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“65 Mustangs” Speed at the Top! 2017 Milwaukee Brewers Team Preview.

Like many small market teams, the Brewers have to get creative finding new sources for players. Recently they have done a good job piecing together an offense that could score a lot of runs in 2017, with two speedy table setters and a group of power hitters behind them. But also like many small market teams they seem to have trouble piecing together a quality starting pitching staff which tends to keep them in the bottom half of the standings. This season there are no less than eight Starting Pitchers with MLB experience vying for the five spots in the rotation. They may have the pieces to be a .500 team in 2017 but it is hard to see them contending with the Cubs and Cards ahead of them in the NL Central.

As for creativity, they signed Eric Thames to play first base after playing the past three seasons as a power hitter in the Korean Leagues and could supply some sock behind Braun in the lineup. Some other exciting players that could make a splash in 2016 are OF Keon Broxton, SS Orlando Arcia, infielder Hernan Perez and pitchers Junior Guerra and Zach Davies. SS/3b man Jonathan Villar had an outer body experience, bursting and running his way into stardom. I think the ‘Crew can score a lot of runs but if that pitching does not take a step forward they will struggle to tread water at .500. Let’s take a look.

2016 Recap: 73-89 4th in NL Central

Trivia Question: What current Milwaukee player was once traded for Roy Oswalt when he was 19 years old?

Notable Additions: Eric Thames, 1B, OF; Travis Shaw, 3B; Neftali Feliz, RP; Tommy Milone, LHP;  3B; Jett Bandy, C.

Notable Subtractions: Tyler Thornburg, RP; Chris Carter, 1B, OF; Will Middlebrooks, 3B; Marty Maldonado, C; Rymer Liriano, Blaine Boyer & Chris Capuano, RP’s.

Probable lineup and outlook:

Jonathan Villar, 3B, 2B: Villar busted out in 2016 while he was 25 years old, adding a much-needed scoring force at the top of the lineup while moving from SS to 3B to help the team. He may move to second this year to make room for Arcia and Shaw. He set career highs in every stat category across the board and really excelled in stolen bases, leading the majors with 62. He also hit 19 HR and scored 92 Runs. His .826 OPS shows he is legit and one has to love his .369 On Base Percent (OBP), built on a nearly 3 to 1 ground ball/fly ball rate (GB/FB). So the ground balls help him take advantage of his speed, but when he hits it in the air it usually counts.

So what is there to worry about? There could be some regression in HR and BA as his 2.8% HR rate is by far his highest and higher than the major league average. Add to that a spike in HR/FB rate (11.7% vs MLB Avg of 8%) for a guy who is a ground ball hitter, which makes the homers appear likely unsustainable. As for the average, he had a Batting Average on Balls in Play (Babip) of .373 yet struck out 174 times for a K-rate of nearly 26%, which is his lifetime average as well. He did walk 79 times to help offset that and keep getting on base, but the high Babip shows his average may drop a bit.

He seems like the real deal and a good player eligible at 2B, 3B, and SS in most leagues, but I would caution against drafting him based on his 2016 numbers. He’s only 26 so the future is bright, but I’ve seen him go as early as the 2nd round and that could end up being a disappointment.

Trivia Question Answer: When Villar was 19 years old he was traded by the Phillies to the Astros with Anthony Gose and J.A Happ for Roy Oswalt. The Brewers got him from the ‘Stros for a lot less than that. (Minor League pitcher Cy Sneed).

Keon Broxton, CF: Wow, if these two guys are the top of the Brew Crew’s lineup they should score some runs and lead the league in stolen bases. Broxton broke out and hit .294 his second time up with the Brewers after July 26th. He stole 23 bases in 27 attempts and chipped in 9 HR in barely 200 AB’s. He got on base to a .354 OBP.

A fractured wrist in Sept is all that stopped him from getting to 30 SB and 10 HR. He needs to bat second for the Brewers to get maximum output from him and if you draft him in fantasy you need him to bat 2nd and not 8th for stolen base and run scoring opportunities.

Ryan Braun, LF: For all his previous off-field woes, Braun is still the leader of the Suds and the dominant force in the middle of that batting order while manning LF. Now 33 years old, Braun had a typical Braun season in 2016 hitting 30 HR, 91 RBI, .305 AVG & 80 runs. He has had at least 23 2b and 80 RBI every season of his career, but for his 2013 suspension, and he’s played in 135 games or more in eight of the past nine seasons. If Villar and Broxton keep getting on base Braun should have no trouble getting back to 100 RBI. In fantasy, he is still a solid 2nd round player, even at 33. For the Brewers he may be a bit of an albatross as he is nearly impossible to trade with his contract and to some extent his baggage, but trading him and freeing up that money could do a lot for the pitching staff. His wife, lingerie model Larisa Fraser likes the hardware (2011 Div Champs) so Braun better get the Brewers back to the post season soon.

Eric Thames, 1B: There is pressure on Thames, 30, after signing a hefty three-year deal to come back from Korea to play in the states to replace the NL HR leader, Chris Carter. He is penciled into the fourth spot in the order and 1B on the diamond after playing outfield in Korea. Thames hit 124 HR and slugged .720 in three years in Korea, winning the MVP twice. In 2016, he hit 40 HR and drove in 118 with a .317 Avg. I’d draft him at half that and hope for more. The Brewers would probably be disappointed with 20 HR and 60 RBI, but that would still be his best MLB season. I hope he does well and should be a bargain if drafted in the mid-rounds.

Domingo Santana, RF: Santana is only 24 years old but showed big-time power in seven minor league seasons starting at age 16. He also is a strikeout machine once fanning 193 times at AAA in 2014. He’s always had a good eye for the strike zone, however, and takes enough walks to keep a respectable on-base percentage. In 2016 he broke out with 11 HR and a .345 OBP in 246 at bats. I’d feel confident with him as a 4th or 5th OF in Roto and he should be there in the mid to late rounds.

Travis Shaw, 1B, 3B: Another project for the Brewers bringing Shaw to Milwaukee for arguably their best relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg. Shaw hit 16 HR and drove in 71 in 145 games for the Red Sox at both 1b and 3b, though he only hit .242. He also struck out 133 times in 480 AB leading to a .306 on-base percentage. He is 27 this season and I am a believer in the age 27 power breakout. I doubt if I would draft him in fantasy, though.

Orlando Arcia, SS: Arcia was the Brewers #1 prospect before 2016 and hit only .219 in two months during his first MLB action. He is the leading candidate to play SS in 2017 and is more than ready defensively, but questionable offensively. He stole 109 bases over 5 seasons in the minors, including 33 in 2014 when he also had 200 hits in A-ball at the age of 19. The next season he managed nearly another 200 hits with 25 SB and a .308 average in AA. In both seasons he scored over 90 runs with an OBP around .350. He’ll be 22 this season and I’m excited as I own him as my SS in a deep 16 team league so I’m hoping for the best. He also shows enough power to hit

The next season he managed nearly another 200 hits with 25 SB and a .308 average in AA. In both seasons he scored over 90 runs with an OBP around .350. He’ll be 22 this season so I’m excited to own him as my SS in a deep 16 team league so I’m hoping for the best. He also shows enough power to hit double-digit HR once he fills out a bit.

Jett Bandy, C: The Brewers got Bandy from the Angels for Martin Maldonado who covered catcher after Jonathan Lucroy was traded. Neither has shown much more than backup catcher hitting ability and will likely go undrafted in fantasy. The Brewers like Bandy for his defense.

Probable Rotation and Outlook: I’m going to discuss the top two SP, Junior Guerra and Zach Davies, who both enjoyed good rookie seasons and were the Crew’s most reliable starters. They are the only two relevant in fantasy baseball at this point. No rotation can get through a season with less than 7 or 8 starting pitchers, so the other contenders will be discussed briefly.  Most of these guys have experience and all could factor in as spot starters in fantasy over the course of a season.

Junior Guerra, SP: Guerra was a 31-year-old rookie in 2016, striking out 100 in 121 innings. He went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts becoming the Brewers defacto ace. A couple of concerns heading into 2017 are that he is 32 and seemed to tire in September struggling to get out of the fifth inning a few times, and last season would have been his best season in the minors as well, leaving less faith the performance is sustainable. We are eternal optimists and like a good story, so if the success continues he will be a bargain in most fantasy leagues where he is being drafted fairly late.

Zach Davies, SP: Zach was one of my favorite rookies in 2016. I spot started him several times and after the last time just never dropped him again. He ended up starting 28 games for the Brewers, logging 163 innings and going 11-7 with a 3.97 ERA. His 7.4  K/9 rate was a bit shy of his minor league record but he made up for it with a sterling 2.1 BB/9, in line with his minors numbers. He barely gave up any HR in the minors but that spiked to 1.2 per 9 in Milwaukee. I assume some command improvement in 2017 at age 24 will cut that HR rate back down, his K rate back up and knock a half run off his ERA. I’d draft him as my last starter, and if he is still on the wire I will spot him whenever the matchup looks favorable. I think he’ll be owned in all but shallow leagues, and I see a good # 3 or # 4 starter here.

The Rest:

Jimmy Nelson, SP: A 4.62 ERA, 8-16 W-L record with 140 K’s in 180 IP makes Nelson a journeyman at best. I’ll spot start him here and there.

Wily Peralta, SP: A 4.86 ERA, 7-11 W-L record and 93 strikeouts in 128 IP makes him a similar pitcher to Nelson but with a higher K rate. I’ve never owned him.

Matt Garza, SP: Once promising starting pitcher never lived up to his contract, mostly due to injuries. There is one more year on that deal.

Chase Anderson, SP: A 4.39 ERA, 9-11 W-L record and 120 K’s in 151 IP gives him more promise than the rest of this bunch. He is 29 now and needs to keep the ball in the park as he gave up nearly two HR per nine innings in 2016.

Tommy Milone, SP: The only lefty SP with MLB experience in camp but there is no guarantee he makes the rotation let alone the team. He was 3-5 with a 5.71 ERA with the Twins last season and has never been a good strikeout pitcher. This is a pure match-ups hurler.

Taylor Jungmann, SP: Once a good prospect, Jungmann fell off a cliff in 2016 going 0-5 with a 7.76 ERA in 6 starts at the MLB level.

Probable Bullpen “Effector’s”: To borrow a phrase from the Great Lenny Melnick, The “Bullpen Effector” is the pen’s best reliever regardless of role and gets the big outs regardless of the inning. These roles below may be fluid. 

Neftali Feliz, Closer: The one guy in this pen with closing experience, he’ll likely begin the season in that role. He only saved two with Pittsburgh in 2016 but had a 3.52 ERA and greater than 10.0/9 IP K rate in 62 games. Feliz once saved 72 games over two seasons with the Rangers.

Corey Knebel, Set Up: CLEW: Before they signed Feliz, Knebel was thought to be in the running to close and could usurp the role with a good start to the season. He was highly regarded coming into 2016 but was sidetracked by injuries only getting in 35 games. He makes for a great speculative saves pick and is the CLEW (Closer en Waiting) of this staff.

Carlos Torres, RP: Torres proved to be a great set-up man in 2016 after a decent run with the Mets, posting a 2.73 ERA in 72 games. If your league counts holds, and or inherited runners stranded (IRS), he is a great guy to round out your pen offering near 10/9 K rates as well.

Minor League help:

Lewis Brinson, CF: Brinson came to Milwaukee from Texas as part of the Lucroy trade and slashed .382/.387/.618 in 23 games at AAA to end the season after missing some time with a shoulder injury. In 2015 he slashed .332/.403/.601 with 20 HR and 18 SB over stints in A, AA, & AAA. He was drafted 29th overall in 2012 and will be 23 in May. He is listed going into 2016 as the #18 prospect at MLB.com and #5 OF’er, and as high as #15 from Baseball Prospectus. He may be the player in the minors most likely to hit 30 HR/30 SB in the majors. He is described as athletic with loud tools, improving plate discipline and the speed to handle CF as well as steal bases. If you have room, draft and stash him as he could be patrolling the OF in Milwaukee later in 2017.

Josh Hader, SP: Hader was a piece in the 2015 Carlos Gomez trade and proved to be a coup for the Brewers as he broke out soon after. In 2016 he posted his highest strike out rate 11.5/9 IP of his career, though still needs to work on his command and control as AAA PCL hitters had their way with him after a mid season 2016 promotion. He has a deceptive delivery and electric stuff according to MLB.com with a 93-97 mph heater, a “wipeout” slider and improving change up. We’ll probably see him at some point in 2016 but he should be a force in 2017.

Conclusion: As long as the top of the lineup does what it is projected to do and they can squeeze another reliable starter or two from their pile the Brewers could be a .500 team. Otherwise, I see another pillow fight with the Reds for last place in the division.

Catch me next week for the first of my 2017 “Pick Your Spots” series where I pick out 5-7 good bets for spot starting, based on match-ups and splits for the coming week. I’ll post it on Reddit every Sunday morning as well as on FaceBook and Twitter. I’m excited for next week and Opening Day, are you? Thanks for reading and see you then.

joseph.iannone021@gmail.com                @joeiannone2 on Twitter

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 19th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #79 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss player updates, players being overdrafted, and overall fantasy updates.

Our guest this week is Jon Merkel. Jon is a writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com in both baseball and football. His articles publish every Wednesday.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 26th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #80 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss players in the draft going for nice bargains.

Our guest this week is Steve Hamilton. Steve is a writer, and editor with majorleaguefantasysports.com focusing on baseball. His articles publish every Saturday.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

I'm an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I've been a student of the game of baseball since the Dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least since a few years before the world knew what a designated hitter was. Otherwise, I like "antique" cars of the 60's and 70's and have been a fantasy baseball fanatic since my first draft many years ago. I live in CT with my wife Megan of 25 years, our daughter Caitlin and their (their) cats. I'm also the better looking of the two guys in the the photo.

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