Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Brewers


The 2023 Brewers are proof that a great team can't get very far if nobody decides to hit.

This Brewers team was well-managed, clearly. The pitching was excellent, as there were enough depth options to ensure rotation held strong when Woodruff got injured. The defense was stellar, with newcomers like Joey Wiemer, Brice Turang, Blake Perkins, Sal Frelick and Andruw Monasterio providing an improved defensive edge to this team. But nobody hit. No matter what they tried, no matter who they brought up, it just couldn't get going. Even bringing in Mark Canha and Carlos Santana worked for maybe a month, only for the Diamondbacks, who CAN hit, to absolutely smoke them in the wild card series. The plan is to go for a 'new coach/new approach' season with Pat Murphy [who, and I'm just gonna take a stab in the dark here, may or may not have some Irish heritage], and hopefully that, along with recently-locked-up mega-prospect Jackson Chourio, helps the Brewers, already a perennial playoff team, go bigger. Knowing the Cubs and Reds are creeping up, it's not a guarantee.

The biggest example of the hitting failing this team was Garrett Mitchell, one of the few young players to actually hit from the start. Mitchell, who came up in mid-2022, impressed through 16 games, hitting .259 with 15 hits, 6 RBIs and 3 homers. Then he got hurt and didn't come back til there were three games left in the season, commonly known as the 'Rip Van Winkle' tract. By that point, the outfield looked a hell of a lot different, and Mitchell didn't even factor into the playoff picture for the Brewers.
2024 Prediction: There is the tiniest chance that the Brewers give up on Mitchell like the Braves gave up on Wright and Soroka, especially considering that Wiemer and Frelick might have starting positions next year, and Jackson Chourio might be in the cards for an outfield position in the next year or so. However, there's also a chance that the Brewers know, rightfully, that Mitchell's the more well-rounded option in center and keep him as the starting man. If so, he'll more than make up for his 2023, and be one of the standouts of the Brewers' admittedly lower-key year.

Adrian Houser has been a 5th-string starter for the Brewers for the last few years, and this year was no exception. Houser did what you'd expect- went 8-5 with a 4.12 ERA, starting as many games, 21, as he did the previous year, and striking out 96. Some injuries, and some regime changes, kept him from playing as much of a role in this team as usual, but I don't think he did anything to really worry the Brewers. Although, as the last surviving prospect acquired in the Carlos Gomez deal, it's important that he sticks around.
2024 Prediction: Houser's gonna be a free agent in 2025. I think he's gonna have an excellent season that ups his value and makes other teams finally take notice.

Similar to Garrett Mitchell, Rowdy Tellez was handed a starting job at the start of the season, and could not live up to the hype. Last year, Tellez hit 35 home runs; this year, in 105 games, he hit only 13. Though not quite as infuriating as someone like Dan Vogelbach in New York, seeing Tellez completely fail at any sort of hitting was still an ego-hit for the Brewers, who did aim to excel at power hitting this year. Tellez's .215, 45-RBI downer of a year resulted in a non-tendering. He may be 28, but in power-hitter years that's closer to 34.
2024 Prediction: Someone picks him up on a lower-risk contract as a primary DH. He does better. 

As one of the few professional backup catchers in the MLB, Victor Caratini has become a go-to catcher for some of the best pitchers in the bigs, and has caught in three great markets since entering the league. Year 2 in Milwaukee was similar to his first, as behind William Contreras he hit .259 with 7 home runs and 25 RBIs in 62 games. He and Contreras together amounted to a pretty solid hitting platoon. 
2024 Prediction: Caratini is going to do exactly what he's done in the last few seasons, just in Houston. The only thing is unlike San Diego, or Milwaukee, or Chicago, I don't know if he's going to lock onto a go-to pitcher to team up with. And, as we've discussed, Yanier Diaz is really coming into his own.

The biggest surprise for the Brewers this year was the sudden rise of former Padres prospect Colin Rea, who, thanks to injuries to Woodruff, Lauer and Miley, was given a ton of starting opportunities this year, his first since 2020, and his first prolonged starting experience since 2016 in San Diego [before becoming a fun fact as someone who was traded for Luis Castillo twice in three days]. Rea, now 32, impressed, throwing 110 Ks, with a 6-6 record and a 4.55 ERA. This was the fullest season Rea has pitched, and it was a welcome comeback from a guy who, in another universe, pitches into the postseason with the 2016 Marlins. 
2024 Prediction: As the Brewers are keeping him around and Woodruff, and possibly Burnes, is on the way out, expect Rea to play a strong role in this rotation, and continue his astonishing second act.

I did a lot of customs of the Brewers rookies this year, Wiemer and Frelick and Turang, and I didn't get to Andruw Monasterio, who came in midyear like an atom bomb and surprised a lot of people. Monasterio not only was excellent in the infield, but was good for some base running perks and hit 73 hits in 92 games. He's just a good, versatile infield piece, and he could do something for this team going forward.
2024 Prediction: I think, with Adames and Turang staying in the infield, Monasterio either finds a permanent position or acts as an Edmundo Sosa-esque utility backup. I'm not sure if he's a starting guy yet, but he could be soon.

One of the two big bat-aids the Brewers brought in midyear, aside from Mark Canha, was Carlos Santana, who was having an incredibly versatile season in Pittsburgh. Santana's second half was, well, not as good as his first, but he still could power-hit, with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs in 52 games. One of those home runs was Santana's 300th overall, which is a pretty big deal from a guy who was a onetime catching prospect in LA. 
2024 Prediction: The show goes on. El Oso will be 38 next year, and he's gonna shack up with somebody on a DH/corner role, and while I don't think it'll be anywhere close to first half 2023, it'll at least keep his brand going. 

And then for some reason the Brewers picked up Josh Donaldson. Why? We're still not sure. The Bringer of Rain definitively showed how depleted his skillset had become with 2/3rds of a season in the Bronx, despite only hitting home runs whenever I showed up. The Brewers thought they could get something out of him at this stage. In 17 games, the former MVP hit .169 with 11 RBIs and 3 home runs.
2024 Prediction: The man finally decides to call it a career. Whether or not this happens after an unsuccessful minor league contract is entirely up to him. 

Coming Tomorrow- Oh happy day, a non-competitive Cardinals team. 

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