Milwaukee Brewers and the Failure to Draft

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When the Milwaukee Brewers began their run decade long run of sustained competitiveness in 2005, they did it using a core of players that they had grabbed through the amateur draft. Stalwarts like Ben Sheets (1999), Corey Hart (2000), JJ Hardy (2001), Prince Fielder (2002), Rickie Weeks (2003), Yovani Gallardo (2004), and Ryan Braun (2005) were all instrumental talents during the Brewers’ playoff run in 2008 that were drafted and developed by the Brewers under former scouting director Jack Zduriencik. Draftees Matt LaPorta (2007) and Michael Brantley (2005) were used at trade chips to land CC Sabathia during that season, as well. 2008 would be Jack’s last in Milwaukee, as he was hired away by Seattle in October that year, where he still  remains as their General Manager.

Following the loss of Zduriencik, Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin installed longtime scout Bruce Seid as the team’s director of scouting in November of 2008. Seid took over a minor league system that had been mostly depleted over the previous few seasons, with several star prospects being called up to the majors or traded. During the next three drafts, Seid and the Brewers displayed a consciously conservative strategy, looking to draft “low-risk” talent that was projected to quickly ascend to the big leagues, although without much upside.

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The result of this strategy led to the selections of several college age players at the top of the draft. Eric Arnett, Kentrail Davis, and Kyle Heckathorn were the Brewers’ first three selections in 2009, all of them out of four-year universities. Dylan Covey was drafted out of high school with the number 14 pick in 2010, but the Brewers next five picks (including Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Thornburg) were all college-age players. Covey failed to sign with the team after being diagnosed with diabetes and choosing to attend college instead. 2011 saw the Brewers select Taylor Jungmann at 12th overall and Jed Bradley 15th overall, both out of college.

The Brewers leaned heavily towards perceived low-ceiling, high floor type player in an attempt to quickly restock a barren farm system. This strategy backfired, however, as none of the Brewers’ first round draft picks since 2009 have made the major leagues, and players like Heckathorn, Arnett, and Davis are no longer even with the organization. In fact, the Brewers have had just nine of the 154 players (5.8%) they drafted during appear in a Milwaukee uniform. Those players are:

UTIL Josh Prince (2009 round 3)-8 games, -0.1 WAR
RHP Hiram Burgos (2009 round 6)-6 games, -0.8WAR
OF Khris Davis (2009 round 7)-216 games, 3.1 WAR
1B Sean Halton (2009 round 13)-42 games, 0.1 WAR
2B Scooter Gennett (2009 round 16)-216 games, 3.1 WAR
RHP Mike Fiers (2009 round 22)- 53 games, 2.2 WAR
RHP Jimmy Nelson (2010 round 2)-21 games, 0.9 WAR
RHP Tyler Thornburg (2010 round 3)-60 games, 1.5 WAR
UTIL Jason Rogers (2010 round 32)-13 games, -0.1 WAR

No players drafted by the Brewers from 2011 on have yet debuted for the big league club, though Taylor Jungmann could likely be the first this season. The Brewers have gotten some of the worst production of any team out of their minor league system is recent years, which was hurt even more by the Zack Greinke trade prior to the 2011 season that saw three more Zduirencik picks sent off to Kansas City. This has led to the team doling out expensive contracts to aging players like Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza in order to try and remain competitive in the NL Central.

Perhaps seeing that the early returns were poor on his first three drafts, Seid and the Brewers began changing their approach in 2012. Milwaukee drafted high school catcher Clint Coulter with their top pick in 2012, adding highly rated but injured Victor Roache later in the first round and Tyrone Taylor in the second. Taylor is already at AA, while Coulter and Roache appear primed to make that jump soon. 2013 saw Devin Williams drafted out of high school with the team’s top pick, in the second round (they gave up their first rounder by signing Kyle Lohse). He is currently rated as the 7th best prospect in the system by MLB.com, who describe Williams as having “as much upside as any arm in the system.” Seid’s crown jewel may be his daring 2014 draft, however. All three top picks, Kodi Medeiros, Jake Gatewood, and Monte Harrison, were taken out of high school. All three now rank in the team’s top 10 prospects and made the jump to full season Appleton, where they are facing players an average of three years older than them. Unfortunately, Seid’s untimely passing last fall at age 53 won’t allow him to see the fruits of his aggressive change of direction.

Slogging through a lifeless 3-13 start to the 2015 season, the Brewers are now suffering tremendously from the early follies of their late scouting director. The Brewers’ currently have very little quality depth at the upper level of their minors and beyond Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, none of their major league players would bring much trade value to the table, either. The Brewers’ are in an undesirable spot, which has led to rumblings of a rebuild straight from Doug Melvin’s mouth. The jury is still out on Bruce Seid’s last three drafts, but the early returns on the team’s aggressive change of approach look promising. How those players continue to develop will determine if the Brewers’ are facing a two-to-three year rebuild, or if we will need to wait a half-decade plus to see winning baseball again in Milwaukee.

Next: Brewers Rebuild Starts with Trading Jonathan Lucroy

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