The Kids Are All Right: Finding The Positives In The Brewers’ Lost Season

20130817-193406.jpgby Kevin Kimmes

Every year spring blooms eternal and nowhere is this more apparent than in Major League Baseball. Opening Day means a clean slate on which everyone is equal and anything is possible. Just ask your average Brewers fan.

On April 1st, Milwaukee set the stage for their 2013 campaign with an extra innings victory over the Colorado Rockies in the friendly confines of Miller Park. While not the prettiest of wins (with Gallardo showing some signs of a post WBC hangover and incumbent closer John Axford unable to pick up the save), a win was a win was a win.

The lineup was one that Brewers fans had become accustomed to over the last several seasons:

1) RF Norichika Aoki
2) 2B Rickie Weeks
3) LF Ryan Braun
4) 3B Aramis Ramirez
5) C Jonathan Lucroy
6) 1B Alex Gonzalez
7) CF Carlos Gomez
8) SS Jean Segura
9) RHP Yovani Gallardo

The win however, came with a certain sense of discomfort. There was a palpable sense of unease in Milwaukee that afternoon, but no one could quite say why. The Brewers, now 1-0 on the young season had just sent the Opening Day crowd happy, or should have if not for the lingering sense of dread that many, myself included, left the park with that afternoon.

Was it the absence of Corey Hart, the right fielder turned 1st baseman, who had become a regular fixture in Brewers lineup over the years, who was recovering from knee surgery? Was it that Hart’s backup, Mat Gamel, had already fallen victim to the injury bug with a season ending injury to his ACL? Or what about the fact that Gamel’s backup Taylor Green, was also on the DL with hip issues? Maybe it was a lingering sense of doubt from the end of 2012, a season in which Milwaukee was in the hunt for the Wildcard until the final weekend of the season?

It wouldn’t take long for the sense of dread that we all felt to become something much more tangible, the kind of thing that stuck to your ribs and followed you around for months on end.

By April 5th, Ryan Braun was suffering from neck spasms. On April 6th, 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez sprained his knee. April 7th saw Jean Segura leave the game with a bruised left quad and pitcher Chris Narveson sprain his middle finger. By the time that Alex Gonzalez suffered a hand contusion on April 12th, Milwaukee found itself with a 2-7 record on the season and there was no doubt that the time to worry was now.

For the Brewers, the idea that the team had become “snake-bitten” (a sentiment expressed by skipper Ron Roenicke on August 3rd) was quickly becoming the teams reality. From March 20th to July 21st, the team would see 18 different players befall injury, some with just minor maladies, others with injuries that would require extended trips to the DL.

Then there was the afternoon of July 22nd. After sending Segura and Gomez to the All-Star Game, and finally receiving Braun back from an almost month-and-a-half long DL stint, the elephant in the room finally materialized as the team’s worst fears came to be. Ryan Braun, the team’s perennial All-Star and face of the franchise, was being suspended for the remainder of the season for violating the league’s drug policies.

Could things really get any worse? The answer was a resounding yes.

Soon, Opening Day starters Rickie Weeks and Yovanni Gallardo would find themselves added to the list of injuries. For Weeks, this would mean season ending surgery to fix his left hamstring. Gallardo, who also suffered an injury to his left hammy, escaped with a strain and a trip to the DL.

As of this morning (August 17th), the Brewers hold down last place in the NL Central with a record of 53-69. It’s enough that most fair-weather fans packed it in weeks ago letting their attention drift on to the newly dawning NFL season. Their loss. You see, for those of us that continue to stick it out until the bitter end, we are getting a glimpse into the teams potential future, and frankly, the future looks bright.

Since July 22nd, the Brewers have been playing .500 baseball (12-12) and they’ve been doing it with players that your casual fan probably had never heard of prior to this year. Names like Khris Davis, Scooter Gennet and Tyler Thornburg are showing the Milwaukee faithful inspired performances which fly in the face of those pundits who claim that the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in the MLB. So who are these fresh faces?

Khris Davis – #18 LF

Called up to replace Braun on the active roster, the power hitting Davis wasted no time proving to fans and the front office that his slow start in 2013 (.188/.235/.313 in April) was an anomaly by turning on a pitch and crushing the first of five homers in his return to regular duty. Davis, who now sports a slash line of .278/.344/.630, is living up to the potential that he showed in Appleton in 2010 when he set the Timber Rattlers single season homerun record with 22 bombs.

Scooter Gennett – #2 2B

Originally brought up earlier in the season as part of a platoon with the struggling Rickie Weeks, Scooter found himself in the role of human yo-yo, being bounced back and forth between the majors and minors as needed. When Weeks’ season ended on August 8th, the role of everyday second baseman transferred to Gennett who has taken to the role admirably. In his 29 at bats in August, Scooter carries a slash line of .448/.484/.862 proving that he can hit for both power and average.

Tyler Thornburg – #63 P

Originally utilized this season as a member of Milwaukee’s renovated bullpen, Thornburg grabbed opportunity by the horns when he was given the chance to start in late July. Since July 30th, Tyler has only allowed 1 earned run in 19 innings pitched. He currently carries a 1-0 record with a 1.76 ERA on the season.

It’s also worth noting that so far in August, Milwaukee’s pitching staff carries a team ERA of 2.51, good for 3rd amongst all MLB teams.

So, despite all of the doom and gloom that has surrounded this season, it’s reassuring to see that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. A light being shone brightly by several talented young Brewers.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes and read about some his latest adventures in the pages of the September issues of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sportscard Monthly.

Injury Update

By Nathan Petrashek

There are about to be a whole lot of roster moves, a reflection of just how crippled the Brewers have been for the first month of the season.  Some of them have happened already, some of them will happen tomorrow, some of them will happen during the month of May.  Here’s the latest on the Brewers fallen:

Jeff Bianchi activated; Khris Davis optioned:  IF Jeff Bianchi was placed on the DL this spring with left hip bursitis, which sounds pretty epic but is really just inflammation that can cause joint stiffness.  His unavailability led in part to the Brewers to pick up Yuniesky Betancourt, who’s knocking the stuffing out of the ball, so I guess we should all be thankful for that.  In any case, Bianchi is back now, which means the Brewers currently have four – count ‘em, four! – shortstop types on the active roster.  OF Khris Davis, who has received just a handful of plate attempts, was sent down to AAA Nashville.  Bianchi hit .188/.230/.348 with the Brewers last season, although he sports a minor league career triple slash of .286/.340/.411.

Aramis Ramirez activated; Josh Prince optioned: Ramirez was down for a month after sliding awkwardly into second base.  Despite missing nearly all of April, the team will bring him right back into the fold, though he will probably see plenty of time off early on.  Josh Prince is being sent down to Nashville in a corresponding move.

Chris Narveson:  Narveson has been playing catch as he rehabs a sprained finger on his pitching hand.  He’s slated to return in Mid-May.

Mark Rogers:   Rogers, officially placed on the DL with “right shoulder instability,” but unofficially with loss of velocity, command, and everything else that makes a pitcher go, started a rehab assignment on April 23.  The Brewers will need to decide whether to activate him to the major league club or cut ties with him by May 23; he’s not likely to clear waivers.  For what it’s worth, Rogers has not pitched well since beginning his rehab stint; he’s walked 6 over 3.2 innings against just 1 strikeout, and has allowed at least 1 run in 2 of his 3 appearances.

Corey Hart:  Hart had right knee surgery in January. He just rejoined the team and is currently throwing, doing water aerobics, and exercising to strengthen his quads.  Hart, on the 60-day DL, is eligible for reinstatement on May 30, but it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll make that goal.

Taylor Green:  Green started the season on the DL with a hip injury.  He elected to have season-ending surgery in late April.

Mat Gamel:  Gamel had season-ending knee surgery on March 8.

Panic at First Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Position review and previews start this week, and coming into spring training I thought first base would be pretty easy to write.  Not so fast.

Right knee surgery will cost Corey Hart a month plus, and yesterday the Brewers announced that Hart’s likely replacement, Mat Gamel, would miss all of 2013.

Someone’s going to have to man first base, though.  So without further ado, here are a few potential replacements.

Carlos Lee
A career .285/.339/.483 hitter, Lee has plenty of first base experience and is currently a free agent.  Lee’s age (36) has really started to catch up to him the last few years; at this point, he’s probably ideally suited for a bench spot, which is where he would find himself when Corey Hart returns.  According to Doug Melvin, though, Lee is still looking for a full-time gig, even if that will be hard to come by as spring training games begin.  If Lee was a little more realistic about where he is in his career, he would be my preference.  Lee’s power would play pretty well on what projects to be a fairly weak-hitting bench.

Hunter Morris
Morris tore it up in the Brewers’ AA system last year, belting out a .303/.357/.563 triple slash line.  That earned him a Minor League Player of the Year award, but it will probably take more than that to earn him a berth as the team’s starting first baseman.  There are plenty of defensive concerns, and Morris didn’t showcase nearly as much offensive talent in 2010 and 2011.  Doug Melvin was careful to note that Morris would cost someone a 40-man roster spot, and he would surely like to delay the start of Morris’s service time.  Toss in the uncertainty surrounding Morris’s capabilities, and the fact that he hasn’t played a single game above AA, and he’s unlikely to win the job unless his case is undeniable.

Khris Davis
The Brewers’ 7th-round pick in 2009 has really come into his own.  An outfielder by trade, fellow BrewCrewBall.com writer Noah Jarosh suggested Davis might be a good fit at first base.  The numbers certainly play, as Davis has carved up the minors with a triple slash line of .294/.400/.513.  Davis has a keen eye at the plate (career 10.2% walk rate that could climb) and plus power (.211 career ISO).  He might be an unconventional choice, but he may be the best in-house option the Brewers have right now.

Taylor Green
3B/IF Taylor Green has had a few opportunities in the major leagues, but hasn’t done much (read: anything) with them.  We have to be careful there, though, because he’s garnered only about 150 plate attempts in his 2 years coming off the bench.  Green has several solid minor league seasons under his belt, and perhaps all he needs is consistent playing time to show his solid hit tools.

Alex Gonzalez
This is apparently Ron Roenicke’s brainchild.  A shortstop for his entire 14-year career, Gonzalez has precisely zero experience at first base.  Gonzalez is such a good defensive shortstop that it’s easy to overlook his offensive shortcomings, but those will be glaring at a corner infield spot: very little pop, and on-base skills that leave a lot to be desired.  There are better options.

Bobby Crosby
A former first-round pick and AL Rookie of the Year, Crosby hasn’t played baseball since 2010.  His triple slash line over 8 seasons wasn’t pretty (.236/.304./.372), and neither were the injury bug and mental struggles that dogged him throughout his career.  But Crosby’s pedigree has garnered him another shot at the bigs, and it’s anyone’s guess where that will go.  Crosby is on a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Mike Carp
Carp, a recent DFA by the Seattle Mariners, is the longest of long shots to even find his way on the Brewers, let alone wind up the team’s Opening Day first baseman.  There are quite a few suitors looking to swing a trade for the 26-year-old, including several AL teams that would have waiver priority over the Brewers, as Kyle Lobner notes.  Carp would be a decent fill-in, but according to Ken Rosenthal, the Brewers aren’t all that interested right now.

Let’s keep in perspective that Gamel’s replacement will be filling in for just a month or two before Corey Hart returns, so despite the post title, this isn’t a crash and burn scenario for the Brewers.  The best case scenario for the team is to find someone who will have value coming off the bench for the remainder of the season.

The Numbers Game: Enter the 5th Dimension

George Scottby Kevin Kimmes

Welcome back to another installment of The Numbers Game. Today we’ll be looking at every player who has ever worn the number 5 for the Pilots and Brewers, including the ever colorful George Scott and former slugger Geoff Jenkins. So, let’s get down to business.

Seattle Pilots:

Don Mincher – 1969: As mentioned in yesterday’s article, the Pilots had two All-Star selections in 1969: the previously mentioned Mike Hegan and Mincher. The interesting thing here is that Mincher is the only Pilot to have actually played in an All-Star game as Hegan, selected as a reserve, did not see play.

Mincher is also one of five Twins players (including  Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rich Rollins, and Zoilo Versalles) to have hit a homerun in the 7th inning of the June 9, 1966 contest against the Kansas City Athletics. The five home runs in a single inning still stand as a Major League record for the most home runs batted in a single inning. The hits were given up by Catfish Hunter and Paul Lindblad.

Milwaukee Brewers:

Phil Roof – 1970-71: A great defensive catcher who was not really known for his bat, Roof recorded a career best 13 home runs for the fledgeling Milwaukee club in 1970. Early in 1971, Roof would suffer a concussion on a ball pitched by Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven.  Three months later, he would find himself traded to the Twins where he would catch for Blyleven in just his second appearance for Minnesota.

Paul Ratliff – 1971: The third former/future Twin on today’s list, is Paul Ratliff. A sub-Mendoza Line batter (.171 in ’71 and .071 in ’72), Ratliff was acquired from the Twins for the previously mention Roof in 1971, acquiring his previously worn number 5 (he would switch to 17 in ’72). He was traded to the California Angels on July 28, 1972 and never again appeared in a major league game.

George “Boomer” Scott – 1972-76: The first player on today’s list who didn’t play for the Twins is the one-of-a-kind Scott. George was a 3 time American League All-Star (’66, ’75, ’77) and an 8 time Gold Glove award winner (’67-’68 and ’71-’76). Offensively, Scott hit over 20 homeruns (which he refered to as “taters”) six times in his career, and tied Reggie Jackson for the most in the AL in 1975 with 36,  a career-high.

Known for his sense of humor, Scott wore a distinctive necklace which he told a reporter was made of the 2nd baseman’s teeth, and nicknamed his 1st baseman’s glove “Black Beauty”. Scott is also well known for wearing a batting helmet while in the field, something he started doing while with Boston in the 60′s after opposing fans pelted him with objects while playing on the road.

Jamie Quirk – 1977: Quirk played one season with Milwaukee in which he went .217/.251/.330 with 48 hits and 8 walks in 93 games.

Tony Muser – 1978: In his final year in the majors, Muser only appeared in 16 games for Milwaukee where he recorded an underwhelming .133/.212/.233 with 4 hits and three walks in 30 at bats.

No player was assigned the number 5 in the Brewers organization in 1979.

Ned Yost – 1980-83: Used primarily as a backup catcher, Yost spent the first 4 years of his playing career in Milwaukee. He had his best hitting season as a member of “Harvey’s Wallbangers” in 1982 recording a stat line of .276/.324/.429 with 27 hits and 7 walks over the span of 40 games.

Yost would return to Milwaukee as manager in 2003 where he would take the team from perennial losers to championship contenders. He would be fired from the team on September 15, 2008 after the team went into a two week long tailspin en-route to a wildcard playoff appearance.

Doug Loman – 1984-85: In Loman’s only 2 seasons in the majors, he had a career stat line of .246/.325/.366 with 35 hits and 16 walks in 47 games.

No player was assigned the number 5 in the Brewers organization in 1986.

B.J. Surhoff – 1987-95: Drafted 1st overall by the Brewers in the 1985 amateur draft, Surhoff would make a career for himself based on both consistency and versatility. He batted over .280 in 12 of his 19 major league seasons and appeared at every defensive position, other than pitcher, throughout this time. Despite these accomplishments, Surhoff would only be selected to the All-Star game one time (1999). He finished his career with 2,326 hits and 1,153 RBIs.

No player was assigned the number 5 in the Brewers organization in 1996.

Kelly Stinnett – 1997: The final player to wear number 5 for Milwaukee in the AL is Kelly Stinnett. In 44 games for Milwaukee between ’96 (wearing number 11) and ’97, Stinnett was .177/.250/.244 with 11 hits and 5 walks.

Geoff Jenkins – 1998-2007: Playing all but his final season with Milwaukee, Jenkins ranks 3rd on the Brewers all-time home run list behind Hall of Famer Robin Yount and Prince Fielder. To add to this accolade, Geoff hit over .300 in both his 2nd and 3rd seasons in the majors (.313 in ’99 and .303 in ’00), was named team MVP in 2000 and was selected to the National League All-Star team via the All-Star Final Vote contest in 2003.

After declining Jenkins option for 2008 on October 30, 2007, Geoff would go on to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies on December 20, 2007. As a member of the 2008 Phillies, his team would defeat the Brewers in the NLDS en-route to winning the World Series. Jenkins would be released by the Phillies at the end of Spring Training in 2009.

Jenkins would retire from baseball as a Milwaukee Brewer on on July 9th, 2010.

Ray Durham – 2008: Acquired in a trade with the Giants for prospects Steve Hammond and Darren Ford in July of 2008, Durham would finish his major league career as a Brewer. He would bat .280/.369/.477 in 41 games with 30 hits and 15 walks.

No player was assigned the number 5 in the Brewers organization in 2009 and 2010.

Taylor Green – 2011-12: Debuting on August 31st, 2011 as a pinch hitter, Green singled in his first at bat. He would average .270 in 37 at bats for Milwaukee that year. Due to the acquisition of Aramis Ramirez in 2012, Green’s current role is that of utility infielder and pinch hitter.

I’ll be back tomorrow to look at those players who wore number 6.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an applicant for the 2013 MLB Fan Cave. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Questions at Third Base

As late as last October, the future at third base for the Brewers seemed pretty clear.  After placing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting following a 2009 campaign in which he hit .301, Casey McGehee followed up with a .285 batting average in his first full season with the Brewers.  2010 saw McGehee hit a career-high 23 home runs, with a team-high 104 runs batted in.  McGehee’s up-and-coming competition at third base, Taylor Green, spent the year in AA still hampered by a wrist injury and hit only .260. Drafted in 2005, Green was noted for his plate discipline and contact and appeared more likely to make the club in coming years as a utility player rather than a starting third baseman.

Things have changed considerably since last October.  McGehee opened 2011 with a slump of epic proportions, hitting only .223 with 5 home runs through the first half of the season.  Green, meanwhile, knocked the cover off the ball at AAA Nashville, batting .336 with a good bit of pop (22 home runs).  Though McGehee has turned it on a bit in the second half (.265 average, 7 home runs), his recent success hasn’t silenced McGee’s critics — or Green’s proponents.

Those fans finally got their wish on August 31.  After his call-up, Green logged his first major-league hit in his first at-bat, delivering a Jake Westbrook changeup into right field for a pinch-hit single.  In limited appearances, he’s gone 7 for 16 with an RBI.  If Green can continue his hot start, he has an excellent chance of making the postseason roster and might even challenge Casey McGehee next year at third base in spring training, especially since Green is better with the glove.  Even if that scenario doesn’t materialize, Green will likely make the team as a left-handed utility player with a decent spring training.

Along with the likely departures of Prince Fielder and Yuniesky Betancourt, Green’s ascension could mean the Brewers’ infield has a whole new look in 2012.

Big Red on the Farm

A friend of mine posted today that he was in Texas watching the AAA Round Rock Express take on the Nashville Sounds.  “Go Sounds!” was my response, and then he asked me about any Brewers prospects he should keep an eye out for.  After rattling off a few names (Caleb Gindl, Taylor Green, and Brett Carroll),* I checked the box score where something caught my eye.  A name I hadn’t heard in a few years:  Seth McClung.

McClung threw his last major league pitch as a Brewer in 2009.  He appeared in 41 games that year, most of them before landing on the DL on July 25.  Unlike the year before, he wasn’t particularly effective (4.94 ERA, 1.629 WHIP, 1.03 K/BB).  McClung became a fan favorite in 2008, when he compiled a 6-6 record over 105 innings.  He appeared in 12 games as a starter in 2008, where he was not spectacular but at least serviceable (6-5, 4.33 ERA, 49:25 K:BB).

But after earning about $1.6 MM in 2009, the writing was on the wall for McClung, and he became a free agent in December of that year.  He signed a minor league contract with the Marlins, but did not make the major league roster and wound up sitting out 2010.

The big red machine couldn’t be held down for long.  In December 2010, he signed with the Texas Rangers and was assigned to AAA Round Rock.  I wish I could say that the results have been encouraging.  In 11 games as a starter, McClung has gone 2-3 with a 4.87 ERA and 30:27 K:BB.  He’s also given up 9 runs in about 15 innings as a reliever.

I want to end this on a positive note, though, by saying that McClung has pitched much better recently. I think I can speak for all of Brewers nation when I say we wish you the best of luck, Seth.

*Seriously, these are some names you need to know.  Casey McGehee is stuck in the most prolonged slump of his big league career, and Ron Roenicke has shown he’s willing to consider other options by starting Craig Counsell and Mat Gamel at the hot corner over the past few days.  McGehee is frustrated beyond belief, as you can imagine; immediately after this game-ending swinging strikeout McGehee snapped his bat over his knee.  Meanwhile 3B Taylor Green has been raking in AAA (.310 BA, .372 OBP, 11 HR, 4o RBI, 44:26 K:BB).  Despite some fielding difficulties, Green could wind up the Brewers’ answer in the second half if push comes to shove with McGehee.

Carroll and Gindl, both outfielders, are unlikely to see time in the majors before rosters expand, but both have made a good case.  Carroll’s line is similar to Green’s (.300 BA, .374 OBP, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 53:28 K:BB), but he has a bit more speed (8 SB).  Gindl is hitting .274, with a .354 OBP, 10 HR, 28 RBI, and 56:29 K:BB.

UPDATE: Sounds’ RHP Sean Green gave up a three-run walk-off home run and the Sounds fall to the Express tonight, 6-9.  McClung pitched two innings with one run and a srikeout.