Baseball preview: Milwaukee Brewers

Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers showed they're set up to be a successful team for the next few years. Several young players helped the Brewers to compete in the division before they ultimately faded and finished behind the Chicago Cubs.

First baseman Prince Fielder was third in the NL MVP voting after finishing with 50 home runs (most in the NL) and 119 RBIs. Shortstop J.J. Hardy had 26 home runs and 80 RBIs in 151 games and Ryan Braun hit .324 with 34 home runs and 97 RBIs in 113 games. Braun shifts to left field this season after playing at third base in 2007. Right fielder Corey Hart hit .295 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs.


Veteran right-hander Ben Sheets anchors the pitching staff and the has big expectations for 22-year-old starter Yovani Gallardo. Last year, Gallardo finished 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 20 games (17 starts). If he is able to establish himself as a top pitcher this season like the Brewers expect, they could be playing deep into October.

However, Gallardo injured his knee before the start of spring training and it remains uncertain if he'll be ready for the beginning of the season. Watch the news out of Milwaukee to see if he's able to make a full recovery. Gallardo needs to be healthy for the Brewers to make a championship run.


Milwaukee Brewers

2007 record: 83-79 (2nd in NL Central)

Key additions: RHP Eric Gagne, RHP David Riske, CF Mike Cameron, C Jason Kendall

Key losses: RHP Francisco Cordero, RF Geoff Jenkins, C Johnny Estrada, RHP Scott Linebrink, 3B Corey Koskie

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Prince Fielder, 1B – Fielder became the youngest player to hit 50 home runs in a season in 2007. He'll be 23 in May and there are a lot more home runs in his future. He hit .288 last season with the aforementioned 50 home runs and 119 RBIs. If Fielder is able to get his batting average to .300, he'll pass Albert Pujols as the top first baseman in the major leagues. Of course, there's always the chance that he suffers a decline this season. It's not likely though, and Fielder should be selected in the first round.

2. Ryan Braun, LF – Although he didn't play the whole season in Milwaukee last year, Braun had better offensive numbers than most other third basemen. Only Alex Rodriguez hit more home runs than Braun – Miguel Cabrera also had 34 – and only eight other third basemen had more RBIs. This year, Braun shifts to left field and it will be interesting to see if that has any effect on his performance. For what it's worth, the only left fielders with more home runs than Braun last year were Adam Dunn and Matt Holliday. Braun should be selected before the third round.

3. Corey Hart, RF – Last season, Hart established himself as a legitimate power threat by hitting 24 home runs in 140 games. He'll be the starting right fielder in 2008 and could hit .300 with 25-30 home runs and 90-100 RBIs. There are better outfielders available, but Hart should be drafted before the 10th round. He'll contribute nicely to your fantasy team and will also give you 20-25 stolen bases.


4. Ben Sheets, RHP – Sheets hasn't pitched a full season in three years, but he was 12-5 last season in 24 starts. If he's able to stay healthy, he could easily win 15-20 games with an ERA around 3.75. Sheets needs to be in the rotation for the entire season in order for the Brewers to compete. This will also help your fantasy team. He's worth the risk because he'll win at least 10 games and have an ERA below 4.00 even if he misses some time due to injury. Ideally, he doesn't miss any starts and you are rewarded.

5. J.J. Hardy, SS – Through 52 games, Hardy was hitting .304 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs. He cooled off after that, but still hit .277 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs last season. Hardy isn't a power hitter, so it's doubtful that he'll duplicate those numbers in 2008. He's still one of the better offensive shortstops in the major leagues and will likely hit 15-20 home runs. It would be good to grab him in the middle rounds of your draft.

Hidden gems:

1. Yovani Gallardo, RHP – As stated above, Gallardo suffered a knee injury before the beginning of spring training. However, he claims he'll be ready for the start of the season, so it doesn't look like it will affect his performance in the long run. It's possible that he'll miss a start or two to begin the season. Still, this type of injury can linger and it's something that should be monitored. If he's healthy, Gallardo could win 14-17 games with an ERA between 3.50 and 3.75.

2. Rickie Weeks, 2B – The second overall pick in the 2003 draft has underachieved in three full seasons with the Brewers. He hit .235 with 16 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 2007. If Weeks could get his batting average to at least .270, he'd be a solid fantasy contributor. Hold off on drafting him until the later rounds and take a risk on him if you're feeling lucky. You might be pleasantly surprised with his performance in 2008.