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5 Milwaukee Brewers Poised to Take a Step Forward in 2013

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COMMENTARY | Of the six regulars who pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers' bullpen last season, only two remain - John Axford and Jim Henderson. Believe it or not, the reliever who finished with the best WAR and second-lowest ERA among those six was Jose Veras, and he was designated for assignment by Milwaukee, latching on with the Houston Astros in December.

But the Brewers won't miss Veras' putrid 5.37 BB/9 IP ratio, nor will they miss Francisco Rodriguez's seven blown saves, Manny Parra's 1.65 WHIP or Kameron Loe's 4.61 ERA. It remains to be determined who exactly will take their places, but needless to say, these four players cannot have a bounce-back season for Milwaukee this year.

For the most part, we'll be venturing elsewhere on the roster to find the 5 Brewers poised to take a step forward in 2013, including the team's illustrious offense and inexperienced starting rotation.

1. SS - Jean Segura

That Zack Greinke trade is only beginning to take the form of highway robbery, and we still haven't seen Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena pitch at the Major League level. The third piece of that trade, Jean Segura, was instantly thrown into the equation because of Milwaukee's dire situation at shortstop, essentially becoming the team's full-time shortstop for the remaining two months of the season.

Segura instantly became the Brewers' top prospect after being acquired, and the 22-year-old hit .264 and drove in 14 runs in 44 games with Milwaukee. It's nothing to call home about, but considering Segura's age and limited experience in the Bigs, the production could have been worse, especially coming from the 8-hole in the lineup.

Because of how many threats the Brewers have in Ron Roenicke's starting nine, Segura will benefit from hitting in front of the pitcher for an entire season in 2013, and his glove will also impress as Segura gets set to turn some heads in Milwaukee.

2. SP - Wily Peralta

Only two of the five starting pitchers on Milwaukee's 2012 opening day roster remained at season's end - Yovani Gallardo and Shaun Marcum. Since then, Marcum has tested the free agent waters and a battle for three spots on the rotation erupted. Along with Gallardo and Marco Estrada, 23-year-old Wily Peralta looks to have a leg up on the competition heading into spring training barring any unforeseen circumstances.

Peralta has the way he pitched to close out the 2012 season to thank for that. In his five September starts, Peralta went 2-1 with a 2.48 ERA and didn't allow a home run in 29 IP. One of the top prospects in the Brewers' system over the past few seasons, just making the starting rotation will be a step forward for Peralta, but if he can continue his ascension and build on his finish to 2012, he could be an x-factor for Milwaukee next season.

3. OF - Carlos Gomez

There might not be anyone in the game who puts forth more effort on a daily basis than Carlos Gomez. The Brewers' center fielder is in the final year of his deal and coming off a career season in which he hit .260 with 19 HRs and 51 RBIs while sporting the fourth-best WAR among everyday players on the team.

Gomez's production hinges on his approach at the plate and staying healthy. He may be one of the fastest and top defensive outfielders in baseball, but his reckless abandon is what often leads to injury - he missed time last season with a hamstring strain and quad contusion.

He's only 27 despite being in the league since 2007, and as long as Gomez can stay relatively healthy in 2013, a contract year and new-found confidence at the plate should motivate him to have yet another career season.

4. RP - John Axford

We've seen the best and worst of John Axford in his two-plus years as a Brewer, and all Milwaukee and its fans are hoping for is that they don't have another Derrick Turnbow situation on their hands with the Ax Man.

Axford converted below 80 percent of his save opportunities last season, and it was so bad at one point that he actually got pulled from the closer's role. But after reprising his role on Aug. 21, Axford converted 17 of his 18 save opportunities and lowered his ERA from 5.22 to 4.67. Overall, his numbers weren't pretty, but obviously, something clicked for Axford late in the season that returned him to his 2011 form when he saved 46 games and had a sub-2.00 ERA.

5. 2B - Rickie Weeks

Brewers' fans rejoice - Rickie Weeks is going to hit above .230 this season. There isn't any scientific data to back up that claim, but throughout Weeks' 8-year career in Milwaukee, he has never hit lower than .230, and considering he should be entering the 2013 season healthy, we could see the Rickie Weeks that hit .269 with 29 HRs and 83 RBIs in 2010.

Last season, Weeks was still looking to get back into form after suffering a squeamish ankle injury near the end of the 2011 season. He failed to break the .200 mark until July 26, but following that, Weeks hit .269, and it's no coincidence that after that date, the Brewers went 38-25 to close out the season.

When Weeks is on, the Brewers' offense is that much more dangerous, and while it won't take much for him to take a step forward next season, that step forward means yet another legitimate threat in one of the best lineups in Major League Baseball.

Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.

You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_

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