2020 Fantasy Baseball: Milwaukee Brewers Team Outlook

Shawn Childs

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers played well in 2018 and 2019, earning them two postseason berths. They’ve made the playoffs six times in the team’s 51-year history with one trip to the World Series.

In the offseason, Milwaukee was active in their dart-throwing by signing OF Avisail Garcia, 3B Eric Sogard, 1B Justin Smoak, 3B Ryon Healy, and 2B Jedd Gyorko for their offense. They also acquired C Omar Narvaez in a trade with the Mariners for SP Adam Hill. The Brewers traded for SP Eric Lauer and 2B Luis Urias in a deal with the Padres for OF Trent Grisham and SP Zach Davies. On the pitching side, they added SP Brett Anderson, SP Josh Lindblom, and RP David Phelps.

Milwaukee ranked 17th in runs (769), seventh in home runs (250), and 14th in RBI (744), They finished 16th in ERA (4.40) with 50 saves.

In 2020, the Brewers only have one impact bat (Christian Yelich) while building their core around two developing infielders (Keston Hiura and Luis Urias). They have serviceable power and a veteran presence, but Milwaukee may struggle to rank in the ten in the league runs, home runs, and RBI.

Their starting rotation lacks a true ace with plenty of questions with their depth. The bullpen should be a strength with Josh Hader carrying most of the load in the late innings.

I don’t see a playoff appearance, but the Brewers will play well when their bats are hot, and their starters keep them in games.

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Cain ended being a bust in 2019 after losing value in runs (60), batting average (.260), and steals (18). His CTBA (.320) had a sharp decline with no pulse in his RBI rate (12) and AVH (1.432) over the past three seasons. He looked on track over the first half of the year (48 run, five HRs, 30 RBI, and ten SBs) in the counting categories, but his batting average (.246) had risk. Cain battled oblique, knee, and ankle injuries over the final two months, leading to shorter stats (.281 with 27 runs, six HRs, 18 RBI, and eight SBs over 221 at-bats) after the All-Star break. Both his walk rate (8.0) and strikeout rate (17.0) fell in line with his career path. His hard-hit rate (42.1) finished higher (111th) than expected when considering his low total in home runs (11). Over the last two seasons, his ground ball rate (54.6 in 2018 and 50.2) hindered his power while his HR/FB rate has been in a tight range (9.5, 9.4, 9.7, and 9.9) over the last four seasons. Aging base-stealing option who will hit the ball hard, but rarely high enough to clear the fences. With an ADP of 182, I would look for a player moving more in a positive direction. Barely a 15/25 player with a hole in the RBI category if he doesn't add more loft to his swing in 2020. I expect a bounce back to neutral in batting average and runs.

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For the fantasy owners that believed in the breakthrough season of Yelich in 2018, he rewarded them with the second-best year in SIscore (11.65) for hitters despite missing the final 18 games with a broken right knee cap. His average hit rate (2.037) pushed higher while finally improving his swing path (ground ball rate – 43.2, 51.8 in 2018, and 55.7 in his career). Yelich had a significant jump in his fly-ball rate (35.9 – 22.2 in his career), with only a small drop in his HR/FB rate (32.8). He dominated right-handed batters (.358 with 32 HRs and 73 RBI over 317 at-bats) with success against lefties (.277 with 12 HRs and 24 RBI over 173 at-bats). His best month came in April (.353 with 26 runs, 14 HRs, 34 RBI, and six SBs over 102 at-bats) while struggling in batting average (.247 BAA). Yelich hit over .300 in each of the final four months (.343) with his best production coming in June and July (.359 with 15 HRs, 36 RBI, and 13 SBs over 192 at-bats). His hard-hit rate (49.1) ranked 16th with an elite CTBA (.434). Over the past three seasons, he had an 89.5 percent rate (68-for-76) on the base paths. His supporting cast can't match the Braves (Ronald Acuna) or the Angels (Mike Trout), but his five-tool skill set belongs at the front of drafts. Next step: a batting title with 110-plus runs, 40-plus home runs, 110-plus RBI, and a run at 40 steals. Yelich may push even higher with an improved approach (strikeout rate – 20.3 and walk rate – 13.8).

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Braun hasn’t had an impactful season since 2012 (.319 with 108 runs, 41 HRs, 112 RBI, and 30 SBs over 598 at-bats), but he still has a respectable middle of the order bat when healthy. Last year hs RBI rate (18) played well with a rebound in his CTBA (.370). His regression comes from his sliding approach (strikeout rate – 20.7 and walk rate – 6.7). Braun still hits well vs. left-handed pitching (.287 with ten wins and 25 RBI over 157 at-bats). Despite hitting .196 in April, he delivered plenty of value over the first two months (.271 with 25 runs, nine HRs, and 90 RBI over 177 at-bats). Back, knee and calf injuries cost him playing time after over the final three months. His bat picked up the pace over his last 96 at-bats (.313 with 18 runs, six home runs, and 22 RBI. Braun still has a high hard-hit rate (45.0 – 56th)and strength in his HR/FB rate (20.4), but his swing path delivers too many ground balls (50.4 in 2019, 49.4 in 2018, and 46.5 in his career). With weakness in his playing time over the previous three years, Braun can only have at targets for 450 at-bats with a chance at close to a neutral skill set across the board. Not a piece to fight for based on ADP (247), but worth a ride for the value shopper if he slides a couple of rounds.

Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura
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Last year between AAA and the majors, Hiura hit .313 with 95 runs, 38 home runs, 85 RBI, and 16 stolen bases over 527 at-bats. His CTBA came in high in the minors (.470) and the majors (.459) with a big push his average hit rate (AAA – 2.071 and MLB – 1.884). Even with an excellent season, his strikeout rate (30.8) doesn't support follow-through in batting average (.303). His walk rate (7.2) came in below the league average (8.4). Hiura struggled against left-handed pitching (.240 with one HR and six RBI over 75 at-bats) while strikeout out 27 times. Most of his production came in July and August (.313 with 36 runs, 11 HRs, 34 RBI, and eight SBs over 192 at-bats). His hard-hit rate (50.0) was the 11th highest total in the game. He had a balanced swing path in his first experience in the majors with an elite HR/FB rate (24.1 – 36.5 at AAA). Over three seasons in the minors, Hiura hit .317 with 150 runs, 36 home runs, 122 RBI, and 24 stolen bases over 865 at-bats, while owning a much more attractive strikeout rate (21.1). His scouting report suggested a high average bat. His power came much quicker and more plentiful than expected. He didn't have strength in his RBI rate (13) out of the gate. Hiura won't be cheap in 2020 (ADP – 42). The question here comes between his highlights and small sample size of success or expected regression for outperforming his previous resume in power. Let's set his floor at .280 with 90 runs, 25 home runs, 85 RBI, and 15 steals while hoping for more upside. His one black mark is a balky right elbow that may need TJ surgery down the road.

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Garcia worked as a back-end outfielder in 2019, but he did miss time in August and September with an oblique injury and an illness. Over his first 241 at-bats, Garcia hit .299 with 35 runs, 11 home runs, 32 RBI, and six steals. The loss of at-bats led to a weaker opportunity after the All-Star break (.293 with 22 runs, eight HRs, and 29 RBI over 181 at-bats). He hit better against right-handed pitching (.291 with 13 HRs and 53 RBI over 327 at-bats) with viable power against lefties (.265 with seven HRs and 19 RBI over 162 at-bats). Garcia had the lowest ground ball rate (46.0 – 51.1 in his career), but he finished with fade as well in his fly-ball rate (31.6). His HR/FB rate (17.2) came in over his career average (16.4) for the season straight year. Garcia had a rebound in his CTBA (.379), but he had a step back in his average hit rate (1.645). Trending toward a 25/80 player with a surprise in speed. His only question comes with his ability to stay healthy. Garcia can be had with pick 225 in the early draft season.

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Healy flashed over the first 15 games in 2019 (.279 with three HRs and 12 RBI over 61 at-bats), but he lost his way over the next six weeks (.213 with 11 runs, four home runs, and 14 RBI over 108 at-bats). His season ended on May 20th with a hip injury that ended up needing surgery. In 2017 and 2018, Healy hit .254 with 117 runs, 49 RBI, and 151 RBI over 1,069 at-bats with weakness in his walk rate (4.4) and a reasonable strikeout rate (22.9). His bat flashed more upside in batting average in his minor league career (.294 with 47 HRs and 244 RBI over 1,594 at-bats). His HR/FB rate (11.9) last year fell short of his previous three years (16.0, 15.1, and 17.3) in the majors. The Brewers have overlapping options at first base and third base, which may lead to a platoon role for Healy. His RBI rate (17) does give him a chance to hit in a favorable part of the batting order. Don’t dismiss a .280/70/25/80 season with 500 at-bats while being free on draft day (ADP of 600).

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Narvaez was the back end catcher to own in 2019. He set career-highs in at-bats (428), runs (63), home runs (22), and RBI (55)) while showing growth in his AVH (1.655). His CTBA (.354) had almost repeated value. Narvaez lost some of his walk rate (9.8) with an above-average strikeout rate (19.1). His bat has the most value over the first four months (.296 with 51 runs, 16 HRs and 41 RBI over 307 at-bats). He hit 20 of his 22 home runs against right-handed batters (.289). He had more walks (18) than strikeouts (10) vs. lefties while hitting .227 with two home runs and ten RBI. Narvaez ranked 415th in hard-hit rate (27.5). His HR/FB rate (16.1) was a career-high with a change in his swing path that led to a 40.5 percent fly-ball rate (29.0 in 2018). With a higher ADP (196), Narvaez could lose half of his gains in power. I expect his batting average to remain an asset with a 50/15/50 skill set.

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Arcia failed to reach his potential over the last three years while receiving starting at-bats in 2017 (506) and 2019 (494). His CTBA (.286) was punishingly low with a push up in his AVH (1.573). Over the first half of the year, he hit .239 with 35 runs, 12 home runs, and 37 RBI over 293 at-bats, leading to fewer chances after the All-Star break (.199 with three HRs and 22 RBI over 201 at-bats). Arcia struggled against right-handed pitchers (.217 with 11 HRs and 49 RBI over 373 at-bats). He hits a ton of ground balls (51.4 percent) with a push in his HR/FB rate (12.6). Running on empty with more competition for at-bats with Luis Urias on the roster. A benchwarmer smell with his best play, possibly coming in the future on another team.

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After the best season of his career in 2017 (.270 with 85 runs, 38 HRs, and 90 RBI over 560 at-bats), Smoak gave away his gains over the past two years. His batting average (.208) had no chance based on his massive drop in his CTBA (.279) despite the best approach of his career (strikeout rate – 21.2 and walk rate – 15.8). He had no power vs. left-handed pitching (three HRs and 19 RBI over 132 at-bats) while having more success in batting average (.220). His season started with a good April (.264 with five HRs and 18 RBI over 91 at-bats) with production in May (.207 with six HRs and 13 RBI over 82 at-bats). Over the final four months, Smoak only hit .187 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI over 241 at-bats. He has a fly-ball swing (42.7 percent) with about the same value in his HR/FB rate (16.7). Looking like a platoon player at first base with Ryan Braun looking like the top option. Closer to 350 at-bats than a full-time job. Smoak has plenty of power, which requires playing time to pay off. His batting average isn’t a lock to be a liability if he repeats his approach with a rebound his CTBA.

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Urias turned into a beast at AAA (.315 with 62 runs, 19 HRs, 50 RBI, and seven SBs over 295 at-bats), but he’s failed to have success in the majors (.221 with 32 runs, six HRs, and 29 RBI over 263 at-bats). His approach (strikeout rate – 22.5 and walk rate – 10.0) was close to the league average in the majors, but Urias counted match his CTBA (.302) in the minors (.399) with fade as well in his AVH (1.458). Over six seasons in the minors, he hit .308 with 36 home runs, 219 RBI, and 42 stolen bases over 2,051 at-bats. Late in January this year, he had surgery on his left wrist to repair a broken hamate bone. Milwaukee hopes to have him back by the start of the regular season. Possible starting shortstop when healthy, but his bat does need to take a step forward in the majors. For now, a .280 hitter with a chance at a 60/15/60/10 skill set. Backend flier with upside based on his ADP (350).

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Gamel failed to take advantage of his opportunity in 2019. He hit .248 with 47 runs, seven home runs, and 33 RBI over 311 at-bats. Over the last three years in the majors, Gamel hit .266 with 19 home runs, 111 RBI, and 13 stolen bases over 1,077 at-bats. His walk rate (11.2) was a career-high, but he had a spike in his strikeout rate (29.2). He did show a spark against lefties (.354 with one HR and eight RBI over 65 at-bats). Gamel played better over ten seasons in the minors (.290 with 29 home runs, 337 RBI, and 101 SBs over 2,791 at-bats). His lack of success last year was part of the reason why the Brewers felt the need to add another outfield bat this offseason. Only a part-time player while not being a lock to stick on the major league roster.

Other Options

Manny Pina (C) remains the backup catcher for the Brewers. Over the past three seasons, he hit .258 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI over 794 at-bats. Last year his strikeout rate (27.9) came in at a career-high with a positive move in his walk rate (8.9). Only a part-time player with fill-in value if getting starting at-bats.

Jedd Gyorko (IF) missed almost all of 2019 with multiple injuries (back, calf, and wrist). Over 92 at-bats, he hit .174 with two home runs and nine RBI. Gyorko hit .245 over 2,576 at-bats with 112 home runs, 353 RBI, and 14 steals in his seven years in the majors. This year he’ll offer power off the bench with a chance to win at-bats at third base.

Eric Sogard (IF) had growth in his game in 2019 while playing for Tampa and Toronto. He set career-highs in runs (59), home runs (13), and RBI (40) while hitting .290 over 396 at-bats. Sogard hit .248 over 1,952 at-bats with 241 runs, 24 home runs, 165 RBI, and 43 stolen bases. His walk rate (8.6) is league average with a low strikeout rate (14.3). Only a bench player for now.

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Pitching Staff

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff
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Woodruff drew some attention in the high-stakes market after showing life in his pitches with the Brewers in 2019. He struggled over his first five games (5.81 ERA, 1.481 WHIP, .283 BAA, and four home runs over 26.1 innings). His arm played at a high level over his next six starts (5-0 with 1.42 ERA, .178 BAA, and 43 Ks over 38 innings). A bad start in June (six runs and 12 baserunners over four innings) led to a poor month (4.78 ERA) despite two electric games (six runs over 13 innings with 22 Ks). Woodruff had two more top starts (1.42 ERA and 13 Ks over 12.2 innings) before going on the injured list for nine weeks with an oblique issue. His AFB (96.8) was top shelf while offering three pitches of value (four-seam – .218 BAA, sinker – .224 BAA, and slider – .237 BAA) with weakness in his changeup (.297 BAA). Woodruff needs to improve against lefties (.265 with eight home runs over 211 at-bats). He pitched the best at home (9-0 with a 3.06 ERA and 93 strikeouts over 70.2 innings). Over five seasons in the minors, he had a 3.40 ERA and 420 strikeouts over 463 innings. His walk rate (2.2) came in an elite area with further growth in his strikeout rate (10.6). Woodruff will be drafted as the 28th SP in 2020 with an ADP of 84. On the move with a chance at 15 wins with 3.00 ERA and 200-plus Ks with 180 innings pitched.

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Lauer hasn’t made any progress over his first two seasons in the majors (14-17 with a 4.40 ERA and 238 Ks over 261.2 innings). His walk rate (3.1) improved in 2019 with a bump as well, in his strikeout rate (8.3). He struggled against lefties (.331 with six home runs over 151 at-bats). Lauer had an ERA over 4.30 in five of his six months. He allowed three runs or fewer in 21 of his 29 starts with a serviceable run over 19 games (6-4 with 3.84 ERA and 84 Ks over 96 innings). His AFB (92.1) below the league average with only one pitch of value (four-seam – .242 BAA). Over three seasons on the minors, Lauer had a 2.93 ERA and 195 strikeouts over 178 innings with a better command (strikeout rate – 9.9 and walk rate – 2.8). Not the best looking arm on the block, but growth should be expected. Lauer has a waiver wire ADP (547).

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Over seven seasons in the minors, Peralta went 19-27 with a 3.25 ERA and 540 strikeouts over 440.1 innings. His arm started to take a step forward in 2017 at AA (2.26 ERA over 63.2 innings with 91 Ks). After 13 excellent starts at AAA (6-2 with a 3.14 ERA and 92 Ks over 63 innings), he earned his first chance in the majors in 2018. With Milwaukee, he pitched well except three games (19 runs and 27 baserunners over 13.1 innings). Peralta allowed two runs or less in six of his 14 starts while delivering three electric starts (no runs over 19.2 innings with 30 Ks). In 2019, his arm regressed with the Brewers (7-3 with a 5.29 ERA and 115 Ks over 85 innings). He set a career-high in his strikeout (12.2) while struggling with home runs (1.6 per nine) and walks (3.9 per nine). Peralta struggled against right-handed batters (.280 with 12 HRs over 211 at-bats). He dominated out the bullpen in September (1.86 ERA and 20 Ks over 9.2 innings). His AFB (94.1) had a jump in velocity (91.4 in 2018), which Peralta threw 78 percent of the time. He continues to feature an edge curveball (.221 BAA) while lacking a reliable third pitch. Peralta remains a fly-ball pitcher (43.7 percent – 47.4 percent in his career). Tease arm with the strikeout ability to improve in 2020. He needs to throw more strikes, and add another off-speed pitch to lock down a starting job.

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The Dodgers drafted Lindblom in the second round in 2008. After struggling over seven seasons in the minors (22-19 with 4.27 ERA and 429 Ks over 497.1), he pitched well in relief over two seasons (3.31 ERA and 98 Ks over 100.2 innings) in the majors. His arm lost value in 2013 (5.46 ERA), which led to a trip to Korea to reinvent his career. Lindblom made a big step forward in 2018 and 2019 (35-7 with a 2.68 ERA and 346 Ks over 363.1 innings). Over five seasons in Korea, he went 63-34 with a 3.55 ERA and 750 strikeouts over 823.1 innings. Last year he had the best walk rate (1.3) of his career with some success in his strikeout rate (8.7). His best pitch is a split-finger fastball while offering a low 90s fastball. Risk/reward arm with no fight for him on draft day based on his ADP (418).

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Somehow Anderson won 13 games in 2019 with a 3.89 ERA despite 4.6 strikeouts per nine and batters hit .265 against him. His AVB (91.4) has been about the same over the past six years. He continues to get a high number of ground balls (54.5 percent – 56.8 in his career). Anderson had success with his slider (.244 BAA) and changeup (.242 BAA). He threw 1,202 sinkers (.287 BAA) but picked up only 26 strikeouts. Right-handed batters hit .280 with 17 home runs over 510 at-bats. Anderson allowed three runs or fewer in 25 of his 31 starts. Over 11 years in the majors, he went 59-61 with 4.05 ERA and 682 strikeouts over 997.1 innings. Risky inning eater who had a career year. Without one swing and miss pitch, his arm is teetering on disaster at every moment.

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Burnes pitched great well in 2017 (8-3 with a 1.67 ERA and 140 Ks over 145.2 innings), but he failed in 2018 at AAA (5.15 ERA and 81 Ks over 78.2 innings) due to regression in his command (3.5). The Brewers needed an arm in the bullpen that year, and Corbin was up to the task. Over 30 relief appearances with Milwaukee, Burnes won seven games with a 2.61 ERA and 35 strikeouts over 38 innings. In 2019, he pitched his way out the starting rotation after four games (10.70 ERA, 2.151 WHIP, and 24 Ks over 17.2 innings) due to problems with home runs (11). His arm had still risk in the bullpen (7.98 ERA, 1.694 WHIP, and .298 BAA over 28.1 innings) despite success in strikeouts (43). Burnes finished the year more disaster at AAA (8.46 ERA and 25 Ks over 22.1 innings). Over four seasons in the minors, he went 14-8 with a 3.22 ERA and 287 strikeouts over 282.1 innings. His AFB (95.6) is elite in velocity, but not in success (.420 BAA and 13 HRs over 119 at-bats). Burnes did offer strength in his slider (.183 BAA). A live arm that may draw attention with better success in spring training.

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Houser drifted his way through the minors for nine seasons (25-35 with a 4.21 ERA and 513 Ks over 572.2 innings) with no shining seasons on his resume. In 2019 after four good starts at AAA (2-0 with 1.27 ERA and 23 Ks over 21.1 innings), the Brewers called him up. Houser struggled in his first game (five runs and ten baserunners over four innings) in the majors, which was followed up by a high level of success in relief (0.98 ERA and 33 Ks over 27.2 innings). Milwaukee pushed him into the rotation with no success over four games (7.94 ERA, 1.941 WHIP, and four HRs over 17 innings). After three more appearances in the bullpen, he earned a second chance to start. Surprisingly, Houser had a 3.28 ERA and 63 strikeouts over 57.2 innings). His stuff had less value against left-handed batters (.277) with a better fastball (94.8 MPH) than expected. He didn't have one secondary pitch of value (curveball – .267 BAA, slider – .344 BAA, and changeup – .276 BAA). Fantasy owners priced him better than expected in the early draft seasons (ADP – 263). His four-seamer (.207 BAA) works, but his career path says that he can't repeat.

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader
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Hader has been electric over his two seasons in the majors as a relieving arm (9-6 with a 2.52 ERA, 281 Ks, and 49 saves). Last year he remained hard to hit (.155) with growth in his walk rate (2.4 – 3.3 in 2018). His biggest issue came from his massive HR/9 rate (1.8). After nine great innings (no runs, 15 Ks, and five SVs) to start the year, Hader served up four runs in four of his next five outings (six runs, six baserunners, and four home runs over 5.2 innings with 16 Ks). He rebounded over the next two months (0.69 ERA over 26 innings with six hits, 46 Ks, and 13 SVs). His arm fell off the cliff over his next 15 games (6.19 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, and seven home runs over 16 innings). Hader righted the ship over the final five weeks (1.42 ERA, 32 Ks, and 12 SVs over 19 innings). His season ended with a poor showing in the playoffs (two runs and three baserunners over one inning), costing Milwaukee a victory in the wild card game. Ten of his 15 home runs allowed were hit by righties (.158 BAA). His AFB (96.0) was better than in 2018 (95.3). Hader threw his four-seamer (.174 BAA) 84 percent of the time, but batters hit 14 home runs off of this pitch. His slider (.070) is a plus, but he had less trust in the pitch compared to 2018 (293 pitches – 182 in 2019). Hader pitches up in the strike zone (fly-ball rate – 55.1 and 51.6 in his career) with a massive HR/FB rate (21.4). Great closing arm, but he needs to expand his secondary pitches while improving the location of the fastball in the strikeout. His ADP (60) places him as the first closer off the board in 2020. I love his edge, which ranked ninth in SIscore (5.93) in 2019 for pitchers. More of the same while expecting fewer poor outings in 2020.

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Knebel blew out his right elbow last spring, which led to TJ surgery late in March. The Brewers hope to have him back sometime in late April or early May if his rehab goes well. After three appearances in 2018 (three runs and three baserunners over 2.1 innings with five Ks), Knebel landed on the IL for a month with a hamstring injury. Over his next 23 games, he posted a 2.53 ERA, 31 strikeouts, and ten saves over 21.1 innings. Knebel pitched his way out of the ninth inning over his next five weeks (7.80 ERA and .295 BAA), which led to a trip back to AAA to regain his confidence. Knebel didn't allow a run over 16.1 innings in September with an impeccable ratio of walks (3) and Ks (33). His AFB (96.9) was a step down from 2017 (97.4) while offering a plus curveball (.108 BAA). Even with regression in his ERA (3.58) last year, Knebel didn’t improve his command (3.6 walks per nine). Elite arm with electric upside in strikeouts when healthy. He’ll need some time to regains his previous form with no clear timetable to return.

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Williams started his career as a starter in the Brewers’ system after getting drafted in the second round in 2013. After missing 2017 with a right elbow injury that required TJ surgery, he struggled in 2018 as a starter over 14 games at High A (0-3 with 5.82 ERA and 35 Ks over 34 innings). Milwaukee shifted him to the bullpen last year with success at AA (7-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 76 Ks over 53.1 innings) with four saves. Williams had strength in his strikeout rate (12.9) in 2019 in the minors, but he didn’t throw enough strikes (walk rate – 4.9). The Brewers called him up August with mixed results (3.95 ERA and 14 Ks over 13.2 innings). His AFB (96.5) offers an edge while offering a changeup of value (.222 BAA). Only a name to follow in 2020 with plenty of correction needed in his command. Over six seasons in the minors, Williams had a 3.73 ERA and 405 strikeouts over 378.1 innings.

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