With the 2014 MLB season just around the corner, all 30 teams are undergoing their final preparations for Opening Day. For the Milwaukee Brewers, 2014 represents an opportunity to rebound from what by all accounts was a lost season in 2013. Injuries, under-performing starting pitching and Ryan Braun's ongoing PED battle and resulting suspension cast a cloud over a 74-88 finish to 2013. With pitching turning around in the second half, Braun back and a clean bill of health for many players, there is cause for hope in 2014. However several questions remain to be answered that will tell the tale of the Brewers 2014 campaign. Here are the biggest ones at each position.
Pitcher: Will we see more of the post-All-Star game Wily Peralta?
The Brewer rotation turned a corner after the All-Star break in 2013, due in no small part to Peralta's strong second half. His ERA in the second half was more than half a point lower, reaching 3.99 compared to 4.61 before the break. Peralta's WHIP also went down from 1.49 to 1.30, but will those trends continue? If he is going to develop into the ace that Milwaukee hopes he can be, Peralta will have to continue to progress in his efficiency and walk rate.
Catcher: Will Martin Maldonado develop the bat of an everyday player?
Maldonado took a step back offensively in 2013, batting only .169 for the season. The Brewers experimented with playing him at first base last season, but his primary role in 2014 will be catching for Wily Peralta, who he spent several years in the minors with. If he wants to see more playing time than that, he will have to prove he is not a liability in the batter's box.
First Base: Is Mark Reynolds a long-term solution at first base?
With Corey Hart moving on to Seattle in free agency, the Brewers had a hole to fill once again at first base. Reynolds and Lyle Overbay were both brought in to reestablish a defensive presence at the position, but neither player bat over .240 in spring training. The Brewers should be able to rely on other positions for offensive production, but it remains to be seen whether Reynolds or Overbay can be relied upon as the primary option.
Second Base: How will time be split between Rickie Weeks and Scooter Gennett?
Gennett is listed as the starter going in to 2014, but it remains to be seen how many opportunities Weeks will get. The two split playing time fairly evenly in Spring Training, but Weeks showed a bit more plate discipline and had a higher batting average. Weeks had a career-worst season at the plate in 2013, mustering only a .209 average and failing to reach 20 home runs for the first time in the last four seasons. Gennett showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, and if he continues to progress could very well make Weeks expendable.
[caption id="attachment_46" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Milwaukee Brewers' Rickie Weeks (23) replaces Scooter Gennett during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)"][/caption]
Shortstop: Will Jean Segura have another All-Star quality campaign in 2014?
One of few bright spots for the Brewers in 2013 was the emergence of Segura, who represented the team along with Carlos Gomez at the All-Star game. In his first full season with Milwaukee, Segura showed flashes of power to go along with plate discipline, speed and stellar defense at the shortstop position. If the Brewers are to make a run in 2014, the trio of Segura, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez will have to lead the offense and pick up slack when role players are going through slumps. Segura will have to do his part by setting the table and taking an extra base like he did in all of 2013.
Third Base: Can the Brewers afford another slow start from Aramis Ramirez?
Ramirez has put up tremendous numbers in his 16-year career, but his reputation for slow starts at the plate has been the one drawback his critics can point to in an otherwise hall-of-fame-quality resume. In 2013, Ramirez's average was .271 with only five home runs before the All-Star break. Although he turned it around and batted .301 after the break, the lack of production in the first half contributed to the Brewers digging themselves in a hole they could not escape from. Ramirez is coming off his best Spring Training as a Brewer into 2014, which is a good sign that he will hit the ground running this season.
Right Field: How will Ryan Braun adjust to right field?
Braun made the switch to right this offseason to make room for Khris Davis to become an everyday player in left field. Switching outfield positions is generally not as difficult as the transition Braun made in the minors from third base to left, but there will still be challenges. Fewer balls coming his way may make it harder for Braun to tune out the hecklers he will inevitably be subjected to on the road. Braun has become a polarizing figure in the baseball world, but his road to redemption in the eyes of Brewer fans will have to start with clean play and professionalism at his new position.
Center Field: Will the Brewers continue to count on Carlos Gomez for power production?
Carlos Gomez was another emerging star last season for Milwaukee. His trademark defense and speed were there as always, but in the absence of Braun, Gomez also took advantage of opportunities to drive in runs. Gomez's 24 home runs, 73 RBI's, 40 stolen bases and .284 average in 2013 were all career highs. With Braun and Ramirez back, Gomez will not have to be relied upon to drive himself in, but the 2014 lead-off man will no-doubt be a critical part of the offense this season.
Left Field: Will making Khris Davis an every day player pay off?
After Khris Davis put up 11 home runs and 27 RBI's in only 56 games in 2013, the Brewers knew they had to make space for him in the lineup. Switching Braun over to right field will enable Davis to stretch that production over a full season. The ceiling appears to be very high for Davis, who could very well replace Aramis Ramirez at clean-up hitter in a year or two if he continues to display the same kind of power. Premature assumptions aside, Davis will first have to prove that he is deserving of the promotion to daily player.Back to the Milwaukee Brewers Newsfeed