Saturday, December 21, 2013

Brewers' Remaining First Base Options

The Winter Meetings have come to an end and the Brewers left Orlando with their tails between their legs after losing out on the bid for free agent Corey Hart who landed with the Mariners. The team was constantly checking in on Ike Davis from the Mets and Logan Morrison of the Marlins, who was eventually moved to the Mariners.

Now the team must figure out what direction they will go between now until the start to Spring Training and eventually leading up to Opening Day. Do they pick from the scraps remaining in the free agent market? Do they attempt to make a trade without giving up major parts of our farm system? Or, do they stick with what we have currently? I'll take a look at every option painful as it may be.

Free Agent Market

Mark Reynolds

Mark is probably what most Brewers fans want at first base if they are fans who crave another power hitter. He's the most powerful right handed bat left on the market, but for every homerun he would hit for the Brewers he'll strike out twenty five times. A platoon with Juan Francisco would guarantee an aneurysm from Tom Haudricourt on Twitter on a daily basis. And, honestly, I don't think Mark Reynolds is a good option at all. His career slash line is .233/.339/.464 and averages 180 strikeouts a year.

Defensively, he would be a solid addition to provide depth not only at first base but third base as well. He's had three times the playing time at third base than first base, but he has played just fine at first. He holds a 99 Fielding % at first and a 92.8 Fielding % at third.

He honestly hasn't had a season to write home about since 2009, and even then it was just "meh". That's if you are like me and don't measure someone's season by home runs and RBI. Overall, I don't see the Brewers bringing in Mark Reynolds because for the money they'll have to fork over won't be worth the production he will give the team. He's young at the age of 30, but with the rapid decline in his play recently, you'd think he's 40.

Michael Young

When I first heard about the Brewers having interest in Michael Young, I honestly wasn't too excited about it. It is one of those things that makes sense, but wouldn't even be a thought if there were better options available. This is the case with Michael Young.

He holds a pretty respectable career slash line of .300/.346/.441. He's not a huge power hitter. He's just your average hitter and gets on base. He could play any position in the infield, so depth wise he'd be a great addition. For first base specifically, he's played 111 career games there (out of 1,900+ total career games).

The Brewers are also looking at Michael Young because of his veteran leadership (see: #LohseLeadership). He's a 7-time All-Star, a gold glove winner, and has post-season experience. He would be this year's Mark Kotsay or Jerry Hairston Jr.

Jeff Baker

You guys ready for this? As I said the other day on Twitter, when Jeff Baker is the best free agent first basemen on the market, you might have a problem. I originally said this as a joke, but the more I looked at his statistics last year with Texas, I warmed up to the idea of Baker platooning with Francisco. Baker actually would be a great signing and wouldn't cost Milwaukee too much. First of all, Baker is only 32 years old. He's an ultra utility man. He can play first, second, and third base as well as the corner outfield positions.

Last year with Texas, he slashed a .279/.360/.545 143 OPS+ in 74 games played. Call me crazy, but there may be something there. Those are the best numbers he's put up in his career. Also, before Jeff Baker landed on the disabled list with a thumb injury from high-fiving a teammate, Jeff Baker was hitting .317/.391/.695 (1.086 OPS). Just saying. 

Yuniesky Betancourt

Never mind.

Other names available that I know the Brewers have no interest in is obviously Kendrys Morales because we would lose our draft pick if we sign him. Casey Kotchman is awful. Lyle Overbay and Carlos Pena are old. So, yeah.


Ike Davis

We've seen this for weeks now. The Mets and Brewers are/were trying to work out a trade but the Brewers don't want to sacrifice any young pitching, which is smart on Melvin's part. Trading for Ike Davis is a crap shoot. He had an atrocious season last year, at least it would appear on paper he did. But, what if I told you it wasn't the entire season? I did some research and what I found out was kind of surprising.

What this shows exactly is that Ike Davis was sent down to the minor leagues after his horrific start to the 2013 season. His second half numbers show his production when he was called back up to the majors. Did he figure something out while in the minors? Statistics support that theory. Lower strikeouts, high walk rate, and getting on base more. He was clearly seeing the ball better. Melvin sees something in this guy and I think a change of scenery would help Davis.

Justin Smoak

Now that the Mariners have acquired every first baseman in the league, they obviously don't need Justin Smoak anymore. Justin Smoak is a switch hitter, but so is Cesar Izturis. Smoak is a far better hitter batting left handed vs. right handed.

A lot of people say Smoak is broken and can't be fixed. I really can't argue that because his stats are pretty bad, but I will say there was a huge improvement last year from years before.

In 2012, Justin Smoak (in 132 games) hit .217/.290/.364, 85 OPS+, .242 BABIP, 49 BB, 111 SO, -0.2 WAR.

In 2013, Justin Smoak (in 131 games) hit .238/.334/.412, 113 OPS+, .278 BABIP, 64 BB, 119 SO, +1.1 WAR.

The one downfall about Smoak is that he's only a first baseman and provides absolutely no depth at any other position. That is obviously something that will factor into who Doug Melvin wants to target.

C.J. Cron

Not sure if everyone remembers, but the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a contract where he's their first baseman until he's 42 years old. So, obviously you'd have to imagine the Angels would be willing to deal Cron. Since the Angels are already wheeling and dealing, the Brewer may want to at least kick a tire or two.

This is not a move where Cron would be starting right away. The only way the Brewers make this trade is if they are dead set on having an internal option (see below) platoon with Juan Francisco. A move for Cron would also mean they have all but given up on Hunter Morris, which already seems like they are heading down that road as it is.

Adam Dunn


Other names that are out there are Mitch Moreland and Kyle Blanks. Both of these guys will be tough to pry from their teams as they both are highly valued. The Rangers can always use Moreland in a DH role with Fielder at first base now and the Padres like Blanks as first base/outfield depth.

Internal Options

Juan Francisco

Doug Melvin said that unless things change, Juan Francisco is slated to be the starting first baseman for the Brewers in 2014. But he also mentioned he's looking into other options (Michael Young, Ike Davis, etc.). Juan will be something to watch this year. He's been playing well in the Dominican Winter League. If he has a sharp spring, I think we might see a nice turnaround for Juan. He's been an experiment that I hope the Brewers staff can fix and repair. He also provides depth at third base.

Hunter Morris/Sean Halton/Jason Rogers

Doug Melvin also said that these three will be in the mix as possible depth for first base. Out of the three, Sean Halton makes the most sense. If the team was confident in Hunter Morris he would have been called up already and Jason Rogers hasn't played passed Double-A ball yet. As scary as it sounds, we may end up settling for a Francisco/Halton platoon.

Rickie Weeks?

"Go home, Andrew. You're drunk."

If I were to pick an option from each category, I'd go with Jeff Baker from the free agents just because he's a right handed bat who had a lot of under the radar success last year. Trade, I have to go with Ike Davis. I really think he figured things out after his demotion last year. Internally, it's tough to say because I don't like any of it. I suppose Halton is the way to go but I think Weeks should give it a shot. It all remains to be seen.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, @10iskristin, and @JoeWiscoSports.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wisconsin Sports Blog is Looking for Writers

I am looking to fill a few vacancies to the Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team. Here is the basic/minimal criteria I am looking for:
  • Complete knowledge of the Brewers, Packers, Bucks, Badgers, and Golden Eagles, as well as sports in general related to the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NCAA. Knowledge of free agency, prospects, recruits, etc.
  • Writing experience is necessary, especially online writing is preferred.
  • The ability to construct intelligent, well-written posts summing up the subject at hand.
  • Be able to handle constructive criticism.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • To use Twitter at it's full capacity, including follower interaction (very important). Also the use of other social media applications.
You'll have an opportunity to write for a blog that has traffic of over 3,000 readers per month...and that number is climbing. The Wisconsin Sports Blog is a growing community.

If you're interested in joining the writing team, email wisconsinsportsblog[AT]gmail[DOT]com and in a couple of short paragraphs, give a sample of your writing and/or why you should write for the Wisconsin Sports Blog (a resume per say).

Thank you in advance for your interest! I will respond to all inquiries.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota
Lead Writer/Editor

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Packers, Brewers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, rumors, previews, and post game discussion. Follow the entire writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter Meetings Notes: Brewers Edition

The Winter Meetings are well underway and it's off to a hot start for many major league teams. This article will be updated as more information becomes available. The following is what is out as of right now that I know of.

- The Brewers have contacted the New York Mets again regarding 1B Ike Davis, as have the Tampa Bay Rays. The Mets asking price is said to still be way too high and nothing is expected to happen there. [via MLB Trade Rumors]

- The Brewers remain in the hunt for Miami Marlins 1B/OF Logan Morrison, as well as a few other teams including the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Pirates. There was a rumbling that Rickie Weeks may be on the table for Logan Morrison but I can't confirm that. Personally, if you're talking Weeks in a trade, you have to assume the Brewers are paying most of that salary anyways or a third team is involved in the trade. [via MLB Trade Rumors]

- The Brewers have contacted the San Francisco Giants about 1B Brett Phill. [via Henry Schulman]

- The Brewers are looking for veteran relief pitchers. They have not contacted John Axford or Francisco Rodriguez but have checked in on former Chicago Cubs closer Carlos Marmol. [via Tom Haudricourt]

- The Brewers have met with Corey Hart's agent. The Brewers will wait for Hart's agent to gather other offers and then will negotiate. Hart remains the Brewers' #1 priority. [via MLB Trade Rumors]

- Six teams have apparently checked in on former Brewers "pop out to right field with bases loaded and two out" man Yuniesky Betancourt. Marlins are the most interested, shockingly. [via Chris Cottilo]

- Tom Gorzelanny had shoulder surgery. He won't be able to pitch until mid March. Don't be alarmed, it's said to only be a "clean up" procedure. [via Tom Haudricourt]

- Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks are on schedule with their rehabs. [via Tom Haudricourt]

- Ryan Braun got married over the weekend. [Multiple Reports]

UPDATE: (12/10/13 1:43PM CT)

- Tom Haudricourt states in his following tweets that the "Brewers would not trade for a first baseman unless they get a definite no from Corey Hart. And they are hoping for answer very soon." Tom next tweet was rather confusing to tell what he meant to say, but believes the "Brewers have told Corey Hart what they'd be willing to do. A matter of accepting it or not. If not, trade for 1B." In addition, Tom states that "Weeks is recovering from major injury, has $11 M contract and has been in two-year offensive decline. Not a very marketable trade candidate."

Adam's tweet pretty much echos Haudrcourt's, but that's the latest on Corey Hart.

UPDATE: (12/10/13 4:36PM CT)

- Report: Corey Hart and the Milwaukee Brewers are actively moving towards a contract agreement and have been all day. It is expected to be completed before the Winter Meetings are over. Full report on said activities were reported by the Brewer Nation Blog.

The Brewers, as mentioned above, will not pursue a trade until the hear from Corey Hart on the offer they submitted to him. I can't imagine the Brewers will wait an extended amount of time on Hart. I would expect an announcement within the next 24 hours.

- Ron Roenicke named Tyler Thornburg the Brewers front runner to be the 5th starter for the rotation in 2014. The rotation would sit at Lohse, Gallardo, Estrada, Peralta, Thornburg. [via Adam McCalvy]

- Ron Roenicke also says that he doesn't need to know the specifics on Ryan Braun's steroid use and neither does anyone else. [via Adam McCalvy]

- Ron Roenicke confirms Scooter Gennett is penciled in as the starting second baseman for the Brewers heading into the 2014 season. Rickie Weeks' future is up in the air. [via Adam McCalvy]

Personally, if Rickie wants to impress, he may want to think about trying third base out. That would be a tough transition for him because of his arm strength. But, he really has no other choice.

UPDATE: (12/10/13 8:20PM CT)

Corey Hart could make his decision as early as tonight, tweets Adam McCalvy. The Brewers were reported earlier to have been working with Hart all day on a deal. Hopefully it pays off.

If the Brewers miss out of Hart and don't end up being the team that signs him, it appears they have a back up plan...Ike Davis. (UGH)

UPDATE: (12/10/13 9:42PM CT)

Good to hear. I did not want Ike Davis. Lots of people did not want Ike Davis. I'm so happy to know Melvin isn't willing to trade a young pitcher like Tyler Thornburg for a crap shoot in Davis. Now signing Corey Hart is even more important.

UPDATE: (12/11/13 9:07PM CT)

- Reports have suggested that Doug Melvin has set a noon deadline for Corey Hart on his decision. Haudricourt is very optimistic about Hart returning to the Brewers. But, he notes that all it takes is one team to swoop in to change that optimism. If Hart doesn't return, the Brewers seem to be set on their internal options of Juan Francisco, Sean Halton, and Hunter Morris. They are no longer in talks with the Marlins about Logan Morrison and the Mets about Ike Davis. [via Tom Haudricourt]

Now it appears Morrison/Marlins trade might end up being the backup plan if Hart says no, according to Tom Haudricourt.

- According to Adam Marchand of ESPN, the Brewers are among eight other teams that have checked in on left handed pitcher Johan Santana. Other teams to check in are the Mets, Yankees, Pirates, Twins, Rays, Orioles, and Royals. Not sure the extent of the interest or how much both sides talked, but it makes sense. Johan would be a pretty affordable option to have. He has had injury issues, specifically to his throwing shoulder. Those surgeries have made Johan miss two out of the last three seasons. [via ESPN]

- According to Adam McCalvy, Doug Melvin spoke to James Loney’s agent early Wednesday morning. McCalvy wrote "...there could theoretically be opportunity there if Loney comes down from his reported three-year request." McCalvy added "trades with the Mets for Ike Davis or the Marlins for Logan Morrison are possible, though the Mets’ ask was pretty high for Davis, a player who struggled so mightily in 2013 that he was demoted to Triple-A at one point. New York wants Tyler Thornburg, and sounded firm on it." [via Brewers Beat]

According to multiple reports, Corey Hart is down to two teams...the Brewers and the Mariners. Corey has strong connections with Seattle, as GM Jack Zduriencik drafted him. If the Mariners get Hart, you have to wonder if they'd be willing to trade Justin Smoak. And, since the Brewers are all for trading for Ike Davis or Logan Morrison, I don't see why they wouldn't consider Smoak. [via Multiple Reports]

- Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Corey Hart is heading to the Mariners on a one year deal. Adam McCalvy also confirmed Hart is going to Seattle. From what it sounds like, Seattle offered him a deal he simply could not turn down. Should be interesting to see the exact details of it.

The Brewers were prepared to sign Hart to a one year deal was worth $4MM guaranteed with $2.5MM in earning incentives, totaling a max of $6.5MM

Seattle's deal is worth $6MM guaranteed with $7MM earning incentives, totaling $13MM.

- Buster Olney of ESPN tweets that the Brewers have been talking to James Loney. He implies that he could be the next target for the Brewers if the team chooses not to trade for Davis, Morrison, etc.

- Moments after the Mariners signed Corey Hart, they also acquired Logan Morrison from the Marlins in exchange for RHP Carter Capps. They really hurts the remaining players available for the Brewers. Ike Davis, Justin Smoak, and Mitch Moreland via trade, or free agent James Loney. Brewers are in talks with James Loney's agent. [via Multiple Sources]

- Adam McCalvy tweets that the Brewers have sincere interest in James Loney, but don't expect to get anything done before they leave Orlando tomorrow. [via Adam McCalvy]

- Doug Melvin hints he may have his eye on someone in the Rule 5 Draft, since the team's 40 man roster sits at 39. Let the speculation begin.

More to come as it becomes available....

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Brewers Traded Norichika Aoki, Acquire Left Handed Pitcher

Aoki (left), Smith (right). In case you didn't know.
This morning the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to trade outfielder Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals for left handed pitcher Will Smith. With this trade, the Brewers officially announced that Ryan Braun will be making the move from left to right field this spring. I'll get into Will Smith in a bit, but first let's look at what the departure of Nori Aoki does to our outfield depth.

And, by depth, I mean log jam. The Brewers had three solid starting outfielders to start the 2013 season in Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and Norichika Aoki. Sitting behind them were Khris Davis, Logan Schafer, and Caleb Gindl. Those three are very sound outfielders that could honestly be starters on other baseball teams. Heck, even in the minors the Brewers have Kentrail Davis who we will likely lose in the Rule 5 draft. Moving Aoki allows the Brewers to free up space for the younger class to get Big League playing time.

Becoming a free agent after the 2014 season, this trade should come at now surprise. People will claim we should have gotten more for Nori, but I'll agree to disagree with that. All signs pointed to a downgrade in productivity this season by Aoki. For one, he lost a full point of oWAR between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In 2012, Aoki attempted 38 stolen bases and converted 30 of them. In 2013, he attempted 32 stolen bases but only converted 20 of them. He was also picked off a total of 7 times in 2013. That's a huge difference and a sign of declining speed.

Defensively, the Royals are getting a premium player. Through two seasons with the Brewers, Aoki carries a .989 Fielding %. In 2013, Aoki had 13 defensive runs saved above average (Rdrs) which is pretty decent for a right fielder. In comparison, Jason Heyward of the Braves had 15 Rdrs, who is considered one of the top defensive right fielders in the game.

So, who is the lead-off hitter now you ask? You have a couple different options.

vs. LHP lineup

1. Jean Segura
2. Carlos Gomez
3. Ryan Braun
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Jonathan Lucroy
6. Khris Davis
7. Fat Juan/Corey Hart (?)
8. Rickie Weeks
9. Pitcher

vs. RHP lineup

1. Scooter Gennett
2. Jean Segura
3. Ryan Braun
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Carlos Gomez
6. Jonathan Lucroy
7. Khris Davis
8. Fat Juan/Corey Hart (?)
9. Pitcher

In some cases you could have Carlos Gomez lead off too. But, it won't be hard to figure out or lineup. RRR will likely play around with his lineups in spring to figure that out. I'm looking forward to see how the club sorts out their bench for Opening Day. The team basically has three spots locked up already in Martin Maldonado, Scooter Gennett, and whoever platoons with Juan Francisco. You need to add a back up short stop and then decide between Logan Schafer or Caleb Gindl as your 4th outfielder. In my opinion, you go with speed and defense and stick Logan in there.

Now, onto the pitcher the Brewers acquired.

Will Smith is a 24 year old left handed pitcher who will likely end up in the bullpen for the 2014 season. He has potential to work his way into the rotation, but he has some work to do to get there. He is arbitration eligible in 2016 and a free agent in 2020. Will had an impressive turnaround in 2013 as a reliever from a somewhat disastrous 2012 as a starter. Will increased his K/9 from 5.9 to 11.6 while reducing his BB/9 from 3.3 to 1.9. Will has an insanely good slider. Researched by the great Alec Dopp, Will Smith's slider held batters to .093/.130/.186 line in 2013 and generated 55.6% chase rate, which was the 2nd highest among pitchers with 33 IP or more.

Overlooking the trade, I'd give it a B-. You trade a valuable outfielder who is blatantly getting older and slower. He became expendable with the emergence of Khris Davis and is a free agent after the 2014 season. In return you get a young left handed arm, which is something the Brewers' organization was missing. I'd give it a higher grade because I do believe we could have squeezed out an additional player for Nori. The Brewers have enough dead weight on the 40 man roster where we would be okay to outright someone.

I will miss Nori Aoki. The production he gave the Brewers of both sides of the game were greatly appreciated and recognized. The organization loses a humble, passionate player that brought a lot of excitement to The Keg. From his walk up music to his unforgettable inside the park home run, Nori, you were a fun player to watch. Best of luck to you in Kansas City. Enjoy their barbeque.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Packers Mid-Season 7 Round Mock Draft

Round 1 - Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

This wouldn't have been my pick a few months ago. But, with the latest developments to Jermichael Finley's severe injury and questionable future as a football player not just on the Green Bay Packers, but in the National Footwritten, ague, this is a wise choice for Green Bay.

Jace Amaro (right), a junior at Texas Tech, was the highest ranked player out of high school to ever commit to the Red Raiders in team history. He's got a tall figure. A bit bulky, but has room to put on muscle. Runs great routes and has smooth maneuvers when going for extra yards. He breaks tackles with his motoring skills. All around, a great tight end prospect the Packers will be looking at on draft day.

Note: You'll find dirt on Jace Amaro from 2012. Jace and a teammate were arrested for reportedly making a purchase on a debit card without having the consent of the card holder to do so. From what I dug up, it was a teammates card. I don't think this is a red flag at all, considering other teams/players in the news in the recent years.

As far as injuries, in his sophomore year he was hit pretty hard in the midsection where he broke a rib and had his spleen punctured. He missed three weeks and was in the hospital on bed rest during that time. This past week he suffered an injury to his chest by Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon.

Coincidentally, Ahmad Dixon is my second round pick.

Round 2 - Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor

Ahmad Dixon is a projected second/third round pick, but he may be the best strong safety prospect in next year's draft. I think as the season carries on, Dixon's stock will rise into possibly even a Top 32 prospect. Dixon has speed and youth. By youth, i nean room to mature and grow. He's extremely fast running down field, which helps prevent the deep ball game a lot of quarterbacks like to mix in every now and then. He also is very aware of running games and will get involved in those contact plays as well.

At Baylor, during his sophomore and junior years, he played the strong safety position. This year, though, he has been playing a "hybrid" safety/linebacker position. Dixon still runs a 4.5 40 and will be drafted as a safety. With the Packers' defensive backs not impressing, especially M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, they need to draft a defensive back early this draft.

Dixon would probably be a Top 32 pick already had it not been for his arrest for a misdemeanor assault back in September. He allegedly attacked a man he believed had broken into his home. Not sure the exact story, but this wasn't at a bar or a nightclub where Dixon shouldn't have been. Not defending anything that happened, but it could have been a worse situation.

Round 3 - Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri

Listed as a defensive end in college, he is much more projectable as a pass rushing outside linebacker. But, for what it's worth, I'll analyze both scenarios. First off, who is he and why such a high pick for someone you haven't heard of? As of the time this article was written, Michael Sam is tied with Vic Beasley for the most sacks this season with 10. He has a total of 16 tackles for losses, 1 forced fumble that he returned for a touchdown, and 24 solo tackles with 8 assisted.

As an outside linebacker, Sam would back up Clay Matthews and Nick Perry to provide a nice, well rested cycle of pass rushers that still has steam in the 4th quarter. Pass rush is still a part of the game the Packers need to improve on. There was a decline in pass rush after the Super Bowl season when we went from 47 sacks in 2010, to 29 sacks in 2011, then back up to 46 in 2012, and now through seven games the defense has 23 sacks. To keep things at consistent production, providing the depth necessary to continue to rush the quarterback is a great idea here.

As a defensive end, it seems we are at the tail end of the C.J. Wilson experience. We drafted Datone Jones in last year's draft and now this year if we take another defensive lineman it could mark the end of it. Wilson just isn't getting playing time over Raji, Daniels, Pickett, Jolly, and Jones. With the line aging overall, Sam can provide youth to replenish what we're losing to time.

He's majoring in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.

Round 4 - Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin

A.J. Hawk isn't getting any younger. However, as of late, that hasn't really shown in his play. In the absence of Clay Matthews with his broken thumb, Hawk has really stepped it up for the Packers. Nonetheless, when Matthews was around, Hawk seemed to be lost at times. Adding depth at inside linebacker, just like outside, is a very good idea heading into May's draft.

Chris Borland is not your typical linebacker. Not at 5'11". However, the intensity Borland brings to the field every game makes up for his size. Borland has a knack for being involved in every play, every tackle. The numbers he has put up since a true freshman at Wisconsin is astonishing. Going into this Saturday's game Borland has 362 career tackles, over 50 tackles for loss, 13 forced fumbles, 15 sacks, and 3 interceptions.

Borland's instincts, mental preparation, and passion outweigh his smaller stature. His involvement on every play makes him an elite linebacker that can prevent a run game, attack the quarterback, and cause turnovers. I would love to see the Packers start day three of the draft with Chris Borland, the hometown kid.

If I were to not to go with Borland just because he's a Badger, I'm still really high on Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State from a month or so ago.

Round 5 - Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech

Logan Thomas is getting Cam Newton comparisons, which is a big comparison to throw out there. In a draft full of quarterbacks going in the first round, Logan will likely slip under the radar while Bridgewater, Manziel and Mariota are in the spotlight. Oh yeah, and don't forget Hundley, Carr, Mettenberger, Boyd, McCarron, and Murray too. My point is that not every team needs a QB, so the likelihood of Thomas falling here is great.

If you watched the Virginia Tech/Miami game from this past week, you know the kind of impact player Thomas is. He's 6-6, 254 pounds and runs a 4.6 40. It's a good investment for the Packers to draft a back up quarterback, at least to put in development. I'm totally fine with either Tolzien or Flynn backing up Rodgers next year and then having Thomas on the practice squad. 

Round 6 -
Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State 

Meet the fastest player in this draft class. Dri Archer may be only 5-8, 178 pounds, but he's a speed demon. He's been clocked at running a 40 yard dash at 4.37. The Packers need to address the kick returning hole the team as after Jeremy Ross was cut and Johnathan Franklin struggled. Archer is a perfect example of a Devin Hester type player. Strictly on the team to return punts and kick offs. But, also, available to be a deep threat for Aaron Rodgers. Nothing else to really say here. It's a smart pick for the sixth round.

Round 7 - Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas

With the injuries to Sam Shields and Casey Hayward and the decline in productivity in Tramon Williams this year as well as the mediocre play by Davon House, the Packers need to figure out things at the corner back position. Now, I will defend the corner backs a bit because of our lack of pass rush and all of our other issues on defense, but we give up big plays to wide receivers on the first plays of the game all the way to the last plays of game.

Byndom would be a great steal for the Packers in the seventh round here. He's a solid defender. He's very lean, which could haunt him against guys like Calvin Johnson and co., but his quickness and athleticism counter the size deficiency nicely. He has room to put on some weight, but at a 4.5 40 time, I'm not sure how much more bulk he'd want to put on. He's a standard six feet tall, so at least there's that.

CBS's Rob Rang wrote this little excerpt about Carrington...

Byndom's lean frame allowed him to be pushed around by some of the bigger, more physical receivers in the conference, but his agility and hand-eye coordination quickly established him as a cornerback to think twice about challenging.

--Rob Rang

As far as what Green Bay would be looking for in the undrafted free agent side of things, I would expect a good amount of offensive and defensive linemen signed. Also, probably a fullback, another tight end, and a few wide receivers and linebackers too.

I'll have another Mock Draft for the Packers after the Super Bowl in late January if not sooner. Until then, Go Pack Go!

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Andrew Vrchota (@AndrewVrchota)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Death, Taxes, and Bo Ryan - A Wisconsin Badger Basketball Preview

Bo Ryan making it rain

The college basketball season is upon us, which means Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team once again figures to finish in the top 4 of the Big Ten and make the NCAA tournament. The bad news - the Badgers have to replace all three starting front court players and only return two post players that averaged more than ten minutes a game. The good news - they return four guards that have starting experience in a Wisconsin uniform, oh let’s not forget Sam Dekker, but more on him later.

For the most part the eight man rotation is set.  F Frank Kaminsky, F Sam Dekker, G Josh Gasser, G Ben Brust and G Traevon Jackson will start. G George Marshall, F Duje Dukan and F Zach Bohannon will start out as the first options off the bench. However, a couple freshmen, F Nigel Hayes and G Bronson Koenig, will make their case for more playing time as the season progresses. In fact, let’s break down the roster.

Each player will be projected into one of the following categories.

Redshirts - these players have either announced a redshirt year or could benefit from a year of development in the program.

Bench Mob – these players figure to play sparingly. Perhaps someone push for playing time as eight or ninth option in the rotation.

Wildcards – freshman who are talented enough to play right away if they can be trusted, could be surpassed by one of the bench mob.

Starting Level Role Players – solid players that due to team needs can/should contribute one or two specific attributes.

Running Mates – high level players capable of carrying the team on some nights and in favorable matchups.

Alpha Dog – can dominate any game against any competition


Aaron Moesch – Preferred walk on needs a year to add strength and develop in order to consistently contribute

Jordan Smith – Guard depth will allow Smith to take a year of development in hopes he can contribute more as a redshirt senior than this year.

Zak Showalter – Same story, loaded guard position this season, will be able to see the floor more as a redshirt junior or senior.

Jordan Hill – Despite no big time college offers out of high school Hill has shown during Canada trip and exhibitions he definitely belongs on this level. Quick feet and aggressive defense means he will be a mainstay in the rotation sometime during his time at Wisconsin. Guard depth and age (won’t turn 19 until December) means he could benefit from another year with the team and not use eligibility.

Riley Dearring – More of the same, guard depth is the biggest reason for him redshirt.  Dearing will be a solid contributor and rotational player in 2-3 years.  He has nice length and a very good outside shot. Dearring will definitely benefit from a year in strength program to add quickness and explosiveness.

Bench Mob

Evan Anderson – Hard to see him on the floor consistently in meaningful action unless there is significant foul trouble along the front court.

Zach Bohannon – A solid player who can be counted on in spurts to play solid defense and play within the offense. He will need to hold off Vitto Brown for playing time as the fifth forward in the rotation. He has earned the coaches trust with his high basketball IQ, he is rarely out of position. However he will be challenged to consistently score on offense against strong and quicker players.

Vitto Brown – Very talented defensively and will use that advantage for playing time in games when the Badgers need more muscle on the board and in post defense. Bo Ryan rarely uses more than eight guys in a consistent rotation and right now Brown is probably running ninth. Will need to show during the non-conference slate he can be counted on in order to get more playing time against Big Ten competition.

Duje Dukan – Redshirted year last year and improved his confidence and assertiveness on the offensive end. During the Canada trip, Dukan averaged 8.8 points a game good for fifth highest production on the team. Playing time will be heavily tied to his energy and effort on the defensive end where he will be asked to guard players with a sizable weight and strength advantage. Will start as the first forward off the bench, but could lose that role to Hayes or Brown as the season progresses.


Nigel Hayes – During the Canada trip in August, Hayes didn’t play much and looked every bit like a freshman experiencing his first major college basketball action.  In the exhibition game against UW-Platteville, Hayes displayed a knack for offensive rebounding and tallied an efficient 8 points on 4-7 shooting in 14 minutes. He also impressed in a combined practice (closed door scrimmage) against DePaul. Hayes pushing for playing time over Dukan and Bohannon is a best case scenario and will translate to a more complete and versatile team. A lot is riding on Hayes this year.

Bronson Koenig – Probably the most college ready player of the freshman. It speaks to Koenig’s talent that he can compete for playing time with all the guard depth. The Badgers will frequently be using three and perhaps four guard lineups. Koenig is comfortable at either guard spot and will not be overwhelmed by the level of competition. He is always in control and excels and running the offense and seeing the floor. If Koenig progresses as expected he will keep the guard rotation with fresher legs, especially as Gasser works back from ACL surgery.

Starting Level Role Players

Josh Gasser – Aside from the freshman, Gasser is the biggest unknown entering the year. When the season starts he will be just over a year removed from tearing his ACL. How close is he to the player that held Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins to his worst shooting performance (13 points on 3-13 shooting, 20 ppg on the season) in the 2012 NCAA tournament? Gasser is an outstanding and versatile defender when healthy. His ability to guard opposing team’s small forwards will determine how successful the Badgers can be using three or even four guard lineups. Gasser also has amazing court presence and is an outstanding rebounder for a guard. Badgers will need their guards to pick up some of the rebound void left by Evans, Bruiser and Berggren. Expect Gasser to lead the way.

George Marshall – Marshall finished last year with the team’s third best 3-point shooting percentage and really established himself as spot up shooter. As he makes the leap from redshirt freshman to sophomore, Marshall will be expected to contribute more than long distance shooting. Last year he had a tendency to play too fast and let his game spin out of control. With another year under his belt, Marshall can focus that energy and provide a nice change of pace off the bench.

Traevon Jackson – Last year was a huge growing up season for Traevon Jackson. He had three different game tying or winning shots but was also good for one extremely lazy turnover and one heated argument with a teammate or official per game. By his own account the biggest thing he worked on to improve his game during the offseason was his maturity. He has earned and cemented his place at the point guard of the team. Expect to see a lot of games similar to the exhibition against Platteville: 7 assists, 1 turnover and a Badger victory. The Badgers do not need Trae to shoulder the scoring burden every night, but having a player with the big shot chops out on the court every night is a luxury few teams have.

Running Mates

Ben Brust – Continues the outstanding tradition of guard development under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Brust is an accomplished shooter and can get hot and change a game in a hurry. He has made 6 or more 3 pointer three different games. He also is responsible for one of the more iconic shots in Badger history. But he is more than a shooter. Brust has improved in every facet of the game each year since arriving in Madison. He provides above average perimeter defense and rebounding for his position. It will not be unusual to see Brust lead the team in scoring, however, his energy and leadership (1 of 2 seniors on the roster) will be needed most this year.

Frank Kaminsky - Perhaps no other player on the roster enters this season with as much pressure as Kaminsky. Listed at 7’ (just the 5th 7-footer in program history) he will be shoulder a bulk of the defense and rebounding void left by Berggren, Evans and Bruesewitz. The good news is Kaminsky displayed an assertive offensive game in Canada averaging 15.6 points. His long range shooting (over 30% from 3 point range) stretches the defense and opens up lanes for the guards to drive. The bad news is Frank averaged just 2 rebounds a game last year. Kaminsky will need to rebound at a rate befitting a 7-footer. If Ben Brust is the leading rebounder on the season, it is going to be a long year.

Alpha Dog

Sam Dekker – Bear with me. I promise not to make this Ode to Dekker too long and glowing, but make no mistake, he is going to be really, REALLY good. During the team’s annual preseason media day, Bo Ryan offered up this tidbit on Dekker “He’s in the process of really tinkering with being pretty special”. Dekker played 22 minutes a game even with three senior front court players in the starting lineup and eventually found his role as “instant offense” off the bench. There were moments though, like the 10 straight points against Indiana in the Big Ten Conference Tournament Semi Finals where Dekker hinted it was only a matter of time for him to break out as one the conference’s elite players. During the Canada trip, Dekker averaged 19.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. As impressive as those numbers are, seeing him in action provided more context on how he controlled play and raised his game at the end. Early on, Dekker played within the offense and didn’t force anything. But with the game on the line in the second half, he took over. Devin Harris was the best I’ve seen in a Badger uniform and he was wired the same way. Run the swing offense, assess the other team early and in crunch time, take over. Thus far Dekker has handled the increased pressure of being the go-to scorer and leader. He’s been more vocal in practice and knows other players are following his lead. Yet when asked what has changed now that this as “his team”, Dekker responded “It should never be anyone’s team. It’s Coach Ryan’s team. This is the University of Wisconsin’s team”. And that quote tells you all you need to know about Sam Dekker.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson (@olewr7) 

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SANDERS!, Greece Lightning, and Mayo - Your 2013-14 Bucks Preview

Coming off a successful season were they won 38 games and earned the right to get pummeled by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks decided it was time for a change. More accurately, they decided going for the 8th seed was fine but decided to do it with different players. They jettisoned most of the roster in favor of more efficient and well-rounded basketball players in an attempt to become more watchable and less like they suck so bad. Unfortunately, the Eastern Conference has gotten a little better, so the road to the playoffs will be a little rougher. Let's start this Bucks preview by looking at what they did this summer.

Additions and subtractions

SG Monta Ellis (free agent, signed with the Dallas Mavericks)
PG Brandon Jennings (traded to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and some random big dude)
SG JJ Redick (sign-and-trade with the LA Clippers, received two second-round picks)
G/F Mike Dunleavy (free agent, signed with the Chicago Bulls)
F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (traded to the Sacramento Kings for two second-round picks)
C Samuel Dalembert (free agent, signed with the Dallas Mavericks)
G/F Marquis Daniels (free agent)
F/C Drew Gooden (amnesty, LOL)
F/C Gustavo Ayon (waived, signed with the Atlanta Hawks)
C Joel Przybilla (free agent)
PG Ish Smith (traded to the Phoenix Suns for Caron Butler)

PG Brandon Knight (trade with Detroit Pistons)
SG OJ Mayo (free agent)
G/F Carlos Delfino (free agent)
SF Caron Butler (trade with Phoenix Suns)
C Zaza Pachulia (free agent)
G Gary Neal (free agent)
F Khris Middleton (free agent)
C Miroslav Raduljica (free agent)
PG Luke Ridnour (trade with Minnesota Timberwolves)
F Giannis Antetokounmpo (first-round pick)
G Nate Wolters (second-round pick)

That's a lot of moves.

Some dude in front of Ersan has a question
Bucks by position

Probable Starting Lineup

PG Brandon Knight
SG OJ Mayo
SF Caron Butler
PF Ersan Ilyasova

Guards: Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Nate Wolters, Carlos Delfino
Forwards: John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton
Centers: Zaza Pachulia, Miroslav Raduljica


The Bucks sent their whole 2012-13 backcourt away this offseason, and rightfully so. Brandon Jennings was clearly unhappy in Milwaukee, and wasn't progressing the way the front office expected. Monta Ellis was a no-defense, inefficient ballhog and JJ Redick couldn't fit in. Ish Smith wasn't the champion the Bucks needed.

By trading Jennings for Knight, they essentially swapped disappointing guards with the Pistons. Knight shoots the 3 well, can defend, and has had some moments (not all were good), but overall isn't a natural point guard and isn't a very efficient shooter inside the three-point line.

Pictured: meh
He does have youth on his side, and head coach Larry Drew had success turning Jeff Teague into a good NBA point guard, so the jury is still out on Knight. His backcourt mate, OJ Mayo, is a little more of a known quantity. He's also a good three-point shooter, can create his own shot, passes well, and at least early on in his career was regarded as a solid defender. He's also inconsistent and has had issues with effort on both sides of the ball. He should lead the team in scoring, but that says more about the team than it does about Mayo.

Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour both fill similar roles as solid backup combo guards that can shoot. Ridnour is an excellent midrange shooter and the better pure point guard while Neal is better behind the three-point line and better defensively. Carlos Delfino is a "three and D" guy who will play both shooting guard and small forward, but will likely miss the first couple months of the season with a foot injury. Nate Wolters probably won't play much but has a skillset similar to Neal.


In the last couple seasons the Bucks seemed to acquire every forward possible, something that CPU teams would constantly do in NBA Live 2010 which would lead to the hilarious result of Zach Randolph or David Lee starting at small forward for opposing teams. Fortunately, the Bucks seemed to have fixed that glitch by trading Mbah a Moute and cutting Drew Gooden and now have a reasonable amount of bigs on the roster.

Caron Butler's best days are behind him, but he's a fairly reliable veteran and a juicy trade asset with an expiring contract. Like Delfino, he shoots well from beyond the arc and can defend but doesn't contribute much else at this point. Middleton is an intriguing youngster with great size who is a dark horse to take the starting small forward job if Butler is washed up and Delfino takes longer than expected to recover.

Ersan Ilyasova is the starter at power forward but is not a traditional player there. He's an excellent shooter and good rebounder who doesn't do much defensively and can't create his own shot. John Henson showed flashes in his rookie year and is the future at the position, but needs to put on some weight and improve his shot selection. Ekpe Udoh is a good defender but is hilariously bad offensively and can't rebound, like, at all. He's also an expiring deal and as such is a likely trade candidate.

And that leads us to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the young rookie from Greece who has every Bucks fan excited. And they should be excited. BEHOLD:

The positives; he's fearless, has good shooting touch, is a willing passer, rebounds well, has a knack for blocking shots, possesses monstrous hands, is long, strong, and down to get the friction on. The negatives; is extremely raw, a little careless with the ball, has poor footwork, occasionally looses his man defensively, and is, like, eight years old or something. There's a ridiculously wide range of outcomes when it comes to Giannis (hashtag Greece Lightning) during his rookie season - he could be overwhelmed by the pro game and end up stuck in the D-League all year, force his way into the starting lineup and emerge as a ROY candidate, or anything in between. Nothing would shock me. But one thing he won't be is boring.


At this point last year, I wasn't even sure if LARRY SANDERS! was on the roster. His first two NBA seasons were eventful but not particularly useful. He blocked shots but fouled constantly and couldn't catch the ball. He was a bit of a hothead. After a brutal showing during summer league in 2012, it looked like he might not even make the team. But somehow, he did make the team, and I can only imagine that a mighty basketball demon possessed his soul and turned him into a defensive anchor and franchise building block. He cut down on the silly fouls while finishing second in the NBA in blocks while shooting over 50% from the field and nearly averaging a double-double. His impact went even beyond the traditional statistics, evidenced by this graph by Kirk Goldsberry that became popular after last year's Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. It measured the field goal percentage of opposing teams while LARRY SANDERS! was on the court, juxtaposed against defensive sieve (and NBA Live "small forward") David Lee.

Hint: green is better than red
SANDERS' breakout season earned him a four-year, 44 million dollar deal, and he is now the de facto face of the franchise. He still is a bit of a hothead and could stand to improve offensively, but is one of the better young centers in the league and the Bucks aren't going anywhere without him.

Zaza Pachulia was paid too much to be the backup to SANDERS!, but is as reliable as they come and could start for a lot of NBA teams. I know nothing about Miroslav Raduljica, other than he is large and white and his name is an annoyance to spell. As long as he's better than Joel Przybilla, I'll be satisfied.

Head Coach

"Why do you keep calling me Windu?"
Former Hawks coach Larry Drew replaces the hapless Jim Boylan, who himself was the mid-season replacement for Scott Skiles. I don't know a whole lot about Drew, but he's supposedly a players coach who has some skills on both sides of the ball but isn't much for in-game adjustments. He had success in Atlanta and seems to me like the right kind of guy for the Bucks' young roster, but I also thought Larry Krystkowiak would be a good coach and I was comically wrong.

Prediction time

10 bold predictions

1. LARRY SANDERS! will win the Defensive Player of the Year award
2. Ersan Ilyasova will shoot a career-high 48% from beyond the arc and participate in the three-point contest during All-Star weekend
3. Brandon Knight will lead the team in scoring (17-ish PPG)
4. SANDERS! will lead the league in technical fouls
5. Khris Middleton will start more games at small forward than Caron Butler
6. OJ Mayo will lead the team in assists
7. Ekpe Udoh will rebound a basketball at least once
8. Giannis will have a 5x5 game (at least 5 points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals)
9. John Henson will have at least two 20/20 games
10. The Bucks will trade for Steve Nash at the trade deadline because YOLO

Where they'll finish

The Bucks finished 8th in the East last year, but that said more about the bottom of the East than it did about the Bucks. This is an entirely new roster and it's impossible to tell how the pieces will fit. On the plus side, the Bucks probably have the deepest roster of competent players in the East, and SANDERS! is a difference-maker. On the down side, they have no real superstar, and a handful of teams that finished below them in the standings got a lot better in the offseason while the Celtics are the only team that finished above them to get markedly worse.

Predictions on the Bucks are all over the place. Bill Simmons has them as a playoff team with the possibility of reaching the 6th seed. Marc Stein has them at 26th in his power rankings and has them at 24th. I'm somewhere in the middle - I do think the Bucks are a better team talent-wise than they were last season, but I don't think it will show up in the standings. Here's how I see the East shaking out:

1. Miami Heat
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Brooklyn Nets
4. Indiana Pacers
5. New York Knicks
6. Detroit Pistons
7. Atlanta Hawks
8. Washington Wizards
9. Milwaukee Bucks
10. Cleveland Cavaliers
11. Toronto Raptors
12. Orlando Magic
13. Charlotte Bobcats
14. Boston Celtics
15. Philadelphia 76ers

40 wins is a realistic mid-point, and I could see them finishing anywhere between 7th and 12th. The depth is good enough to keep them from completely tanking, but the lack of front-end talent keeps their ceiling low. While continuing to wallow in mediocrity and chasing the #8 seed is no fun, the team should at least be fun to watch on a nightly basis, especially if Greece Lightning is involved. For better or worse, I'm along for the ride.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Recapping 2013 for the Milwaukee Brewers - Hitters

Last week I wrote about the Milwaukee Brewers pitching in 2013 and in today’s second installment, I will cover the team’s hitting in 2013 and look forward to where the crew stands headed into next season. The team had 19 different position players swing a bat throughout the course of the season. Let’s take a look at how they fared.

First base was particularly manned by Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt early on with Corey Hart and Mat Gamel lost for the season with knee injuries. Gonzalez put on a woeful display at the plate, hitting just .177 in 113 at bats with 8 RBI. Gonzalez, who has been primarily praised for his excellent shortstop play, never really seemed to get things going before being released by the Brewers on June 3rd. Betancourt found himself as the team’s regular first baseman, and he delivered early on. Yuni hit .280 in the month of April with 6 home runs and 21 RBI. Bloggers and stat freaks all throughout Wisconsin were amazed at the impact Betancourt’s bat had in the lineup and thought for a short period of time that he might be able to put together a solid season. In true Yuni B fashion, however, the veteran returned to form, hitting just .190 in May. Yuni finished at .212 for the year with 13 home runs and 46 RBI. Yes, he had nearly half of his home runs and RBI in the month of April alone. On the same day the club cut ties with Gonzalez, they acquired the powerful Juan Francisco from Atlanta. Francisco came in with a reputation for hitting the ball hard, but rarely getting on base. He lived up to that reputation in the following months with the crew. Francisco did manage to slug 13 home runs, good for third on the team, but struggled mightily, hitting just .221 overall and getting on base at a miserable .300 clip. The Brewers called up Sean Halton from AAA Nashville on June 26th for his first of three stints with the big league club to pick up first base duties after an impressive showing with the Sounds where he hit .288 with nine home runs to start the season. Halton showed flashes of power and played decent defense at the position while hitting .238 overall. He brings some versatility as he also spent some time in left field. It is doubtful that the club sees Halton as a long term solution at first base, however, but more as a bridge to the anticipated arrival of Hunter Morris down the road. I think it is in the best interest of General Manager Doug Melvin to bring Corey Hart back for 2014 and see what he still has in the tank before looking to Morris in the long term. Mat Gamel was lost on waivers to the Cubs shortly after the regular season ended and we wish him the best as he tries to put a full season together.

Second base was manned by two players throughout the season for the Brewers. Rickie Weeks continued to under perform at the plate and faced his usual amount of scrutiny as he hit just .209 and saw a significant drop in home runs, clearing the fence just 10 times. He was lost for the season after having surgery to repair a torn hamstring in early August. Heralded prospect Scooter Gennett was handed the reins to the second base job and didn’t disappoint. Scooter hit .324 for the season and put up surprising power numbers, belting 6 home runs in his limited time in the starting role. He plays good defense and is just 23 years old. I see the Brewers entering 2014 with Gennett as the starting second baseman, even if a healthy Weeks returns. Look for Gennett to hit around .300 and play with great energy as the every-day second baseman.

Third base, much like first, was another position where injuries plagued the Brewers in 2013. After a terrific season in 2012 where he hit .300 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI while garnering a great deal of attention on defense, Aramis Ramirez played in just 92 games in 2013, hitting .283 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI. Ramirez is under contract for one more season with the crew, but will be 36 in June and certainly has his best years behind him. If the club is to contend in 2014 however, a strong, healthy season will be needed from the veteran. Jeff Bianchi, who played some shortstop as well, was the primary replacement for Ramirez and hit .237 with just one home run and 25 RBI while appearing in 100 games, but did particularly well in the second half of the season, hitting .274. Bianchi is fine in a bench role, but I don’t see him as a long term solution for the Brewers at any position. Nick Delmonico, acquired from the Orioles mid-season for Francisco Rodriguez shows a lot of promise and could be the club’s future third baseman, but is just 21 and remains a couple seasons away from the major leagues. I applaud Melvin for going out and getting a guy of value for Rodriguez when he had the chance.

Shortstop was a bright sport for the club in 2013 thanks to the emergence of Jean Segura. Another piece acquired by Melvin in a trade, Segura appeared in 44 games with the crew at the end of 2012 after being acquired in the Zack Greinke deal at the deadline. Segura showed flashes of brilliance, batting .294 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI while finishing second in the national league with 44 stolen bases. He was also impressive on defense and made his first All-Star game after hitting .325 in the season’s first half. While his numbers did drop off significantly in the latter half of the year, the organization is hoping the amount of baseball Segura had played without time off is to blame. However you look at it, the club has to be excited about their future at shortstop, as Segura is just 23 and currently locked up through 2018.

The Brewers entered 2013 feeling confident that they had one of the better pairs of catchers in the national league. Jonathan Lucroy, still just 27 and despite an injury shortened 2012, was coming off his best season in the major leagues, and the emergence of youngster Martin Maldonado was certainly something to be excited about. While Maldonado faced his share of struggles at the plate, Lucroy continue to show he belongs in mention with the better catchers in all of baseball. Luc proved to be the veteran leader of the club after the loss of Ryan Braun and put up the numbers to support it. He hit an even .280 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI while playing in 147 games. The club primarily used Maldonado to catch rookie Wily Peralta and he struggled to hit just .169. Lucroy proved his leadership by requesting that manager Ron Roenicke play him at first base on days that he wasn’t catching. Roenicke gave it a try and Lucroy was able to show enough at first that the crew felt comfortable enough to run him out there multiple times. In addition to their offense, both catchers again proved to be valuable behind the dish. Maldonado has developed a reputation as one of the better throwing catchers in the game and Lucroy is commonly mentioned among the best in all of baseball at framing pitches. Look for Maldonado’s numbers to improve in his third season and Lucroy to remain right around the .280 mark and provide solid leadership.

After terrific seasons from Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez in 2012, the Brewers felt they had one of the better outfields in the national league heading into 2013 with a healthy Ryan Braun. This quickly changed as Braun appeared in just 61 games before a season ending suspension due to his involvement with performance enhancing drugs. Braun was good in the limited playing time he had, hitting .298 with 9 home runs and 38 RBI but didn’t seem as lively on the base paths as he has been in years past, swiping just 4 bases. He will return in 2014 with much to prove to a fan base that greatly needs another MVP like season from the slugger to regain their trust. Aoki was solid again, batting .286 with 8 home runs and 37 RBI while stealing 20 bases but is a big question mark moving forward. The Brewers can choose to pick up Aoki’s option and keep him in Milwaukee for 2014 or allow him to become a free agent and sign elsewhere. This will likely be a tough decision for Melvin and company as Aoki has been nothing short of impressive and on a very team friendly deal for the past two years. That being said, the club has a number of impressive young outfielders banging on the door and ready to play regularly in the big leagues. Aoki will be 32 in January and one can only wonder how long he can keep up this type of production. Carlos Gomez signed a three year extension good for $24 million in March thanks to his impressive 2012 and responded by having an even more impressive 2013. Gomez got off to an incredibly hot start, hitting .295 in the season’s first half and clubbing 14 home runs while playing the best defense among center fielders in the national league. His second half numbers weren’t quite as impressive, but the gold glove favorite still finished with a .284 average, 24 home runs and 73 RBI while stealing 40 bases and robbing multiple home runs in the outfield. He enters 2014 at just 28 years of age and expectations to hit .300 and once again provide good speed and pop.

Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl and Khris Davis were three youngsters looking to make an impact on the major league club for the first time in 2013. All three proved they deserve a look at a possible starting job moving forward and leave the Brewers pondering whether to exercise Aoki’s option. Davis was particularly impressive, appearing in just 56 games but smacking 11 home runs. The left fielder got a particularly long look thanks to the suspension to Braun and wowed players, coaches, and fans with his impressive display of power. In addition to the home runs, Davis hit .279 and drove in 27. His defense is not something be excited about, however, and he seems confined to left field. Logan Schafer appeared in 134 games and hit just .211, but showed great promise with speed, hustle, and an ability to make plays on defense. Caleb Gindl was criticized early for his struggles in the outfield and needs to get a handle on his defensive skill set, but was fairly impressive at the plate. The 25 year old hit .245 in the season’s second half with 5 home runs and 13 RBI. His defense needs to improve a great deal before he can be considered an every-day outfielder, but he has at least earned himself consideration for a bench spot heading into 2014. I think it would be best for the crew to allow Aoki to sign elsewhere and attempt to move Ryan Braun to right field. While it will be sad to see Aoki go, I feel the benefits of having Khris Davis play every day will be worth it. If Braun can make the switch to right, the club can play Davis and Gindl in left and have Schafer back up Gomez in center. Look for good production out of this group as all three regulars could hit 25 home runs in 2014.

If the club can manage to bring back Corey Hart, I don’t think much is needed in the way of free agency from a hitting perspective heading into next season. This is a club that will lean heavily on its young stars in 2014, but they have proven they can produce.

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Joseph Norton (@JoeP_Norton)

Follow us on Twitter (@WISportsBlog) for up to date news on the Brewers, Packers, Badgers, Bucks, and Golden Eagles. We feature live, in-game commentary, breaking news, previews and post game discussions. Follow the entire Wisconsin Sports Blog writing team on Twitter: @AndrewVrchota, @jheldred, @JoeP_Norton, @olewr7, @Stevie2Westside, and @10iskristin.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Meeting the New Badger Basketball Players

With football season in full swing and the baseball playoffs ramping up, basketball might not be at the forefront of everyone’s sporting interests. However, the Badger basketball team kicked off (sports pun intended) practice two weeks ago and has an exhibition game upcoming against UW-Platteville on October 30. Needless to say we are due for a basketball preview. First up will be the newcomers to the program, highlighting their potential ceiling and floor compared to previous Badger hoopers. In reality most will fall somewhere in between, but this exercise is meant to help provide some possible expectations for each player. It’s important to note these are career projections and not limited to this upcoming season. Let’s get started.

#5 Aaron Moesch 6’8” 200lbs Green Bay SW HS WI

Chose the Badgers over offers from - Eastern Illinois and preferred walk on at UW-Green Bay.

Aaron Moesch joins the Badgers as a preferred walk on. As a senior he averaged 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in the competitive Fox River Conference and also earned honorable mention all-state. Moesch is not expected to break into the regular rotation immediately, if ever, but brings a high basketball IQ and versatile game to the team. Check out the ball handling on display in the first five seconds of the highlight tape, pretty smooth handle for a 6’8” player. Moesch will fit in nicely with the scout team and with enough progression could see minutes in the eight or nine man rotation when he’s an upper classman.

Badger comp ceiling – Zach Morley. Morley was a versatile forward that spent two years in community college before joining the Badgers early on during Bo’s tenure. Morley was a key member of the Elite Eight squad in 2004-2005 and used court awareness and savvy to excel against much quicker and stronger players. Like Morley, Moesch could use a few years to develop right out of high school in order to be on par athletically with physical Big Ten wing players.

Badger comp floor – JP Gavinksi. Worst case scenario for Moesch is spending four to five years on a perennial Big Ten basketball power and seeing the floor in already has been decided games.

#10 Nigel Hayes 6’7” 250lbs Whitmer HS OH

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Stanford, Ohio State, Xavier, Cincinnati

Getting Nigel Hayes away from Ohio State was a steal. He grew up a Buckeye fan and his older brother was on the football team (he has since left). Luckily Bo Ryan was one of the first to offer a scholarship and Hayes eventually made the right decision to come to Madison. He was a second team all-state performer in Ohio as a junior and senior and left Whitmer as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots. He can score in a variety of ways and seems comfortable shooting off the dribble or spotting up. And like the clip above demonstrates, he has no issues attacking the rim.

Badger comp ceiling – Alando Tucker lite. Hard comparison to make since very few athletes have hops like Tucker, but Hayes has the same scorer’s mentality. His ceiling will largely depend on if how easily he can adjust to scoring against top level college defenses. Improved footwork in the post will help diversify his offensive arsenal and should make him a scoring threat capable of 15-20 points per game as an upperclassman.

Badger comp floor – Marcus Landry. Let’s be clear, Landry had a great career as a Badger and is currently playing his way onto the LA Lakers. He’s an extremely talented basketball player.  It seems somewhat off-putting to list a NBA level player as someone’s floor, but this comparison is based more on Landry’s role within the team. Landry was a slasher/scorer in high school but developed more of a low post presence, especially on defense, in Madison. Hayes could find himself in a similar position where he’s not asked to attack from the perimeter or off the dribble as much.

#11 Jordan Hill 6’3” 170lbs Exeter Academy NH

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Brown, Florida Gulf Coast, Yale, Dartmouth, Kent State, Lehigh, Santa Clara

Jordan Hill graduated high school in May of 2012 and spent the 2012-2013 school year attending prep school in New Hampshire. Hill was Class A second team All-New England and helped Exeter win their first ever Class A title. He impressed Bo Ryan with his defense on the AAU circuit and has the quickness and length to really disrupt perimeter players. Hill is somewhat of a late bloomer (he will turn 19 in December) and had plenty of room to develop. An already deep guard rotation seems to indicate Hill will be a redshirt candidate this year, but he has plenty of talent to contribute during his time in Madison.

Badger comp ceiling – Michael Flowers. Flowers was a lock down on ball defender and Hill has a similar tenacity and desire to play defense. Hill is a slightly taller and longer than Flowers which will help him guard everything from point guards to small forwards.

Badger comp floor – Rob Wilson. Wilson had plenty of talent but struggled to pick up Bo’s man to man principles and was challenged to find playing time as a result. Hill could face a similar struggle adjusting to Big Ten basketball and get lost in the deep guard rotation.

#24 Bronson Koenig 6’3” 190lbs Aquinas HS WI

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, Marquette, Virginia

Bronson Koenig certainly comes to Madison as the most decorated player of this class. He was AP Wisconsin player of the year as a senior and McDonald’s All American nominee (similar to Sam Dekker (whom Koenig was an AAU teammate)). Koenig is one of the more versatile guards in this country. He excels at breaking down defenses off the dribble and creating easy shots for his teammates. Koenig has excellent vision and court awareness, as well as a flare for delivering no look or behind the back passes (note around the 2:20 mark of the video – how does he get that ball through?!?). In addition he’s a willing defender and capable scorer who can play above the rim. He’s probably the most ready player to contribute of the newcomers, but with the depth at guard, playing time will be a challenge. I think his talent will be too much to keep on the bench for long, especially if the Badgers run more three or four guard lineups.

Badger comp ceiling – Devin Harris part II. Pretty lofty comparison I know. Harris was the best Badger basketball player in the Bo Ryan era and Koenig has this type of talent. Harris was a bit taller and probably quicker, but Koenig has the same court awareness and big game ‘sense of the moment’ that Harris had.

Badger comp floor – Boo Wade. Wade unfortunately had his Wisconsin career cut short due to off the court issues, but he was an accomplished point guard and capable defender. Koenig may not reach All American status, but he will be a solid contributor and one of the conferences better guards.

#30 Vitto Brown – 6’8” 240lbs Bowling Green HS OH

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa State, Toledo

Vitto Brown joins the Badgers as the reigning Division 2 co-player of the year in Ohio and AP first team all-state, as well as Bowling Green’s all-time leader in rebounding and blocked shots. Brown is well built and conditioned (he also ran cross country in high school) and is physically ready for Big Ten basketball. The other thing that stands out about Brown is his versatility. At around the 1:48 mark in the clip above, Brown blocks a shot, handles the loose ball and goes coast to coast for the lay in. Brown’s game fits well with the Badgers history of skilled big men. Brown’s presence on the defensive end cannot go unlooked. He will need to develop the positioning and footwork needed for consistently defending players his size and bigger, but he has the athleticism and timing to be an effective shot blocker.

Badger comp ceiling – Keaton Nankivil mixed with less explosive Alando Tucker. Brown has a smooth looking jumper for a big man, like Nankivil, but more capable of scoring off the dribble drive. Like Hayes, Brown does not have the explosiveness of Tucker (again no one does) but he does attack the rim similarly.

Badger comp floor – Jored Bergernhoft (Joe Krabbenhoft + Jared Berggren). Krabbenhoft was a monster on the boards, while Berggren is the all-time leader in blocked shots. If Brown doesn’t find the scoring knack at this level he should still provide above average rebounding and shot blocking.

#35 Riley Dearring 6’5 180lbs Hopkins HS MN

Chose the Badgers over offers from – Drake, Northeastern, Illinois State

Dearring played for Minnesota basketball powerhouse Hopkins and was a Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist his senior year. He has a quick release on his jumper and is a pure shooter through and through. He does not have the elite athleticism you occasionally see in a wing player but has enough length and quickness to be effective on the defensive end. Dearring is a very talented shooter and there is always room in the rotation for guys that can score. He will find himself playing meaningful minutes before too long. Like Hill, the depth at guard makes Dearring a potential redshirt candidate this season.

Badger comp ceiling – Clayton Hanson. Hanson played on some of Bo’s early teams and was a career 41% three point shooter. Dearring can definitely find a niche as a spot up shooter, especially early in his career. Eventually Dearring can develop into a rangy wing defender capable of handling bigger guards or small forwards.

Badger comp floor – Tim Jarmusz. Limited athleticism at the Big Ten level causes Dearring to struggle finding ways to score but still contributes defensively using long frame to guard multiple positions.

(Author's Note - shout out to LeeRide, fellow Badger fan who helped hash out the comparisons.)

Until next time, Beer, Brats, and Championships.

- Neal Olson (@olewr7) 

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