Turn back the calendar only two years, and Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun was one of the premier hitters in all of baseballif not the best.

From 2007 to 2012, Braun’s first six MLB seasons, he averaged more than 33 home runs and 107 RBI. That kind of production is off the charts, and Braun was more than just a power hitter. He hit .313 over that span, didn’t strike out a ton and reached 30 steals in two of those seasons.

However, Braun’s reputation and stats plummeted when he vehemently denied using PEDsonly to admit to using them in August 2013. His confession earned Braun a suspension that forced him to miss the remainder of the 2013 season.

Then he ran into more troublethis time physically. Braun was ailed by a nerve injury in his thumb in 2014, and his production slowly but surely worsened as the season wore on. Not only did the injury get progressively worse, but it also robbed the slugging 31-year-old outfielder of most of his power.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney published a column last July outlining just how much Braun’s power decreased in 2014. The discoveries were mind-boggling.

Braun didn’t pull the ball much last year, and a career-high 46.1 percent of his hits were to the opposite field. Also, Braun’s batted balls traveled an average of 17 feet shorter than they did in 2013.

It is unknown whether the thumb is entirely to blame for these numbers, but it surely hampered him in some way.

So what are some realistic expectations for the former Miami Hurricanes third baseman in the upcoming season?

Most importantly, it’s going to come down to whether he is completely healthy. Braun had a cryotherapy procedure done on his thumb over the offseason, which applied extreme cold in an attempt to freeze out the lingering nerve issues.

According to news coming out of the Brewers camp, per Fox Sports Wisconsin’s John Pesetski, Braun is feeling great:

So far it (the thumb) feels great. Everything so far has gone as well as I possibly could’ve hoped. I don’t think I’ll be limited or anything. I’ll have to be conscious about how many extra swings I take. But aside from that, I’m able to do everything.

That is very encouraging news, and Braun did not shy away from portraying plenty of optimism.

“I feel good. I’ve always felt that as long as I’m healthy, success is inevitable,” Braun told Fox Sports. “The better I play, the more I am going to help the team. I expect to go out there and be one of the best players in the league.”

If he truly feels that he can return to being among the best pure hitters in baseball, it is definitely a possibility.

FanGraphs‘ Steamer projects Braun to hit .276 with 24 home runs and 78 RBI. While those numbers would be a slight improvement over 2014, they don’t do him justice.

Braun is one of the best players in Major League Baseball when healthy, and he has what it takes to return to that prestigious group in 2015. If his thumb can stay healthy for the duration of the season, he will be an All-Star-caliber outfielder.

I am going to go out on a limb and predict that Braun will hit at least .285 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI.

He is still a premium talent, and his numbers will reflect his tremendous ability in 2015.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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