10. Casey McGehee, 3B
Batting behind Prince Fielder, Casey McGehee enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2010, posting a .285 batting average along with 23 long balls and a whopping 104 runs batted in. However he’s struggled mightily out of the gate in 2011, hitting a paltry .234 with only 4 homers and 24 RBI. He’s also been a liability at third, routinely kicking the ball around and forcing manager Ron Roenicke to give him several “days off.” Hopefully he’ll find his swing again; but perhaps he’s not the long-term solution at third base that he seemed to be last season. Mat Gamel anyone?
9. John Axford, RP
The Axe Man gets the job done. Milwaukee always seems to find a closer out of nowhere (i.e. Kolb and Turnbow), but Axford looks like a long-term solution. Last year, as a rookie, Axford went 8-2, posting a 2.48 ERA and closing the door on 24 of his 27 save opportunities. He also struck out an impressive 76 batters in only 58 innings. After struggling early this season, the Axe Man has settled back down, converting 16 of 18 saves (including 13 straight) with a 3.29 ERA while fanning 36 hitters in 27.1 innings. Having stability at the back end of the bullpen can do wonders for a baseball club, and Axford provides that for the Brewers.
8. Jonathan Lucroy, C
Finally, it looks like the Brewers have found a catcher. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2007, Lucroy is one of the best young backstops in the league. He handles the pitching staff very well for his age (24) and has shown excellent pop in his bat – hitting .291 with 6 homers and 27 RBI so far in 2011. Ryan Braun has even gone as far as to say Lucroy should be an All-Star this year. With continued improvement, Lucroy could become one of the best catchers in the game, period.
7. Shaun Marcum, SP
In 2007, Shaun Marcum began to show flashes of his dominating stuff – going 12-6 with a 4.13 ERA and a 1.245 WHIP in the AL East, commonly known as the toughest division in baseball. He improved on those numbers the following year, posting a 9-7 record with a solid 3.39 ERA and 1.163 WHIP before his season was cut short as he underwent Tommy John surgery. After missing all of 2009, Marcum came back strong in 2010, going 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA and a tidy 1.147 WHIP. Marcum made the switch from AL to NL after the Brewers departed with their top prospect, Brett Lawrie, in order to acquire his services. So far he’s pitched like a Cy Young candidate for Milwaukee, posting a 6-2 record with a sparkling 2.78 ERA and an even more impressive 1.017 WHIP. Marcum is a true professional who toes the rubber every fifth day and gives the Crew a chance to win each time. He’ll be a key cog in Milwaukee’s rotation this year and next, and should be handed the ball should the Brewers make the postseason.
6. Corey Hart, RF
The 6’6″ Hart is still one of the best kept secrets around the majors. Hart is a vintage five-tool ballplayer and is a class act as well. The two time All-Star smacked 31 homers to go along with 102 RBI and a .283 batting average in 2010. The Brewers wisely locked him up through the 2013 season, and he’ll become even more valuable to the team should Prince Fielder leave the club to explore his options as a free agent. He bats productively out of the 2 and 5 spots in the lineup, and has even had success leading off. He can steal bags, hit for power and average, has a cannon out in right field, and also sports some of the coolest tattoos in the Bigs. He’s a fan favorite in Milwaukee who should continue to be a monster run producer for the Brewers, giving them the best tandem of corner outfielders in the majors.