speed, but you can teach a player to stop making mistakes (in theory at least). If he can get past that mental hurdle, we could be looking at two plus middle infielders in Villar and Orlando Arcia before the season ends.
At the plate Villar has some interesting tools, albeit with a limited ceiling. He has a little bit of pop in his bat, but power isn't really part of his game. Upside you're probably looking at 7-10 HR. But speed is where he could make his mark. Last year between AAA and MLB he stole 42 bases. In 2014, between AAA and MLB he stole 41. He probably won't get on base as much in a full season at the MLB level, but 30+ bases is probably still realistic. And last year was the best offensive season of his career. So that's encouraging.
Eighth: CF Keon Broxton/Ramon Flores
Right now we don't really know who will win the center field spot. It's very possible no one truly wins it. It could be a revolving door out there. All we truly know right now is that Ramon Flores has a spot on the roster. But it seems more and more likely that Broxton will too. And of the pair, Broxton is the better defender. So for right now I'm operating under the impression he'll get the most starts there. But if a guy like Nieuwenhuis wins the third spot, there could be a platoon situation that favors him as his defense is solid as well.
Broxton looked impressive for the Pirates AA and AAA affiliates over the last two seasons. He has the raw power to his 10-12 HR and speed to steal 25+ bases. The question is how those skills will translate to the majors. Despite the solid results, he was striking out over 25% in the minors and that figures to rise at the major league level. Scouts are also concerned about his swing and pitch recognition.
Ramon Flores is a contact oriented player who doesn't strike out a lot, but also walks a fair amount--at least in the minors. He's only had 33 major league plate appearances. His power and speed combo isn't impressive. He might be able to hit 7-10 HR and steal 15-20 bases. But if he can make enough contact and draw enough walks he could be interesting. Perhaps the Brewers can get the best out of him by platoon him with Broxton.
If Nieuwenhuis enters the mix, he's a guy that could provide league average offense vs RHP. But the upside is rather limited. He strikes out a lot and doesn't draw a lot of walks. The defense is solid if unspectacular. So he won't hurt you there at least.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs