3. Is this finally the year for 2003 Draft picks?
Both of the Brewers' top two picks in the '03 First-Year Player Draft have been slow to meet expectations. General manager Doug Melvin is quick to point out first-rounder Rickie Weeks' positives, but until Weeks improves on his batting average (.234 last season), his strikeouts (115 in 475 at-bats) and his defense (15 errors, the most among National League second basemen), he will continue to be the target of fan complaints. Second-rounder Tony Gwynn Jr., meanwhile, is out of Minor League options. The Brewers have been very slow to offer Gwynn much opportunity, but if he does not win a backup outfield spot this spring, his future with the team is in doubt.
90-72, National League Wild Card winners
Projected batting order
1. 2B Rickie Weeks
.234 BA, .342 OBP, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 89 RS in 2008
2. SS J.J. Hardy
.283 BA, .343 OBP, .478 SLG, 24 HR, 74 RBI in 2008
3. LF Ryan Braun
.285 BA, .335 OBP, .553 SLG, 37 HR, 106 RBI in 2008
4. 1B Prince Fielder
.276 BA, .372 OBP, .507 SLG, 34 HR, 102 RBI in 2008
5. RF Corey Hart
.268 BA, .300 OBP, .459 SLG, 20 HR, 91 RBI in 2008
6. CF Mike Cameron
.243 BA, .331 OBP, .477 SLG, 25 HR, 70 RBI in 2008
7. 3B Bill Hall
.225 BA, .293 OBP, .396 SLG, 15 HR, 55 RBI in 2008
8. C Jason Kendall
.246 BA, .327 OBP, .324 SLG, 2 HR, 49 RBI in 2008
1. Yovani Gallardo
, 0-0, 1.88 ERA in 2008
2. Braden Looper
, 12-14, 4.16 ERA in 2008
3. Dave Bush
, 9-10, 4.18 ERA in 2008
4. Jeff Suppan
, 10-10, 4.96 ERA in 2008
5. Manny Parra
, 10-8, 4.39 ERA in 2008
Closer: Trevor Hoffman
, 30/34 saves, 3.77 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: Carlos Villanueva
, 2.12 relief ERA in 2008
LH setup man: Mitch Stetter
, 3.20 ERA in 2008
The new guys
The Brewers figured that adding Looper now was better than gambling that someone will become available on the trade market later. They regard Looper as an innings-eater, and his 199 innings in 2008 would have led Milwaukee's staff.
The team is confident that the all-time saves leader still has it at the age of 41. He was the last marquee closer left on the market when Milwaukee signed him in January, and his arrival allows the Brewers to continue developing another changeup specialist, Villanueva, in a setup role. If Hoffman falters, don't be surprised to see the Brewers give Villanueva a shot.
The Brewers had some luck last year with under-the-radar signings similar to Julio's. Salomon Torres was good all year, Guillermo Mota was one of the team's best relievers in the second half of 2008 and Eric Gagne also rebounded nicely from a terrible start. Julio, too, is a veteran power arm who finished the year strong (0.73 ERA in 12 appearances for Atlanta), and he could replace Mota as Milwaukee's sixth- and seventh-inning man.
A Rule 5 pick from Tampa Bay, Morlan has to make the Opening Day roster or be offered back to the Rays. The Brewers would not have selected him if club officials didn't think he could contribute to the bullpen, but with Looper in the rotation and McClung maybe headed to the bullpen, Morlan faces a numbers crunch.
In 194 Minor League innings for Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies farm clubs over the last four years, Swindle has a 226-to-25 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and a 1.58 ERA. He'll push Stetter to replace departed free-agent left-hander Brian Shouse.
A very intriguing waiver-wire pick, especially given Melvin's past successes in that area. McGehee drove in 92 runs for Triple-A Iowa last season and just turned 26 this fall.
The new manager promised to keep an open mind going into Spring Training and planned to make all of his personnel decisions based on what he sees with his own eyes. He brings a no-nonsense approach and several new coaches, including former Mets manager (and Brewers managerial candidate) Willie Randolph as his bench coach.
Prospects to watch
He dropped off during the second half of 2008 but still posted solid Minor League offensive numbers: a .329 average, 19 home runs and 96 RBIs in 127 games at Double-A Huntsville. He shared the organization's Minor League Player of the Year Award with Alcides Escobar. Gamel still needs to improve defensively, and he didn't win any fans in the front office when he was slow to reveal an elbow injury last September.
The slick-fielding, free-swinging shortstop has passed Gamel on many prospect lists. He only turned 22 in December and is coming off a season in which he hit .328 with eight homers, 76 RBIs and 34 stolen bases in 131 games at Huntsville. An injury to Hardy might mean an instant promotion for Escobar.
Acquired in an early February trade with the Yankees, Wright provides some depth at Triple-A Nashville. Wright spent all of 2008 in the Minors, going 10-3 with a 2.72 ERA for three of New York's affiliates. His season included two early-season appearances at rookie-level Tampa after he developed a tired arm, but he called that a minor setback and said that it didn't affect the rest of his season.
On the rebound
Gallardo was limited to four regular-season starts because of separate injuries to both knees, but he returned from right ACL surgery and finished the year strong. The Brewers were so confident in him that they tabbed him to start the franchise's first playoff game in 26 years; now they need him to step in to help replace CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. It's a tall order, and health will be the key.
Parra was not injured, but he was bounced from the starting rotation in September after losing six of seven decisions in one stretch. He was probably fatigued at the end of his longest season, but like Gallardo, he will be counted on this year to step to the front of the starting rotation. He certainly has the raw talent to do it.
Capuano underwent his second career Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery and missed the entire 2008 season. He won 18 games in 2005 and was an All-Star in 2006, but he started struggling in the second half of '06 and hasn't been the same since. If he can return to form, he could be a nice bonus for the Brewers' pitching depth.
Batted .239 after the All-Star break and .173 in September. He's always been a bit of a streaky player, and when he's hot in the No. 5 hole, he makes Braun and Fielder in front of him much more dangerous.
Sabathia: CC spent about three months as a Brewer, and it was enough to cement him as one of the greatest players in franchise history. Milwaukee made a respectable run at him in free agency, but the Yankees' seven-year, $161 million offer blew everyone else away. Sabathia was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and seven complete games in 17 Brewers starts and is impossible to replace.
He started the All-Star Game for the NL and had one of his best seasons, but he nonetheless will be remembered for once again getting hurt when the Brewers needed him most. He pitched with pain in August and for part of September before succumbing to a torn tendon near his right elbow. He declined the Brewers' arbitration offer and now stands to miss much of 2009 because the injury has not healed.
He might have saved the Brewers' season by stepping in for an ineffective Gagne, but he decided to retire after the season. That left the Brewers with a difficult hole to fill, and they eventually corralled Hoffman.
The team's former manager deserves a mention here because he helped move the franchise back to respectability by sticking with young players during lean years despite being criticized often for doing so. He was certainly part of the Brewers' run to the Wild Card last season.