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Thursday, May 23rd 2019
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Brewers of the future: Lewis Brinson

This is the first chapter of a series that will dissect players who will likely be contributors to the Milwaukee Brewers for the years to come. These pieces will discuss who the player is and who the player can be.

If you don’t closely follow the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, the name Lewis Brinson might not mean much to you. But if you paid attention during last year’s trade deadline, you would know that Brinson was the crown jewel of the trade that sent Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to the Texas Rangers. After shortstop Orlando Arcia debuted with the Brewers last season, Brinson immediately became the organization’s top prospect, and was named the 18th best minor leaguer for 2017 by MLB Pipeline.

Brinson has long been regarded as a five tool caliber player. The Rangers saw enough potential in him to draft him 29th overall in 2012. At 22 years old, Brinson is much more polished and Major League ready than other top prospects, and he is expected to be called up to the big league club at some point this season.

Credit: milb.com

Brinson didn’t truly breakout in professional baseball until 2015 when he slashed .332/.403/.601, hit 20 home runs, and stole 18 bases in 100 games in Advanced-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Defensively, Brinson has been underrated but very efficient. In 428 professional games, he’s only committed 21 errors. If Brinson lives up to his potential, the Brewers could have another Ryan Braun in the outfield.

Speaking of Ryan Braun, he’s still on the team, which means there isn’t really a current open starting spot in the outfield. Keon Broxton will likely hold down the fort in centerfield after he broke out in 2016, and Domingo Santana will be given every chance to stay in right, so long as he’s able to stay healthy. If trade rumors surrounding Braun actually come to fruition (that’s a big if), Brinson will be the team’s full-time left fielder. A trade of Braun seemed imminent last year, but nothing happened. And nothing continued to happen throughout the offseason. If there was any time for Braun to be shipped, it was 2016.

What Brinson can be: Perennial All-Star

Hitting for power, hitting for average, speed, fielding, and arm strength. Those are the five tools in baseball. Brinson has exemplified each of those tools throughout his baseball career, including the early part of this year’s Spring Training. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report on Brinson states, “Few players in the Minors can match Brinson’s power and speed ceiling, the combination of which could make him a 30-homer/30-steal threat at maturity. After receiving a taste of Triple-A in late 2016, Brinson could be ready for his big league audition earlier than initially expected.”

Player comparison: Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen has epitomized consistency throughout his great career. McCutchen has been regarded among the best outfielders in baseball for nearly a decade, both on and off the field. While wearing the black and gold, McCutchen has hit for power and average, stolen bases, and even has a gold glove to his credit. In Pittsburgh’s community, McCutchen has embodied a charitable spirit, and has become one of the most charismatic representatives of the game. A combination of Brinson’s style, talent, and laid back attitude makes him a budding Andrew McCutchen (but perhaps with even more home run potential).
2017 stat projections: 51 G, 8 HR, 19 RBI, .266/.308/.409

Crew Lands Six in Baseball America Top 100

The future looks bright in Milwaukee. The Brewers recently placed six prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, showing that the system not only houses great talent, but great depth as well. Highly regarded prospects like outfielder Trent Clark and pitcher Phil Bickford were left off, while both could easily have made the list. A second drug-related suspension likely pushed Bickford out of consideration, with a string of injuries doing the same for Clark. They will look to bounce back in a big way in 2017.

Five of the six Brewers’ prospects that made the list were acquired within the last year, displaying the commitment that the organization made to develop young, controllable talent. The Crew will look to continue their rebuild this year, as they possess a high draft pick in the first round and also have several players that could turn into trade chips in exchange for more prospects come trade deadline time. Now, let’s look at each of the six prospects ranked in the Baseball America Top 100, with each of their respective rankings.

  1. Lewis Brinson, OF

Considered the jewel of the Brewers’ 2016 deadline deal with the Texas Rangers, Brinson possesses the potential to be one of the most special players in Brewers history. Drafted in the first round by the Rangers in 2012, Brinson has all the tools necessary to be a perennial all-star. Coupling his raw power with elite speed, he is a serious threat to be the first Brewers player to achieve a 30 home run-30 steal season since Ryan Braun in 2012. Brinson also has the ability to be a special defender, as his speed, arm, and instincts give him the ability to be a hawk in centerfield.

Brewers Offseason Recap/Spring Players to Watch

Brewers fans, the time has come! The start of spring training is here, which means that opening day is just that much closer (38 days, 14 hours, 44 minutes and 20 seconds from publishing this to be exact). The Brew Crew open up their games with a traditional exhibition against the UW-Milwaukee Panthers before starting their true spring tilts on Saturday against the Angels.

A Farewell to Chris Carter

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.”

Those are the iconic words sung by the child actors in the cinematic classic “The Sound of Music.”

Brewers to watch at Spring Training

February has come around again, and for followers of the pastime, that means baseball is not far away. Aside from the surprising free agent signing of Eric Thames, the Milwaukee Brewers have been relatively quiet this offseason. After trade speculation surrounded MVP outfielder Ryan Braun for the last season and a half, any and all rumors fell through and Braun remains the Brewers’ franchise player. Reliever Tyler Thornburg was sent to Boston in exchange for infielders Travis Shaw and Mauricio Dubon, and pitcher Josh Pennington. Additionally, long time backstop Martín Maldonado was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Jett Bandy. Other than those transactions, General Manager David Stearns has been mostly out of the spotlight. With that being said, the Brewers will still enter Spring Training with several players to watch, each with unique storylines.

1B/OF Eric Thames (2016: 40 HR, 118 RBI, .317/.425/.676 in Korean Baseball Organization)

Thames last played in the Majors in 2012 with the Blue Jays and Mariners, where he only appeared in 86 games and compiled an underwhelming slash line of .232/.273/.399. Thames is expected to be the Brewers’ primary first baseman, replacing Chris Carter who led the National League in home runs (41) in 2016. Carter’s contract was not tendered, and he became a free agent this offseason.

What makes Thames so intriguing is the apparent commitment the Brewers are making to him. Thames signed a 3-year contract worth at least $16M after he put up video game-type numbers in South Korea. In his three seasons there, Thames recored 472 hits, 124 home runs, and a batting average of .349. Those kind of numbers are more than enough to draw attention from big league clubs, but is a three year commitment viable? Although Thames was the KBO’s MVP in 2015, the pitching he will face in Major League Baseball is, frankly, much better. Nonetheless, the Brewers liked their chances with Thames’ lefty bat enough to let Carter walk.

SS Orlando Arcia (2016: 4 HR, 17 RBI, .219/.273/.358 with Brewers)

For the first time in his career, Orlando Arica will go to Spring Training knowing one thing is for certain—he will be a Major League starting shortstop afterwards. Arcia’s long awaited debut came last year, and he flashed the brilliance many have said he was capable of. Although he only hit .217 at the plate, Arcia showcased his defensive range and offensive aggressiveness.

Arcia was long regarded as one of the premier defensive players in the minors. In 2015, he broke out as a potential offensive threat as well, and skyrocketed up baseball prospect boards. Since then, Brewers fans longed for the day he would become the team’s next star. And at just 22 years old, he has plenty of time to develop. 2016 will be Arcia’s first full-season test at the big league level. With Jonathan Villar to his left at second base, Milwaukee’s middle infield could evolve into one of the most prolific in baseball.

LHP Josh Hader (2016: 3-8, 3.29 ERA, 126.0 IP, 161 SO in AA and AAA)

According to MLB Pipeline, Josh Hader is the best southpaw prospect. He has recently drawn ambitious comparisons to Chris Sale because of his lanky build and three-quarter delivery. The prize of the Carlos Gomez-Mike Fiers trade in 2015, Hader has been a strikeout machine since his pro debut in 2012 with the Baltimore Orioles’ organization. In 505.0 professional career innings pitched, Hader has struck out 578 batters, all while maintaining an ERA of 2.96 and a WHIP of 1.18. Most baseball pundits and columnists agree that, barring injury, 2017 will be the year Hader gets to toss his electric repertoire against Major Leaguers.

The Brewers have a good problem—too many starting pitchers. In addition to Hader, Taylor Jungmann, Tommy Milone, Wily Peralta, Brent Suter, Chase Anderson, Matt Garza, and Jorge Lopez will all be considered for spots in the rotation (with Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra, and Zach Davies being virtual locks). Regardless of Hader’s spring performance, it’s unlikely that he will see substantial playing time in the Majors early in the season, but he could be first name called in the case of an open roster spot during the 2017 campaign.

OF Keon Broxton (2016: 9 HR, 19 RBI, .242/.354/.430 with Brewers)

Keon Broxton was somewhat unknown among fans when the Brewers traded Jason Rogers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for him in 2015. Broxton was drafted in the third round in 2009 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but took longer than expected to blossom. He played in just seven games with the Pirates in 2015, but he earned the Opening Day start in center field for Milwaukee the following year. Broxton struggled initially, which led to multiple stints in AAA. However, in the latter half of the season and after adjusting his batting mechanics, Broxton became a reliable, consistent player, both offensively and defensively.

The Brewers have stockpiled talented outfielders in recent years, but even with young studs like Corey Ray, Lewis Brinson, and Brett Phillips nearing the Majors, Broxton’s spot on the team should be safe if he performs adequately this spring. Broxton has flashed signs of being a 20-20 player. He crushed nine home runs in just 75 games, and he stole 23 bases. If he’s able to stay consistent enough to stay in the bigs, he could be in for a breakout season in 2017.

2B/UTIL Scooter Gennett (2016: 14 HR, 56 RBI, .263/.317/.412 with Brewers)

With Arica easing in to the full-time shortstop role and Villar moving to second base, Scooter Gennett will have to learn new positions if he wants consistent playing time this season. Manager Craig Counsell told reporters in January that Gennett would be seeing time in the outfield in Spring Training, which is not unheard of. Gennett’s teammate Hernán Pérez, a third baseman by trade, saw extensive time in right field last year, in an effort to keep his solid bat in the lineup.

Having a switch hitter in Villar manning second base all but erases the need for a platoon at the position. If Gennett is able to handle the outfield transition without too many hiccups, it’s reasonable to expect him to share time with Domingo Santana in right field. Otherwise, Gennett could be moved towards the top of Stearns’ trade list.

Brewers add to bullpen, sign closer Feliz to 1-year deal

Early Thursday afternoon, the Brewers made a move that had been rumored for around a week by signing closer Neftali Feliz to a one-year, 5.35 million dollar contract. Along with the base salary, the deal could max out at 6.85 million with incentives. Milwaukee will be Feliz’s 3rd team in as many seasons and his 4th overall, having previously played for the Rangers, Tigers and Pirates.

Evaluating the Tyler Thornburg Deal

On Tuesday, December 6th, the Brewers kept their off-season wheels churning by trading closer Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Travis Shaw and minor league prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. The trade came as somewhat of a surprise, as Thornburg established himself in 2016 as a dominant reliever and possessed three more years of club control, but the Brewers obviously saw this as an opportunity to continue their rebuild by adding young, controllable pieces to both the big league club and the farm.

Thornburg started out the year as the Brewers set-up man, and was promoted to the role of closer after the subsequent trades of Jeremy Jeffress to Texas and Will Smith to San Francisco. His stat line does his dominance justice, as he pitched to an 8-5 record with a 2.12 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 67 appearances. He held opponents to a .162 batting average and converted 13 saves. Thornburg started his career in Milwaukee as a starting pitcher after being a well-regarded prospect, but was shifted to the bullpen during the 2013 season. Thornburg’s departure will bolster the back-end of Boston’s bullpen and leave a gaping hole in that of the Brewers, one which may be filled by in-house options such as Jacob Barnes, Jhan Mariñez, and Corey Knebel.

Now, let’s evaluate the three pieces that the Brewers acquired in the deal.

Travis Shaw, 3B

Shaw is a 26-year-old third baseman that will immediately slot in as the Brewers starting third baseman. He has split time at both third base and first base over his career, but due to the recent signing of Eric Thames, Shaw likely will not see much time there. This move almost certainly pushes Jonathan Villar to second base full-time. Shaw has a reputation as a power-hitter. In his introduction to the big leagues in 2015, he slashed .270/.327/.487 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games of action. He came into 2016 as the Red Sox starting third baseman, but was mostly platooned to the point where he faced almost exclusively right handed pitching. His performance dropped off a bit, as he hit .242/.306/.421, but he still holds good potential as a power bat. He also offers good defense at the hot corner. Shaw holds very high value due to the fact that he is controllable for the next five years.

Mauricio Dubon, SS

According to Baseball America, Dubon was the Red Sox 7th best prospect prior to the trade, and he slots in as the Brewers’ 9th best prospect according to MLB.com. Dubon is above-average in all areas except power. He is noted as having exceptional bat to ball skills, and should hit for a high average at any level. After starting the season at High-A Salem, he was promoted to Double-A Portland and thrived, ending the year as one of the top performers in the Eastern League. Between the two levels, he hit .323/.379/.461, and hit even better when you look at his Double-A performance exclusively (.339/.371/.538). Dubon doesn’t offer much home run power, but he does make hard contact consistently and should get a solid number of doubles. He also offers plus speed, as he stole 30 bases in 2016. Look for him to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs if the Brewers decide to be aggressive. While the Brewers currently have the middle of their infield locked up with Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Villar, Dubon is an excellent provider of depth and could be in a utility role as soon as later this year if he performs at a high level in the first half.

Josh Pennington, P

Pennington was rated as Boston’s 22nd best prospect prior to the trade according to MLB.com, and according to them he is not within the Brewers top-30 prospects following the trade. Pennington is a starting pitcher with a power arm, as his fastball can reach mid to upper 90s. He is a bit of an unknown, and is definitely a raw prospect. He played for Boston’s Class-A affiliate and performed well, pitching to a 2.86 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 13 appearances (56.2 innings). Given that he has a power fastball and curveball, a move to the bullpen could be the ultimate landing spot for Pennington. He likely will start the year with the Brewers’ new Class-A Advanced affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats.

Why the Brewers’ Signing of Eric Thames Makes Perfect Sense

The Brewers made their first splash of the offseason this past week, signing first baseman Eric Thames while non-tendering incumbent first baseman and NL home run leader Chris Carter. This may come as a surprise to many. However, when you look at the multitude of factors surrounding this decision and peel back the layers, it starts to make perfect sense, and could very well be a stroke of brilliance.

So who is Eric Thames? Well, his MLB pedigree doesn’t say much. Over 181 career games and 633 AB, Thames held a batting line of .250/.296/.431, while also striking out nearly 28% of the time. Like many young hitters, he lacked plate discipline and pitch recognition skills, leading to his extremely low on base percentage and ultimate exit from the MLB.

This prompted his move to the KBO League, South Korea’s equivalent of the MLB. The KBO has produced a number current major leaguers such as Cardinals’ reliever Seung-hwan Oh and Mariners’ first baseman/designated hitter Dae-ho Lee, both of whom proved to be effective contributors at the MLB level. Upon arriving in Korea, Thames miraculously transformed into the patient and powerful hitter that he always had the potential to be. In his first year in the KBO, he hit .343 and slugged .688, while also drawing 58 walks. He improved upon that with an even more outstanding year in 2015, when he hit .381 to go along with an otherworldly .790 slugging percentage, bolstered by 47 home runs and 42 doubles. He regressed slightly in 2016, hitting .321 with a .679 slugging percentage, but he still posted elite numbers nonetheless.

Despite this success, Thames is a wild card. His inability to hit major league pitching in the past still looms over him, but he certainly has seemed to make quite the transformation while overseas. In a worst case scenario, Thames’ success overseas has been due merely to a drop in competition and he fails to latch on as a major league contributor. I do not see this to be a scenario that has any significant chance of playing out, however. A more likely baseline would be that Thames’ hits in the .240 to .250 range with 20 plus home runs, which is great production for a first baseman at his price tag. This is only a baseline projection, and the possibility that he produces above it is definitely there and prevalent.

The logic of this addition comes when you look at what it means financially for the Brewers. Chris Carter was due to make in the neighborhood of $8-10 million through arbitration in each of the next two seasons. Let’s suppose he makes a cool $9 million in 2017 and 2018, which amounts to two years of Carter for $18 million. Comparatively, the Brewers will have Thames for three years and $16 million. Signing Thames gives the Brewers much more value, as well as similar offensive production. Carter’s elite power plays down because of his high strikeout rates and low batting average on balls in play (BABIP), not to mention additional troubles like his poor baserunning and defensive skills. Thames can be considered a comparable offensive weapon at this point in time, with the potential to out-perform Carter on multiple levels.

This signing is the epitome of low risk/high reward. If the Brewers have struck gold, they will have made the biggest steal of the offseason. Watching video on Thames, he reminds me more and more of a slugger very familiar to the Brewers: former first baseman Prince Fielder. Thames displays power to all fields much like Fielder did, and creates leverage through a slightly uphill swing plane, though it definitely is not as drastic as Fielder’s. However, to expect Thames to be the second-coming of the Prince to Milwaukee is much too steep. It is important for Brewers fans to keep expectations tempered and not buy into the hype until it (hopefully) becomes actualized.

The path Eric Thames has taken is anything but typical, but his exit from the MLB and subsequent time in South Korea could very well turn into an integral part of the Brewers rebuild. If all goes well, this signing could just be the latest example of how David Stearns and Co. are brewing something special in Milwaukee.

Season in Review: Top Takeaways from the 2016 Brewers

2016 generally went as expected for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers struggled on the field and key veteran pieces were traded for promising prospects, but faithful fans still arrived to Miller Park in droves, helping eclipse the 2.3 million tickets sold mark for the eleventh straight season. Numerous stories helped define the Brewers season, and here are some of those which stand out most.

The Most Hectic Offseason Possible

“Slingin” David Stearns had his work cut out for him when he assumed the position of Brewers GM in the fall of 2015. He was handed an underachieving big league roster and a mediocre minor league system, and wasted little time in tearing it apart. Heading into spring training, more than half of the 40-man roster that began the 2015 season with the Brewers had been flipped. Following up on his plan to infuse young, controllable talent into the minor league system, Stearns made a bevy of trades to acquire players that fit this mold. Two of the larger deals were sending power-hitting outfielder Khris Davis to Oakland for prospects Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby and trading Jean Segura to Arizona for starting pitcher Chase Anderson, infielder Aaron Hill, and prospect Isan Diaz. Both Diaz and Nottingham are regarded as top-20 prospects in the system and Chase Anderson proved to be a decent rotation option at the big league level. Hill, however, was traded to Boston in July after a hot start to the season, netting two organizational depth prospects in infielder Wendell Rijo and pitcher Aaron Wilkerson.

Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #1-5

We’ve made it. Finally, we arrive to the cream of the Brewers crop, the top five prospects in the system. These five are universally regarded as being the best that the Brewers have to offer, and it is easy to see why. All possess game-changing talent, and could realistically be perennial all-stars if they reach their respective ceilings. Only time will tell, but these five are the crux of why David Stearns and Co. are brewing something special in Milwaukee.

 

5. Phil Bickford P

Hours before the 2016 trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants decided to make a move to bolster the back-end of their bullpen by acquiring reliever Will Smith from the Brewers. Due to his value as a near elite left-handed specialist, Smith did not come at a low price, as the Giants had to give up top-100 prospect Phil Bickford and catcher Andrew Susac. Bickford was a two time first round draft pick, being the 10th overall pick in 2013 out of high school and then the 18th overall pick in 2015. His fastball is considered to be his best pitch, as he has a four-seam that can reach 98 mph (more recent reports however have suggested that his velocity has dropped) and a two-seam that comfortably sits anywhere from 89-92 mph. The two-seamer can be especially effective, as it possesses good arm-side run that makes it a swing and miss pitch. Bickford also throws an above-average slider and has a below-average yet developing change-up that should become a serviceable offering. One area in which he has reportedly struggled is with his command, with some saying that he is wild while others say he has pinpoint control. I do not perceive any major issues in that area, and assume the variability in reports is due to his ongoing development as a pitcher. His walk rate did balloon to 5.0 BB/9 after his trade to the Brewers, but he is a young pitcher, and command issues are bound to happen at times with stuff as “electric” as his.

Bickford started his professional career strong in 2015 with the Giants’ Arizona League affiliate, pitching to a 2.01 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. This earned him a promotion to Class-A for 2016, where he spent only 11 starts (2.70 ERA and 10.4 K/9) before being promoted to Class-A Advanced. He thrived there as well, and had a 2.73 ERA with 9.8 K/9 prior to being traded to the Brewers. He struggled by his standards upon arriving with the Brewers Class-A Advanced affiliate Brevard County, but still achieved a respectable 3.67 ERA with 10.0 K/9 in a league where he was more than three years younger than the average player.