The Milwaukee Brewers are still a year or two away from challenging for a playoff spot, but the roster is still loaded with compelling players who could be building blocks for the future or trade chips in the summer. Here's a look at five players to watch as we head into the 2017 season:
Orlando Arcia, SS
Arcia was a consensus top prospect when he was called up to Milwaukee last August, but he stumbled once he got to the big leagues, batting just .219/.273/.358 in 55 games. Still, Arcia is just 22 years old, and the Brewers are clearly committed to him long-term (Jonathan Villar has shifted to second base to accommodate Arcia at shortstop).
Arcia can more than handle himself in the field and on the base paths. If he can show some extra-base pop and an improved eye at the plate, then Milwaukee will have something brewing up the middle.
Ryan Braun, LF
Braun put together a nice bounce back season in 2016, as he put up his best offensive numbers since 2012 (he batted .305/.365/.538). After an offseason of trade rumors, it looks like Braun will stick in the middle of the Milwaukee order for now. But the 33-year old clearly doesn’t fit the Brewers rebuilding timeline, so the question seems more like a when, not if, he’ll be traded.
If Braun puts together another good start to the season, expect GM David Stearns to move quickly. A Braun trade would save the Brewers about $70 million, and it would open up playing time for Milwaukee’s plethora of youngsters looking for time in the outfield.
Wily Peralta, SP
Peralta entered last season as the Brewers’ nominal ace, but was promptly clubbed in his first 13 starts before being sent to the minors. When he returned to the Brewers in August, he flipped a switch and put up a 3.11 ERA over 11 starts.
Peralta is one of at least seven starters competing for a spot in the rotation this spring. Does he deserve another shot after his late run of success at the end of 2016? Should he move into the bullpen, where he can play up his 95 mph fastball?
Peralta’s relatively high ceiling gives him a long leash. Milwaukee’s starters compiled a meager 4.40 ERA last season, and Peralta’s past success means he should get every opportunity before the Brewers put him in a different role. Also, a productive year as a starter just gives Stearns another potential asset in trade talks.
Travis Shaw, 3B
Milwaukee acquired Shaw in a December trade with Boston, sending reliever Tyler Thornburg back to the Red Sox. Shaw can play either of the corner infield spots, but expect him to receive the bulk of the plate appearances at third base.
Nicknamed the “Mayor of Ding Dong City” while in Boston, Shaw was a streaky bat from the left side of the plate. Through May 31, Shaw batted .292 with 26 extra-base hits. But he went into a funk for the rest of the season, hitting just .208 over the final four months.
Shaw is still fairly young (he turns 27 in April) and has really only played one-and-a-half seasons at the major league level. He has a quick glove at the hot corner, a good eye at the plate, and with Miller Park’s short porch in right field, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.
Eric Thames, 1B
Thames is the wild card in the Brewers lineup. After batting a pedestrian .250/.296/.431 in just 181 major league games from 2011-12, the lefty first baseman lit up the Korean Baseball Organization over the past three years, averaging 41 home runs and 126 RBIs per season.
No one knows how these numbers will transfer back to the majors, but Thames has the potential to be a big-time middle of the order presence for Milwaukee on a dirt-cheap contract (three years, $16 million). The Brewers aren’t going to dominate free agency in the offseason, but Stearns is already showing creative ways to bring in potential difference-makers.
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