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Kyle’s Bold Predictions for the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers

Struggles for Arcia, a breakout for Pina, and a journeyman who breaks through to the big leagues.

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MLB: Spring Training-San Francisco Giants at Milwaukee Brewers Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

There’s only four more days until Opening Day! Even though the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t projected to be competitive, there is still plenty of intrigue surrounding the team. Here are three bold predictions regarding the Brew Crew in 2017:

Orlando Arcia spends time in the minors

Long considered Milwaukee’s top prospect, Arcia’s debut last year didn’t exactly live up to the hype. He could muster only a meager .219/.273/.358 batting line (64 wRC+) with 4 homers and 8 steals in 55 games while the metrics offered mixed reviews on his trademark defense at shortstop (-1 DRS, -2.8 UZR, +3.9 FRAA). Major league hurlers exploited Arcia’s aggressiveness at the plate, tempting him to swing at more than 38% of pitches he saw out of the zone (league average 30.2%) and inducing swings-and-misses 14.5% of the time, leading to a 21.8% strikeout rate that was the youngster’s highest mark at any professional level during his career.

Arcia knows he needs to make adjustments in order to succeed at the game’s highest level and has been working with Darnell Coles this spring to improve his pitch recognition and plate discipline. The results haven’t exactly shown up yet, however, as Orlando walked in a mere 3 of his 64 plate appearances in the Cactus League. Though I expect Orlando to have a relatively long leash, I believe he’ll find his way to Colorado Springs at some point this season as he continues his development. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as plenty of players have to return to the minor leagues to refine things after struggling during their initial call-up to The Show. Arcia is still only 22 and I believe that his profile should lead him to become an above-average starter at shortstop someday, but it’s tough for me to see that happening as soon as 2017.

Manny Pina becomes an average regular at catcher

Manny Pina has certainly come a long way in his career. He signed as an international free agent back in 2006 and after 12 professional seasons and a few cups of coffee in the big leagues with the Royals (2011-12) and Brewers (2016), he was informed last week that he’d made his first ever Opening Day roster. I profiled Pina as a potential breakout candidate back in February, citing swing changes that he began to make in 2015 that helped him increase his bat speed and drive the ball more regularly. After posting a combined 138 wRC+ the last two seasons in AAA, Pina posted a solid .254/.346/.398 (98 wRC+) batting line in 81 plate appearances with the Brewers down the stretch last season.

Pina has torn the cover off the ball this spring, hitting .422/.435/.822 with 4 homers and 6 doubles in 45 at-bats, making my breakout assertion look that much more plausible. He has separated himself from the pack of catchers competing for the job this spring and should be in line for a bigger chunk of the playing time behind the plate over Jett Bandy, at least to begin the season. I fully expect Pina to run with this opportunity and post above-average offensive numbers for his position while capably handling the pitching staff (he grades highly in throwing and blocking, though his pitch framing leaves something to be desired), putting together a season of 2+ wins above replacement.

MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Oakland Athletics Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Paolo Espino will make MLB starts for the Brewers

One of the most intriguing moves that Slingin’ Stearns and the Brewers made this winter was one of their more under-the-radar ones, signing Paolo Espino to a minor league deal back in November. The 30 year old veteran minor leaguer has spent 12 years beating around the bushes with Cleveland and Washington without making it to the big leagues. That’s most likely due to his short, stocky stature and lack of premium velocity, with a fastball that sits in the 88-92 MPH range. As I explored for BP Milwaukee recently, however, Espino has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the minor leagues over the last several seasons:

Paolo Espino’s Minor League Statistics

2011 AA 81 2.44 82 2.16 86 n/a 2.91
2011 AAA 39.3 3.43 81 1.56 74 6.41% 1.81
2012 AA 116.3 3.09 87 2.49 85 3.54% 3.77
2013 AA 79 5.35 97 3.5 95 2.08% 1.51
2013 AAA 62 3.92 81 1.85 74 4.42% 2.4
2014 AA 113 3.98 70 1.49 75 4.27% 4.91
2015 AA 38 4.26 96 3.84 98 1.18% 0.56
2015 AAA 117.7 3.21 93 3.31 97 2.27% 2.65
2016 AAA 152.7 3.3 79 1.33 75 4.18% 7.01

Espino brandished a five pitch arsenal during his time in big league camp this spring (fastball, sinker, slider, changeup, curveball) and showed well in Cactus League action, posting a 3.60 ERA and 8:2 K/BB ratio in 10.0 innings of work. His Called Strikes Above Average marks from the last number of seasons indicate elite command of his expansive repertoire. He’s been worth nearly 28 wins above replacement since 2011 by BP’s metric for pitchers and PECOTA has him pegged as a ready-made 5th starter projected for a 4.27 ERA at the big league level this season. The Brewers proved last season that they’ll give chances to players who earn it rather than just bringing up top prospects when there is a need (like when Junior Guerra was called up over Jorge Lopez in May), and given the state of Milwaukee’s rotation, this may very well be the best chance Espino has had in his career to make it to the big league level. I expect it’ll be Paolo Espino, rather than someone like Josh Hader, who gets the first chance to prove himself at the big league level this season, and I think Espino could thrive if/when the opportunity presents itself.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers-Media Day Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs