Here are some things we can say, to varying degrees of certainty, about the Milwaukee Brewers:
- They need a third baseman for the future. In the 2011 offseason, Aramis Ramirez came to Milwaukee, where he manned the hot corner for three-plus years. The club traded him to Pittsburgh this past July, and they’d like to find someone to productively fill his place. GM David Stearns highlighted third base and center field (where Carlos Gomez, also traded in July, used to roam) as his top priority.
- They don’t really have a third baseman for the future. In center, the Brewers can expect Brett Phillips to blossom into a starter by 2017 or 2018. No such internal option exists for third base, where Gilbert Lara — the top prospect at the position entering the season — had a middling season at the rookie level, though it was an aggressive assignment. An 18-year-old, Lara will require at least several seasons to reach his potential, if he ever realizes it. Javier Betancourt, who came to Milwaukee in the K-Rod trade, could make the move to third at some point. He’s played up the middle for his entire career, though, and his bat has a pretty uninspiring ceiling. Overall, the farm doesn’t look like it can provide a starting-caliber third baseman for a foreseeable future.
- They do have plenty of outfielders for the future. Ryan Braun will presumably play right field for the next five years, while Khris Davis seems to have locked down left (barring a trade). Not content with these two, the Brewers have stuffed their system with men who can patrol the outfield. Phillips stands out as the best of the bunch, but Domingo Santana, Tyrone Taylor, Monte Harrison, and Clint Coulter could all develop into solid regulars.
Given this, it seems to me that the Brewers have a logical next move: trade a young outfielder for a young third baseman. It’s the classic instance of dealing from a strength to improve a weakness — and some of the (possibly) available options could really help the team.
Rio Ruiz, Atlanta Braves
Thanks to some recent moves, Atlanta has three third base types in its minor-league system. They include Ruiz, who came to the team in the Evan Gattis trade a year ago; Austin Riley, whom the team drafted in the first round this season; and Hector Olivera, whom the club acquired in the Alex Wood deal in July. This sort of logjam means at least one of them could hit the market. Since the Braves seem to be undergoing a deep rebuild, they’d likely make Ruiz — the most advanced and least exciting of the trio — available first.
Across 1,715 minor-league plate appearances, Ruiz has compiled a solid .263/.353/.399 slash line. An exquisite walk rate of 12.3 percent has helped him reach base often, while an 18.0 percent strikeout rate suggests he should make enough contact to stay relevant. As he ages (he won’t turn 22 until May), he may continue to add some power. He didn’t hit well in 2015, posting a .233/.333/.324 line in 489 trips to the dish at Double-A, but that occurred in a difficult environment for offense.
The biggest doubts about Ruiz’s future lie on the defensive side of the ball. While he owns a high-quality arm, scouts have critiqued his range to this point. BP’s scouting report last offseason stated that he would need to “further improve his footwork and lower-half actions” to stick at the third. If he can progress in this regard, he should pair a respectable glove with a noteworthy-enough bat — a combination that the Brewers would willingly accept.
Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks
As with Atlanta, Arizona’s farm affiliates possess a few captivating third-base prospects. Brandon Drury, the key piece in the Justin Upton trade three years back, will probably have priority there for the future. Yasmany Tomas and his sizable contract can also play the hot corner, although a corner outfield spot probably suits him better. That could leave Lamb as the odd man out.
As a 24-year-old rookie, Lamb certainly fared well in 2015, batting .254/.318/.382 en route to 2.3 WARP. That didn’t come out of nowhere — he demolished minor-league pitching, with a .321/.408/.552 career slash line. The issue for Lamb has always been strikeouts. A 21.0 percent K-rate below the show gave way to a 24.9 percent mark in his Major League debut. Still, he hits for power and takes walks, which should help his offense remain satisfactory (at least).
In addition to his offense, Lamb excelled this year on defense, where he earned 10.2 FRAA over a mere 782.2 innings. That sort of production will likely regress for the years to come, but Lamb shouldn’t become a negative in the field for some time. With an up-and-coming star banging on the door behind him, Lamb could depart soon; the Brewers wouldn’t hesitate to import his services.
Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals
The need here may be even more mutual than in Atlanta or Arizona. Not only does Kansas City have a starting third baseman in Mike Moustakas, they’ll need an outfielder if Alex Gordon signs elsewhere in free agency. Bringing in the 2013 first-rounder could really aid the Brewers.
Dozier has considerably greater potential than his minor-league numbers suggest. While a slash line of .249/.335/.390 won’t suffice in the majors, the raw power behind that hasn’t disappeared. Strikeouts (22.8 percent of his plate appearances) have plagued him to this point, but a healthy serving of bases on balls (10.8 percent) has helped negate those. After a brutal 2015 showing, he’ll look to bounce back in 2016, which would likely function as an in-between year for the Brewers anyway.
Should Dozier improve his hitting as needed, it will presumably become his calling card. This isn’t to say he can’t stick at third — earlier this year, BP complimented his “solid hands” at the position — but the bat will make or break Dozier’s career. At age 24, he clearly doesn’t have a good amount of time. Nevertheless, we could still see him tap into his ability someday, perhaps in the Brewer blue.
Ruiz, Lamb, and Dozier will probably never develop into All-Stars. If the Brewers did swing a deal for one of them, they would do so recognizing this. But these players can still succeed in the show, albeit with additional seasoning first. Simply receiving league-average production from the five-hole could help elevate Milwaukee back to contention.
Have another possible third baseman the Brew Crew could target? Drop a comment below or let BP Milwaukee know on Twitter.