The Brewers may not challenge for a playoff spot but there are still reasons to tune in.
By: Jim Boyce
Baseball is back! On the first Monday of April teams across the nation will begin the 162 game marathon in hopes of playing meaningful ball in October. Coming off a 73-89 campaign, and making no effort to hide the rebuilding process, the Brewers probably won’t be one of those teams. Chances are you may become discouraged early in the season if the Brewers fall too far below .500. However while the Brewers are not going to be taking down the Cubs for the division, there are things to watch for this summer.
The Brewers did not make a lot of moves this off-season but one of the more interesting moves was acquiring 1B Eric Thames. Thames annihilated pitching in Korea and has the build of a power guy, but how will he perform in the states? With all due respect to Korea’s finest pitchers it’s a different world when Clayton Kershaw is on the mound.
3B Travis Shaw arrives from Boston via the Tyler Thornburg trade. Shaw got off to a hot start last season in his first extended big league action, and despite slowing down later in the season the Brewers are hopeful he can provide another power bat in the lineup. As a left handed hitter Shaw faced a daunting challenge in Boston in the form of the infamous “Green Monster”. Miller Park on the other hand is much more friendly to left handed bats, perhaps this will allow Shaw to put up some pretty solid home run totals.
THE YOUNG GUNS
One of the more interesting, and important, aspects of the 2017 Brewers will be the continued development of players who started in 2016. Can players who showed promise continue to get better? or were they just a flash in the pan?
The player I am most interesting in following is Jonathan Villar. After being acquired for basically nothing from Houston, Villar went on to have a stellar season. Showing flashes of power (19 HR) to go along with a solid on base percentage ( .369) and a whopping 62 stolen bases, Villar seems like the Brewers most likely All-Star candidate if he plays at the same level or better. He was a bit of an adventure in the field, but moving to 2B may eliminate some of the errors he had last season at SS.
Speaking of SS, Orlando Arcia is a player to watch. The highest rated Brewers prospect when he was called up late last season, Arcia showed the potential with the glove he was known for but struggled at the plate. Arcia’s calling card was and still is defense, his gold glove potential is what makes him so exciting. However he will need to hit at a decent clip to live up to the billing. Arcia himself believes he has taken steps to improve in that area, if he does watch out.
Other players worth keeping an eye on include CF Keon Broxton. He showed incredible potential late in the season and also made my favorite play of 2016. RF Domingo Santana lost most of 2016 to injury. No doubt he is hoping to display the power scouts loved in his game in 2017.
THE CALL UPS
By the time the All-Star break comes and goes, and you check the standings and realize the Brewers are basically out of the playoff race, you may be wondering what could possibly keep you interested through September. Well the good news is the Brewers will likely begin calling up prospects from that vaunted farm system we keep hearing about.
CF Lewis Brinson and starting pitcher Josh Hader are two players I expect to see at some point in 2017. Hader was named the best left handed pitching prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline. Brinson batted nearly .400 at Colorado Springs after being acquired last July. As these and other players are called up fans will finally start seeing the benefits of the Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy trades. Just remember patience is a virtue, and even if these players struggle at first it does not mean they are a lost cause.
These elements are all exciting and should keep fans watching in 2017, however there are still too many question marks for the Brewers to contend this season. The starting rotation and bullpen both lack any star power. Many of the players in the lineup, even those mentioned above, are young and not guaranteed to play to their full potential. My prediction for the Brewers is 72-90 and a 4th place finish in the NL Central.