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Thursday, October 17th 2019
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Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #11-15

This week’s group of five prospects all share a common theme: they have sky-high potential. With all of these prospects being from the Doug Melvin era, where he focused on acquiring players with raw talent that could be transformed into major league skills, it makes sense that some have struggled in developing while others have thrived. It is very logical to think that all five of these prospects could be above-average major leaguers, but it is also a likely possibility that they could falter (or in certain cases, keep faltering) in the minor leagues and never make it to Milwaukee. Only time will tell, but I believe that we will soon see at least a couple of these players in Brewers uniforms for years to come. Here are top prospects #11-15:

15. Monte Harrison OF

Monte Harrison was one of three high-risk, high-reward high school prospects (along with unranked prospects Jake Gatewood and Kodi Medeiros) that the Brewers gambled on in the first two rounds of the 2014 MLB draft, as the Crew selected him with the 50th overall pick. Following the Brewers’ disappointing 2013 season in which the big league club struggled, Ryan Braun’s Biogenisis scandal came to fruition, and the minor league system lacked any meaningful talent, general manager Doug Melvin looked to these three high school prospects to kick-start a rejuvenation of youth in the organization. The Brewers signed Harrison for $1.8 million, a hefty over-slot bonus that was necessary to lure Harrison away from his commitment to play both football and baseball at the University of Nebraska. This investment has not been substantiated thus far, as he has struggled to stay healthy and perform to the level expected of him.

Harrison certainly possesses all the peripherals of a major league player. He is a physical specimen, standing at 6’3” and 220 lbs. with an extremely muscular and athletic build, making his teammates look miniature in comparison. He has elite speed and a cannon for an arm, allowing him to be utilized as a defensive weapon. His strength gives him above-average raw power. While he certainly has the look of a big leaguer, his performance has lagged. After a mediocre professional debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2014, the Brewers aggressively assigned Harrison to the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, where he significantly struggled on his way to a .148/.246/.247 batting line while striking out in nearly 42% of his plate appearances in 46 games. After being reassigned to the Helena Brewers of the more appropriate rookie-level Pioneer League, Harrison thrived, hitting .299/.410/.474 with 14 stolen bases in 28 games. However, his breakout was halted by an ankle injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Back at Class-A Wisconsin in 2016, Harrison’s struggles resurfaced, as nagging injuries held him to playing in only 80 games, in which he hit .220/.300/.339. Given his performance, Harrison holds his ranking of #15 solely due to his untapped potential and top-notch tools. If he can put in all together, Harrison has the ceiling of being a capable middle of the order threat, and at this point it is reasonable to expect that the 21-year-old will either be a boom or bust prospect.

14. Cody Ponce P

After being drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft out of California Polytechnic State University, Ponce had an excellent professional debut, pitching his way to a 2.29 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over 14 games for the Helena Brewers and Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Ponce is a menace on the mound, as he stands 6’6” and weighs 240 lbs. Given this size, scouts predict that Ponce will have no trouble remaining a starting pitcher. He boasts four pitches that are all at least average, with his fastball and cutter being his go-to offerings. His fastball generally sits from 92-96 MPH, and it looks even faster to hitters given his size. Ponce still has a way to go in his development, especially with his control, but this should not be a problem given that he is only 22 years of age.

Ponce’s 2016 season was divided between success and struggle. He started off dominantly with Class-A Advanced Brevard County, as over his first nine starts he logged a 2.50 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP to go along with a nearly 5-to-1 K/BB rate. In his most commanding start of the year on July 9th, he struck out 12 hitters in 6 innings while giving up only 3 hits, which was made even more impressive due to the fact that he only threw 73 pitches. However, over his final eight starts, Ponce faltered and finished the season with an inflated 5.25 ERA and .285 batting average against. As we have seen, when Ponce is effective, he can be an elite asset on the mound. He could have simply just worn down as the season progressed, but I think it is more likely that he developed a mechanical issue that needs to be fixed. There really is no other explanation for how his season toppled so quickly. Ponce will likely start 2017 back in Class-A Advanced Brevard County, but I assume he will probably move up to Double-A Biloxi rather quickly given that he can iron out the kinks.

13. Jorge Lopez P

Going into the 2016 season, Jorge Lopez looked like a potential star in the making. He had just come off a dominant 2015 campaign, in which he won the Milwaukee Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award after dazzling the Double-A Southern League with a 12-5 record, to go along with a 2.26 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He was ranked as the #57 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com following this performance, which was good enough for #3 in the Brewers system at the time behind Orlando Arcia and Brett Phillips. Lopez was considered to be the future ace of the big league rotation. However, his journey to the majors has been derailed momentarily by a disastrous 2016 season in which we saw Lopez need to be demoted from Triple-A back down to Double-A.

In Triple-A this season, the 23 year-old got obliterated by the opposition, pitching to a 6.81 ERA over 17 games. He averaged 4.2 innings per start, and hitters teed off on him, leading to a .312 batting average against and a gaudy 1.97 WHIP. His control was the one area in which Lopez took the most significant step backwards, as he walked over three hitters per appearance. Some tried to attribute his collapse to the thin air in Colorado Springs, where the ball seemingly catapults off the bat as the stadium sits over a mile above sea level. The fact of the matter is, Lopez actually pitched better in Colorado Springs (though still not close to being an accomplishment in any regard), as his 6.16 ERA at home trumped his 7.40 ERA on the road. After his demotion to Double-A, Lopez seemed to somewhat right the ship, as he achieved a 2.67 ERA over his last five starts while striking out 27 batters. Hopefully he carries this finish into 2017.

Lopez certainly has the stuff to be a capable big league starter, as he features a mid 90s fastball that he complements with a well shaped 12-6 curveball, as you can see in the video below. The key to future success will be refining his control, as one can assert that his disconcerting walk rate and batting average against are the main causes for his demise in 2016.

12. Brett Phillips OF

When the Brewers acquired Brett Phillips as part of a four-prospect package from Houston in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers, he was touted as the centerpiece of the Brewers substantial return, being noted as a potential 5-tool center fielder that could bolster a big league lineup. Up until the trade, Phillips had enjoyed enormous success in the Astros’ minor league system. Drafted out of high school in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, Phillips experienced a breakout year in 2014, hitting a combined .310/.375/.529 between Class-A and Class-A Advanced. Even more impressive was the distribution of extra base hits he accumulated, as he hit 29 doubles, 14 triples, and 17 home runs. He complemented this display of all around power with 23 stolen bases and exceptional defense, recording 17 outfield assists.

In 2015, Phillips picked up right where he left off, hitting .320/.379/.588 at Class-A Advanced before being promoted by the Astros to their Double-A affiliate. He displayed less power at Double-A, hitting only one home run in 31 games, but he still hit an excellent line of .321/.372/.463. Phillips was then traded to the Brewers, and he seemingly lost his groove over the rest of 2015, hitting only .250 for Double-A Biloxi. His downturn in production was written off as being connected to a nagging thumb injury, and coming into 2016 he was ranked as the #32 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Phillips enjoyed a surge in popularity during spring training in 2016, when his pterodactyl-esque laugh took over the internet (you can see it in this video).

While he enjoyed this initial “success” off the field in early 2016, Phillips performance on the field was significantly less than expected. Phillips hit for a subpar line of .229/.332/.397, and his strikeout rate rose dramatically, as he whiffed in nearly 30% of his plate appearances. Although many are discouraged about Phillips’ future after his rough 2016 showing, he still has all the tools necessary to turn himself into a starting major league outfielder. If he fulfills his potential, we could see him atop the Brewers batting order as soon as 2018. However, in order to achieve this, he needs to rediscover the level of ability that made him such a threat in 2014 and 2015.

11. Brandon Woodruff P

Brandon Woodruff has come out of nowhere to take the Brewers’ minor league system by storm in 2016. Drafted by the Brewers in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB draft, the Mississippi State product has been the hallmark of consistency since his initial arrival to Rookie-Level Helena in 2014. Woodruff pitched to a 3.28 ERA with Helena, and then finished with a 3.45 ERA in a year-long stint with Class-A Advanced Brevard County in 2015. In 2016, Woodruff elevated his game to a whole new level.

Woodruff started out the season in Class-A Advanced Brevard County. Back for a second time in the Florida State League, the 23-year-old was lights out, pitching to a 4-1 record with a 1.83 ERA in eight starts. This earned Woodruff a promotion to Double-A Biloxi. After initially struggling in his first eight starts, Woodruff turned the corner and excelled, finishing with a 1.67 ERA over his final 12 starts. Even with the hiccup at the start of his stint in Double-A, Woodruff ended the season with a combined 14-9 record and 1.02 WHIP over the two minor league levels at which he pitched. Even more impressively, he led all of minor league baseball with 173 strikeouts.

Woodruff looks to have everything necessary to succeed as a starting pitcher in the future. He has a well-built frame, standing 6’4” and weighing 215 lbs. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s, and he locates it well. He also offers a slider with good bite and a changeup that moves away from lefties, giving him a solid three pitch mix. Both of his off-speed pitches are about average at this point, but I expect for him to refine at least one of them to an above average level going forward. Woodruff’s greatest strength may be his command. He achieved a 4.33-to-1 K/BB rate, and only walked 2.3 batters per nine innings. His walk rate would place second amongst the Brewers current major league pitching staff, as he would trail only Zach Davies’ 2.2 mark. Woodruff’s excellent command can be seen further in the video below, as he precisely locates his fastball. Woodruff will likely start 2017 in Triple-A, and if he succeeds, it could force the Brewers to insert him into the rotation as soon as July of next year if the opportunity presents itself.

The Return of Ryan Braun

The Brewers have had Ryan Braun’s bat in the lineup for just 30 of the teams 78 games so far this season. That makes the Brewers first place start all that more of a surprise. The naysayers don’t seem to think that the Brewers need Braun or that they’re better off without him. I understand people’s dislike for him, but to think that the Milwaukee Brewers are better without him is absolutely foolish. If Braun is healthy, he’s going to hit at an elite level.

image via Bleacher Report

Since May, Ryan Braun has only played in six games. He did however play in 24 games in April and was off to a very solid start. He hit seven homeruns, drove in 18 runs, and had an OPS of 960. I know it’s hard to believe people truly think that the Brewers don’t need a player that produces like that in the middle of the lineup. You know who doesn’t think that? Eric Thames. Thames had an absolutely historic April hitting .345, with 11 homers, 19 runs knocked in, and an OPS of 1.276. Obviously it wasn’t realistic for him to stay on that pace, but there maybe something to his struggles. Since Ryan Braun got hurt in May, Eric Thames has seen his numbers drop significantly. I’m not taking anything away from what he has done so far because he has been great. Shattering any expectations that the Brewers could have had for him going in the season. In the month of May, Thames only hit three homers with a batting average of only 221 and an OPS of 791. He got his power stroke back this month hitting six homers, giving him 20 on the season. However, so far in June he has only hit 179 with an OPS of 722. Eric Thames is still going to draw walks and hit homers, but the numbers speak for themselves, he’s a better hitter when hitting in front of Ryan Braun.

image via JSonline

The bottom line is if the Brewers want to stay in the division race all season, they are going to need contributions from everybody, including Ryan Braun. Everybody in the Brewers lineup will benefit with him in the lineup. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guys hitting in front of him seeing better pitches or guys in the bottom of the order hitting with him on base, everybody benefits.

Brewers Week In Review: 5/29-6/4

5/29-6/1: @ New York Mets

Record: 2-2

Results: 4-2 L, 5-4 L (12 innings), 7-1 W, 2-1 W

Star of the Series: Corey Knebel (2.1 IP, 5 K, 1 BB, 1 SV)

Coming off of a back and forth series with Arizona prior to arriving in New York for a brief road trip with the Mets, the Brewers were looking for a good series in order to hold on to their first place lead in the division. However, the first two games of the series did not quite go as planned. Four earned runs from Matt Garza sealed the Crew’s fate in the opener, and the Brewers lost a 12-inning heartbreaker the next night, a game which saw chances for both teams in later innings be squandered. The offense saw its pop return in the 7-1 win, with home runs by Thames and Domingo Santana leading the charge. Finally, series star Knebel shut the Mets down in the series’ final affair with two strikeouts on the way to his 4th save of the season since taking over the closer’s role.

6/2-6/4: vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 1-2

Results: 2-1 L (12 innings), 10-8 L, 3-0 W

Another day, another series in which the Brewers bullpen gives up leads. In this case, it seemingly cost them the series win as a whole. In many ways, this series was quite similar to the Mets series just days earlier. A loss in 12 innings? Check; Game lost by two runs with a majority of runs scored in only a few innings? Check; Third game where home runs by Thames and Santana led to the victory? Check. Now, if you had told Brewers fans that they would play a close, 2-1 series loss against one of the best current teams in baseball, many of those fans would have been quite happy with that. However, also knowing that Milwaukee was just a few pitches away from possibly sweeping that same team in the series, not so much.

NL Central Standings Update (as of 6/5/17)

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: 30-27
  2. Chicago Cubs: 28-27 1 GB
  3. Louis Cardinals: 26-28 2.5 GB
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 26-31 4.0 GB
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 25-30 4.0 GB

Transactions

No major transactions occurred this week

Brewers Week In Review: 7/24-7/30

The Brewers came into this week holding onto their division lead in the NL Central by the skin of their teeth, with the suddenly red-hot Cubs hot on their trail. After a promising 8-0 winning start against Washington, the Brewers cracked, as the bullpen squandered game 2 and Michael Blazek got scorched for 5 home runs in one inning in a game 3 15-2 blowout. The Crew took that punch in the gut and responded with a hard-fought 2-1 win against the Cubs, who now led by 1.5 games, to bring the standings back to 0.5. However, a couple losses later and it’s now at 2.5 games back for Milwaukee with the trade deadline and St. Louis approaching. Will the Brewers buy, sell, or stay put? Will they bounce back against the Cards? Only time will tell.

With that being said, it’s time for a look at the week ahead.

The Week Ahead

 

Upcoming series: vs. St. Louis (8/1-8/3) and @ Tampa Bay (8/4-8/6)

Pitching matchups vs. St. Louis: Carlos Martinez (7-8, 3.52 ERA) vs. Jimmy Nelson (8-5, 3.38 ERA); TBD vs. TBD; Michael Wacha (8-4, 3.71 ERA) vs. TBD

Pitching matchups @ Tampa Bay: TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD; TBD vs. TBD

Weekly Awards

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

Winner: Lewis Brinson

Sweet Lew makes his first appearance on the Week In Review awards list, as he picks up the Rollie Fingers Award here. Now, he has definitely not gotten off to the best start at the plate since coming up to the big leagues, as while he has hit 2 home runs, he is hitting just .111. However, where he has really shined in his short time in MLB is in the field. In each of the last two games of the Cubs series, he made a great, clutch catches to prevent Chicago runs from scoring (one on Kyle Schwarber, one on Addison Russell). Catches like the ones that Brinson pulled off are some of the most exciting plays in baseball when they occur, so two in one series is more than enough to earn the phrase “balls to the wall”.

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

Winner: Travis Shaw

The Mayor of Ding Dong City did it again this week. Coming off of a 6-for-20 week where he clubbed two home runs and added 4 RBIs (bringing his totals on the season to 24 and 74 respectively), Shaw more than deserves this award. While one of his dingers came in the dismantling of the Crew in the nation’s capital, the third baseman has seemingly made it a mission to prove to everyone in the baseball world that he should have been a 2017 All-Star selection. So far in the second half, while the Brewers may be struggling, Shaw has been one of the team’s bright spots.

The Ben Sheets Award for Best Heat (Best Pitcher)

Winner: Zach Davies

When a baby faced Zach Davies arrived on the scene in 2016, he impressed not only Brewers fans, but managers and teams around the league as well. While he was not and has never been a strikeout pitcher (135 Ks in 163.1 IP in 2016), he got guys out and kept them from crossing the plate at a reasonable rate. Now, in 2017, fans have been wondering “where is that Zach Davies?” Well, we saw some of him in Tuesday’s 8-0 victory against the Nationals. Over the course of 114 pitches in 7.2 innings, Davies would strike out 7 Washington batters while only surrendering 3 hits and 3 walks. Even in taking a loss on Sunday, Davies looked solid, adding another 6 strikeouts to his total and giving up 3 earned runs against a powerful and hot-hitting Cubs lineup. Here’s to hoping we see more of 2016 Davies throughout the remainder of 2017.

Prospect Update

AAA: Colorado Springs

Brandon Woodruff (Brewers No. 4 Prospect; MLB.com’s #94 overall): 6-5, 4.46 ERA, 72.2 IP, 70 K, 24 BB, 1.33 WHIP, .259 Opponent AVG

Mauricio Dubon (Brewers No. 9 Prospect): .297, 11 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 6 SB (29 games played with CS)

Brett Phillips (Brewers No. 12 Prospect): .293, 16 2B, 8 3B, 17 HR, 66 RBI, 6 SB (79 games with CS)

AA: Biloxi Shuckers

Luis Ortiz (Brewers No. 3 Prospect; MLB.com’s #81 overall): 4-5, 3.57 ERA, 80.2 IP, 72 K, 31 BB, 1.13 WHIP, .207 Opponent AVG

Corbin Burnes (Brewers No. 7 Prospect): 3-3, 2.32 ERA, 54.1 IP, 54 K, 9 BB, 0.92 WHIP, .206 AVG

 

A: Carolina Mudcats/Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

Corey Ray (Brewers No. 2 Prospect; MLB.com’s #68 overall): .235, 22 2B, 5 HR, 36 RBI, 20 SB at A Adv Carolina

Keston Hiura (Brewers No. 5 Prospect; MLB.com’s #95 overall): 11 games: .400, 4 2B, 2 3B, 7 RBI at A Wisconsin

Lucas Erceg (Brewers No. 10 Prospect): .246, 24 2B, 12 HR, 64 RBI at A Adv Carolina

Trey Supak (Brewers No. 16 Prospect): 2-3, 5.23 ERA, 53.1 IP, 46 K, 21 BB, 1.35 WHIP, .250 AVG at Adv A Carolina

Jake Gatewood (Brewers No. 18 Prospect; No. 19 last week): .270, 34 2B, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 7 SB at A Adv Carolina

Mario Feliciano (Brewers No. 25 Prospect; No. 26 last week): .244, 14 2B, 4 HR, 29 RBI, 8 SB at A Wisconsin

Brewers @ Rockies Series Recap 5/10-5/13

The Milwaukee Brewers kicked off an 11-day, 10 game road trip in Denver with a four-game tilt against the Rockies, with both squads entering the series at 21-16. The Rockies, winners of six of their previous seven games, are in a tight division race in the National League West just as the Brewers find themselves in the NL Central and both team will likely be competing for the two wild card spots in the playoffs right down to the wire. With the Brewers entering the game ranked 28th in runs per game in Major League Baseball and the Rockies ranked at 26th in runs per game, something had to give in the Mile-High air.

Thursday, May 10th– Brewers 5, Rockies 2

Game One of the series started off with a bang as Lorenzo Cain took the first pitch of the series delivered by Rockies’ SP German Marquez into the center field bleachers for a lead off home run. Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story answered with a solo shot of his own in the second inning but after a Manny Pina sacrifice fly put the Brewers ahead for good in the third inning. Hernan Perez added two RBIs and Cain tacked on another RBI to give the all the offense they would need.

Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin pitched a steady 5.1 innings allowing four hits and two runs which was enough to hand the ball off to the stellar bullpen. Boone Logan, Matt Albers, Corey Knebel Jeremy Jeffress combined to finish the final 3.2 innings allowing only one hit and striking out six to lockdown the Brewers victory.

Friday, May 11th– Brewers 11, Rockies 10

Game two of the series was a four-hour and twenty-minute marathon thriller that will be one of the more memorable games of the 2018 season. After the Brewers jumped out to a 3-1 lead, the Rockies jumped all over starter Brandon Woodruff scoring three runs on five hits in the third inning and then following up with five runs on five hits in the fourth innings off Woodruff and reliever Jacob Barnes to take a commanding 9-3 lead. The Brewers would then begin to claw their way back. A Shaw single scored Braun in the fifth to get the Crew within five, and then a big four run, four hits sixth inning helped get the Brewers back to striking distance. Carlos Gonzalez answered for the Rockies in the bottom of the inning to put Colorado up 10-8 and the Brewers offense went back to a stagnant level until being down to their last out.

With former Cub closer Wade Davis toeing the mound the Rockies got two quick outs in the 9th before Hernan Perez took a cutter and found the gap on the left side of the infield for a single to give the Brewers hope. Manny Pina stepped to the plate as the tying run and on the third pitch of his at-bat took a Davis fastball opposite field that landed just on top of the wall and over for a game tying home run. Deja-vu for Davis who in his last appearance against the Brewers gave up a walk-off homerun to Travis Shaw last September at Miller Park.

Jeffress came in to blank the Rockies in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings. After Domingo Santana lined out, Cain knocked a single to right off Rockies reliever Jake McGee. Christian Yelich struck out, but newcomer Tyler Saladino moved Cain to second base with a single to left. Shaw then beat the shift with a single to right center that scored Cain from second base and gave Shaw his third RBI of the night and put the Brewers ahead for good. Josh Hader came in and sealed the win with a 1-2-3 inning which included striking out the final two against the Rockies’ heart of the order in Blackmon, Arenado and Gonzalez. The win was the Brewers’ largest comeback win on the road since 2011 at Minnesota.

Saturday, May 12th– Rockies 4, Brewers 0

Before the game three even started things didn’t go as planned as scheduled starter Chase Anderson was scratched due to an illness and Brent Suter moved up a day in the rotation to make the start. As has been the case far too many times so far in 2018, the Brewers offense laid an egg and were shut out for the eight time which already equals the total amount of shut outs in 2017. Trevor Story lit up the scoreboard for Colorado and was responsible for driving in all four runs, including hitting two home runs.

Sunday, May 13th– Brewers 7, Rockies 3

In game four of the series the Brewers called up Freddy Peralta from AAA Colorado Springs to make the start and with his family making the trip from the Dominican Republic to witness Peralta pitch for the first time in his professional career it made for yet another memorable Mother’s Day in Brewers lore. Peralta was stellar, taking a no hitter into the sixth inning and racking up 13 strikeouts, a franchise debut record, on 98 pitches to help lead the Brewers. Saladino helped get the offense going with an RBI double which was followed up by a two RBI single by Yelich to extend the lead to 3-0. Jesus Aguliar hit a three-run home run into the left field bleachers in the sixth inning to give the Brewers all the insurance runs they would need on the afternoon.

-Even with all the positives the afternoon produced, there were some not pleasant stats in the box score as the Brewers were 3/17 with runners in scoring position and struck out at the plate 15 times.

-A win is a win and this win, coupled by Sunday losses by the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs helped move the Brewers to be alone in first place as they head to Phoenix to take on the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are currently in first place in the NL West.

-The Brewers entered Sunday with an all-time best winning percentage of .627, 32-19 overall, on Mothers’ Day.

-Colorado will meet the Brewers again in Milwaukee August 3-5 for a three-game series.

Make sure to read the fantastic article by Sam Monnat from Cream City Central which details just what a superb debut Freddy Peralta had. http://www.creamcitycentral.com/brewers/freddy-peralta-shines-in-debut/

Brewers Trade Deadline: Joakim Soria

The Milwaukee Brewers have acquired right-handed relief pitcher Joakim Soria from the Chicago White Sox for AA left-handed pitcher Kodi Medeiros and right-hander Wilber Perez from the Dominican Summer League.

 

As the new MLB Prospect Watch was released today, Medeiros, a former first-round pick, was ranked as the Brewers #13 prospect and the primary left-handed starter in the farm system.  He was beginning to find success at the AA level posting a 3.14 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 103.1 innings. In Perez’s two summer seasons, he charted 17 appearances with a 5-1 record, 40.1 innings, and 47 strikeouts.

 

Joakim Soria has a career 2.84 ERA in 613 games. He is a two-time All-Star and is fifth in active pitchers with 220 career saves.

 

Soria fits into the Brewers already stocked bullpen as another middle reliever.  Manager Craig Counsell’s rotation averages less than six innings pitched per game which puts a heavy toll on the relievers.  Adding Soria is another extremely capable arm to take over in any inning and lead the way for set-up guys like Jeremy Jeffress or Josh Hader, embrace a set-up role, or even close a game.  

 

Medeiros and Perez fit the White Sox developing farm system which is booming with talent specifically with pitchers like Michael Kopesch, Dylan Cease, and Dane Dunning who are all top 100 prospects. Medeiros is an enigma, however, as he will be Rule 5 eligible this next season.  This means he will need to be on the 40 Man roster of the White Sox or he could be scooped up by another team in the Rule 5 draft. Medeiros has been successful this year, however, he has struggled with giving up runs as he has not posted an ERA lower than 4.44 and has been as high as 5.93 in full seasons.  His control has also been spotty as he has averaged half a walk an inning throughout his minor league career which has contributed to the inflated ERA. Perez is only 20 years old and his progression will be tested once he plays a full season, but his smaller sample size has proved positive in the Dominican Summer League.

 

The Brewers valued Medeiros, but General Manager David Stearns mentioned situations like this are tough as he will be getting rid of him as the “price of playing poker,” on MLB.com.  Stearns seems to believe that he is acquiring a great arm the Brewers can utilize to close out tight games with Soria. Milwaukee does not seem to be done yet, though. Scouts from a number of sellers including the Mets, Rangers, Royals, Reds, Marlins, and Tigers showed up to scout the Brewers strong AA team.  Rumors are also swirling about starter Zach Wheeler from New York, Minnesota middle infielders Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier, and pitcher Kyle Gibson, and Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy.

 

Who would you like Stearns to make a move for by Tuesday’s deadline? Feel free to comment or tweet @CreamCityCtral.

 

Statistics found on Baseball Reference

Why Keeping Josh Hader in the Bullpen Makes Perfect Sense

Another offseason, another six months of controversy surrounding the Brewers’ usage of Josh Hader. It has pretty much become tradition at this point, right?

Although Craig Counsell seemingly put the issue to rest in his post-season press conference, I anticipate that Twitter and the Brewers’ Facebook comments thread will be filled with fans vouching for Hader to be inserted into the starting rotation. Hopefully, this article changes their minds and illustrates the vital impact that Hader has as an elite “fireman” out of the bullpen.

What is a “fireman”, you may ask? A fireman is a reliever utilized in high leverage situations regardless of the inning, often pitching multiple innings if needed. I was introduced to the concept in Brian Kenny’s book “Ahead of the Curve”, and it fits Josh Hader’s role perfectly.

The Brewers typically save Hader for situations with the Brewers holding a close lead, and insert Hader to shut down the opposing team’s lineup. This could occur in the 5th inning, or the 9th inning, or the 3rd inning as we saw in the NLCS. The point is, Hader pitches when it matters most, allowing the Brewers to maximize on his utilization. He is a true fireman, getting the Brewers out of the most desperate of situations.

Using Hader in this manner has allowed him to significantly impact the Brewers’ chances of winning in nearly every appearance. Fangraphs tracks a statistic called “Win Probability Added”, which is described as follows:

“WPA captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning.” (link for further reading, if interested).

One important take away from this definition is that the statistic is not context neutral. With ERA, all runs are created equal. A run given up in the 9th inning of a tie game is counted in the exact same way as a run given up in the 5th inning of a blowout. WPA, however, tracks the change in win probability which resulted from that run being given up, which would be a large decrease in the case of a 9th inning tie and only a marginal one in the case of a 5th inning blowout. This makes success in high leverage situations much more valuable, which better reflects the realities of player performance.

So, how does this relate to Hader? Well, as a relief pitcher, Josh Hader achieved the 13th best WPA of all pitchers in 2018 (for those wondering, Jeremy Jeffress finished 5th).  In fact, Hader finished ahead of elite starters such as Gerrit Cole, Mike Foltynewicz, Patrick Corbin, Zack Greinke, and many, many more. Of the 12 names ahead of Hader, 9 are starting pitchers. To emphasize: only 9 starting pitchers impacted their team’s chances of winning as much as Hader did for the Brewers.

By performing at the level that he does in the situations the Brewers place him, Hader affects the Brewers chances of winning much more as a reliever than he could as a starter. As big of a Hader fan as I am, I do not think that he would perform well enough in a starting role to place him in a WPA position that is better than all but 9 starters in the league. While he certainly would be an effective and valuable starter, he would not provide the same high leverage utility that he does in his current fireman role.

The beauty of Hader as a fireman is that the Brewers get to pick the spots where he can most impact their chances of winning. Should he be a starter, the Brewers could essentially waste his shutdown innings if they take a large early lead, say 6-0 after 2 innings. While Hader would still be providing value in the form of putting zeroes on the board, he would not be changing the Brewers’ probabilistic outcome of a victory as much as if they saved him for a one-run game in the 8th inning the next day.

The Brewers’ usage of Hader is not “traditional”. It is not how the game is “supposed to be played”, at least according to several analysts (looking at you David Ortiz, John Smoltz, and Alex Rodriguez). However, there should be no arguing with its effectiveness, and all of Brewers’ Nation should applaud Craig Counsell’s willingness to adapt cutting edge, analytical strategies like this one that put the team in the best position to succeed.

Why Brewers Fans Can Take A Deep Breath

Coming off their best season since 1982, the Brewers have raised expectations throughout the league. However, after starting out a red hot 12-6, Milwaukee has dropped seven of their last eight games. A mixture of a small salary cap, tough schedule, abysmal hitting, young starting rotation, and injuries has resulted in the Brewers slow start. Let’s examine the problems and possible solutions to get Milwaukee back on track.

Salary Cap

Most fans are frustrated with the inability to sign free agents Dallas Kuechel and Craig Kimbrel, and rightfully so. After falling one game short of the World Series last year, Brewers fans are hungry for more. Unfortunately, because Milwaukee is the smallest market in baseball, based on metropolitan size, they struggle to compete with teams such as the Cubs, Dodgers, and Cardinals when it comes to payroll. Chicago, Los Angeles, and St. Louis sit comfortably around $200 million, as Milwaukee sits right below the league average at $127.5 million. When Mark Attanasio bought the Brewers from the Selig family in 2004, he promised fans that he would spend money and invest in the team. Attanasio has delivered on his promise, investing heavily to payroll by boosting the salary cap $37 million since 2015. The Brewers Owner has also invested another $60 million to the Spring Training facility in Arizona. The rise in payroll helped the Brewers secure third baseman, Mike Moustakas, for 1 year/$7million, and Free Agent catcher Yasmani Grandal for 1 year/$18 million in the offseason. According to Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) of the Athletic, signing Craig Kimbrel would result in the Brewers forfeiting draft picks along with paying him a reported 6 year/$100 million+ contact. Signing Kimbrel would take up 16% of Milwaukee’s cap space, which isn’t viable for a small market team seeking a closer.

The Schedule

It’s easy to say Milwaukee drew the short straw with their first 26 games of the season. Sitting currently at 13-13, the Brewers rank first throughout Major League Baseball in strength of schedule and second in the Relative Power Index. Milwaukee is one month into the season and is done facing the Dodgers. After falling in the season series 3-4 earlier this week, the Brewers won’t face Los Angeles until October if necessary. In addition, after playing ten games against the Cardinals, the Crew won’t face St. Louis until August 19th. This week on MLB Network, Craig Counsell joked with “The Rundown” hosts saying, “Our schedule has been a little funky in that, after this series we’ll have played 17 of 26 against the Dodgers and Cardinals”. Although the Brewers have had a rough start, their record is almost identical to 2018, when comparing the first set of games of each series.

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 2.43.52 PM

Look for Milwaukee’s schedule to ease up around May 30th, when they play the Pirates thirteen times, the Reds eight times, and the Marlins three times before the all-star break.

 

Offense

Throughout the first 25 games, the Brewers have relied heavily on Christian Yelich and Yasmani Grandal. While the Crew is sixth in the MLB for runs scored, the middle of the lineup has been a disappointment. Starting off hot, Lorenzo Cain has cooled off, dropping 40 points to his batting average in just three series. In order to score runs in this top-heavy lineup, Cain needs to get on base for Yelich and Grandal. Jesus Aguilar is currently hitting .134 with zero homers and 18 strikeouts. Travis Shaw has been trending upwards but is still hitting a woeful .200 with four home runs and 32 strikeouts. Ryan Braun’s production hasn’t been awful, hitting five home runs and 16 RBI, however, his .202 average and .239 OBP is not what a playoff contending team needs for the three-hole hitter. With Mike Moustakas out with a broken finger, Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia have picked up the slack.  Perez and Arcia have accounted for a combined seven home runs and 14 RBI. As Christian Yelich will likely slow down with production, is it vital that Aguilar, Braun, and Shaw break out of their slumps.

Defense

Milwaukee’s hitting hasn’t been up to par, but their defense has been impecable. Through 26 games, Milwaukee has only committed five errors, the fewest in the Major Leagues. Hernan Perez and Orlando Arcia have been tremendous middle infielders, committing just one error between both of them. At catcher, Yasmani Grandal is first in the Major Leagues with 2.5 runs saved by framing. Lorenzo Cain has been a bright spot in Center Field currently tied third in defensive wins above replacement at 0.6.

Starting Pitching

26 games into 2019, the Brewers starting rotation hasn’t been ideal. At the start of the season, young guns Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta filled out three spots of the starting rotation. Through four starts, Burnes pitched only 17.2 innings, giving up eleven home runs and a 10.70 ERA before being sent down to AAA. Freddy Peralta has pitched 17.2 innings in four starts, giving up five home runs and 7.13 ERA. Woodruff has been the most promising, going 26.7 innings in five starts with 5.81 ERA. Needless to say, this rotation hasn’t been ideal. The one bright spot has come with Zach Davies. Through five starts, Davies has gone 27.1 innings with a 1.65 ERA and 1.1 wins above replacement. Since being injured in 2017, Jimmy Nelson hasn’t returned to the Major Leagues. However, Nelson is expected to make his next start at AAA in San Antonio this coming week. In 2017, Nelson posted twelve wins to six losses with a 3.49 ERA. If he can replicate those stats in 2019, Nelson will be a great option for number two slot in the starting rotation. Earlier today Gio Gonzalez signed a 1 year/$2 million contract with the brewers for the 2019 season. In five appearances with the Brewers last year, Gio went 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA.

Bullpen

Injuries have decimated the bullpen for the Brewers in 2019. Before Opening Day, Corey Knebel decided to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his right elbow. Closer, Jeremy Jeffress, started off the season on the 10-day injured list with a sore right elbow and low velocity ranging from 90-92. In addition to the injuries, Junior Guerra was recently placed on the Bereavement List in order to visit his father who is in poor health. Chase Anderson started the year off in the bullpen but was moved to the starting rotation because Freddy Peralta was put on the Injured List for elbow inflammation. Alex Claudio, Matt Albers, and Alex Wilson have replaced the relievers roles but have been wildly inconsistent throughout the year. The only some-what consistent arm in 2019 has been Josh Hader. In his first seven appearances, Hader only gave up one run in ten innings. Unfortunately, his last two appearances have resulted in two losses.

Pitching Solution?

Add a starter other than Gio. The Brewers are in year two of the five-year window for Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich’s very generous contracts. Now is the time to spend cash and go for the World Series. Unlike Kimbrel, Kuechel is open to a one year deal for less money. Adding a Cy-Young winner in Dallas Kuechel, and a healthy and productive Jimmy Nelson would provide tremendous depth throughout the whole team. If Kuechel and Nelson are put in the starting rotation, Burnes, Woodruff, Anderson, and Peralta can add serious depth as long relievers. In the 2018 playoff push, Burnes racked up seven wins and zero losses with a 2.61 ERA out of the bullpen. Chase Anderson has proven he can be an out getter with a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings pitched. Peralta can be used as a stretch reliever when starters are having trouble in early innings with his 96 mph fastball and 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. Out of the bullpen last year, Woodruff went 3-0 with a 3.61 ERA. Once Guerra returns from the bereavement list his 1.38 ERA will be perfect for stretch innings late in games.

Assuming Milwaukee adds Kuechel to 25-Man Roster:

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13-13 isn’t an ideal start for the Brewers, but with an easier schedule ahead, more consistent hitting, and the return of injured players, there is no reason to count out the Crew this early.

The fire continues to Burn(es) for the Brewers

(All stats and pictures are from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant)

Life for Brewers relief pitcher Corbin Burnes hasn’t been as smooth sailing as most would have liked. After putting together a fantastic season last year in the show, it seemed to only make sense that he would improve this year. He was put into the starting rotation to start off the season, which was always the plan for the young pitcher. After struggling through 4 starts, Craig Counsell placed him back into the bullpen, where he had gained a lot of success in the past. Although a couple of appearances have been solid, lately he seemed to have lost it all. The question remaining is, why is this happening? 

There are two pitches that Burnes throws the most, the four seam fastball (52.4%) and the slider (31.2%).

First let’s break down the fastball compared to last year. The movement both vertical and horizontal are nearly identical to what they were last year. That is the same when it comes to velocity and the location. However, one thing that has changed for the better, has been the spin rate. It has improved from 2560 (2018) to 2656 (2019), which blew up statcast earlier in the season. From a mechanical aspect, everything is the same or better than it was last year, however the numbers are a much different story. 

This year on the fastball it is finding the barrel 10% more of the time, swing and miss is down 2%, K% has dropped 2%, and BB% is up 9%. To put it blatantly, hitters are getting more of a SLG off of it. How can this be, you may be asking, that will come later. Time to discuss the second most used pitch, the slider.

When it comes to the slider this year, everything about it is better, both mechanically and from a number standpoint. The movement he is getting on it this year is crazy insane. First thought on this is, okay throw the slider more, therefore getting hitters off of the fastball. If only if it were that simple. 

Corbin Burnes has had no issue this year getting ahead in counts and getting to two strikes. What happens after that, make him look like a completely different pitcher. This was very apparent in his last appearance against the Giants on July 14th. Corbin was consistently ahead in the count, but at the same time allowed 4 hits without recording an out. Two of the hits came off the fastball, while the other two came off of the slider. To break it down a little bit more here is the progression of two at bats that resulted in hits. 

 

vs Stephen Voght (result- double) vs Brandon Belt (result- single)
Pitch #1 curveball 1-0 count

#2 slider 1-1

#3 slider 1-2

#4 curveball 2-2

#5 four seam fastball 2-2

#6 changeup 2-2

#7 four seam fastball, double (pitch was left low and in, in the strike zone)

Pitch #1 four seam fastball 0-1 count

#2 slider 0-2

#3 slider, single (pitch was left over the plate, didn’t seem to break)

 

(Also a double off a slider that was left up on a 0-2 count, and a single off of a fastball on a 2-1 count)

Although Burnes is using the fastball and slider to get ahead in the count, they are also the pitches that falter mostly on 2-strike counts. This starts a whole different conversation when it comes to Burnes. Since he is getting beat on 2-strike counts, the following pictures are the fastball and slider in any count compared to a 2-strike count.

 

                                                        

Slider- in any count                                                          Slider- in 2-strike count

In these pictures you can see that in any count the slider ends up down in that inside corner most of the time, and further down out of the strike zone. With 2-strike counts it stays up a bit more into that hitting zone, which would make sense why he is getting beat at those times. Burnes gets a lot of swinging strikes when the ball is below the zone, that’s where it needs to be in a 0-2 and 1-2 count.    

                                                  

Four seam fastball- in any count                                 Four seam fastball- in 2-strike count        

You can see where this is the same as the slider, with 2-strikes instead of having a bit of a tail and breaking down, it stays up in the hitting zone. Then it turns into a straight 96 mph pitch down the heart of the plate that MLB hitters feast on.     

This is where things get hard because there is no statistical reason that explains this. The velocity and spin rate are consistent, and release point seems to have no correlation. The real reason this could be happening could be inside the head of Corbin Burnes. The best guess could be that he is attempting to throw it harder to get the strike out, taking the break or tail out of the pitch. That’s what this issue is beginning to come down to, what’s going on inside his head. Whether he is pressing to get the strikeout, or because he wants to pitch better. A conclusion to the issue is that as much as statistics have flooded the game of baseball, there is still a human on the mound.            

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.