That was Then...
The Brewers who finished with a franchise-record 96 wins in 2011 had an interesting off-season. First, they lost first baseman Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers in free agency. The club tried to make up for that loss by adding Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez and Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki. The bigger off-season story was the 50-game suspension give to Ryan Braun that was later overturned by an appeal.
The Brewers' Achilles heel early on in the season was their bullpen. Canadian closer John Axford and former closer Francisco 'K-Rod' Rodriguez each had down years, totaling a combined 16 blown saves and 15 losses.
Despite the problems in the bullpen, which was dead last in the majors with a 4.66 ERA, the Brewers did have some offensive punch with Braun, Ramirez and Corey Hart combining for 98 home runs and Braun, Carlos Gomez and Aoki totaling 97 stolen bases.
The team dealt away ace pitcher Zack Greinke to the Angels when their season looked over for shortstop prospect Jean Segura, who jumped into the Brewers lineup in place of injured Alex Gonzalez.
With the club sitting at 54-66 in late August, the Brewers rolled off a 24-6 run that got them close to a wild card spot, before falling back. The team finished with an 83-79 record, which was good for third place in the division, and five games back of the second wild card spot.
...This is Now
Leader of the Pack
Yovani Gallardo leads a young and inexperienced group of starting pitchers into the season, and will be looked at to handle the responsibility of being the staff ace.
Feeling energized by the belief that their strong second half - which saw them go 43-34 - was legitimate, the Brewers locked up their own player. They signed Carlos Gomez to a four-year, $28.3 extension, as well as adding some depth in their bullpen in the form of Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez.
Offensively, the Brewers are set at most positions except first base, as Corey Hart is going to start the season on the DL and last year's starter Mat Gamel, who tore his ACL in 2012, tore it again this off-season, costing him the entire 2013 season.
Ryan Braun is the undisputed leader of the club and is easily one of the top three hitters in the National League, providing both speed and power.
The Brewers will only go as far as their pitching takes them. To that end, the club has a lot of question marks at starter as outside of Yovani Gallardo and the recently added Kyle Lohse, they have gone young and mostly unproven, using Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta among others.
If John Axford can find his form from 2011 and the bullpen with their additions can keep the Brewers in the close games, they could easily become contenders for not only a wild card but the division, but as always it will come down to what they can accomplish from 60 feet and six inches.
Every year, we look for players 26-years-old or younger that could make an impact on their team in the upcoming season. The player might have already established himself with a regular role with the team, or he could make their mark later on in the season.
Past Picks: 2012 - Mat Gamel, 2011 - Yovani Gallardo, 2010 - Alcides Escobar, 2009 - Manny Parra, 2008 - Corey Hart, 2007 - Prince Fielder, 2006 - Rickie Weeks, 2005 - Jose Capellan, 2004 - J.J. Hardy, 2003 - Nick Neugebauer
After down 2012 season, the Brewers open this year's rankings at 10.
OF Ryan Braun who is a five-category fantasy player is only ranked behind Mike Trout.
LF Ryan Braun can stake a claim to being the top fantasy pick, after back-to-back 30-30 seasons, but he comes with some element of risk due to his alleged involvement with the Biogenesis lab in Miami. If Braun gets nicked for a 50-game MLB suspension, then his value would obviously take a serious hit.
3B Aramis Ramirez is a consistent power producer and 1B Corey Hart should be as well, once he returns to action (expected to be in May).
Health is always an issue with 2B Rickie Weeks, but he's a 20-20 threat and RF Norichika Aoki is a nice speed option.
Pitching is a position that could provide real value for the Brewers. Staff ace Yovani Gallardo racks up strikeouts, so he's a top pick, but Michael Fiers, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada could all be pretty good and none has widespread name recognition, yet.
C Jonathan Lucroy may not duplicate his 2012 campaign, but he's among the top dozen or so behind the plate and CF Carlos Gomez is, if nothing else, a speed-burner who stole a career-high 37 bases last season.
Canadian closer John Axford lost his gig for a while last season, but as long as he's there, he can provide saves.