The Milwaukee Brewers appear to be a team in transition. They entered the 2022 season with the hopes of parlaying dominant pitching with just enough production from a veteran lineup into a deep October run. Milwaukee largely held serve through the first half and weathered an extended injury absence from Freddy Peralta and a one-month IL-stint from Brandon Woodruff. When the team dealt All-Star closer Josh Hader at the deadline, however, a slow descent out of playoff positioning accelerated. Since then, Team President David Stearns resigned and Hunter Renfroe was traded in a move clearly intended to shed salary. Early indications suggest the Brew Crew might look to rebuild in the near future.
Despite a disappointing 2022, a few fantasy contributors emerged as great values. Renfroe, Willy Adames, Rowdy Tellez, and Eric Lauer all far exceeded their draft day price. Who in Milwaukee is poised to provide similar sleeper appeal heading into 2023? Just as important, whom should you sidestep while building your squad? Without further ado, your 2023 Milwaukee Brewers fantasy Sleepers and Busts.
2022 stats (599 PA): .219 AVG, 67 R, 35 HR, 89 RBI, 2 SB
Rowdy Tellez has long been a favorite within fantasy baseball circles as a lefty masher who just needed an everyday role to call his own. In 2022 it all came to fruition as Tellez played in 153 games and finished fourth among 1B with 35 homers. Coming off a career year, is it possible the Milwaukee slugger is still being overlooked? Early indications point to yes. There’s been surprisingly little buzz coming off his 2022 campaign, likely due to his struggles against LHP and his streaky production. As a result, through November drafts he’s the 17th 1B off the board in the NFBC Draft Champions format. Nonetheless, Tellez has the chops to be a viable option for those looking to wait on 1B in 12-team leagues.
The 27-year-old may have struggled against lefties for the first time in his career, however, just about everything else in Tellez’s profile suggests he can build upon his breakout. First, a .219 AVG was a drag on Tellez’s fantasy value, but there’s reason to believe there’s significant potential for improvement. He’s posted a modest 20% strikeout rate two years running, doesn’t chase outside the zone, and posts exit velocity numbers with the game’s best. With an above-average 28.7% Ideal Plate Appearance rate, it’s no surprise Tellez’s .251 xBA is much higher than his actual results. While the league’s lowest sprint speed in 2022 won’t allow him to leg out any infield singles, his .215 BABIP, second lowest behind Carlos Santana, is sure to normalize. Better yet, by all accounts, looks to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the shift ban given his ability to hit the ball up the middle.
If you can look past last season’s average, Tellez looks quite similar to a few of his more heralded peers.
Outside of Tellez, the above 1B all project to be top-150 picks. The Milwaukee first baseman is the youngest of the group, as good a bet as any for 30 homers, and can be had rounds later. In fact, he profiles as a discount Hoskins. Rowdy Tellez has all the makings of a mid-round 1B and is a sleeper hiding in plain sight.
2022 stats (68 PA): .311 AVG, 9 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 8 SB
The arrival of Jesse Winker looks to have put a damper on a full youth movement in Milwaukee’s outfield. Still, there is ample opportunity in Milwaukee for young outfielders with Renfroe and Andrew McCutcheon departing the Cream City. The most popular name emerging early for fantasy relevance is Sal Frelick, a 2021 first-round pick. Frelick’s bat-to-ball skills give him a quick path to the majors, but there’s another outfielder to keep in mind in 15-team leagues. Garrett Mitchell, one of the fastest players in baseball, is an intriguing option after pick 300.
In deep leagues, finding steady at-bats late in drafts is key. The most obvious roadblock to everyday playing time for Mitchell is an unsightly 41% strikeout rate in a 28-game trip to the bigs in 2021. This is largely due to his struggles to hit the fastball, a genuine concern. If the 24-year-old carries this over into 2023, he’ll surely be ticketed for Triple-A. There’s reason to believe, however, that Mitchell might get the first look for at least a strong-side platoon role in center.
Yelich and Winker both have severe defensive shortcomings in left field. This creates the necessity for a plus defender with a strong arm. Given Esteury Ruiz‘s most comfortable position is second base, Mitchell should have the playing time edge. An above-average glove and elite range should afford him every opportunity to figure it out at the plate. Additionally, the UCLA product is on the 40-man roster. The same can’t be said for Frelick or Joey Weimer. Mitchell will have to show growth at the plate to hold down the job, but the cards are stacked in his favor to receive the first opportunity.
The value for Mitchell as a sleeper is rooted entirely in his speed. The rookie quietly went 8 for 8 on stolen base attempts in his late-season call-up. It’s rare to find players in the final rounds of roto drafts who can be a true difference maker in a category if they get the requisite at-bats. Mitchell’s 99th-percentile sprint speed and willingness to run make him just that. Despite a .311 AVG last season, you shouldn’t expect him to be an asset there given an inflated 2022 BABIP and a history of high strikeout rates. If things break right over a full season, however, you might get 10 homers and 20 steals.
2022 stats (671 PA): .252 AVG, 99 R, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 19 SB
Referring to former NL MVP Christian Yelich as a 2023 bust is a two-pronged argument. To begin, Yelich’s ADP has certainly fallen over the last few seasons, but he’s still receiving some benefit that he may return to 2019-form. He appears likely to settle in somewhere soon after pick 120, a spot where there are still reliable SPs and balanced hitters. While Yelich still makes hard contact consistently and is an asset for runs scored, he feels increasingly distant from being a power hitter who can drive in 80+ RBI. The second argument against Yelich is his biggest fantasy asset is now stolen bases, a category that could very well see more contributors with the new league rules. We’ll dive into both issues in detail.
The 30-year-old has a few factors working against him to deliver the production necessary to live up to his draft cost. Put simply, it’s hard to hit for power when you don’t lift the ball. Yelich had the highest groundball rate in all of baseball in 2022. The launch angle gains he discovered at his peak have disappeared almost entirely. In fact, his batted ball profile looks more similar to his days in Miami than his All-Star campaigns. Moreover, Yelich’s strikeout rate has climbed the last few seasons. The left fielder may still post elite exit velocities, but his PL player page shows it doesn’t tell the full story:
Yelich’s ability to hit the ball hard is neutralized by a rising K% and high GB%. This is captured by his Ideal Plate Appearance % (IPA%), which is well below league average.
In addition to a worrisome batted ball profile, Yelich’s fantasy value is currently buoyed by his speed. His 19 steals put him just outside of the top 20 in the league, but it’s reasonable to question if he’ll continue to be a true standout there anymore. Larger bases and limits to pick-off attempts will create more SB sources. Yelich could steal more because of the changes, but the suspected increase in league-wide supply might diminish some of his value. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Yeli to swipe fewer bags. He’s now into his 30s with an extensive injury history, including back strains. He also has seen his sprint speed decline, dropping from the 81st percentile to 70th. The Brewer could become less eager to steal given these factors.
It’s tough to bet against former MVPs, but you shouldn’t draft Yelich with the expectation he’ll return elite production.
2022 stats (158.2 IP): 3.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 157 K, 11 W
How you judge Eric Lauer‘s 2022 is likely a product of when you rostered him. The lefty’s lofty 2.49 ERA through the end of May preceded a 6.30 ERA stumble in June. He finished the year with a respectable 3.69 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a career-high in strikeouts. The surface stats and a memorable start might be enough for some to buy in for next season. It’s unlikely, however, that Lauer proves to be more than a quality streamer in 12-team leagues.
A look under the hood shows Milwaukee’s fourth starter was more of an outlier than a breakthrough. With a 93 mph fastball, Lauer doesn’t have the luxury of pitching without strong command. Unfortunately, 2022’s 8.9 BB% was right in line with his career average. Furthermore, memories of high strikeout performances in late April and early May overshadowed a disappointing swinging strike rate. An 11.3 SwStr% and a low groundball rate suggest continued volatility on a start-to-start basis. An ERA under 4.00 doesn’t look likely unless Lauer develops improved command and consistency.
As a result of last season’s memorable starts, it’s possible fellow drafters will consider Lauer in the final rounds. It’s worth noting that his early season schedule will be no cakewalk. Assuming he’s the fourth starter, he’ll line up against the following teams to start the year: vs NYM, vs STL, and @SDP. Instead of holding Lauer on your bench for the first two weeks, take a shot on some higher upside plays.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)