The State of the Milwaukee Brewers Farm System
It’s been no secret that the Brewers farm system has been considered pretty poor over the past few seasons. Losing highly rated players like Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain, and Michael Brantley in the trades for C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke haven’t helped a system that was ranked 26th overall by Bleacher Report following the 2014 trade deadline. The team’s biggest issue has been the inability to draft impact talent over the last seven seasons, dating back to Jack Zduriencik’s departure to Seattle in 2008.
Taking over for Jack was the late Bruce Seid, who passed away suddenly during this past season. Under Bruce, the Brewers suffered through some drafts that look very poor in retrospect. Since 2008, the Brewers have drafted only 15 players that have made the Major Leagues, and those 15 players have combined for a total of 23.6 wins above replacement. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, 11.7 of those wins can be attributed to Brett Lawrie, who was traded to Toronto for Shawn Marcum. No Brewers player drafted since 2010 has made the Major Leagues.
While Bruce whiffed on first round picks like Eric Arnett, Kyle Heckathorn, Dylan Covey, and Kentrail Davis, he was able to scour some value from the later rounds of the draft. Mike Fiers (round 22), Scooter Gennett (round 16), and Khris Davis (round 7) all look like they will be contributors in Milwaukee for next season and beyond. The last few drafts saw Seid and the Brewers add several high ceiling type players, especially in 2014 with the trio of Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Gatewood, and Monte Harrison. Unfortunately, Seid will not be around to see how what could be his best draft turns out. It is imperative that Ray Montgomery, the new VP of Amateur Scouting, continues to add potential high impact talent to the Brewers system through the draft.
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The Brewers have managed to add players through other outlets, as well. Shortstop Orlando Arcia and infielder Gilbert Lara were international signings, lefty Wei-Chung Wang was plucked from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft, and Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Kyle Wren were added through trades.
The fact remains, however, that the Brewers have no prospects currently rated in the top 100 by MLB.com. They have very little upside at the high levels of the minors; recent pickup Jarret Martin brings intriguing potential as a lefty, but he is already 25 and has battled control problems. Taylor Jungmann and Jimmy Nelson both appear to be mid rotation starters, but nothing that is very inspiring. Hunter Morris seems to have worked himself out of Milwaukee’s future plans, yet still occupies the #19 spot on MLB.com’s list.
First base is still a gaping hole in the system, and with Nicky Delmonico‘s uncertain future after a disappointing season marred by an amphetamine suspension, third base appears thin as well. To be honest, I was surprised that when the team announced that Clint Coulter was going to be moved off catcher, it wasn’t to one of those positions. My own speculation is that they could be grooming Coulter to take over for Ryan Braun in right field in 2016. Adam Lind can be controlled through 2016 with his contract option, and the Brewers could consider moving an aging Braun to first to ease the burden on his body. I’m sure it’d help his surgically repaired thumb by not having to uncork balls to home plate from the right field corner.
While the farm has been improving, the Brewers still have too many players who “could” develop into Major League contributors instead of players who “should” develop into big leaguers. This conversation could be different in another year from now, however. All eyes will be on Biloxi, were we will look for Coulter, Arcia, and Tyrone Taylor to continue to prove their skills against more advanced competition in AA for the Shuckers this year. 20 year old Devin Williams is said to have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Brewers system, but struggled to a 1.42 WHIP and 4.48 ERA in rookie ball last season, while 18 year old first rounder Kodi Medeiros struggled to a 7.13 ERA with 26 walks in 18 innings in his pro debut. Monte Harrison has been compared to Andrew McCutchen and posted a .402 OBP and 32 steals after being drafted in 2014. Players like Victor Roache and Gatewood have huge power, but have been strikeout prone and need to show better contact ability this year. Gilbert Lara is only 16, has yet to play, and doesn’t yet have a solid position, but the Brewers didn’t give him over $3 mil for nothing. If these players can take the next step in 2015, it will go a long way towards bringing the Brewers minor league system to respectability.
Taylor Jungmann is the most obvious player that has a chance to make an impact for the Brewers in 2015. Most other seasons, Jungmann would likely be penciled in as the fifth starter for Milwaukee after putting up a 3.57 ERA with 147 strikeouts in AAA in 2014. As it stands, Jungmann will likely begin the season at AAA, but if the Brewers experience and injury or make a trade during the season, Taylor will likely be the first man making the trip from Colorado Springs. Beyond Jungmann, David Goforth could see time in the Brewers bullpen, but there aren’t many exciting arms that are close to ready. Jason Rogers figures to battle for a bench spot in Spring Training, but it doesn’t look like there are any potential everyday big league hitters that will be arriving in Milwaukee next season.
I feel better about the Brewers farm system, but I cannot yet say I feel good about the Brewers farm system. This season will be important to the development of the system, as the Brewers will likely have to replace most of the six players at the MLB level they have on one year contracts for 2016. If guys like Coulter, Arcia, Taylor, and Jungmann continue to make improvements, we can count on seeing them in Milwaukee for the new look Brewers by some point in 2016 (or earlier if we under perform and start selling at the deadline).
Overall, the Brewers farm system is one that is on the rise. While it remains to be seen if the strong drafts and additions in 2013 and 2014 will bear fruit, the potential is there for the Brewers to groom players that could be not just major league players, but all-star caliber guys. Ray Montgomery, the pressure is on you to make sure that this Brewers minor league system can continue to grow, improve, and bring the next wave of talent to Milwaukee.