2017 Record: 86-76
Second Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.00 (9th)
Team OPS: .751 (15th)
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What Went Right
Let’s start with third baseman Travis Shaw, who was acquired from the Red Sox last December for reliever Tyler Thornburg and broke out to the tune of an .862 OPS, 31 home runs, and 101 RBI in 144 games with the Brewers. Milwaukee also got three prospects in that deal: right-hander Josh Pennington (2.43 career minor league ERA), middle-infielder Mauricio Dubon (38 stolen bases this year between Double-A and Triple-A), and 18-year-old player-to-be-named-later Yeison Coca. Thornburg sat on the disabled list all year in Boston because of a shoulder injury. Brewers general manager David Stearns already looks like one of the brightest front office executives in the sport just two years in. That brings us to Eric Thames, who was signed to a three-year, $16 million deal last November after tearing up the Korea Baseball Organization and registered an .877 OPS with 31 home runs in 138 games with Milwaukee. Thames still can’t hit lefties and he’s a poor defender, but the 30-year-old former Blue Jays prospect has become a legitimate major league masher. Domingo Santana stayed healthy and enjoyed a post-hype breakout in his age-24 campaign, slashing .278/.371/.505 with 30 home runs, 85 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and 88 runs scored in 151 games. Corey Knebel emerged as one of the top closers in the game, posting a 1.78 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings while tallying 39 saves. Chase Anderson pitched to a 2.74 ERA in 25 starts before signing a team-friendly two-year, $11.75 million contract extension on October 26.
What Went Wrong
Jimmy Nelson belongs more in the What Went Right section after delivering a career-best 3.49 ERA with 199 strikeouts over 175 1/3 innings in 2017, but he suffered a right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear when he dove hard into the first base bag during a start September 8 against the Cubs and the 28-year-old’s recovery is expected to stretch into the first month or two of the 2018 season. Jonathan Villar batted just .241/.293/.372 with 11 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 122 games after ranking as one of the top overall fantasy performers in 2016 with a .285/.369/.457 slash line, 19 homers, and MLB-leading 62 steals. Ryan Braun had another injury-riddled season and finished with 17 home runs in 104 games. The soon-to-be 34-year-old is owed $20 million in 2018, $19 million in 2019, and $17 million in 2020, with a $15 million mutual option (or $4 million buyout) for 2021. Matt Garza stumbled to a 4.94 ERA, 1.448 WHIP, and 79/45 K/BB ratio over 114 2/3 innings in the final year of a four-year, $50 million deal. Wily Peralta, who was an Opening Day starter in Milwaukee at one point, posted a 7.85 ERA in eight starts and 11 relief appearances before getting pushed off the 40-man roster in late July.
** Orlando Arcia’s overall numbers from 2017 don’t leap off the page, but his offensive development is actually pretty far ahead of schedule and the young shortstop could be poised for a true breakout in 2018 if this line of progress continues on its current pace. This year he batted .247/.288/.361 over his first 206 plate appearances and then .295/.346/.436 over the next 342 plate appearances, finishing with 15 total home runs and 14 total stolen bases in 153 games. A dynamic talent who has already arrived defensively, Arcia is a future every-tool superstar in the mold of Francisco Lindor.
** Lewis Brinson is another young player to watch in Milwaukee. He got a few different chances at the major league level in 2017 and mostly struggled, but the arrow is pointing way up for the 23-year-old former first-round pick. In his 107 career games at the Triple-A level, spread over the last three seasons, Brinson has registered a .349/.409/.574 batting line with 18 home runs, 72 RBI, 18 stolen bases, and 89 runs scored. There’s a bit of a logjam in the Brewers’ outfield, but Brinson has the talent to force his way into a starting job at some point in 2018.
** There were a number of nice surprises in the Brewers’ rotation in 2017. Chase Anderson already got a mention in this Team Roundup, as did Jimmy Nelson. Zach Davies doesn’t have the swing-and-miss stuff to generate fantasy value, but he made 33 starts at a 3.90 ERA. And then how about Brent Suter? The 28-year-old left-hander began the season in the bullpen but had a permanent spot in the rotation by early July and flourished in that role, posting a 3.24 ERA and 52/16 K/BB ratio over his final 66 2/3 innings. Look for him to open as a starter in 2018.
** Keon Broxton quietly put together a 20-20 season, tallying 20 home runs and 21 stolen bases despite batting just .220 with a .229 on-base percentage in 463 plate appearances. The 27-year-old is probably going to share time in center field next season with Brett Phillips, who slashed .305/.377/.567 in 105 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs and .276/.351/.448 across 37 games in the major leagues, so a repeat from Broxton is an iffy proposition. The aforementioned Lewis Brinson may also be in the mix for center field starts by early next year. Look for Brewers GM David Stearns to be active in the offseason trade market.
** Milwaukee has an enviable amount of young position-player talent, but there are also some young pitchers to like in the organization. Josh Hader excelled out of the Brewers’ bullpen in 2017, posting a 2.08 ERA, 0.986 WHIP, and 68 strikeouts over 47 2/3 innings. The 23-year-old left-hander could be extended back out into a starting role next spring. Brandon Woodruff, ranked a top-100 prospect by Baseball America last winter, had a 3.28 ERA in his first six starts this year with the Brewers before struggling in late September.
Team Needs: They’ll mostly want to stay the course with a promising young core, but some relief help and a front-line starter could be brought in from the outside to help turn this club into a real contender in 2018.