Milwaukee Brewers Facing 40 Man Roster Crunch This Winter

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The Milwaukee Brewers find themselves in a position of organizational strength that hasn’t been seen for the better part of a decade. Thanks to the breakout seasons of several prospects as well as the addition of many more through trades, the rebuilding Brewers have completely transformed their farm system in the span of less than a year. Milwaukee has laid the solid foundation for what some hope will be an abbreviated rebuilding period under a new General Manager. With this sudden influx of talent, however, the Brewers now have quite a predicament on their hands.

Each year, Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft is held during the Winter Meetings. If a team selects a player in the Rule 5 draft, that player needs to spend to the entire following season on the team’s 25 man roster, and must be active (not on the DL) for a minimum of 90 days. Players not protected by being placed on the organization’s 40 man roster are eligible to be drafted if they meet the following conditions:

-If a player was signed at age 18 or younger, they are eligible after playing for five years.
-If a player was signed at age 19 or older, they are eligible after playing four years.

If a player has gone their first six professional seasons without being added to the 40 man roster, they are eligible for minor league free agency. After the Brewers’ flurry of moves over the last few days, Milwaukee’s roster currently stands at 37 players with three more open spots available.

Thanks to Jim Goulart of Brewerfan.net, we have a complete list of players within the organization who will be Rule 5 draft eligible this winter unless they are added to the 40 man roster. Milwaukee will have a whopping 45 players who could possibly be snapped up by other teams, although this includes many players in the low minors that are unlikely to be chosen to jump straight to the big leagues. By my estimation, the Brewers have seven “must-add” players on the list:

1. SS Orlando Arcia || 2011 International Signing (Venezuela)
Brewers’ number one prospect, .308/.349/.457 in 127 games for AA Biloxi this season with 52 extra base hits, 25 stolen bases, and above average defense. The future of the franchise at shortstop and one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

2. RHP Jorge Lopez || 2011 Round 2
Brewers’ number nine prospect, 2.26 ERA, 137 K|52 BB in 143.2 innings for AA Biloxi this year. Finally developed a third pitch, induces ground balls at a 54% rate. Recently referred to as a top 50 overall prospect according to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs.

3. OF Michael Reed || 2011 Round 5
Brewers’ number 18 prospect, .271/.373/.414 in 130 games between AA and AAA this season. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, finally flashed some decent power to go with tremendous on-base skills (14% career walk rate). Could be stopgap center fielder and/or terrific fourth outfielder.

4. OF Victor Roache || 2012 Round 1
Brewers’ number 22 prospect, .255/.326/.443 with 18 home runs in 128 games between A+ and AA this season. Finally added acceptable batting average with plus power and improved walk rate. Still strikes out too much (157 times in 128 games this year), but successfully navigated important jump from high-A to AA this season. Think of him as a Domingo Santana-lite.

5. LHP Wei Chung Wang || 2011 International Signing (Taiwan)
Wang came to the Brewers in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and was retained on the active roster all through 2014, only to be DFA’d in June after a tough start to his season in high-A. In 14 starts since being outrighted, Wang has firmly re-established himself as part of the organization’s future plans, posting a 1.59 ERA in 85.0 innings with 51 strikeouts, just 16 walks, and more complete games (3) than home runs allowed (2). Wei Chung was rewarded with a promotion to AAA for his efforts, and threw 6.0 shutout innings in his Sky Sox debut.

6. RHP Adrian Houser || 2011 Round 2
Houser, the Brewers’ number 28 prospect, came to Milwaukee in the Gomez/Fiers trade at this year’s deadline. He has posted a 2.92 ERA in 37.0 innings since joining the Shuckers, showing improved command with a 32 to 6 K:BB ratio. His third pitch still needs work but he boasts a 55.2% ground ball rate this year and should develop into a number four or five starter.

7. RHP Jorge Ortega || 2011 International Signing (Venezuela)
Ortega doesn’t rack up many strikeouts, but he might have the best command of any pitcher in the system. This year between A+ and AAA, Ortega posted a 2.38 ERA in 147.2 innings, notching six complete games with 75 strikeouts and just 12 walks, or 0.7 BB/9. He has walked only 3% of hitters during his minor league career, and guys with impeccable control can usually find a role at the back end of a starting rotation.

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In addition to those seven players, there are at least another five players who could be considered “on the bubble.” Brooks Hall was protected last season, but was outrighted off the 40 man this year and had an up-and-down season in AA, evetually losing his spot in the starting rotation. Damien Magnifico performed admirably as the Shuckers’ closer this season with a 1.20 ERA in 41 games, but doesn’t miss many bats and has some command issues. Brent Suter is a lefty starter who has posted solid numbers at every level and topped out at AAA this season as a former 31st round pick. Yhonathan Barrios, aqcuired in the Aramis Ramirez deal, is eligible for minor league free agency after the season. He’s still learning to pitch after being signed as an infielder, but has performed well and greatly improved his K:BB ratio since joining Biloxi’s staff. Finally, Nick Ramirez is a slugging first baseman who has had back-to-back solid campaigns at Biloxi and provides depth at one of the organization’s weakest positions.

In order to protect all, or even some, of the players mentioned above, Milwaukee is going to have to do a lot of maneuvering on their 40 man roster come this offseason. With just three spots currently available and another opening after Kyle Lohse‘s contract is up, fringe players like 1B Matt Clark, C Juan Centeno and Nevin Ashley, OF Logan Schafer, and RHP Johnny Hellweg could be in jeopardy of losing their roster spots with the Brewers. There is also the possibility of starters like Adam Lind, Jean Segura, or Khris Davis getting moved as well, which will help move along the rebuilding process and clear some more roster space.

Whoever ends up becoming the new General Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers will have a busy winter ahead of them. Having too much talent is, of course, a great problem to walk into as an incoming GM. One thing we can be almost certain of is that there will be plenty of roster turnover this offseason, and it will be imperative for the franchise’s new decision maker to protect the team’s best assets while leveraging the others for more future gains.

Next: Brewers Inexplicably Weaken 3B Depth

Next: Brewers Farm Report: Midwest League Standouts

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