Starter: Aramis Ramirez
Backup: Juan Francisco, Mark Reynolds, Jeff Bianchi
AAA Depth: ???
The future: Nick Delmonico, Tucker Neuhaus, Gilbert Lara
In his first two seasons with in Milwaukee, Aramis Ramirez has demonstrated the best and worst case scenarios of his three year, $36 million deal*. The Ramirez of 2012 was healthy, pounded the ball, lead the league with 50 doubles and played surprisingly above average defense at third base (7.8 DRS). The script flipped in 2013 when Ramirez was hobbled by a knee sprain in Spring Training and it forced him onto the 15-day DL twice during the season, resulting in 55 missed games. The ability to stay on the field will determine how successful Ramirez is in 2014.
*The contract includes a $15 million mutual option for 2015.
If Ramirez does stay healthy for a full year, he’s a good bet to match his career line of .285/.345/.501. He showed the ability hit doubles last season, even with a bum wheel. Considering the speed in the Brewers’ line-up hitting 1-3, Ramirez’s gap power can drive guys in from anywhere on the bases. He’s not a massive power threat, but will pop 20-25 home runs and creates a strong middle of the order duo hitting clean up behind Ryan Braun.
Ramirez has been a slightly below average defender at third over the course of his career and the Brewers would be wise to avoid the wear and tear of playing third base everyday. He’s not a horse that can play 162, but regular rest and a little injury luck can probably keep him on the field and productive for 140.
The back-up situation at third looks a lot like the starting situation at first base. Both Mark Reynolds and Juan Francisco are heavy swinging, defensive afterthoughts that have played the majority of their careers at third. Considering that they’ll likely form a platoon at first, and injury to Ramirez would likely force the Reynolds into the full-time role and first and Francisco into the starting third base role. Curt did a nice job on Monday explaining what to expect from those two, and it’s a lot of power and a lot of strikeouts. They’d work as occasional subs for Ramirez, but a full slate of at bats that doesn’t give them favorable match ups will expose two flawed hitters for what they are.
The reality is that Ramirez makes the Brewers’ line-up as potent as possible, but missed time doesn’t somehow sink the ship. As we continue these previews, it becomes apparent that the above average production Milwaukee gets from their bats up the middle takes the pressure off one or two guys to carry the offensive load.
Reinforcements are slim in the high minors. Nick Delmonico, who was acquired in the Francisco Rodriguez trade last summer is the closest player with any kind of pedigree, but even he’s a questionable third base prospect. His glove at third is marginal and needs to improve if he wants a shot in the major leagues. He shows a mature approach at the plate and is willing to take a walk, though he’s not a high average hitter and is likely to display average major league power at best, which is probably around 15 home runs.
There are a couple guys that the Brewers have (maybe?) with tools to dream on. Selected in the third round of the 2013 draft, Tucker Neuhaus has the profile to hit for average and power, and play a solid or better third base. Some injuries last spring hurt his draft stock and allowed the Brewers to snag a guy in the third round who was considered to have first round talent. He turned 18 soon after the draft (he’s young) and hit .231/.311/.303 in rookie ball.
Back in early February, some noise was made when Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com (and friend of the Disciples of Uecker podcast) reported that scouts in the Dominican were talking about a possible deal between the Brewers and Gilbert Lara. McDaniel says that Lara has a fluid swing and All-Star potential power. This is far from a done deal and we’ll need to wait until the signing period begins on July 2nd, but this is a 16-year-old with upside that even the best Milwaukee farm systems have lacked.
Best Case Scenario:
Healthy again, Aramis Ramirez plays in 140+ games and resumes hitting the way he did in 2012. He even proves that his fielding numbers weren’t a fluke that year and posts another 5 DRS. He and Ryan Braun are such a potent combination with such gaudy numbers that Ramirez, despite being the lesser of the two offensive players, receives the MVP because writers in the BBWAA refused to vote for a PED user.
Worst Case Scenario:
Ramirez suffers a major injury and misses the majority of the season. This forces both Juan Francisco and Mark Reynolds into the everyday lineup, which takes away any sort of platoon advantage they could have gained at first, and the defense at third is pretty terrible as well.
Ramirez hits close to his .283/.370/.461 triple slash from 2013, but does it over 130 instead of 92. Utility infielder Jeff Bianchi caddies for Ramirez late in games at third base to ease the late game wear and tear, and make up for his declining mobility.
Ramirez PECOTA projection: .270/.332/.457
Ramirez ZiPS projection: .275/.338/.473
Reynolds PECOTA projection: .219/.321/436
Reynolds ZiPS projection: .234/.335/.474
Francisco PECOTA projection: .253/.296/.456
Francisco ZiPS projection: .246/.295/.465
This week on Disciples of Uecker:
3/10: Ryan previewed the catcher position
3/11: Curt previewed first base
3/12: Jonathan previewed second base