Is the Brewers’ farm system as barren as “experts” say?


Mandatory Credit- Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, Baseball Prospectus ranked the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system 29th among Major League Baseball teams with only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim trailing in farm system futility. I was taken aback by the ranking based on an article written by Todd Rosiak on January 26 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel which quoted Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio on his feelings on the Brewers and Doug Melvin and staff, the ones that acquire this talent or based on this ranking lack of talent.

“One of the things I would say about our staff here is I like the fact they do their jobs [quietly],” Attanasio said. “You see other teams where every time they have a meeting with a free agent, somehow it’s announced here or there.”

Attanasio ‘s viewpoint is spot on. Fans look for information, especially on prospects and as members of the media we are required to find it. As a result, we poke and prod to find out information and end up promoting the credibility of a prospect before they step into a big league park. This “credibility” fuels the discussion and these rankings.

Looking at the Brewers projected starters you see a player like Scooter Gennett, who hit .324 in his first extended tenure in the big leagues last year. Prior to the 2013 season. Gennett ranked eighth within the Brewers farm system according to Baseball America. However, the system as a whole was looked at poorly and were ranked as the worst in baseball. This ranking left Gennett with little credibility within baseball as a long-term answer for the Brewers at second base.

In addition to the 23-year-old Gennett, the Brewers project to have another first year starter in 26-year-old left fielder Khris Davis. Between his 379 combined at-bats at AAA Nashville and while in Milwaukee in 2013, Davis hit 24 home runs. Like Gennett, Davis has never been viewed as an “elite prospect,” not even within the Brewers system. In fact, Davis did not appear in the organizational Top 10 according to Baseball America in 2013 or 2012.

So with Gennett and Davis slated to start Opening Day, what do the Brewers see in these guys that others didn’t?

I go back to the Attanasio quote about Doug Melvin and staff, that “they do their jobs [quietly]”. Whether it is Gennett, Davis or even Carlos Gomez, a player whom the Twins had given up on after acquiring him in the Johan Santana package, Melvin and staff have found talent regardless of outside opinion. Over the past five years, Melvin has fielded a team that has averaged 82 wins a year and won a division title, one of two in franchise history. Melvin has made shrewd moves to “go for it” both in the trade market, draft and free agency while operating in the middle tier of payrolls within major league baseball.

Some moves were aggressive, expensive, and maybe even short-sighted but the Brewers enter 2014 with an average age among their starting position players of 27 years old. Their oldest regular, Aramis Ramirez, is a free agent at the end of the year and owner Mark Attanasio has been quoted saying “we have as much pitching depth as we’ve had in my 10 seasons of ownership”.

“We’ve said now for a couple of years that we’re focusing on pitching and pitching depth,” Attanasio said. “That’s easier said than done, obviously, but if you look at the moves that Doug has made, including getting Michael Blazek, or the Rule 5 player that we picked up from the Pirates, there has been a continued quiet emphasis on building pitching depth.”

While it is easy to look at top 100 prospects according to Jonathan Mayo and feel the doom and gloom of seeing only one Brewer, Jimmy Nelson, I would focus on organizational depth as a whole. Sure, the Cubs have a total of 7 players in comparison within the Top 100 but at the same time field a team at the major league level that will rank by most experts as one of the worst in baseball. Additionally the Cubs have averaged a total of 71 wins per season over the past five years.

Melvin has balanced competitiveness to ensure that the fans fill the park while at the same time strategically using his resources to shape and rebuild each year. He gave up a lot (Cain, Escobar, Jeffress, and Odirizzi) to acquire Zach Greinke only to turn him into Segura, Hellweg and Pena while still winning a National League Central Division crown during Greinke’s tenure.

Fans should feel optimistic because of the track record of Melvin, regardless of “expert” rankings. The Brewers have young players and have rebuilt themselves up the middle of the diamond with some of these players.

Said Attanasio, “We have young players who performed last year, Doug (Melvin) mentioned in the clubhouse that according to the rating service FanGraphs, our young players gave the most value to their team than any other team in baseball, even more than the Cardinals.”

Additionally they have players that rank near the top by position across all of Major League Baseball.

“MLB Network did their own Top 10 at every position and we have five players that are Top 10. — Jonathan Lucroy, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun and Jean Segura,” Attanasio said. “Only three teams in baseball had five in the Top 10 and we’re one. You don’t hear about this anywhere. So be it. I think the fans in Milwaukee will understand we have a good team and support the team.”

As the Brewers move forward the draft, player development, an expanded presence in Latin America and strategic trades and player acquisition will be critical to Melvin as he tries to bring Milwaukee its first World Series title in franchise history. While it is easy to point to Baseball America rankings to say the cupboard is bare, I would point to track record to dismiss that. Playing without 50% of their lineup (Hart, Ramirez, Weeks and Braun) for a combined 39% of the games the Brewers still won 72 games in 2013. While the season was looked at by many as a lost year, the Brewers had two all-stars (Gomez/Segura) and found Davis and Gennett as future starters.

For Attanasio it is all part of “doing your job, quietly” I guess.