PRESEASON PREVIEW: Milwaukee Brewers

Sheets looks to tip his cap often in '05

The Brewers either traded away or lost some of their veteran players from 2004 to free agency. They pride themselves in fostering young talent and will get to see what that talent can do for them in 2005. Ben Sheets will lead a talented young pitching core, and free agent pick up Carlos Lee will be the big bat the Brewers have missed since Sexson left.

ADDITIONS: RH reliever Derrick Turnbow (off waivers from the Angels – 1 year); C Damian Miller (2 years with club/player option for 2007); RHP Justin Lehr (trade – 1 year); RHP Jose Capellan (trade); OF Nelson Cruz (trade – 1 year); RHP Alex Zumwalt (completed Dan Kolb trade); OF Carlos Lee (trade); RHP Kane Davis (minor league contract); C Kelley Gulledge (minor league contract); C Jeff Winchester (minor league contract); INF Tony Zuniga (minor league contract); LHP Rigo Beltran (minor league contract); RHP Ricky Bottalico (1 year); C Julio Mosquera (minor league contract); INF Jeff Cirillo (minor league contract).

LOSSES: INF Craig Counsell (free agent); RHP Chris Saenz (free agent); INF Keith Ginter (traded to Oakland); OF Scott Podsednik (traded to White Sox); RHP Luis Vizcaino (traded to White Sox); RHP Dan Kolb (traded to Atlanta).

PROJECTED LINEUP:

1: CF Brady Clark

2: 2B Junior Spivey

3: 1B Lyle Overbay

4: LF Carlos Lee

5: RF Geoff Jenkins

6: 3B Russell Branyan/Wes Helms

7: C Damian Miller

8: SS J.J. Hardy

Brady Clark saw most of his playing time in right field during the 2004 season. He emerged as an effective right fielder, with five assists in 96 full games last season. With the trade of CF Scott Podsednik, the Brewers are looking to move Clark into the center field position and the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Injuries hampered Junior Spivey's year in 2004, causing him to end his season in July. When he is healthy, it is possible for him to hit 15-20 homeruns, steal 15-20 bags, and drive in 65 runs. The Brewers seem to have some confidence that Spivey can return to form, as they signed him to a one-year $2.125 million contact.

Lyle Overbay started the season well in 2004 with an 18-game hit streak. He finished his first major league full season by leading the majors and breaking a franchise record with 53 doubles. Defensively, he provides stability and consistency at first base for the Brewers. He should continue to do just that in the 2005 season.

New addition, Carlos Lee, had a very solid season with the White Sox in 2004. He hit over .300 in every month except for April. In the outfield, Lee has an average arm. He did not make an error last season and had 11 assists. Milwaukee is looking for him to add some power to their lineup, hitting him in the clean-up spot.

With the departure of Richie Sexson in the offseason, the Brewers looked to Geoff Jenkins for power in 2004. The pressure must have gotten to the left fielder, because his numbers were less than stellar. Jenkins is usually an aggressive hitter, although he only had 19 homeruns in 2004. He is a good defensive outfielder, with 10 assists and only one error in left field last season. The Brewers are looking to move him to right field in 2005 and hope that he can become the power hitter they need.

Third base is up for grabs. Among the contenders are Russell Branyan, Wes Helms, and Jeff Cirillo (who was just signed to a minor league contract.) Branyan added some power to the Brewer lineup in 2004, but he also struck out 43 percent of the time. He is a below average third baseman, but is working to improve. Helms had an off year in 2004, with only 18 extra base hits. He missed six weeks of the season to injury and his slump caused him to lose his position at third to Branyan. Cirillo was signed to a minor league contract, but he could make the team out of Spring Training. His defense at third is still strong, though he has struggled offensively with the Mariners and Padres over the last couple of years.

Damian Miller had a great 2004 season with the A's. He hit .324 with runners in scoring position, and .412 with 17 RBIs in 17 at-bats with the bases loaded. Defensively, the catcher only made one error in 751 chances. The Brewers are hoping Miller can continue his consistency as a clutch hitter, as well as behind the plate.

J.J. Hardy received the starting role at shortstop when the Brewers declined to offer arbitration to Craig Counsell. Hardy, 22, as great range on the field and has a strong and accurate arm. Hardy is a contact pitcher by nature, but he has learned to be more patient at the plate. He has a lot of promise of being a great shortstop.

BENCH:

OF Dave Krynzel

OF Corey Hart

C Chad Moeller

INF Bill Hall

The 23-year-old Dave Krynzel made his Major League Debut on September 1, 2004. Krynzel had 41 at bats in 16 games for the Brewers last season. In those 41 at bats, he managed 9 hits, including 1 double, 6 runs, 3 RBI and 3 walks. One area that he should work on is his strikeouts (he had 15). Krynzel showed great defensive talent in center field. He robbed a homer from Cardinal Hector Luna on September 21. With more time in the majors, he should prove to be a great asset to the Brewers.

Corey Hart is another 23-year-old looking to bust his way into the Major Leagues. He didn't see much time in the big leagues with only one at bat in 2004. He has done some switching around defensively, going from first to third and now to left field. He is a quick learner who just wants to play wherever there is an open spot. The 6-6 outfielder's strength is his offense. He is a career .300 hitter in the minor leagues. In 2003, he led the Southern League in RBIs, hits and doubles. With numbers like his, the Brewers have no choice but to find a place for him in their lineup.

Chad Moeller was half of a catching platoon for Milwaukee last season. He caught games for Ben Sheets, Doug Davis and Chris Capuano. Moeller has an uncanny ability to call a game, hold runners on base, and block balls in the dirt. However, his offensive numbers trailed off in 2004. With the acquisition of Damien Miller as the new full-time catcher, Moeller probably won't see many starts in the catcher role.

Bill Hall saw time at second, third, and shortstop in 2004. Although he has the ability to make the big plays, he had a total of 19 errors. Hall had 9 homeruns, 3 triples, and 20 doubles, but an alarming 119 strikeouts. He needs to show more consistency and patience at the plate and improve his defense if he wants any shot of becoming a regular infielder.

ROTATION:

RH Ben Sheets

LH Doug Davis

RH Victor Santos

LH Chris Capuano

RH Ben Hendrickson

All Star right-hander Ben Sheets had a breakout 2004 season. He set a franchise record with 264 strikeouts, trailing only Randy Johnson in the league. He also had an impressive 2.70 ERA in 237 innings pitched, which was third in the league. Sheets accomplished all this and more, despite a painful bulging disc in his back. He had corrective surgery immediately after the season ended, and has since felt no pain. The Brewers are hoping that their new ace can continue his success on the mound in 2005.

Lefty Doug Davis had a respectable 2004 season. His 12 wins and 12 losses don't show what he is capable of. With a better offense from his teammates, he could win more games. Davis is typically a groundball pitcher. He is good at changing speeds and location to keep hitters off balance. He was a consistent pitcher for the Brewers with a 3.39 ERA and 166 strikeouts in 207.1 innings. The Brewers are looking to him to continue to be their No. 2 starter.

In 2004, Victor Santos joined the Brewers' bullpen in April and moved into the rotation in May. He started strong going 8-3 in his first 11 starts, but he struggled in August. Santos has good mechanics and excellent control. He has six pitches: a two-seam fastball, and a four-seam fastball, a slider, split-finger pitch, changeup, and his best pitch, curveball. The Brewers are hoping Santos can recapture his first half success and extend it over the entire season.

Chris Capuano was 6-8 in his first full Major League season with the Brewers. He had eight quality starts in 2004, from July to early August before being sidelined with tendonitis in his elbow. He has good movement on his fastball, slider, and changeup. He looks to be a good No. 4 starter for Milwaukee.

Ben Hendrickson has an 11-3 record with a 2.02 ERA for Triple-A in 2004. He made his Major League debut with the Brewers on June 2. He was only 1-8 with a 6.22 ERA in his nine major league starts. The final spot in the rotation is pretty much up for grabs. If Hendrickson can prove that he can be an effective major league pitcher, he will receive the No. 5 spot.

BULLPEN:

Closer Mike Adams

RH setup man Ricky Bottalico

RH setup man Brooks Kieschnick

MR Derrick Turnbow

Justin Lehr

Mike Adams made his Major League debut in May 2004, and now the Brewers have him in contention for the Closer's role. Adams, 26, did well in his first Major League season, striking out 39 batters while walking only 14 in 53 innings. He feels confident that he can handle the closer job, and the Brewers don't seem to have many doubts about him.

If Adams doesn't make the cut for Closer out of Spring Training, Ricky Bottalico might be the one taking that role. The 35-year-old veteran had a bounce-back season with the Mets in 2004. He was 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 60 relief appearances with New York and held opposing hitters to a .215 batting average. He will either be a good setup man for Milwaukee, or a good closer.

Brooks Kieschnick converted to pitcher only three years ago, and, therefore, is a good hitter for a pitcher. Shoulder problems hindered his performance in the second half of the 2004 season. He doesn't have great numbers, but the Brewers are happy with him, for now.

Derrick Turnbow didn't see much playing time with the Angels in 2004. He only appeared in 4 games, giving up only two hits in 6.1 innings while striking out 3 and walking 7. With more experience in the Major Leagues, he might be able to become a good middle relief pitcher for the Brewers.

Justin Lehr made his debut in 2004, pitching in 27 games. He had a 5.23 ERA in 32.2 innings pitched. His walks to strikeouts ratio was less than impressive with 14 walks and 16 strikeouts. However, he left a good impression on the Brewers. He could be up for a setup role out of Spring Training.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK:

Can the bullpen hold up?

The Brewers traded away their two most reliable pitchers in Closer Dan Kolb and his setup man Luis Vizcaino. Now they are left with an extremely young and inexperienced bullpen. They have just one veteran in the pen in Bottalico. Milwaukee will have to hope that these young players can handle tough situations in the big leagues.

BREAKOUT PLAYER:

The Brewers have a number of young, talented players, all of whom are worthwhile to watch out for. Some of these players are: J.J. Hardy, Dave Krynzel, and Corey Hart. However, the player who might have the most chances to breakout is Hardy with his starting role at shortstop. At 22, Hardy is looking to add himself to the Brewers' list of great shortstops

PROJECTION:

It's been 12 years since the Brewers had a winning season, and they're hoping that this is the year they can break that streak. They have a lot of young talent who will have to work hard to be in contention in the NL Central. The Brewers are in a tough division with the defending NL Champion Cardinals, the Wild Card winning Astros and the confident Cubs. Milwaukee's goal right now is to just get over .500. If the Brewers are able to do that, then they might see themselves in fourth or fifth place in the NL Central, instead of in last.

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