As the 2009 Milwaukee Brewers start to develop, odds are that the pressure to show improvement will be on many players and coaches throughout the season…here is a first look in descending order at who is going to be under the microscope (and possibly the chopping block) starting in February:
1. Bill Castro, pitching coach–having coached the bullpen to an up-and-down season in ’08, all eyes are going to be on Castro’s ability to get Yovani Gallardo to move towards his potential, as well as get as much out of Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush as possible. If the Brewers’ get off to a slow start–and their starting pitching is getting in holes early–Castro could be gone before the All-Star break.
2. Dale Sveum, hitting coach–on the flip-side, cold bats across the board will spell an early end for Sveum. Expectations by Melvin likely include seeing Braun be a consistent .300 hitter throughout the season, a fast start by Prince Fielder, and improvement in a few other bats, as noted below. If the Crew is under .500 and the offense is to blame, look for Sveum to get his pink slip.
3. Bill Hall, third baseman–a .225 average out of the third base position (and .174 versus righties) will not cut it in ’09, so Hall will need to show improvement in Maryvale or he may be dealt (or even cut) before opening day.
4. Rickie Weeks, second baseman–Expectations for Weeks to become a consistent .300 hitter are dwindling, and, after four injured riddled seasons, Weeks needs to greatly improve upon his .234 BA and .342 OBP or new skipper Ken Macha will bench him.
5. David Riske, middle reliever–Riske’s 1-2, 5.31 stats are not what Doug Melvin hoped for when signing him away from the Royals, and his 27 K’s to 25 BB’s in ’08 can not be repeated in ’09.
6. Corey Hart, outfielder–Hart’s .173 BA in September left everyone scratching their heads wondering if the Brewers’ All-Star was caving in to pressure down the stretch or just plain tired. Hart will get a pass for about a month or two, but will need to demonstrate to new skipper Macha that he’s ready to be a starter for all six months of the season.
7. J.J. Hardy, shortstop–with Alcides Escobar moving up to AAA for a move to Milwaukee later in ’09 or ’10, Hardy will be under a lot of pressure to demonstrate that his bat needs to be in Macha and Melvin’s future plans–a subpar performance could lead to a trade in June or by the end of July. Hardy fanned in 17% of his AB’s, something that could hurt his chances at seeing the top of the order in ’09.
8. Manny Parra, starting pitcher–Parra’s status as a Brewer is not in jeopardy, but his chances of remaining a starter could very well be. His 2-6, 5.10 mark after the All-Star break as a starter didn’t instill confidence in GM Melvin’s office.
9. Prince Fielder, first baseman–despite a hot finish, Fielder’s overall performance in ’08 went in the wrong direction from ’07, leaving fans to wonder if Fielder could achieve “superstar” status. Dropping almost a third in home run production, coupled with a 10% increase in K’s and a so-so .276 average for ’08, Fielder handed his status as the best offensive player on the team to Ryan Braun…can Fielder snatch it back in ’09?
These are the key coaches and players on the edge that will determine if 2009 is a good one for the Brewers.