Today is April 1st, but rest assured this article is not a joke. It might be bad, but it's not a joke. These are my bold predictions for the Brewer 2016 season. But first let me explain what I mean by "bold prediction." For me a bold prediction is something that absolutely could happen, but really straddles the line between possible and impossible. It's an extreme take on something. But there has to be a certain logic behind it. And that's what separates bold takes from the ravings of a madman.
Michael Reed logs the most starts in center field for the Brewers major league squad
Craig Counsell has been emphatic that the Brewers do not have a regular center fielder. At least not right now. In fact, at the moment the only player we know for sure that will see any kind of playing time there is Ramon Flores. But it feels pretty likely that Keon Broxton and Kirk Nieuwenhuis will play there too once they're officially name to the 25-Man roster. But there's a good chance that none of them prove to be capable of handling starting duties at the position. Some of them might not be major league caliber players at all if we're being honest.
That's where Michael Reed comes in. He'll start the season in AAA, but if/when it becomes clear that none of the three previously mentioned players is capable of playing center field full time, Reed should get the first call. And if/when that happens, I have full confidence that Reed will separate himself from the rest of the pack (or at least he has the skill set to do so). Broxton probably has the highest upside of this group, but Reed is next and he actually has a realistic chance of reaching that upside.
Jonathan Lucroy is traded in April or May
I thought for sure Lucroy would be traded by now. And I know he'll be traded eventually. I think the reason he's still a Brewer is either because teams are still concerned about the concussion or the Brewers were getting seriously low-balled. I think the only justification a team would have for not offering fair value is related to injury concerns. We all know he's still an offensive force and teams will have noticed he was pretty much the same guy when he was healthy. So once Lucroy has played for a couple of consecutive weeks, and performs like we know he will, teams will lose that particular bargaining tool. In other words,
The reason I think it could happen so early in the season is two fold. First, we all know the Brewers are looking to trade Lucroy. That means there's no decision process they have to go through. There's no, "Well, we'll see where we're at in July and make our decisions then." They're in full sale mode and they have been for months. So we can probably safely assume that teams have been talking with the Brewers about Lucroy for months now. That means interested teams know what the asking price is. So if/when the final talks begin, all cards will be on the table which means it could be a quick discussion.
Second, teams are going to want Lucroy for as long as possible. And getting him well in advance of the trade deadline is more or less the same as getting him for the whole season. Also, catchers are different than regular position players. They have to manage the pitching staff, so the sooner they get Lucroy, the more time he'll have to get comfortable with them and vice versa.
The Brewers finish the season with a win-loss record that places them outside the top ten draft picks
I think the rotation is better than most people anticipate. And offensively I think there is the potential to surprise with platoons at second base and center field. I also expect the team to be better in the second half after players like Orlando Arcia, Michael Reed, and Jorge Lopez come up. And yeah, Lucroy probably gets traded. But he's the only player I see getting moved whose absence will have a big impact on the team. By the way, I'm not suggesting they're playoff bound, but I absolutely think they're going to finish better than last year at least.
PECOTA has the Brewers finishing with a 76-84 record. Using PECOTA's other projections, based on tie-breakers that would give the Brewers the 7th overall pick. But they're tied with 4 other teams. Meaning one of those teams would lose all the tie-breakers and finish with the 11th overall pick.
Team projections are messy and they have a pretty wide margin of error. It's pretty much guaranteed every team will finish with a record different from the one they're projected for. But it just goes to show that the Brewers probably aren't as bad as some people think/hope. I'm constantly seeing people suggest the Brewers are going to lose 100 games. That's ridiculous.
So with PECOTA on my side, maybe this isn't exactly a bold prediction. But there are enough people who believe the Brewers are going to be much worse than last year's 68-94 record that I think this qualifies as a bold prediction.
Orlando Arcia is the starting shortstop before June
Defensively Arica is ready. Offensively he's probably pretty close too. But he's not a finished product and he's never played at the AAA level. So he definitely needs to start the season there. From what I understand, players get a sort of list of things to work on and goals to meet each year and at every new level. With little left to learn, Arcia's list should be short. I imagine they'll want him to control his aggression at the plate better. He drew a career low in walks last year. Once he shows improvement in that area there may be nothing but the Super Two cutoff will be holding him back.
One other thing to consider is the effect playing in Colorado Springs has on hitters. Usually we talk about how the high altitude changes the way pitches break. But that has an impact on hitters too. You can't really learn how to hit a curveball at Colorado Springs because they don't move like normal curveballs. So that could be motivation for the Brewers to move Arcia (and Reed) quickly.
Corey Knebel ends the season as the Brewers closer
This is the prediction I'm least comfortable with. I believe that Knebel has the talent to be dubbed the closer. He has two plus or better pitches in his fastball and curveball. Last year he struck out 27.8% of batters faced and figures to only get better with experience. The only question is if he'll get the opportunity this year.
Regardless of what the Brewers might say, Jeremy Jeffress is their full time closer in the wake of the Will Smith injury. And I think he's going to do a quality job in that role. If that's the case, he's going to start getting more national recognition, but more importantly more teams might find him an intriguing trade target. So he could be gone before the season is over.
Will Smith might return to action in a couple of months or he might be out for the season. We just don't know at this point. But even if he does return to action quickly, he should still be highly sought after. The injury was to his knee so teams won't have to worry about his ability to pitch. Once he proves he's healthy, teams will start calling again.
That means both preseason closer candidates could be gone before the season is over (and unfortunately one of them might not pitch at all this year). There isn't another pitcher on this team that would make more sense to close than Knebel. Blazek has as much major league experience but comes with a lower ceiling. Thornburg might be an option if he blows up this year, but that seems unlikely. So even though the Brewers probably would like to not drive up his arbitration prices, Corey Knebel makes the most sense to serve as closer should Smith and Jeffress be gone.