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Friday, April 20th 2018
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Milwaukee Brewers (Potential) Opening Day Starting Lineup

The Milwaukee Brewers made some drastic changes to their lineup this winter. They made the trade for Christian Yelich and brought Lorenzo Cain back on a five-year deal. The Cain deal had some people scratching their head due to the Brewers surplus of outfielders. The Brewers now have Braun, Yelich, Cain, Santana, Phillips, and Broxton for three outfield spots. Many thought after Cain was signed, the Brewers would deal the likes of Santana or Broxton or both. Well that hasn’t happened yet, and the Brewers still need another quality starting pitcher or two, especially with Jimmy Nelson out until June. The Brewers figure to be strong offensively lets take a look at what their starting nine may look like March 29th when the Brewers open their season at San Diego.

Image via JSOnline

  1. Christian Yelich – LF. The Brewers acquired Christian Yelich on January 25th from the Miami Marlins in exchange for top prospect Lewis Brinson and three others. The gold glove, silver slugging outfielder figures to slide nicely into the top of the Brewers order. He is a career .290 hitter with a .370 on base percentage (OBP). He also gives the Brewers some pop from the lead off spot. Last year he hit 18 homeruns playing half of his games at pitcher friendly Marlins Park. That number figures to go over 20 with his new home stadium being Miller Park.
  2. Lorenzo Cain – CF. The Brewers brought back a familiar face on January 25th when they signed Lorenzo Cain to a 5-year deal. The Brewers traded him in the Zack Greinke deal back in 2011. Last year for the Royals, Cain hit .300 and stole 26 bases while only striking out 100 times. He had an OBP of .363. The Brewers struggled with strikeouts last year, so having a high contact guy at the top of the order will help the run producers a lot.
  3. Ryan Braun – 1B. The Brewers have a ton of outfielders as we all know, so moving former infielder Ryan Braun to first base made sense. We all know how bad he was at third, but first is not nearly as difficult. The majority of Braun’s errors his rookie season were on the throw. He won’t have to throw nearly as much at first. Hopefully playing first will take a less of a toll on his body. The outfield might be too much wear and tear for him. You can also figure he will get his fair share of days off, in which you will see Eric Thames at first. Last year Braun’s numbers were down in large part due to injury. He was only able to appear in 104 games hitting just .268 with 17 homeruns. Hitting behind Yelich and Cain, you have to figure he will get plenty of chances to drive in runs. If he can stay healthy, you can expect the best hitter in Brewers history will bounce back in 2018.
  4. Travis Shaw – 3B. The Mayor of Ding Dong City had a great first season in Milwaukee. The team MVP finished in the top ten in the National League in both homeruns (31) and runs batted in (101). He also batted .273 and had an OBP of .349. Like Ryan Braun, Shaw figures to have plenty of chances to knock in runs with the two newest Brewers hitting in front of him.
  5. Domingo Santana – RF. Santana was a pleasant surprise for the Brewers in 2017. The 25 year old hit 30 homeruns in his first full season as a starter. He had an OPS near .900. Assuming there isn’t a trade, the Brewers best chance to win is start Domingo in RF and Braun at 1B. If Domingo is traded, that may mean Ryan Braun moves back to RF. Time will tell.
  6. Manny Pina – C. Manny was another nice surprise for the Brewers last year. In his first full season as starting catcher, Pina responded by hitting .279. He also did a really nice job of throwing out runners all year long. Jett Bandy and Stephen Vogt will be battling this spring for the backup catcher role.
  7. Orlando Arcia – SS. This will be Orlando Arcia’s second full season as the Brewers starting shortstop. In his first full season, he hit an impressive .277 with 15 homeruns. Still just 23, I don’t think it is crazy to think he could be a 20-homer guy. One area that Arcia needs to improve on is drawing walks. He is a relatively free swinger. In just over 500 at bats, he walked only 36 times. His OBP last year was .324, and that needs to improve.
  8. Jonathan Villar – 2B. The biggest wild card in the Brewers lineup is switch-hitting Jonathan Villar. He broke out on the scene with a very strong 2016 season hitting .285 and getting on base at a .370 clip. He was one homer shy of a 20 homerun, 60 stolen base season. So needless to say, the hopes were sky high for Villar last season. He responded by hitting just .241, an OBP of .293, and 11 homeruns. The Brewers are going to give him a chance to redeem himself in 2018, but if he doesn’t produce, look for Eric Sogard and Hernan Perez to play second.

 

The Brewers have playoff expectations in 2018. Given the current state of their roster that may be a lofty expectation. Pending something catastrophic happening in Chicago, it’s the Cubs division to lose. The Brewers have a playoff caliber offense, but their starting pitching as it stands now just isn’t good enough, especially with Jimmy Nelson out until June. Unless they can add a quality-starting pitcher, it could be another 85-87-win season and just missing the playoffs yet again.

Image via MLB.com

Orlando Arcia: A Developing Star

With a runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the ninth the Milwaukee Brewers clung to a one run lead against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Closer Corey Knebel checked on the runner and then delivered a two-strike pitch to Pirates first baseman John Jaso. Jaso connected, driving a hard grounder past knebel on its way to the outfield grass behind second.

But second year Shortstop Orlando Arcia had other ideas.

After holding the runner on second, with the crack of the bat Arcia broke to his left striding to the hole. The young shortstop made it all the way to the outfield grass and continued three feet to the right of second base fully extending his glove out to scoop the baseball.

Now off balance and well into right center field Arcia gained control of his body, spun, and fired a no look dart to stretching first baseman Eric Thames, beating Jaso to the bag by a half a step.

Arcia saved the game for Milwaukee, keeping them in the National League playoff race for the time being while also securing himself a spot on highlight reels.

The 6 foot, 165 pound shortstop was nothing short of impressive in 2017, showing off his spectacular defense and finally holding his own at the plate.

In 216 plate appearances in 2016, Arcia struggled mightily hitting just .219. The rookie lacked confidence and discipline, struggling to lay off tough pitches out of the strike zone. But an offseason to reflect and work on his game knowing he had a starting spot in 2017 paid dividends.

Arcia caught fire a few months into the season and never looked back, finishing up 2017 hitting .277 with 15 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Not only was he a spark plug at the bottom of the lineup but Arcia also played a big role in run production, racking up 53 RBI’s.

However, not only was Arcia able to lay off pitches out of the zone but he also began taking outside pitches to right field rather than trying to pull. Brewers hitting coach Darnell Coles spent countless hours working with Arcia on his this opposite field approach, and his success has impressed manager Craig Counsell.

In a 2017 article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Counsell explained his thoughts on Arcia’s approach at the plate.

“At this point in his career, it’s where he drives the ball best,” Counsell said. “I think it’s a great foundation for a young hitter, a great place to start. As he gains experience and puts at-bats under his belt, he’ll pull more balls in the air.”

“Not everybody has the ability to (drive balls the other way), especially at the shortstop position. It excites you because that’s a good foundation to start with. I’ve always thought it’s harder to learn to hit the ball the other way than it is to pull the ball.”

Below is one of Arcia’s opposite field doubles from 2017. This piece of hitting displays his patience to wait on the pitch and use his strong hands to drive the ball off of the right field wall.

But Arcia still has plenty to work on as 2018 approaches. In 2017 he committed 20 errors which was tied for most in the National League. He also struck out 100 times and made a number of baserunning mistakes.

All of these issues from 2017 are easy fixes for Arcia though, especially when it comes to defense and his base running. A number of Arcia’s errors came on rushed throws, which means as he continues to settle in at the pro level these rushed plays will become more routine for him. On the basepaths, however, Arcia will continue to try to take the extra base because of the player he is. As a Brewer fan you have to live with the base running mistakes at times, because what the aggressiveness brings can also be positive.

The future is bright for the 23-year-old shortstop. Not only does Arcia now have two years of major league experience, but he also has a lot more talent in the lineup around him to reduce the pressure. With hitters like Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Christian Yelich, and Lorenzo Cain, Arcia won’t be thrown into a top spot in the batting order. Instead he will be the seventh place hitter again, allowing him to stay relaxed with the bat.

All signs lead to another successful season for Arcia at the plate and in the field. If the shortstop can knock down his errors to the 10-15 range from last years 20, and hit around .275 once again, the Brewers can say for certain they have a shortstop with a number of gold gloves and a bright career ahead.

 

Christian Yelich Is Now A Brewer: Here’s What To Know

The Milwaukee Brewers have added yet another talented young tool to their outfield.

26-year-old Christian Yelich comes to Milwaukee from the Miami Marlins after a blockbuster deal Thursday afternoon involving four Brewer prospects.

Milwaukee shipped outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, infielder Isan Diaz, and right-handed pitcher Jordan Yamamoto to a rebuilding Marlins team in return. Brinson, Harrison, and Diaz were all among the Brewers’ top 10 prospects.

The deal comes at a time of many question with the Brewers outfield, as the team had five or six outfielders that could have made their case to be opening day starters. Now with the move, the depth chart becomes a bit clearer.

Yelich, a career .290 hitter batted .282 with 18 home runs while slugging .439 and stealing 16 bases last year with the Marlins. The center fielder can also flash the leather, taking home a gold glove award in 2014.

Many Brewers fans took to twitter Thursday unhappy with the amount of prospects the team gave up to acquire yelich, but Milwaukee is getting a lot for a little. The All-Star outfielder will make $7 million this season in the third year of a $49.57 million, seven-year contract.

The Brewers do look to be giving up a lot on paper. However, Brinson has had stints in the MLB and may never reach the level Yelich is currently at in his career.

Harrison and Diaz project to be solid pro players down the road, but currently are blocked at the major league level, and Yamamoto has had his ups and downs in the minors and may never reach the big league level.

David Stearns has begun wheeling and dealing in Milwaukee and he may not be done yet. With the acquisition of free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain a few hours after the trade, it would be hard to believe that stearns would stand pat the rest of the winter without moving another outfielder for a pitcher.

Sit tight Brewers fans there may be more to come.

A Peek Inside The Brewers 2017-2018 Offseason

Ask Milwaukee Brewers fans what their expectations for the 2017 season were, and most would have said somewhere between 65-75 wins.

The team was supposed to be “rebuilding” and waiting for the talent in their loaded farm system to make it to the big leagues before making a playoff push.

But the big league roster flourished, and the team gelled together better than ever — putting the team in a playoff race with just weeks remaining. And although the team struggled down the stretch and finished with an 86-76 record, a few games short of a playoff run —  hopes are higher than ever around Milwaukee.

Notable Returning Pitchers: Chase Anderson, Jacob Barnes, Zach Davies, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Brandon Woodruff, Jimmy Nelson.

Notable Returning Position Players: Stephen Vogt, Orlando Arcia, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Eric Sogard, Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Lewis Brinson.

Notable Losses: Neil Walker, Anthony Swarzak, Matt Garza.

Free Agent Signings: Yovani Gallardo, Jhoulys Chacin, Boone Logan.

Pitching:

The Brewers finally got rid of Matt Garza’s contract this offseason, freeing up even more cap space. But David Stearns continues to stand by his rebuild through the system, rather than bringing in top dollar free agents.

Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Lance Lynn, all are top dollar starters that could fill the void as the ace of the staff until Jimmy Nelson returns. However, all wanted more than Stearns was willing to spend.

So instead he opted to save the money and bring back former Brewer Yovani Gallardo to compete for a spot in the bullpen, Boone Logan to bring a veteran lefty presence to the bullpen, and Jhoulys Chacin to bring another solid arm with a plus slider to the rotation.

This means the team will lean on Chase Anderson and Zach Davies to anchor the rotation and hope for second year starter Brandon Woodruff to pick up where he left off in 2017. Meanwhile the bullpen will hope Corey Knebel, Jacob Barnes, and Josh Hader can continue to eat up innings in relief.

Offense:

Offensively the Brewers were carried by sluggers Eric Thames and Travis Shaw during the first half of the season, but Thames production dwindled as he hit only eight home runs after the midsummer classic.

Meanwhile, shortstop Orlando Arcia’s bat woke up in 2017 and right fielder Domingo Santana’s ability to hit for average and power became a big asset. Contributions from pesky second baseman Eric Sogard and catchers Many Pina and Stephen Vogt also made many forget about the struggles of Jonathan Villar.

But the biggest question as the team hits spring training is what to do with all of the outfield talent. Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Lewis Brinson are all battling for time in the big league outfield. Meanwhile, Corey Ray and Monte Harrison aren’t far from the bigs with the Carolina Mudcats.

Where Do They Go From Here?

Does the team think about moving Braun at the deadline? Can Arcia Continue to put up numbers at the plate? Can the rotation hold up without Jimmy Nelson? Do you keep Josh Hader in the bullpen? Can Jonathan Villar bounce back this season? These tough questions linger as Stearns plans for not only 2018, but for the future as well.

Braun has made it clear he will not be traded unless it is to the Dodgers, and that currently isn’t an option. So as long as Brinson and Phillips continue to grow as every day players, I think your best bet is trying Braun in a platoon at first base with Thames despite his early career struggles in the infield.

Arcia was a favorite of many in 2017. The youthful shortstop hit .277 with 15 home runs all while dazzling defensively. The energy he brings to the field every game is something hard to find in the league. Not only does Arcia have a bright future ahead of him defensively, but I also see him continuing to hit for average and more power as he matures.

Jimmy Nelson was one of the biggest surprises of 2018 and could have been key down the stretch had he not gotten hurt. No doubt he will be missed for the first half of 2018 while he rehabs, but the combination of Anderson, Davies, and Woodruff isn’t awful, while Chacin who went 13-10 with the Padres in 2017 may surprise some with his deceptive stuff. Management will have to hope this staff has no issues bridging the gap.

Josh Hader was by far one of the most exciting Brewers to watch in 2017. A 96-99 mph fastball mixed with a devastating slider for lefties is must see TV, which allowed him to sit perfectly in a late inning relief role. Being that as a reliever he could pitch almost every day, I think this is where Hader needs to stay unless he is able to develop a third pitch.

Lastly, If I said Villar was not a disappointment in 2017 I’d be lying. For much of the year he was barely batting over .200 and had his blunders defensively and on the basepaths. I think a lot of these struggles stemmed from the pressure he put on himself after his outstanding 2016. Now i’m not saying he will be able to repeat what he did in 2016, but it’s not out of the question for him to bounce back and hit .260 and swipe 25 bases.

As February lingers and pitchers and catchers get ready to report to Arizona for the spring ahead, hopes should still be high despite very few changes being made personnel-wise. Craig Counsell will once again have depth on his roster and plenty of young talent to choose from. If the Brewers don’t once against find themselves chasing a wild-card spot, I think most around the league would be shocked.

 

Chasing October: Brewers Top Prospects #6-10

This 6-10 range is where things start to get really interesting in the Brewers’ prospect rankings. All of the players in the Brewers’ top-10 have the potential to be core pieces within the coming years, and it is exciting to see such a stockpile of high-end talent. Prospects 6-10 feature five position players who boast advanced tools. The possibility exists for all five to be in a Brewers’ lineup together in the next two to three years if all goes according to plan. Let’s start with #10, outfielder Monte Harrison:

  1. Monte Harrison, OF

Harrison, a former second-round pick, had struggled to stay healthy up until 2017, greatly limiting his exposure and development. He limped to a .220/.300/.339 batting line in 2016 with Class A Wisconsin, and the future seemed to be dimming. However, 2017 brought better fortunes, and he responded with a monster season split between Class A Wisconsin and Class A-Advanced Carolina. He slashed .265/.359/.475 with 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 63 games at Wisconsin. He didn’t slow down in the slightest with his promotion to Carolina, as he went on to hit .278/.341/.487 with 10 home runs and 16 stolen bases. In the field, Harrison had 9 outfield assists between the two levels.

Harrison boasts a profile that is typical throughout the Brewers’ current big league roster, as he brings a lot of swing and miss in his game but also has electric power potential. In the field, he utilizes his speed to play all three outfield positions, and pairs a 70-grade arm to boot. His individual tools are rivaled only by those of Lewis Brinson’s in the Brewers’ system, and it is a toss-up regarding whose are better. His combination of power, speed, and overall athletic ability gives him a sky-high ceiling, one that if reached could make him an all-star. However, to get there he will need to solve the holes in his game, most notably his strikeout rate. There is considerable risk with Harrison; the reward, however, could be remarkable.

  1. Lucas Erceg, 3B

Erceg gained a large following last year with his impressive professional debut, as the 2016 2nd round pick hit .327/.376/.518 with 9 home runs and 51 RBI between rookie-level Helena and Class A Wisconsin. That led to an aggressive placement with Class A-Advanced Carolina, making it appear that the Brewers would try to fast track Erceg to the big leagues. After a rough start to the season (.239/.283/.368 prior to the All-Star break), Erceg caught fire in the 2nd half, hitting .273/.330/.466 with 9 home runs and 46 RBI. His season ended with a temporary promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs to assist in their playoff push, where he thoroughly impressed despite a very small sample size (.357/.429/.500). Erceg is currently continuing his success in the Arizona Fall League, a post-season league made up of many of the game’s top prospects. He is hitting .320/.346/.640.

Erceg’s value mainly emanates from his complete hitting profile. He is one of the scarce hitters in the Brewers’ system that offers both above average contact and power potential. In addition, he has a relatively low strikeout rate compared to many of his peers, and owns a solid walk rate as well. When you add in his above average defense at the hot corner, it becomes easy to see how he is potentially the best homegrown third base product the Brewers have had since Ryan Braun. While no one expects Braun-level production from Erceg, third base has been a position at which the Brewers have struggled in developing big league players, so Erceg could and should break that trend.

  1. Brett Phillips, OF

Phillips arrived in Milwaukee at the 2015 trade deadline in part of the package for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. He was touted as a top-50 prospect at the time amidst a breakout season. However, a rough 2016 saw him plummet in the rankings as he hit .229/.332/.397. By wRC+ this was still an above-average season in the Double-A Southern League, but nonetheless it scared many prospect evaluators. Phillips re-emerged in 2017 in the thin air of Triple-A Colorado Springs, hitting .305/.377/.567 with 19 home runs in 105 games. He bounced between Triple-A and the majors for the majority of the 2nd half, and impressed in Milwaukee by slashing .276/.351/.448 in 98 plate appearances spanning 37 games. He made quite the case down the stretch to warrant consideration for the Brewers’ primary centerfield slot in 2018.

Unlike many of the Brewers’ heavy hitting prospects, Phillips garners extreme value in the field. Despite playing in just 37 games, he ranked as the 13th best centerfielder in the MLB according to FanGraphs’ defensive runs above average metric. His “plus” speed paired with an 80-grade arm (the highest ranking on the scouting scale) makes him a difference-maker and perennial gold-glove threat. At the plate, Phillips does possess swing and miss issues (30% strikeout rate since arriving in the Brewers’ organization), but he has the potential to make up for it with his above-average walk rate and his solid approach. He has sacrificed contact for power over the last two years, but with his defensive value Phillips needs to be merely serviceable at the plate to warrant him a starter-level player.

  1. Isan Diaz, 2B/SS

After a 2016 season that culminated in being named the Brewers’ Minor League Player of Year, Diaz struggled to carry over his success into 2017. In 2016, Diaz displayed his advanced offensive game en route to finishing with a .264/.358/.469 slash line paired with 20 home runs and an above-average 12% walk rate. This caused him to soar up prospect boards, as second basemen with that type of offensive output are a rare commodity. 2017 started out well for Diaz, as he hit .273 in April, but he saw his fair share of ups-and-downs over the course of the year, finishing with a line of .222/.334/.376 with 13 home runs.

At only 21 years of age, there is no need to panic over Diaz’s down year. Many of the Brewers’ top hitting prospects struggled to produce in Carolina, and it will be interesting to see if the club promotes those players to start 2018 regardless. Diaz is often noted as having extreme upside at the plate, and it is easy to see him at his peak being a 25+ home run threat while hitting in the .270-.290 range. In the field, Diaz has recently switched to second base to accommodate the Brewers’ future plans for him, and he should grade out as average for the position. If all goes according to plan, Diaz could be an integral part of the Brewers’ lineup in 2-3 years.

  1. Corey Ray, OF

Corey Ray has quickly established himself as one of the most polarizing prospects in the Brewers’ farm system. Lofty expectations were placed on Ray after being GM David Stearns’ first draft selection, and this has placed him under extreme scrutiny. Strong performance is expected from someone drafted as high as Ray (5th overall), especially with his excellent college pedigree. However, Ray has yet to live up to the hype through one-and-a-half minor-league seasons. In 2016, he hit a modest .247/.307/.385 with 5 home runs in 57 games. At the time, this average stat line was written off as simply being Ray adjusting to professional baseball and his aggressive placement to Class A-Advance playing in as a second factor. 2017 saw him struggle more, however, as he hit .238/.311/.367 with 7 home runs. Ray’s highly touted offensive game has yet to materialize, as he struggles have continued into the Arizona Fall League.

On paper, Ray possesses all the tools to be an all-star. His potential in every tool grades out above average, and he has the defensive ability to stick in center field long-term, maximizing his value. Upon being drafted, it seemed as though the Brewers would be able to fast track Ray through the minor leagues, with his ETA being late-2018. That plan has seemed to change with Ray’s difficulty in finding success, as some glaring and serious holes have emerged. Most concerning is his strikeout rate. In 2017, Ray struck out 31% of the time. This was an issue of his many saw in college, but figured that further development would solve it. Ray has the potential to be a star in the Brewers’ line-ups, and it would be a tough blow to David Stearns and Co. if their first prized pick fails to pan out. I am guessing that the Brewers will continue to be aggressive and assign Ray to Double-A Biloxi to start the 2018 season, but would not be surprised if they feel he has more to prove at Class A-Advanced Carolina before moving up.

Chasing October: Brewers Top Prospects #11-15

This week’s top prospects all differ greatly from one another. One hitter is a massive power threat, while two others are speed demons. One pitcher is coming off an absolutely forgettable year, while another put his name on the map. One similarity they all share, however, is their potential to significantly contribute in the future. All could conceivably be integral parts to the Brewers’ success within the next three years. Here are prospects #11-15:

  1. Marcos Diplan, P

Acquired back in 2015 from the Texas Rangers in exchange for former Brewers’ ace Yovani Gallardo, Diplan experienced a breakout season in 2016, spinning a 3.02 ERA with over 10 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). However, 2017 saw him struggle significantly, as he scuffled in his attempts to adjust to a new minor league level (Class A-Advanced). In 125 and 2/3 innings of work, Diplan pitched to a 5.23 ERA with a 1.57 WHIP, both being very concerning numbers. His strikeouts dipped as well, as he posted 8.5 K/9. His control disappeared, evidenced by his walk rate of 5.08 BB/9.

Despite this, Diplan still houses enormous potential. He is only 21 years old, and will be for the entirety of next year’s minor league season. He has two potential plus pitches in his fastball and slider, with a developing change-up occupying the role of being a serviceable third pitch. He stands 6 feet tall on the dot, but still has remaining projectability to add strength (and therefore velocity) as he fills in his 160 lbs. frame. At the least, Diplan should develop into a solid bullpen option, with his ceiling topping out as a mid-rotation starter. To achieve this, he will need to work on his command, as that is the biggest hurdle he currently faces in his development.

  1. Trent Clark, OF

As the Brewers’ 2015 first-round draft pick, Clark was lauded for his natural hitting ability. He started off his minor-league career displaying his advanced bat and approach, hitting .309/.424/.430 across the two rookie levels in 2015. However, he hit a roadblock in 2016 as injuries held him back at Class A Wisconsin, posting a slash line of .231/.346/.344 in just 59 games. Despite this, the Brewers decided to promote him to Class A-Advanced Carolina for the 2017 season and he struggled again, hitting .223/.360/.348.

Regardless of Clark’s struggles, he still sports a tantalizing skill set. First and foremost, his plate discipline is off the charts. Clark boasted a 17.2% walk rate in 2017, and his walk rate has always been above 14% during his time in the minor leagues. Second, he has wheels. Clark stole 37 bases in 2017, and that speed makes him an asset defensively as well. Finally, I believe Clark still has the hitting ability that made him a first-round draft pick. He has been moved along aggressively, and should probably stay in Carolina for at least the first half of next season. Clark needs time to develop, especially given his injury-laden 2016. Should everything fall into place, it is easy to see him hitting lead-off one day for the Crew. 

  1. Tristen Lutz, OF

This is where the Brewers’ farm depth starts to become apparent. Lutz was drafted in 2017 in Competitive Balance Round A, which is directly after the first round. Lutz is as physically imposing a 19-year-old that one can find, standing 6’3” and weighing 210 lbs. Even though he has a corner-outfield profile, the Brewers thus far have deployed him in center field. Most scouts believe his ultimate home will be right field. Lutz is known for his raw power and strong arm, which both grade out as “plus” tools. He has a short, quick stroke at the plate that should allow him to hit for a solid average.

Lutz experienced great success in his introduction to professional baseball. Between Rookie-levels Arizona and Helena, he hit .311/.398/.559 with 9 home runs and 27 RBI in 40 games. He will likely start 2018 in Class A Wisconsin and could move up the system quickly if his bat holds up against advanced pitching. If he reaches his ceiling, he could be a 30+ home run threat that anchors a lineup.

  1. Mauricio Dubon, SS/2B

The Brewers acquired Dubon as part of the now infamous Tyler Thornburg trade with the Red Sox, which brought third baseman Travis Shaw, pitcher Josh Pennington, and infielder Yeison Coca to the Cream City as well. Dubon has utility man written all over him. I believe he currently lacks the impact ability to be an everyday contributor, but he would be one of the top bench talents in the league and could find success as a super-platoon player. He can play all around the infield, and even dabbled in center field during the 2016 Arizona Fall League. He is above average in all of his tools except for power, which limits his effectiveness at the plate given his low walk rate.

While he hit for a solid average of .274 between Double A and Triple A in 2017, Dubon’s biggest offensive contributions came on the bases. He swiped 38 bases over the course of the year, and offers high-end speed. He still needs time to develop his bat in the upper levels of the minors (he was a career .300+ hitter in the lower levels), but we could see Dubon in Milwaukee during the second half of next season. His ceiling is limited, but his high floor should guarantee him a role in Milwaukee at some point.

  1. Freddy Peralta, P

Acquired as part of the deal for Adam Lind after the 2015 season, Peralta’s breakout started in 2016 and rolled right on into 2017. After a 3.62 ERA in 2016 at Class A Wisconsin and Class A-Advanced Brevard County (the Brewers’ affiliate at the time), Peralta took his game to a whole new level this season. He started the year at Class A-Advanced Carolina, where he pitched to a 3.04 ERA while striking out 12.46 batters per nine innings. After a mid-season promotion to Double A Biloxi, Peralta achieved a pearly 2.26 ERA, .167 batting average against, and a 12.86 K/9. His numbers are clearly dominant.

Peralta’s best pitch is his fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s and is said to have “plus life”, meaning it has great movement. His main secondary pitches are a changeup and slider, with the changeup being slightly more advanced. Peralta has a slight frame, standing 5’11” and weighing in a 175 lbs., leading some to believe he will have to move to the bullpen. However, I am confident that he will be able to stick as a starter long-term due to his three-pitch mix. He has some command issues that need to be addressed (4.65 BB/9), but that seems to be his only hurdle at this point. His first action in the big leagues may come in the bullpen (a la Josh Hader) due to his electric stuff, but he certainly should be in the plans for the future rotation.

Chasing October: Brewers Top Prospects #16-20

After an unexpected postseason push and significant improvements from several players, the Brewers look to be in a position of the utmost strength moving forward. Whereas just last offseason it appeared the farm system was their only source of hope, the Crew is now in the position to use that same system to bolster its existing playoff-caliber roster, whether that be through trades or call-ups. While some top prospects seemingly took steps back, such as outfielder Corey Ray and infielder Isan Diaz, others leapt forward, including pitcher Corbin Burnes and outfielder Monte Harrison. All levels of the Brewers system are flush with talent, giving the big league team a shot to “chase October” and achieve sustained success in the near future.

In this 4-piece series, we will dive into my personal ranking of the Brewers’ top-20 prospects. These rankings are determined based off a combination of video and statistical analysis, along with intuition gained from available scouting reports. Before we get to the rankings, let me tell you something: this system is DEEP. While the Brewers do have some standout prospects at the top like Lewis Brinson, the top-20 could easily be a top-40. Kudos to the Brewers for acquiring such a stockpile of talent.

Without further adieu, here are your first five prospects (#16-20):

  1. Trey Supak, P

Acquired along with Keon Broxton in exchange for former Brewers’ first baseman Jason Rogers, Supak broke out in 2017. With a 6’5” frame and some remaining projectability, Supak looks to be the kind of guy that could succeed as a mid-to-back of the rotation starter in the future. Featuring a duo of above-average pitches with his fastball and curveball, it is crucial he continues to develop his change-up in order to give him a three-pitch mix.

In 2017, Supak started with the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. He dominated in eight starts, pitching to a 1.76 ERA and striking out 11.63 batters per nine innings. This performance earned him a promotion to Class A-Advanced Carolina Mudcats. While he struggled initially, he ended the year strong by spinning a 3.14 ERA over his final ten starts. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.09 K/9 in Carolina, but this can possibly be attributed to the level adjustment. It is still somewhat concerning nonetheless. Look for Supak to start 2018 back in Carolina, with a possible mid-season promotion to Double-A Biloxi if he succeeds and bumps his strikeout rate back up.

  1. Phil Bickford, P

Bickford is a prime example of how fast things can change. Acquired at the 2016 trade deadline with catcher Andrew Susac in exchange for relief pitcher Will Smith, Bickford was at the time widely regarded as a top-100 prospect. However, following a second suspension for drug use, a broken hand, and reports of declining fastball velocity, Bickford has descended fast in scouting circles. He already faced questions about his ability to remain as a starter due to his inconsistency before these issues surfaced. Despite this, I still believe the former first-round pick has the potential to regain his prior form and develop into a solid contributor for the Crew, whether that be as a back-end starter or a high-leverage reliever.

Bickford relies primarily on his fastball and slider, both above-average pitches. While his fastball had previously been reported to top out around 96 miles per hour (mph), he usually sits in the 90-92 range. His ability to remain as a starter will depend on making his slider more consistent and further developing his change-up. In limited action, Bickford pitched to a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings spanning five games in 2017. He posted a concerning 5.29 BB/9, but it is important to remember that this was his first in-game action since breaking his throwing hand. All the tools are there with Bickford – he just needs to put it all together in 2018 to re-cement his status as a legitimate prospect.

  1. Caden Lemons, P

As the Brewers’ 2nd round draft pick in 2017, Lemons is the epitome of a “projection” pick. Standing 6’6” and weighing in at 175 lbs., Lemons still has some ways to go in his physical development, and he is about as raw as can be on the mound. However, he reaches 97 mph with his fastball, and that is what the Brewers drafted him for. They hope that as he fills out his frame, he will add more velocity and possibly end up in the 100+ mph range when all is said and done. If he can do that while polishing two of his secondary offerings, the sky is the limit for Lemons. Some have compared his ceiling to current Mets’ flamethrower Noah Syndergaard should everything in his development go perfectly.

One area Lemons needs to improve most is his control. He struggles to locate, and his off-speed pitches are especially inconsistent. While he could simply overpower hitters with his fastball in the high school ranks, developing his trio of secondary pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) will be an integral step to achieving his lofty ceiling, as they currently lag far behind. Lemons pitched sparingly in 2017 (2.2 innings in rookie ball with a 6.75 ERA), so you can likely expect him to be in Rookie-level Arizona or Helena next season.

  1. Jake Gatewood, 1B/3B

As a former supplemental first-round pick, Gatewood had not lived up to his billing entering 2017. That all changed when he unleashed a new and improved approach right out of the gate (see what I did there?). Always known as a power bat, Gatewood had been held back considerably by his extremely poor plate discipline. To illustrate, he walked just 3.4% of the time in 2016. Leap forward to 2017, and Gatewood improved that number nearly fivefold to over 15% in the month of April. While he regressed over the course of the season to finish at a sliver under 9%, he still displayed significant improvement.

Gatewood exhibited his well-noted raw power in 2017 as well. He doubled 40 times to supplement his 15 home runs, slugging .441 on the year. While that may seem low to some, both Carolina and Biloxi are considered to be relatively difficult hitting environments (Carolina especially), and Gatewood is still growing into his in-game power. He needs to cut down on his concerning strikeout rate (28% on the year), and if he can reduce that to the low 20’s, Gatewood could really break out in 2018.

In the field, Gatewood made the transition from third base to first base in order to accommodate prospect Lucas Erceg in Carolina. He grades out as above average at first base and probably right around average at third base with a “plus” arm, so the positional versatility should help his future fit with the big-league club.

  1. KJ Harrison, C/1B

Selected in the 3rd Round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Harrison can flat out rake. After hitting .313/.382/.498 as a Junior, he slashed .308/.388/.546 in his first taste of professional baseball at Rookie-Level Helena. With 10 home runs and 14 doubles in just 46 games, Harrison boasts a nice blend of power and contact ability that is hard to come by, especially for a potential catcher (we’ll get to that use of “potential” in a second). In addition, Harrison sports a good approach, walking over 10% of the time. The only place he seemingly needs significant work is his strikeout rate (25%).

Harrison in the field is another story. After primarily playing first base and DH-ing in college, the Brewers surprisingly drafted him as a catcher, a position he had played only sparingly since high school. The early reports from Helena were not pretty, as he struggled to control the running game and his receiving skills lagged far behind his peers. He ended up throwing out 26% of potential base-stealers, but he still has a lot of work to do if he wants to stay behind the plate. Becoming at least average defensively would significantly increase his value, as catchers with his type of bat are rare. He would still provide value at first base due to his hitting ability, but Harrison as a catcher is much more tantalizing.

The Piña Puzzle

If you would have told me last year that the Brewers were going to be playoff contenders in 2017, I would have laughed at you. I am sure a number of you felt the same way. In and with that, if you would have told me Manny Pina would be a key piece to that playoff chasing team’s puzzle, I would probably have thought twice before talking sports with you again. Well, if you were that person who predicted both of these things, you more than likely have super powers and I would appreciate it if you could use those powers to fix some things in society instead of settling for random sports insights.

Pina started off as a catcher in the Texas Rangers organization in 2004 and was traded to the Kansas City Royals organization in 2009. When he was 24, Pina was called up to the Royals and played in 4 games. He was called up the next year as well and only participated in 1 game and was granted free agency at the end of the year. Manny then signed with the Seattle Mariners in 2013, but was stored in the minors and traded to the Detroit Tigers in that same season. Finally, Pina found himself a home. In 2015, he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers as a “player to be named later” along with Javier Betancourt for Francisco Rodriguez. Manny spent the front half of the 2016 season with Milwaukee’s AAA affiliate, Colorado Springs, but was called into action when former all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy was traded to the Texas Rangers.

Manny played sparingly in the back half of the 2016 season for the Brewers. He appeared in 33 games as he split time with Martin Maldonado who is now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Pina hit a respectable .254/.346/.394 with 2 home runs and 12 RBI in 81 plate appearances, but the 29 year old catcher was not viewed as an integral part of the Brewers’ roster going forward. In fact, there were rumblings about the Brewers looking elsewhere at the catcher position. In the same year Pina was called up to the Brewers, the club traded for Andrew Susac from the San Francisco Giants who was viewed as useful player for the future. Along with that, the Brewers made a straight swap of the aforementioned Martin Maldonado for fellow catcher Jett Bandy. If that was not enough to doubt Manny getting playing time, all-star Matt Wieters was available on the free agent heap and the Brewers were rumored to be in on the sweepstakes.

156 games later, Andrew Susac is on the MLB roster, but is there because of September call-ups, Jett Bandy hit .206 over 59 games, and Matt Wieters is a Washington National. Through all of that, 30 year old rookie catcher Manny Pina has played in 107 games and has hit .279/.324/.424 with 9 home runs, and 43 RBI. On the defensive end, Manny is 10th in the MLB in defensive wins above replacement, 4th in least amount of passed balls, and 1st in catcher pickoffs. He has bolstered himself as a solid part of the lineup and a very good defensive catcher.

Now the question remains: Is Manny Pina the catcher of the future? The knock against him is that he is 30 years old, but Pina does not have a lot of mileage on him. In fact, he is actually considered a rookie this year based on service. His ability to throw runners out, let alone, keep them honest through his ability to pick them off have proved as a major tool in his success this year. As mentioned before, he leads the MLB in catcher pickoffs and he is 10th in the NL in DWAR. These are extremely important numbers at the catcher position as it essentially puts a stop sign up for runners who may be thinking about stealing. He is no slouch at the plate either. On top of the stats that he has put out this year, Pina has come up with some timely hits over the course of the year with the most noteable being a Bill Hall-esque 3-run bomb on Mother’s’ Day to put the Brewers on top.

Manny Pina is an enigma. He goes from being a guy who was on the verge of being cut from the club, to being the primary catcher and flourishes in that position. He becomes the “next man up” for a team that was worried about the position. He may be a stop gap solution, but he may also be the future. Ultimately, Manny Pina has developed from a career minor leaguer into a legitimate starting option at the catcher position. As I said before, if you predicted this was going to happen, don’t hide those talents under a bushel.

The Brewers’ Blueprint to a Competitive Rebuild

Baseball and Milwaukee go hand in hand. Ever since Bud Selig brought the sport back to the Cream City, his Brewers have provided an integral source of civic pride and enjoyment. In the summer months, Miller Park drums as the city’s collective heartbeat. In the winter, it stands as a reminder of the thrills and excitement yet to come.

“Yet to come.”

With the Brewers’ recent rebuilding efforts, words like those have held a heightened emphasis over the past two years. A clear majority of the focus surrounding the club centers around future success and achievement. While valid, what if I told you that the “yet to come” is already here?

The Brewers entered 2017 with the most modest of expectations. Many Vegas sports books pegged the team at just around 70 wins, and with sound reasoning. The Brewers appeared to lack effective starting pitching, with Jimmy Nelson coming off a rough campaign and Wily Peralta taking not steps, but full strides, backwards. Add in a line-up ravaged from trades and a bullpen without any clear order, and you see a team that seemed to be a shoo-in for last place in the division.

So, what changed? How did this group go from a filler-year squad to a legitimate playoff contender?

Rebuilding has become somewhat of a sports culture phenomenon over the last few years. Without the financial firepower to retain homegrown talent long term or to acquire top-flight players in free agency, small market teams must sell off their current on-field assets to acquire potential prospects and avoid a sunk cost. Multiple years of futility usually follow, a drastic example being the Houston Astros. After committing to rebuilding, they experienced three straight seasons of sub-60-win baseball from 2011-2013 before finally breaking through to the playoffs in 2015. Now, the Astros look to be a serious threat for the 2017 World Series crown.

The Brewers’ rebuilding project started at the 2015 trade deadline, as they traded several key players for minor league prospects. In the process of shedding their major-league assets, the Brewers acquired current contributors Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, Zach Davies and Brett Phillips. In the following offseason, the teardown continued and the Brewers brought in Jonathan Villar, Keon Broxton and Chase Anderson among others. The early results, for a year and a half of a hardcore “rebuilding” organizational mentality, are simply astounding.

Rebuilds are not supposed to work this fast. Many pegged 2019 as an arbitrary goal of when to expect the Brewers to compete. Yet the Crew entered the All-Star break leading the NL Central and rolled into September still firmly in the playoff hunt.

The difference between the timeline of the Brewers’ rebuild and a more traditional timeline like that of the Astros’ lies in the specific returns targeted by the Brewers during trades. Think of all those prospects the Brewers have acquired as “lottery tickets,” which is an accurate moniker for unproven minor-league talent. For many rebuilds, you hit on a couple of these tickets each year and then subsequently acquire more with your remaining expendable assets. Eventually, you field a team full of those successful lottery tickets accumulated over time, along with a sprinkling of effective free agent signings. For the Astros, this process took over four seasons. However, with the Brewers, they have seemed to hit the jackpot. Nearly all their tickets resulted in “winning numbers” right away.

What was the ideal return that the Brewers believed would result in “winning numbers,” and therefore a winning team? A package of prospects close to being major-league ready. This type of player (“lottery ticket”) inherently comes with less risk due to the fact that they have proven themselves over multiple levels of the minor leagues. The headlining returns of every big deal the Brewers pulled off resided in the upper-levels of the minors prior to being traded. In some cases, the Brewers’ targets were already at the major-league level, such as the acquisition of third baseman Travis Shaw. Add in the outstanding job of the Brewers’ scouting department in finding players they considered to have breakout potential and it became the perfect solution. This strategy allowed minimal time to pass between competitive cycles with the Brewers still having a surplus of remaining high-level prospects lurking in the minors and ready to significantly contribute over the next several years.

Therein lies why the ultimate “success” of the 2017 should not be judged upon the Brewers making the playoffs. With a plethora of elite talent remaining in the minors, the Brewers have pulled what many think is impossible for a small-market team: being playoff caliber before reaching the climax of their competitive potential. 2017 is not an “all-in” type of season like 2008 or 2011. 2017 is a rebuilding year in its purpose, yet has been a competitive year in its results. Those two usually do not coincide, which makes the 2017 Brewers one of the most intriguing teams in recent memory. The “yet to come” has arrived prematurely and is still in its beginning stages. With expectations at the outset of 2017 close to nil, the progression shown throughout the year and its corresponding successes are a treat none of us expected. This exciting realization should be the main takeaway at the culmination of the season, regardless of a playoff berth or not.

Even after reading this, many fans’ attitudes will still be “playoffs or bust.” Why? Because Milwaukee and baseball go hand in hand. This is about more than wins and losses to many. It is about identity, pride and passion. Brewers’ fans have packed Miller Park to the tune of over 31,000 fans per game, greater than the Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros, all division leaders in larger markets than Milwaukee. These Brewers’ faithful want some return on their investment of time, energy and emotion. Those of you that feel this way, I simply ask you to stay patient. The Brewers are still in the process of rising, and they are not even near their ceiling yet. This team could push into the playoffs this year. They could miss by a sliver. Either way, this season has provided a glimpse into just how bright the future is for your Milwaukee Brewers.

 

Brewers Week In Review: September 4-10

Well, this is getting interesting.

In a year of up-and-down weeks, the Brewers likely had their most up-and-down week this past week against a pair of division foes. First up was the Reds, the team who currently resides in the cellar of the NL Central. The Brewers proceeded to get swept in what may have been their ugliest series all year. Then came a three-game set at Wrigley Field against the division leading Chicago Cubs. The Brewers did not get swept this time around. In fact, they gave the Cubs a taste of the same medicine they had tasted just days earlier, handing the team from the North Side a sweep and pulling within just two games of the Cubs in the tight race for the division.

Now, let’s take a look at the week ahead for the Crew.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: vs. Pittsburgh (9/11-9/13) and @ Miami (9/15-9/17)

Pitching probables vs. Pittsburgh: Steven Brault (0-0, 5.79 ERA) vs. Brandon Woodruff (1-1, 1.52 ERA); Gerrit Cole (11-9, 3.93 ERA) vs. Brent Suter (2-2, 3.55 ERA); Tyler Glasnow (2-6, 7.45 ERA) vs. Chase Anderson (9-3, 2.93 ERA)

Pitching probables @ Miami: TBD vs. Adam Conley (6-7, 5.23 ERA; TBD vs. Odrisamer Despaigne (0-3, 4.38 ERA); TBD vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

Rollie Fingers Award for First-Team All-Swagger (player that went out “balls to the wall”)

Winner:

No one specific person will get this award this week, as the team as a whole showed a lot of swagger, specifically in knocking off the Cubs in Chicago. Going into a series where they needed at least a series win, they came through with a rather convincing sweep, in the process showing their rivals to the south that they are in no position to go away anytime soon.

The Robin Yount Award for Pure and Utter Dominance (Most Dominant Player)

Winner: Hernan Perez

Over the past few weeks, the Brewers offense has been called several things by the Milwaukee faithful on social media, including “anemic”, “pathetic” and “garbage”. However, a certain game this week changed that (at least for now). On Saturday, the Brewers dropped 15 runs on the Cubs on their way to a 15-2 victory to take game two and provide the catalyst for their eventual series sweep. A big part of that game was Hernan Perez, who drove in 5 runs, including a 2-run shot which wrapped around the foul pole. Even outside of that one specific great performance, the Crew’s utility man had a solid series in general, going 2-for-3 in his other appearance on Sunday.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Anthony Swarzak/Corey Knebel

Okay, I really couldn’t decide between these two as to who deserved this award more. Because of this, at the end of the day, I decided that they both deserved it. The Crew’s shutdown 8th/9th inning combo had a great series against Chicago, combining for 4 innings pitched and 8 strikeouts without walking a single Cubs batter.

Swarzak: 2 holds (19, 20), 2 IP, 4 K

Knebel: 2 saves (33, 34), 2 IP, 2 H, 4 K

If the Brewers are going to be able to make their way back from the depths into a playoff spot, the pitching staff is going to be key, as is the back end of the bullpen.

Prospect Update

AAA: Colorado Springs

Lewis Brinson (Brewers No. 1 Prospect; MLB.com’s #13 overall): .331, 22 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 11 SB (76 games) Currently out with hamstring injury

Mauricio Dubon (Brewers No. 9 Prospect): .272, 15 2B, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 7 SB (58 games played with CS)

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .400, 2 2B, 2 RBI (3 games)

Brett Phillips (Brewers No. 12 Prospect): .305, 23 2B, 10 3B, 19 HR, 78 RBI, 9 SB (105 games with CS)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #75 overall): 4-7, 4.01 ERA, 94.1 IP, 79 K, 37 BB, 1.23 WHIP, .227 Opponent AVG

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-3, 2.10 ERA, 85.2 IP, 84 K, 20 BB, 1.00 WHIP, .212 AVG

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 18 Prospect): .239, 4 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 3 SB (23 games)

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #63 overall): .238, 29 2B, 7 HR, 48 RBI, 24 SB at A Adv Carolina (106 games)

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #88 overall): .333, 11 2B, 2 3B, 15 RBI, 2 SB at A Wisconsin (27 games)

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 3-4, 4.60 ERA, 72.1 IP, 57 K, 28 BB, 1.29 WHIP, .241 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 25 Prospect): .251, 16 2B, 4 HR, 36 RBI, 10 SB at A Wisconsin (104 games)