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Brewers Offseason Outlook: Top 10 Prospects

The MLB offseason brings all kinds of speculation for Brewers fans. Who will be signed? Will any significant trades be made? How is the minor-league pipeline looking, and can any prospects fill holes on the roster? In this three-piece “Brewers Offseason Outlook” series, I will examine each of those three areas and try to provide answers and context.

First off, we will focus on the prospects. I am offering my personal organizational top-10, and will highlight the chances each has at contributing to the big-league club in 2019. Here we go:

  1. Marcos Diplan, RHP

A 22-year-old right hander from the Dominican Republic, Diplan has the potential to be a mid-rotation arm. His fastball and slider both flash plus potential, but “flash” is the key word there. He has battled inconsistency throughout the past two years, as his below average control had led him astray at times. He walked nearly six batters per nine innings in 2018, but was able to maintain a solid ERA of 4.03 while spending time in both Class A-Advanced and Double A. Diplan still has some ways to go before being major-league ready, but he has the chance to be a valuable piece to either the Brewers’ rotation or bullpen in the future. If we see him in 2019, it will almost certainly be in the bullpen.

2019 Contribution Potential: Low

  1. Jacob Nottingham, C

Nottingham came to the Brewers in David Stearns’ first offseason as the key prospect in the return for Khris Davis. Nottingham has evolved quite a bit as a prospect since then. His power bat was originally supposed to be his calling card to a big-league future, but he has now transformed into an all-around catcher that is more solid defensively than offensively. He has an above average arm that should help him adequately control potential base-stealers. At the plate, his power has yet to fully materialize, but he should be able to sustain a reasonable slash line for a catcher. With Erik Kratz hitting free agency, Nottingham could have an opportunity to step into a large role in 2019 should the Brewers not seek any outside catching help.

2019 Contribution Potential: High

  1. Joe Gray, OF

Gray was the Brewers’ second-round draft pick this past June. He carries a lot of similar traits to former Brewers prospect Monte Harrison, in that both were extremely raw skill-wise and athletically gifted upon being drafted. Gray had a tough time adjusting in rookie-ball after signing, hitting .182/.347/.325 in 24 games for the Arizona League Brewers. However, he possesses all the tools necessary to become a dynamic player at the big-league level. Gray’s development will certainly take time, but if all goes right he could be an athletic, middle-of-the-order outfielder.

2019 Contribution Potential: None

  1. Mauricio Dubon, SS/2B

Dubon was primed for a call-up in May of this year to help fix the Brewers’ middle infield struggles after he started the season hot in Triple A, hitting .343/.348/.574 through his first 27 games. Fate would have it differently, however, as Dubon suffered a season ending ACL tear that removed him from the Brewers’ immediate plans. Dubon offers versatility as a player that has the defensive skills to succeed at either second base or shortstop, while also providing a solid bat and above-average speed. Barring another injury, Dubon should be in Milwaukee at some point in 2019 as either a platoon infielder or bench piece, and could potentially make the Opening Day roster if he stands out in Spring Training.

2019 Contribution Potential: High

  1. Lucas Erceg, 3B

As the Brewers’ second-round draft pick in 2016, Erceg immediately impressed with his abilities at the plate, hitting .327/.376/.518 in his first professional season. His performance has been less impressive since, as he most recently produced a slash line of .248/.306/.382 with the Double A Biloxi Shuckers. Erceg offers potential above average power, and has an absolute cannon for an arm at third base. He also is fairly good at managing the strike zone, as he achieved a solid strikeout rate of 16%. Erceg will likely not be a significant contributor in 2019 due to Travis Shaw’s presence at third base, but could be added as a bench bat down the stretch if he heats up in the minors, or if an injury bug hits the Brewers’ infielder core.

2019 Contribution Potential: Medium

  1. Tristen Lutz, OF

After being a supplemental first-round pick for the Brewers in 2017, Lutz impressed in his first full season in 2018. After a slow start, Lutz went on to hit .263/.346/.456 in the second half, performing especially well in the month of July when he posted a .967 OPS. Lutz profiles as a prototypical power-hitting right fielder, where he can utilize his plus arm strength in the field and slot in as a middle-of-the-order bat. Lutz is a prospect that could potentially take off in 2019 if everything comes together, and he possesses one of the highest ceilings in the system. Lutz doesn’t look to have a chance to factor in for the Crew in 2019 given the amount of development still needed, with the most likely way he contributes being as a trade chip.

2019 Contribution Potential: None

  1. Zack Brown, RHP

After quietly putting up two nice campaigns following being drafted as a fifth-rounder in 2016, Brown burst onto the scene in 2018 with his elite performance, pitching to a 2.44 ERA and a 9-1 record in 21 games started. Brown relies on an above-average fastball/curveball combo, with his changeup acting a reliable third offering. Brown has at times been marked down for having inconsistent command, but that did not appear to be too large of an issue in 2018 as he posted a 2.58 BB/9 ratio. Brown strikes out hitters enough to be an effective starter at the next level (8.31 K/9), and profiles as a mid-rotation workhorse at the next level. Brown could potentially contribute in the rotation in 2019 if his performance or an injury to a starter warrants it, but he is more likely to play a role as a high leverage middle reliever like Corbin Burnes did this year. If he performs well in Triple-A, expect him to be available for a call-up sometime in June.

2019 Contribution Potential: High

  1. Brice Turang, SS

After being lauded as the potential first overall pick in the 2018 draft for multiple years, scouts cooled off somewhat on Turang as a high school senior, causing him to fall to the Brewers’ first round selection at number 21. Turang grades out as at least above-average across the board in every category except for his power, which is currently below-average but could improve as he fills out his frame. Turang is extremely fluid in the field, making the likelihood he sticks at shortstop long-term very high. He certainly could also play second base if needed, and could even make a shift to centerfield given his arm strength and speed. Turang displayed an advanced hitting approach in his first taste of professional baseball, walking 16% of the time and keeping his strikeout rate below 20%. While his slash line of .283/.396/.352 shows the lack of power currently present, it should be viewed with optimism that he possesses such solid on-base skills, with increases in the power department serving merely as complements to this already considerable strength of his. Turang will not contribute in 2019, but could be a special player for the Crew in the future.

2019 Contribution Potential: None

  1. Corey Ray, OF

Ray came to Milwaukee with sky-high expectations as the fifth overall selection in the 2016 draft. As an athletic outfielder with great physical tools, Ray was expected to be a potential franchise cornerstone that could move quickly through the minor leagues. Two uninspiring seasons in the minors put some of that hype to rest, but a resurgent 2018 campaign added some fuel back to the fire. Ray greatly increased his power output, hitting 27 home runs and posting a .477 slugging percentage. He also proved his value as a threat on the bases, stealing 37 of them. However, he did display some swing and miss concerns, striking out nearly 30% of the time and hitting for an overall average of .239. Those numbers will need to improve for Ray to reach his ceiling, but he is an exciting prospect that could definitely provide value as a fourth outfielder or bench bat in 2019.

2019 Contribution Potential: Medium

  1. Keston Hiura, 2B

Regarded by all as the jewel of the Brewers system, Hiura offers an offensive ceiling that is among the best in all of baseball. It is topped amongst prospects perhaps only by Vlad Guerrero Jr., who has been dubbed as a generational hitting talent. Hiura put his offensive chops on full display in 2017 following his selection as the Brewers’ first round pick, hitting .371/.422/.611 across two levels of the minor leagues. He followed that up with a strong 2018 campaign in which he hit .293/.357/.464, and augmented this success by winning the MVP in the Arizona Fall League with a .323/.371/.563 slash that included 5 home runs and 33 RBI in just 23 games. This is a huge accomplishment, as most teams send their top prospects to the Arizona Fall League. While Hiura is considered elite at the plate, he still has some work to do on his second base defense, but this was to be expected considering the arm issues he had experienced in the past. With a second base hole looming on the major-league roster right now, many Brewers fan will be clamoring for Hiura to start the season in the lineup. Due to the Brewers wanting to delay the start of his major-league service time clock, and not to mention wanting to give him extra seasoning before facing major league pitching, Hiura will likely start the season in the minor leagues, but it would not be a surprise if he takes over the second base job at some point during the 2019 campaign.

2019 Contribution Potential: High

Brewers Week In Review: 8/14-8/20

Milwaukee entered the middle of August needing some big wins to keep pace with the Cubs near the top of the NL Central, and it’s safe to say they got them. After a 2-game series win over Pittsburgh at Miller Park, the Brewers began their critical 9-game road trip out west with a visit to Colorado and, beneficially, Coors Field. The environment brought some aid to the Crews’ struggling offense, as power hitters shined and players both tenured and new recorded much-needed base hits. With series against San Fran and L.A. on the horizon, will the Brewers’ hot streak continue?

Let’s take a moment to look at the week ahead.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: @ San Francisco (8/21-8/23) and @ Los Angeles Dodgers (8/25-8/27)

Pitching probables @ San Francisco: Zach Davies (14-6, 4.26 ERA) vs. Chris Stratton (1-2, 4.91 ERA); Jimmy Nelson (9-6, 3.74 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.79 ERA); Matt Garza (6-7, 4.81 ERA) vs. Matt Moore (4-12, 5.54 ERA)

Pitching probables @ Los Angeles: Chase Anderson (7-2, 2.83 ERA) vs. Kenta Maeda (11-5, 3.88 ERA); Zach Davies (14-6, 4.26 ERA) vs. Alex Wood (14-1, 2.30 ERA); Jimmy Nelson (9-6, 3.74 ERA) vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

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

Winner: Neil Walker

The new guy makes his way into the awards section of the Brewers Week In Review. Since coming to the Crew, Neil Walker has played great, hitting 9-for-20 with 1 home run and 5 RBIs. Also, to be honest, there really wasn’t anyone else that I could think of to put in this spot, as everyone just played solid baseball rather than go “balls to the wall” so to speak. However, that is not to say in the slightest that Neil Walker doesn’t deserve the heck out of this award.

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

Winner: Jesus Aguilar

Until the last two games of the Rockies series, this award may have gone to one Neil Walker. However, I mean, come on. How can you beat two home runs, both of which turned out to be crucial in terms of insurance for the Brewers in their series win, the award has to go to Aguilar this week. Not only was this the best week of the season for Aguilar, it may just have given him the edge over Eric Thames when it comes to the battle of first basemen for the rest of the stretch run.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Chase Anderson

Just like two weeks ago, the Ben Sheets Award goes to a pitcher who waited a long time for his next opportunity to come. This time, it’s Anderson. Making his first appearance following a serious oblique injury in June against Cincinnati, the right-hander impressed. While he was on a limited pitch count (threw just 73 pitches in 5 innings), he was often dominant in shutting down Colorado’s potent offense, giving up just two hits and one run while striking out four and notching his seventh win of the year. While he did struggle with walks and the bullpen did make things a bit… interesting near the end, Anderson did get the job done in his return, one which came just in time for Milwaukee in their pursuit of a playoff push.

Prospect Update

AAA: Colorado Springs

Lewis Brinson (Brewers No. 1 Prospect; MLB.com’s #15 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): .268, 13 2B, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 7 SB (46 games played with CS)

Brett Phillips (Brewers No. 12 Prospect): .316, 23 2B, 10 3B, 19 HR, 76 RBI, 9 SB (98 games with CS)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #79 overall): 4-6, 4.00 ERA, 83.1 IP, 75 K, 32 BB, 1.19 WHIP, .220 Opponent AVG

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-3, 2.20 ERA, 69.2 IP, 72 K, 10 BB, 0.95 WHIP, .217 AVG

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 18 Prospect): .289, 3 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB (10 games)

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #67 overall): .239, 25 2B, 7 HR, 46 RBI, 23 SB at A Adv Carolina (100 games)

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #92 overall): .347, 9 2B, 2 3B, 15 RBI, 2 SB at A Wisconsin (24 games) Currently on 7-day DL

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .246, 29 2B, 13 HR, 70 RBI at A Adv Carolina (118 games)

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 3-4, 4.81 ERA, 67.1 IP, 55 K, 26 BB, 1.31 WHIP, .244 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 25 Prospect): .249, 14 2B, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 9 SB at A Wisconsin (94 games)

King of the Diamond- Week of 6/12-6/18

If this is your first time checking out King of the Diamond pieces, here’s what you can look forward to seeing:

Every Monday we will look at which Milwaukee Brewer stood out from a game changing performance, or provided consistent production over the previous week. We will do the same for one other player within the NL Central (Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates).

The Brewers put together an impressive 5-2 week with series wins over the San Diego Padres and divisional-rival St. Louis Cardinals. Milwaukee’s bullpen continues to be a large question mark, but the offense was able to bail the bullpen out on multiple occasions.

King of the Diamond- Eric Thames

Image result for eric thames

The surprise of the year continues to thrash opposing pitchers and therefore wins this week’s diamond award. This past week Thames notched dingers in four straight games, including a go-ahead home run in the ninth to beat the Cardinals and a walk off home run to defeat the Padres 6-5 in 10 innings. Thames now has 20 bombs on the year and should have no problem reaching 40 by the end of the season.

King of the Diamond- Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals

Image result for dexter fowler

After being a huge disappointment to begin the season, Fowler appears to have found his stroke. Over the past week, he has seen his season batting average spike from .230 to .254. Similar to Thames, he has homered in four straight games and now leads his team with 13 home runs. The Cardinals have had a sub-par year sitting six games under .500 but only 5.5 games behind Milwaukee for the division lead. Fowler finding his stroke will be huge down the road for the Cards if he can keep things going.

Chasing October: Brewers Trade Targets

The Brewers currently sit atop the NL Central with a record of 52-35. However, to win their first division title since 2011 (and inject misery into the hearts of hordes of Cubs fans), they will need to upgrade their roster as it currently stands. The Brewers have a bevy of needs across the board, most notably at either of the middle infield positions, the bullpen, or the front of the rotation. Here are some players the Brewers have either been linked to or should target in the weeks leading up to the July 31st deadline (for your peace of mind or lack thereof, a “Keston Hiura trade inclusivity” field has been added for each target):

Starting Pitcher

Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom – These two are the “elite” options that the Brewers could pursue to give their rotation a massive upgrade. DeGrom comes with 2.5 years of controllability and a sterling 1.84 ERA. He is likely a top-5 arm in the MLB, and is likely one of the very few players the Brewers would give up Keston Hiura for. Syndergaard is probably on that list as well. He has 3.5 years of controllability remaining, but comes with some injury concerns. He is an ace nonetheless, and currently sports an ERA of 3.06. Acquiring one of these arms would clear the top of the Brewers farm, but that may be the price for a deep postseason run in Milwaukee. Recent reports have pegged these two as now being off the market, but you’d have to think the Mets would pull the trigger if the offer is right. Requires Hiura: Yes and Yes

Michael Fulmer – Fulmer is a young arm that is on the peak of greatness. After an impressive rookie campaign for Detroit in 2016, many thought we would see Fulmer emerge as a bonafide ace in 2017. However, injuries hampered his effectiveness, and his struggles have seemed to dampen his outlook for the time being.  He still holds great potential as a front-end starter and would require a combination of high-level prospects to pry him away from Detroit. He currently holds a 4.22 ERA with a mediocre K/9 of 7.62, so the Tigers may want to hang onto him and try to rebuild his one sky-high value. Requires Hiura: Maybe

Middle Infield

Manny Machado – The Orioles shortstop/third baseman has been floated as a trade possibility for the Crew, and for good reason. He is an elite MVP level talent, and is currently hitting .308/.378/.561. He is poised to land a massive free agent contract in the offseason, meaning that he would only be a Brewer for half of a season. His price could be too high for Stearns to pull the trigger on a rental, but anything is possible. Requires Hiura: Maybe

Jed Lowrie – Aside from Manny Machado, Lowrie is likely the next-best infielder that could be on the trading block this July. The Athletics are just barely hanging on to their playoff aspirations, as they sit 7 games back of the second wild card in the AL. Lowrie offers the positional versatility the Brewers covet (can play both positions up the middle) and would be a drastic offensive upgrade at either middle infield position. He is currently hitting .291/.357/.498 with 14 HR, and has accrued 3.1 WAR thus far. Lowrie is on the last year of his contract making him a pure rental, but he could be part of what pushes the Brewers over the top. Requires Hiura: No

Derek Dietrich – Dietrich was connected to the Brewers a couple weeks ago as a trade target, and for good reason. The Miami utility man could fill Milwaukee’s second base hole while providing a great offensive boost. He is currently hitting .287/.346/.459, but does not grade out as well defensively. He will certainly be available as the Marlins continue their firesale, and would come with a moderate price tag that the Brewers should be able to easily meet. Requires Hiura: No

Whit Merrifield – Merrifield is yet another second base option that should be available due to the Royals rebuild. His offense has taken a slight step back this year in the power department, but he had made up for it with improved plate discipline. He would certainly be an upgrade for the Crew with his .288/.358/.411 slash line. Merrifield likely will have a higher price than Dietrich due to his 3 remaining years of controllability. Requires Hiura: No

Bullpen

Who knows. A multitude of names are available, but it ultimately will come down to price and fit for David Stearns.

Additional Possibilities

Catcher:Wilson Ramos, JT Realmuto – The price on Realmuto will be high, but the Brewers are struggling to generate offense behind the dish. Both Ramos and Realmuto are offensively sound, and don’t sacrifice any skill defensively either. Requires Hiura: Ramos – No, Realmuto – Yes

Rotation Depth: J.A. Happ – Even though Stearns has stated publicly he will look for a starter to lead the rotation, Happ would be the best fallback option should he decide to go for depth. He won’t command the sky high prospect haul of Syndergaard or DeGrom, but the price won’t be cheap to acquire his services. Requires Hiura: No

Making the Postseason: Part V

One common link to the Brewers most recent playoff appearances has been the acquisition of a top-notch ace to the starting rotation. In 2008, CC Sabathia was acquired on July 7th and carried the Brewers on his back to a Wild Card berth and their first playoff appearance in 26 seasons. Sabathia pitched 130 2/3 innings for the Brewers posting a 1.65 ERA, 128 strikeouts/25 walks, 14 team wins in 17 starts, seven complete games and as mentioned one drought ending playoff berth.

Two years later, after having arguably the best offense in the National League in 2010 with rising stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers stumbled to a 77-85 record due to a porous starting rotation consisting of Jeff Suppan, Dave Bush and Doug Davis. General Manager Doug Melvin immediately revamped the starting rotation in the offseason, trading for Shaun Marcum and then landing the 2009 American League Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke in a trade. While Melvin gave up top prospects in both deals the new combo joined current starters Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson to help immediately jumpstart the starting rotation and lead the Brewers to a franchise record 96-wins and to the NLCS.

The 2018 Brewers don’t have a bonafide ace leading their rotation, but they have been able to string together solid pitching and have been led by Jhoulys Chacin (8-3, 3.68 ERA, 6 Quality Starts (QS)), Chase Anderson (6-7, 3.78 ERA, 8 QS), and Junior Guerra (6-6, 3.23 ERA, 7 QS). Lefthander Brent Suter (8-6, 4.39 ERA, 2 QS) has filled in admirably after starting the season out of the bullpen. 22-year-old Freddy Peralta (4-1, 2.65 ERA) has thrown an impressive 50 strikeouts in his first seven MLB games, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the second half when given the opportunity. Brandon Woodruff (2-0, 4.44 ERA) has been up and down in his four spot starts and will most likely be kept in the bullpen or at AAA Colorado Springs, making an occasional spot start when needed.

Zach Davies (2-5, 5.23 ERA) had some high hopes for 2018 but those hopes, and expectations have been squashed due to various injuries. In the eight games Davies’ has pitched in in 2018 it hasn’t been pretty. Davies, who was acquired for Gerardo Parra from the Baltimore Orioles when the Brewers were sellers on trade deadline day in 2015, has most recently been recovering from a shoulder ailment and had a set back while pitching for the class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in which he exited his rehab start on July 2nd after experiencing lower back tightness. The timetable for his return is still up in the air as manager Craig Counsell was quoted as saying that the team will need to take “more conservative stance” on Davies’ rehabilitation.

Lefthander Wade Miley (1-1, 2.38 ERA) will make the first start for the Brewers in the second half of the season against the Dodgers. After being on the 60-day disabled list Miley came back to pitch five innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing two runs on four hits on July 12th. The Brewers are hoping the 31-year-old can be a steady presence for the pitching staff and maybe re-find the spark he had while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was named an All-Star in his rookie season of 2012. The last few seasons have not been kind to Miley. While with the Orioles last season Miley set career worsts in ERA (5.61), losses (15) and walks (93), so the Brewers are not looking at Miley to be a savior by any means, but more so a cheap roll of the dice on an experienced lefty to find whether he has anything left in the tank and hopefully to eat some quality innings up.

Who can the Brewers add to their starting pitching staff to help get them to October baseball?

The obvious elephant in the room is when Jimmy Nelson will return to the team? Nelson, who has been out with since September 8, 2017 with a right rotator cuff tear and partial anterior labrum tear is still going through rehab and it is very uncertain of where Nelson is in the process as the last reports were that he has not thrown off a mound yet. Nelson would be a great in-house addition, however that would be if he were able to match or at least come close to his 2017 performance of 199 strikeouts and a 3.49 ERA while posting a 12-6 record. There are a lot of questions concerning Nelson’s status for 2018 and the trade deadline could reveal what the Brewers’ thoughts are on Nelson not only returning but also being able to positively contribute this season.

From the Minor League System, the Brewers could hope that the early promising display by Freddy Peralta isn’t a flash in the pan and he is given more opportunities to start and earn his keep. Corbin Burnes has been a very exciting call up, but for now the Brewers will keep him in the bullpen even though he came through the system as a starter.

Most likely the Brewers Minor League system will produce the attractive young pitching prospects to help lure seasoned and proven pitching help to get the Brewers to playing in October this year. Such prospects include RHP Luis Ortiz, LHP Kodi Medeiros and RHP Marcos Diplan whom are all on the Brewers’ top 30 prospect list.

The trade deadline is approaching on July 31 and some names that have been brought up include:

J.A. Happ- Toronto Blue Jays- the 35-year-old lefthander is having a career year and made his first All-Star appearance posting a 10-6 record, 4.29 ERA, 121 strikeouts and 8 QS. Happ wouldn’t be the ace but would help solidify a quality rotation for the final two-plus month stretch of the season.

Cole Hamels- Texas Rangers– the 34-year-old, four time all star and 2008 World Series MVP is just 5-8 with a 4.36 ERA but could use a change of scenery as Texas finds themselves in a rebuild and a chance to return to the postseason might just be the trick to rejuvenate Hamel’s down the stretch. Hamel’s contract is set to expire this year and has a history of big game success.

Chris Archer- Tampa Bay Rays– Archer hasn’t shown his previous ace like stuff over the course of 2018 and the stars seem to be aligning in Tampa Bay for a time to make a move. While also dealing with an abdominal strain the 29-year-old, two time All-Star, has posted a 3-4 record with a 4.29 ERA. Archer does have an appealing contract situation which a small market team, like the Brewers, would drool over. If the club options are picked up, Archer would be owed $26.67 million total from 2019-2021. However, Archer would come at a relatively steep price tag, but if he can get on track the move could pay off great dividends immediately and for the next few seasons to come.

Tyson Ross- San Diego Padres- with the Padres looking to unload all of their Major League assets it would seem that the Brewers may have a chance to acquire Ross to eat up innings at a low cost. Ross is set to be a free agent after the season and the 31-year old has 11 quality starts to go along with a 5-8 record on a dreadful Padres ball club and a 4.32 ERA. Ross presents as a quality, lower cost possible acquisition who was an All-Star in 2014 and while he has had questions about his consistency, but has several suitors calling the Padres inquiring about him.

Jacob deGrom- New York Mets– the Mets’ pitcher has been one of the best in all of baseball and while there were rumors connecting him to the Brewers, it is believed that ship has sailed, and deGrom will sign a long-term deal with the Mets or it would take a king’s ransom the Brewers cannot provide to get him.

How will the current rotation work out in the final two months?

With the stellar performance by the bullpen being a key reason to the Brewers’ first half success it will be up to the starters to keep accumulating quality starts and eating up innings to give the bullpen rest and help give the team a boost in the race for October. When the Brewers lost out to the Dodgers for the services to star shortstop Manny Machado it has led many speculations to believe that GM David Stearns will be focusing on adding an arm as the injury bug will likely rear its ugly head at least once more as the season rolls on.

Craig Counsell and pitching coach Derek Johnson will need to count on their staff to get every out they possibly can and start to rake up more quality starts. A quality start is a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs. The MLB leaders in the first half are the Astros’ Justin Verlander, Nationals’ Max Scherzer and Indians’ Corey Kluber all whom have 17 quality starts. As shown in the stats of the Brewers’ starters above the team leader thus far is Anderson with eight.

Expect that Stearns shores up the middle infield by acquiring Brian Dozier or a comparable player and then also looks to help solidify the starting rotation adding someone in the form of J.A. Happ or Tyson Ross. However, Stearns has proven to be a very shrewd and successful General Manager in his brief tenure in the position and now with the Brewers knocking on the door the playoffs Stearns needs to play the right cards over the next 11 days to help find the right pieces to kick the door down. While the chance of hitting the jackpot with Machado didn’t happen the Brewers must do all they can to help increase their playoff chances while fighting a tight battle with the Chicago Cubs (and possibly St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates) for the NL Central title and the Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, and Washington Nationals for one of the two available Wild Card spots.

One thing all Brewers’ fans can agree on is that it’s very fun to be ahead of the “rebuilding” schedule.

Brewers @ Reds Series Recap 4/30-5/2

The Brewers got back on track this week after a brutal weekend in Chicago. After being swept out of Chicago, they responded nicely taking all three games in Cincinnati. In Chicago they scored a total of two runs in four games. Until last weekend I didn’t know that was possible. In Cincinnati, the offense was better scoring 16 runs over the three games.

Image via NewsDay

In game one, a little history was made. Josh Hader saved the game for the Brewers pitching the last 2.2 innings. Every single out he recorded was a strikeout. He became the first pitcher in MLB history to record eight punch-outs in an outing of less than three innings. The only blemish on his stat line was a lone walk. Domingo Santana had the go ahead extra base hit in the seventh inning to put the Brewers ahead for good. That was great to see considering Domingo’s struggles at the plate over the first month of the season. Jhoulys Chacin was bad yet again. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning while giving up four earned runs, walking three and striking out just one. He was been big disappointment so far.

Image via CBSSports.com

Game two saw the Brewers get off to fast start with back-to-back homers in the first from Shaw and Aguilar. It was 3-0 Brewers before the Reds even came up to bat. Unfortunately they would tie the game after one. It was another sluggish start for a Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher. Chase Anderson lasted just 5.1 innings, giving up four runs, while walking four, and striking out four. Ryan Braun hit a 2-run double in the fifth inning to put the Brewers ahead for good. With Corey Knebel still out, Craig Counsell went to Jeremy Jeffress to get the last five outs of the game and he did just that on only 13 pitches.

Image via AP

Game three was the lone pitchers duel of the series. Wade Miley made his Brewers debut in impressive fashion. Going six innings, allowing just one run on three hits, walking three, striking out four. The Brewers got a go ahead homerun from Christian Yelich in the 5th inning. After throwing only 13 pitches in the previous nights save, Counsell went to JJ again to get the last six outs. He, for the second night in a row, delivered.

Image via Madison.com

The Reds are awful, and it’s no secret. If the Brewers want to be playing relevant baseball in September, they need to continue to beat teams like the Reds regularly. Especially if they continue to crap all over themselves against the Cubs.

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.

King of the Diamond- Week of 5/22

If this is your first time checking out King of the Diamond pieces, here’s what you can look forward to seeing:

Every Monday we will look at which Milwaukee Brewer stood out from a game changing performance, or provided consistent production over the previous week. We will do the same for one other player within the NL Central (Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Pirates).

The Brewers had a rough beginning this past week, losing five games in a row that began last Sunday. They saw their division lead evaporate, and needed to stop the bleeding in order to remain atop the NL Central.

King of the Diamond- Chase Anderson

Image result for chase anderson brewersChase Anderson picks up his first King of the Diamond award after a stellar performance that snapped Milwaukee’s five game losing streak. So far this season, Anderson has been rather average, earning a decision in just four out of ten starts this year. Saturday appeared to erase all of this, as Anderson failed to allow a hit through seven strong before a lead-off single in the eighth ended his hopes for a no-hitter. Despite Anderson coming up just short of what would have been the MLB’s first no-no this season, he picked up the much needed win with seven strong innings, allowing just one hit while striking out eleven. Milwaukee picked up another win Sunday afternoon to end the week on a high note.

King of the Diamond- Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds

Image result for zack cozart

The NL Central continues to be the most competitive division in all of baseball, with all five teams separated by a mere four games. The Reds are fourth in the division but are just two-and-a-half games behind the Brewers for the division lead. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart earns our divisional King of the Diamond award this week. He has been a pleasant surprise for Cincinnati this season and currently holds an eleven-game hit streak and has recorded a hit in 19 of his last 20 games played. Cozart has been on an offensive onslaught all season long and could be a valuable trade asset should the Cincinnati become active in the trade market.

How Many Stars Will the Crew Send to Washington?

The 2018 MLB All-Star Game is fast approaching, with fan voting ending this coming Thursday. The annual midsummer classic will be hosted by the Washington Nationals this year, and should be a chance for the Brewers to showcase some of their high-level talent on a national stage. While it looks like no Brewers will make the starting line-up via the fan ballot, your local nine should be able to still place multiple players on the roster via the players’ vote and manager picks. Let’s take a look at which Brewers have the best chance of representing the Crew come July 17th.

Josh Hader, RP

Hader has the most obvious case of any Brewer. He’s gained national notoriety for his dominance out of the ‘pen, and has made a case for being the best reliever in the NL. He leads the league in K/9 with 17.5, which is a whopping 3 strikeouts better than the second-place Tony Cingrani (14.5 K/9). He leads all NL relievers in WAR at 2.3, which is nearly a full-win better than second-place Adam Ottavino of the Colorado Rockies (see a trend here?). Even though he recently ran into his first rough patch of the season, it would be an upset if Hader is not suited up as an NL All-Star.

Lorenzo Cain, OF

Much like Hader, Lorenzo Cain has separated himself as the best performing outfielder this season. He carries a .291/.394/.438 slash line on offense, and has played elite defense by posting the second-most defensive runs saved in the NL. He currently leads all NL outfielders in WAR at 3.3, which is 0.7 WAR ahead of second-place Brandon Nimmo. 3.3 WAR also puts him at second-place for all NL position players, behind only Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves (3.4). Cain likely would hold the lead if not for his recent injury. He is someone who doesn’t have the name recognition or public perception as being an MVP level talent, but his performance this year certainly warrants his name entering the conversation. A snub from the All-Star game would be astonishing.

Christian Yelich, OF

Yelich is slightly more on the fence than Cain and Hader. He is having a great offensive season, hitting .289/.364/.471 with 11 HR, 34 RBI, and 10 SB. His WAR of 2.1 places him as the 5th best outfielder in the NL. His issue, however, is that of the few players that have performed better than him, only one is currently in a starting spot from fan voting. Currently, Nick Markakis (2.4 WAR, .883 OPS), Matt Kemp (1.4 WAR, .864 OPS), and Bryce Harper (1.5 WAR, .848 OPS) have the top-3 balloting spots seemingly on lock, leaving little leeway in terms of the bevy of outfielders having all-star seasons to make the final roster. The NL roster took 5 reserve outfielders last season, and it is easy to see Yelich getting lost in the mix (regardless of the stats) among candidates that include big names like Charlie Blackmon and AJ Pollack, young stars like Juan Soto and Brandon Nimmo, and players having statistically impressive seasons like Cain and Albert Almora. While Yelich does carry some name power, it will be interesting to see if the NL manager is willing to give two outfield spots to the Brewers.

Jesus Aguilar, 1B

This is likely to be one of the more interesting decisions regarding the All-Star game and the Brewers. Up until 2 weeks ago, no one would have mentioned “Jesus Aguilar” and “All-Star game” in the same sentence. However, Aguilar then went on to mash 7 home runs with a 1.444 OPS since June 17th to vault himself into the conversation. Aguilar currently holds a lead in two “counting” stats that may interest the NL manager that ends up picking the roster, and he leads the all first basemen in home runs (19) and slugging percentage (.627). His overall line of .309/.368/.627 is probably the most impressive in the NL. The one problem is that first base is an extremely deep position in the NL, so Aguilar is currently sitting tied for fifth in WAR among first basemen. The current leading vote getter is Freddie Freeman, who has been far and away the best first baseman in the NL this season. Aguilar will be going against names like Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Brandon Belt, and Eric Hosmer to secure an all-star bid as a reserve. Regardless of how deserving Aguilar may be, it may be tough for him to overcome the combination of name recognition and performance on that list.

Jeremy Jeffress, RP

The final Brewers candidate is Jeffress, a guy who forms a large part of the heart and soul of this ball club. Jeffress ranks 5th among NL relievers in ERA and has been instrumental in providing Hader and Knebel with help in the backend. Jeffress may not have as clear of a case as some other relievers that may be more “dominant”, but he deserves a look nonetheless.

The Emergence of Travis Shaw

Background

David Stearns’ managerial magic has been showing all season with the rewards of a bevy of trades from the season before, leaving the team with their several well-known players being replaced by numerous top prospects. One of the trades last season among the blockbusters that included the departure of Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis, was the decision to move Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox.

Thornburg, a very good reliever for the Brewers was traded to a contender that needed him, in exchange for three players including short-lived Major Leaguer, Travis Shaw. As this season reaches its midway point, this lesser known trade has become one of Stearns’ defining decisions in bringing in a cornerstone third-basemen for the Milwaukee Brewers. While Thornburg is still yet to pitch an inning for the Red Sox because of an injury, Shaw has become one of the most important players of the Brewers overhauled roster.

Performance

Over the last few games, Travis Shaw has shown time and time again why he should be considered for this year’s National League All-Star team. Batting .294 with 17 Home Runs, including three in his past three games as of June 30, Shaw has put on a show for Brewers fans. “The Mayor of Ding Dong City” came to the team without a clear starting role, but he has now established in himself as the Brewers third basemen and maybe the most reliable and effective hitter while Ryan Braun was on the DL.

Shaw’s stats resemble other top NL 3B including Nolan Arenado, who he currently ties in wOBA. His home run total is already more than he had the previous year and with half as many games played. The left-handed hitter has been a major source of consistency for the Brewers down the road. He also continues to show improvement as his strikeout to hit ratio continues to decrease, and his power surges.

Looking On

With the Brewers holding his contract until at least 2021, Stearns has found another face of a rebuilding team that can continue to grow while maintaining a realistic payroll. Stearns continues to target players that the Brewers can control and develop so that several years down the road, there will be pieces for a serious title run. His approach can be read about further in this earlier article. As it stands right now, it seems the Brewers are much closer to this plan than expected as they continue to hold their own atop the NL Central in part because of a potential All-Star in Travis Shaw.

(NL Central Standings Per ESPN.com)