The Milwaukee Brewers return an offense that scored the third-most runs in Major League Baseball. Their team .329 wOBA ranked second in the National League behind the Colorado Rockies, their 202 home runs topped in the NL, and their 158 stolen bases were the best in baseball last season.
Combine that prolific offense with minimal personnel turnover, and it’s not difficult to see why the Brewers have very few positional battles in camp this spring. That extends to the infield, which has entrenched starters around the diamond. A preseason injury to Corey Hart throws a wrench into the depth chart to begin the year, but he’s only expected to miss approximately a month. After his return, the Brewers will feature the same infield they trotted out throughout the final two months last season.
Missing Opening Day is nothing new for Corey Hart, who will miss the start of the season for the third time in the past four years. His absence creates a void at first base for the Brewers for the first month, and perhaps longer. The organization wants to focus on internal options this spring, and the leading candidates for playing time at first base with Hart on the DL appear to be veteran Alex Gonzalez and 26-year-old Taylor Green.
Gonzalez is not quality fantasy option in most formats because he doesn’t offer much other than the occasional home run, as evidenced by his .248/.285/.412 ZiPS projection. He doesn’t walk, he doesn’t steal bases, and he owns a career .247 batting average in 14 seasons. Not to mention he will transition to a utility role after Hart’s return. Same thing goes for Green, who has failed to hit at the big-league level in a pair of stints with the Brewers the last two years. His ZiPS projection is equally uninspiring at .251/.315/.396. Pass on both and wait patiently for Hart to return.
Prospect Hunter Morris has an outside chance to break camp with the big league club at first base, but he will have to absolutely demolish Cactus League pitching and has started spring training by going 0-for-13 with five strikeouts and no walks. Morris hit .303/.357/.563 with 28 home runs last year in Double-A, though, and is a prospect to watch going forward. He’s the leading candidate to replace Hart when he leaves for free agency after the 2013 season. If the Brewers fall out of contention and deal Hart midseason, that timetable could even be accelerated. However, expect Morris to begin the year in Triple-A Nashville.
Once Hart returns, fantasy owners can confidently slide him into their lineups. He does not project to share time at first base with anyone and is coming off a strong 30-home-run season with a .358 wOBA, which was only two points below Albert Pujols. The double-digit stolen bases are a thing of the past, but he was still the seventh-best fantasy option at first base last season.
At second base, Rickie Weeks will rarely miss a game if healthy. That’s always the caveat, though. He has only accumulated 600 plate appearances in a single season twice in his eight years in the big leagues. It’s been everything from wrist injuries to ankle injuries, but the 30-year-old second baseman provides power and speed when healthy. And in OBP leagues, Weeks is even more valuable because fantasy owners aren’t taking one on the chin with a low batting average.
If Weeks does somehow land on the disabled list during the season, fantasy owners may see prospect Scooter Gennett make his big-league debut. The 22-year-old second baseman has hit at every minor league level, compiling a .293/.330/.385 slash line last year in Double-A Huntsville with a solid .330 wOBA. He’ll flash a little speed, too, giving owners potential double-digits in the stolen base column. Our own Mike Newman mentioned that his OPS has fallen as he’s climbed the minor league ladder, but he’s shown an ability to barrel the baseball throughout his professional career. When he breaks into the majors — whether that be this year or beyond — Gennett projects to be a middling, high-average second baseman in most fantasy formats with a little speed and occasional pop.
When the Brewers traded right-hander Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels, the prospect package they received was headlined by shortstop Jean Segura. He’ll turn 23 this season and will be the everyday starter in Milwaukee. ZiPS projects him to hit a solid .278/.326/.402 with nine home runs and 26 stolen bases, which would represent quite the value in fantasy drafts because he’s going very late. Our own Michael Barr suggests owners may be better off punting the shortstop position and grabbing someone like Segura late if they don’t select a top-of-the-line shortstop early in the draft.
Third base will belong to Aramis Ramirez yet again. He’s logged over 600 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons, and that doesn’t project to change if he doesn’t get injured. Ramirez remains valuable in almost every fantasy format, and he was the fifth-ranked third baseman last year.
Behind the dish, the Brewers are fortunate to have two young, quality catchers in Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. Lucroy burst onto the scene last year, posting a .378 wOBA and dramatically increasing his power production. He hit the same number of home runs last season (12) as he did in 2011 — but in 122 fewer plate appearances — and his ISO jumped to .193. All great signs for fantasy owners heading into 2013.
Unfortunately, though, Maldonado could cut into his playing time. He’s a plus-defensive catcher who showed he could be roughly league-average at the plate. In terms of value, the 26-year-old Maldonado accumulated +1.6 WAR in just 250 plate appearances. Depending on how often manager Ron Roenicke wishes to rest Lucroy, Maldonado could comfortably see two starts per week at catcher and could leave Lucroy short of 500 plate appearances. It’s certainly something to keep in mind for those targeting Lucroy later in drafts.
EARLY DEPTH CHART
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy / Martin Maldonado
First Base: Corey Hart / Alex Gonzalez / Taylor Green / Hunter Morris
Second Base: Rickie Weeks / Taylor Green / Scooter Gennett
Shortstop: Jean Segura / Alex Gonzalez
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez / Alex Gonzalez / Taylor Green