It’s been a long season for Milwaukee Brewers fans. A franchise worst start at 7-18 and the firing of Ron Roenicke has led to a “Brewers rebuild” becoming the most talked about topic for most of the season. The Brewers have had the look of definite seller since May, the only question was if the team, currently sitting at 44-59, would simply shed expiring contracts or if they would move valuable pieces and begin an actual rebuilding process.
As of July 30th, 2015 we can officially say that the Brewers rebuild has begun.
After the debacle with the New York Mets regarding the failed Carlos Gomez trade, many fans in Milwaukee were rather dejected about the trade deadline. Though that deal reportedly failed to go down due to medical concerns for Carlos (though it’s been speculated that financials may have played a larger role), the Brewers insisted that Gomez were that they were still looking to deal him before the trade deadline. The Brewers were offered a solid, future orientated package from the Mets in exchange for their superstar center fielder, and many were left with a bad taste in their mouth after the deal fell through. GM Doug Melvin, however, did not disappoint.
The blockbuster deal that the Brewers and Houston Astros made last night, sending Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers (plus international pool money) south in exchange for four prospects, clearly signals the intentions of the franchise moving forward. Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio has been wary of a complete “tear down” in years past, causing the Brewers to spend much of the last half decade sitting “in the middle” – good enough to hang around by adding quick fixes where needed, but not good enough to be serious contenders. When all that came crashing to earth this year, I think there’s a good possibility that Mark looked at the success that a team like the Astros themselves are having this season, built around a young core that was assembled during a long rebuilding process. The Brewers obviously won’t compete this season and are a long shot in 2016, so this season was a perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling on rebuilding towards a sustainable model of success. Milwaukee cannot afford to sign major free agents, so the impact players must come from within while they are still cheap and under team control.
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The Brewers farm system has been making marked gains already this season, and it will only be further augmented by the additions Milwaukee received from Houston. Milwaukee received two top-100 overall prospects and two other players ranked inside Houston’s top 21, two outfielders and two pitchers that are all at AA level or higher. This move helps to balance the farm system out, as a lot of the talent coming into this season was focused at the lower levels. Even folks in Houston seemed surprised by the haul of prospects the Brewers were able to glean. Before the trade, the Brewers were creeping into the top 10 in the rankings of their farm system, so I don’t think it’s that far fetched to think Milwaukee now has a borderline top 5 farm system. Here is a look at the prospects Milwaukee got in the deal (with their MLB.com ranking in the Brewers system):
2. OF Brett Phillips || Age: 21 || Bat: L || Throw: R || Overall Grade: 55
Houston drafted Phillips in the 6th round in 2012 and he broke out in the 2014 season between low-A and high-A, hitting .310/.375/.529 with 17 home runs among 58 extra base hits in 130 games. He has above average tools across the board, highlighted by his plus speed and plus-plus arm in center field. A possible five-tool talent, Phillips has a .925 OPS between high-A and AA this year with 16 home runs and 15 stolen bases. He is ranked as the #39 overall prospect in the game and could be a future star for the Brewers.
4. OF Domingo Santana || Age: 22 || Bat: R || Throws: R || Overall Grade: 55
Santana has already cracked the big leagues, playing a total of 20 games with a .555 OPS over the past two seasons, but his rookie status remains intact. Baseball’s #87 overall prospect has done nothing but rake since being signed as an international free agent in 2009 and boasts a career .854 OPS and 106 home runs in the minor leagues. He’s hitting .320/.426/.582 in AAA this season, and his best tool is his plus raw power that has led to 16 home runs this year. Santana’s hit tool might be slightly below average at the major league level due to high strikeout totals, but he features average speed and a plus arm and should get a chance to man one of the corner outfield spots in the near future.
14. LHP Josh Hader || Age: 21 || Bat: L || Throw: L || Overall Grade: 50
Hader has definitely outperformed his expectations as a former 19th round pick, and the 6’3″ lefty has a legitimate chance to add to a growing stable of MLB caliber arms in the Brewers’ system. In 324.1 career minor league innings, Hader has pitched to a 2.97 ERA with 348 strikeouts and 141 walks. He has drawn comparisons to Chris Sale and features a fastball (that can touch 96), curveball, changeup mix that has played well at AA this season: 3.17 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 in 65.1 innings pitched. Hader weighs just 160 pounds, so it is fair to question whether his body can hold up to the rigors of starting long term. With below average control and a third pitch that still needs improvement, Hader’s impact in Milwaukee could be that of a late inning reliever.
27. RHP Adrian Houser || Age: 22 || Bat: R || Throw: R || Overall Grade: 45
Houser was drafted in the second round back in 2011, and hasn’t been quite as successful in the minor leagues as the rest of the prospects the Brewers acquired. He features a plus fastball that sits in the low to mid 90s with an above average curveball, though his changeup still needs improvement. At 6’4″ and 230 lbs, he fits into the big body mold of pitcher that the Brewers have favored in recent years and is a ground ball specialist, inducing them at a 53.8% rate this season. In 19 games this season, Houser has a 5.10 ERA in 83.0 innings, walking 35 batters while striking out 78. He’s struggled since a promotion to AA, however, and will need to improve his control if he hopes to make an impact at the big league level.
The Brewers have earned high praise around the game for the haul of prospects they achieved. They are finally looking to shed the “Milwaukee in the middle” tag that has dogged them for the last several seasons, and this blockbuster was a tremendous first step. While the rest of this season and the next couple of years will probably be painful to watch at the major league level, Brewers’ fans can finally start to take solace in the fact that Milwaukee is working towards a brighter, more sustainable future. After each tough loss this season just tell yourself “we are one step closer to the ultimate goal.”
The long clamored for “Brewers Rebuild” has finally begun. I’m almost in disbelief it’s actually happening, and I’m ecstatic to watch this franchise grow into a contender over the next several years.