It should come as no surprise for me to say that the Brewers are out of contention. At this point in the year, many teams are. And, at this point of the year, most of those teams should be using September as an opportunity to try out some of their young players. Fortunately, that is exactly what the Brewers are doing.
Much of the farm system is still not quite ready. The best homegrown talent spent the year in Double-A or below. Just as a sampling, Orlando Arcia and Brett Phillips played with Double-A Biloxi; Gilbert Lara and Trent Clark were in Rookie ball; and Jacob Gatewood and Kodi Medeiros were with Class A Wisconsin.
However, the system is starting to bear fruit. The Brewers have made some shrewd moves to enhance their overall depth, and they quickly promoted two of their recent acquisitions. Outfielder Domingo Santana and right-hander Zach Davies have spent all of September with the big-league club, and each has shown flashes of their potential.
Santana has obviously been better than Davies — his .324 TAv ranks 18th in baseball amongst all players with at least 100 plate appearances. In fact, one might suggest that he’s been a true revelation in the past month. The 23-year-old has hit at every level. Each of his minor-league stops in which he accrued at least 200 plate appearances saw him post a TAv above .290, except his 2010 season, when he was only 18 and already in full-season ball. Now, he has just turned 23 and is still hitting — this time, though, it is in the majors.
Santana has spent most of his time in the majors in center field. Baseball Prospectus’ preseason scouting report did not even consider the possibility that he could play in the middle of the field — nor had Santana played more than a handful of games in center — but the Brewers are doing both themselves and the player a huge service. By letting a talented athlete challenge himself at the highest level, they are allowing Santana to diversify his skill set in a way that will help him in the future.
This is a strategy we see all the time in other sports. A basketball team lets their talented guard play point for a year or two to force him to have to make quick decisions. He, then, has this unique experience when he shifts to shooting guard, his more natural position. Santana is doing something similar. Center field is much harder than right field, so his two months of having to cover more ground and make more accurate reads will serve him well when he shifts back to a corner outfield spot.
Milwaukee is taking a similar approach to right-hander Zach Davies. As an undersized pitcher they received in return for Gerardo Parra, Davies lacks strikeout stuff but has gotten an impressive number of ground balls thus far (52 percent). Prior to the season, BP’s scouting report indicated that while he would have a chance to remain in a big-league rotation, his likely home was in the bullpen due to the concerns that his small frame couldn’t handle 200-inning workloads year after year.
Rather than pigeonhole him this early in his career, though, the Brewers are giving him a chance to prove himself. Early returns have not been super promising — he has a 4.45 DRA — but he has only thrown 15 innings in the big leagues. Even in his best-case scenario, he is unlikely to be a star; however, a mid-level prospect like Davies can be valuable as a cheap back-of-the-rotation arm.
At this point in his career and in the Brewers’ win curve, he has virtually no value in the bullpen. Most relievers are generally fungible, and there would be a high probability that Davies is ultimately worth nothing by the time the Brewers are competitive once again. By staying in the rotation, he gets to work on pitch sequencing, improve his entire repertoire, maintain his arm strength, and stay on a more consistent schedule. This extra experience will be of more value to him if he does eventually get moved to the bullpen than the extra couple years of relief work would have been.
I don’t think I am going out on a limb when I say that Santana has the brighter future. He has the more impressive pedigree and tool kit, and he has performed immediately in the big leagues. However, the fact that the Milwaukee front office is treating both players the same is incredibly encouraging. There was a risk that a front office without a general manager would lack a unified and cohesive vision, but that does not appear to be the case here.
The trade of Carlos Gomez indicates that the team knows it will not be contending next year, so these moves seem to be geared towards 2017. It is unlikely the team will give up on 2016 from the outset so don’t expect Brett Phillips and Orlando Arcia to break camp with the big-league club if they do not set the world on fire in spring training, but the willingness to experiment with Santana and Davies is a positive development.
September is almost always used as a chance to get young players experience, but the Brewers have taken the opportunity to push the boundaries for some of their rookies. This is undeniably a positive. It shows a creativity that has been lacking in the front office for the past few years. When combined with the reports that the team is interested in an Oakland executive (Dan Kantrovitz) for their GM opening, one has to be optimistic about the direction this team is heading.