Our contributors at Brew Crew Ball are excited to get the 2023 season underway after an offseason that saw quite a bit of turnover across the league. Here are our bold predictions and storylines to watch for the Brewers in 2023.
Matt Aho: Luis Urias becomes an All-Star
We are talking about bold predictions so I will give you one. 2022 saw a decline in the production of the young infielder, as he batted just .239 with 16 home runs. His 3.1 WAR still matched his 2021 mark, but he was dealt with a bad hand having started the season on the injured list. My confidence in Urias to take the step to become a next-level infielder is his play in the World Baseball Classic, where he was a major contributor in getting team Mexico to the semifinals. Playing in playoff-like atmospheres can help a young player grow, but thriving in those situations can help the confidence in a player, helping them go to the next level. He will still have plenty of chances too, with significant playing time available at both third base and second base, especially with the departure of Kolten Wong and the ongoing development of Brice Turang.
Harrison Freuck: Brandon Woodruff wins the NL Cy Young Award
Last year, I predicted that Freddy Peralta would finish top three in voting for the 2022 NL Cy Young Award, giving Milwaukee potential back-to-back winners for the first time since 1981 and 1982. Instead, Peralta went down with injuries, pitching in just 18 games (17 starts) and totaling a 3.58 ERA over that period.
This year, I’ll go with Brandon Woodruff to take home the award, as he was arguably the best pitcher not only on the Brewers, but in the entire league after returning from injury in late June. His 2.38 ERA after the All-Star break beat out Burnes’ 3.97 mark and NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara’s 3.09 mark. I think he’ll continue to anchor this rotation in 2023, giving Milwaukee the best 1-2 punch in the MLB, even with the Mets having both Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
Jason Paczkowski: Devin Williams leads the National League in saves
With Josh Hader out of the picture, Devin Williams has stepped into the closer role. He’s been just as strong as Hader, if not better at times. Right after the Hader trade last season, he did struggle a bit, as he posted a 2.61 ERA and 5.05 FIP in August. However, that rebounded to a 2.53 ERA and 1.71 FIP in September/October, and in the 11 games before his final appearance of the season, he had a 0.73 ERA and 1.57 FIP, with 20 strikeouts compared to just 5 walks. He now has that spot at the start of the season and a full season to take advantage.
Jack Stern: Jesse Winker returns to being a top-10 hitter against right-handed pitching
From his debut in 2017 through the 2021 season, Winker’s 149 wRC+ against right-handed pitching ranked sixth among hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances. That mark placed him right alongside hitters like Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, and Bryce Harper.
Things went south for Winker in 2022 after the Cincinnati Reds traded him to the Seattle Mariners. Neck and knee injuries drained Winker of his power, resulting in his lowest hard-hit rate since 2017 and a career-worst 108 wRC+. However, his strikeout-to-walk ratio remained strong as it’s ever been, indicating that Winker never strayed from his identity as a hitter despite his struggles. Winker is reportedly in great health after offseason surgery, which should allow him to return to his previous level of excellent against right-handers.
Herschey Winkelman: A starting outfield with three rookies by the end of the season
The Brewers have a young outfield trio brewing in their ranks and with currently aging outfielders, Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick, and Joey Wiemer have a chance to emerge as regular players at the major league level. Mitchell was called up to the big leagues at the end of last season and posted a .311 batting average with two home runs in 61 at-bats. Wiemer and Frelick played well last year in the minors, and Frelick was a contributing part of Italy’s World Baseball Classic squad. These three look to be the future of the Milwaukee outfield and coming quickly.
Storylines to Watch
Matt Aho: How will the young Brewers make an impact on the big league club
As is always the case when we get to the end of spring training, we see the young prospects get the call to the big league team. This year, Brice Turang and Gus Varland got the call to make the Opening Day roster. Those two surely won’t be the last to make an appearance, as Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer will be two prospects to watch in the outfield along with Garrett Mitchell. I think it will be interesting to see how Counsell creates space for these guys to get their feet wet, all while trying to get a return trip to the postseason. I am also excited at the prospect of these guys, who have been crushing at the minor league level, having significant playing time in Milwaukee.
Harrison Freuck: What happens at the trade deadline
I think every Brewers fan expects pretty the same thing every trade deadline — stand pat and see what happens with what we’ve got. In 2022, David Stearns switched things up and opted to trade Josh Hader to the Padres, which ended up backfiring as Hader excelled down the stretch and in the postseason, getting the Padres to the NLCS.
With Matt Arnold now at the helm and a myriad of players nearing the end of their contracts (looking at you, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Willy Adames), I’m interested to see what the Brewers do at the deadline. Obviously, it’ll depend at least partially on how the team is positioned in the standings, but I’d personally like to see the Brewers compete before the Burnes-Woodruff-Adames window closes.
Jason Paczkowski: Who steps up in the outfield?
Last season, the Brewers began the year with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Hunter Renfroe as their starting outfield, with Tyrone Taylor regularly in the lineup to cover them on days off. Entering 2023, Lorenzo Cain has retired and Hunter Renfroe was traded. Meanwhile, Tyrone Taylor is currently recovering from an elbow injury that will keep him out for at least a month, with the most recent projection a mid-May return. That leaves the outfield open for playing time.
Yelich will still have his spot in left field, but there’s opportunity for players to step up and claim regular starting spots. This is especially true since the Brewers four top prospects (according to MLB.com) are all outfielders.
Garrett Mitchell impressed in his short time with the team last season and should be in the mix to start 2023. Joey Wiemer and Sal Frelick are both in the mix, but both will start the season in the minors and get regular playing time while trying to work their way into the majors. Jackson Chourio is not ready to make the jump to MLB yet and will start the year in Double-A Biloxi, and he’ll likely spend the season in the minors.
There’s also Jesse Winker, who the Brewers acquired via trade in the offseason. Winker is a more likely candidate for the DH position but could also see time in the outfield. Owen Miller took the final spot on the roster and should see some time in the outfield, as well as Brian Anderson. They will hold down the outfield for now. For the Brewers to succeed in 2023, those outfield positions will be critical to fill. The Brewers have a plan to start the season, but the outfield prospects will also be a major factor.
Jack Stern: How much production will the Brewers get from their prospects?
After trading away Hunter Renfroe and doing little to fill his spot in right field, the Brewers made it clear that they will be relying on contributions from their top outfield prospects in 2023. Garrett Mitchell is locked in as the starting center fielder, and while neither Sal Frelick nor Joey Wiemer made the Opening Day roster, both got a long look in camp and will make their debuts sooner than later. Infielder Brice Turang did make the cut and may receive a healthy amount of time at second base in the early going.
While all four of these young players are great athletes with undeniable talent, it’s fair to wonder if the Brewers are expecting too much of them as rookies. Each has flaws of varying degrees that may prevent them from excelling out of the gates.
Mitchell’s power and speed combination gives him the highest upside within the group, but the holes in his swing mean he also has the lowest floor. Frelick’s excellent plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills make him the best bet to produce right away, but a lack of power limits his ceiling. Like Mitchell, Wiemer has an exciting blend of power and speed, but strikeout problems may create consistency issues. Turang is an excellent defender and profiles well in the Jace Peterson-style utility role but may not be good enough offensively to be a starter.
For better or worse, these players will get extended opportunities to show what they can do, and their performance will have a notable impact on the fate of the 2023 Brewers.
Herschey Winkelman: The Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff contract negotiations
Corbin Burnes has been in the news recently due to arbitration hearings over less than $1 million on his 2023 contract. Because Burnes is a Cy Young winner and perennial candidate for best pitcher in the league, it seems slightly ridiculous to take this to an arbitration hearing. That is exactly what Corbin Burnes thought as well, as he expressed discontent for the Brewers front office on the way this was being handled. Burnes is going to get PAID, wherever he plays, but the Brewers have a chance to lock him up long-term. Same goes for Brandon Woodruff, another perennial All-Star pitcher whose contract is up in the next two years. Will the Brewers go the cheap route like they did with Hader and trade these superstars, or will they prioritize keeping a top-five pitching staff and continue working on developing the offense?