For Brewers fans looking to knock the rebuild, 2016 has seen setbacks and injuries for several notable Brewers prospects. The system development has largely served as a polar opposite to 2015’s large step forward. In this context, however, the Brewers club also offers exceptional player development lessons with Junior Guerra and Jonathan Villar, who both followed respectively non-linear paths to MLB success. It is worth keeping the lessons of both Guerra and Villar in mind while judging the 2016 Brewers farm system: simply because a prospect is not taking the most straightforward path to success does not necessarily diminish their potential to produce in the future.
Keeping this in mind, it is worth looking at the development of each player involved in the Mets’ and Astros’ bids for Carlos Gomez in 2015. The Mets non-trade for Gomez gave fans a rare look into the different types of offers that front offices can field for a player (or set of players), highlighting the difficulty of determining the most valuable trade in an industry where value can move in many different directions. Yet if this lesson was instantly available in 2015, the trade also offers even more intriguing lessons one year later. Even if a team executes a solid trade, they may need patience to await results that match the expected value of that trade. With that in mind, it is worth analyzing the 2016 campaigns of the Gomez trades.
The Trade Assets
Both Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers underscore the reality that established MLB players can also have rough years,and non-linear paths to success. In 2016, Fiers and Gomez are each having rough years for the Astros, although both for different reasons. Be it for injury (Gomez) or inconsistency (Fiers), the headliners of the Brewers’ biggest 2015 trade exemplify the struggles of the prospects and other players involved, for both the Mets and the new Brewers farmhands. Almost everyone involved in either version of the Gomez deal is worse off in 2016, which is a great opportunity to showcase the difficulties involved with player development.
For Gomez, the elite power/speed centerfielder is finally warming up after an injury-plagued early season. Gomez landed on the disabled list with a ribcage injury, although he was ailing prior to that, too. His .185 / .246 / .250 batting line entering June does not tell the full story for Gomez. Since returning, Gomez has flashed some of those tools that make him an elite threat, posting five homers and five stolen bases over his last 169 PA. However, Gomez is not otherwise hitting the ball, as the veteran is struggling with a .230 AVG and 47 strikeouts over that same time period. One can squint and see the old Gomez building back up, however, and as Gomez continues to get back into his groove, he can build on his power, speed, and walks.
Fiers has shifted his approach toward off-speed pitching in 2016, after earning his name as a one-of-a-kind fastballer. According to Brooks Baseball, Fiers selected his rising or cut fastball more than 65 percent of his 2015 pitches; that rate is down below 55 percent this year. In place of the rising and cut fastballs, Fiers has doubled his slider usage and significantly increased his change up selections. Almost across the board, Fiers is allowing more groundballs, line drives, and fly balls within in repertoire, in place of the whiffs he saw in 2015. It’s tough to pick a culprit for his increased home run rate, as his homers are up on the primary fastball, cutter, slider, and change. It’s not as though Fiers has been bad across the board, however, as the righty is managing to shift between quality and rough outings. His 5.05 DRA paces him approximately five runs below average for Minute Maid Park, which is still respectable for a back rotation profile.
The Mets Players
RHP Zack Wheeler
The New York Times published a detailed discussion of Zack Wheeler’s elbow surgery rehabilitation over the weekend. Wheeler was to be the prize of the Brewers / Mets version of the Gomez trade, a high-rotation potential that would be worth the injury risk and (hopefully) offering much more immediate value than a pitching prospect. Despite a March 2015 surgery date, Wheeler has yet to work in a game in the Mets system during 2016, and only has a few bullpen sessions to his name.
For that potential, one dreams on the running 95-96 MPH fastball and deep breaking pitch repertoire, which helped land Wheeler atop the stacked Mets organizational chart for Baseball Prospectus in 2013. Wheeler, once lauded as one of the best right-handed pitching prospects and a Top 5 overall prospect, now has the risk side of that gambling equation speak louder than the potential reward. Yet, the Mets eagerly await his return, as the righty could serve as a valuable stretch addition for an injury-plagued rotation if he returns to games in time.
- 2016 Impact: N/A (Yet to pitch).
- Future Impact: 3 years arbitration control; Role unknown
UTIL Wilmer Flores
In the middle of May, it looked like Wilmer Flores might join his teammate in the category of “Injured Potential.” The flexible infielder suffered a hamstring injury, and was batting .180 / .255 / .280 when he hit the DL. Since arriving from the disabled list, however, Flores has turned around his performance for the Mets while also serving a crucial role as a utility starting infielder. This rare role has produced a -2.5 FRAA, but one might place an asterisk next to that number to note the fielder’s positional flexibility.
At the plate, Flores is maintaining a strong contact and discipline profile since his injury. With 11 walks and 15 extra base hits (nine homers) in 145 plate appearances, Flores is further strengthening that .282 AVG. This stretch of improvement has resulted in Flores’s most valuable offensive season of his career with a .314 TAv. BaseballProspectus noted that Flores could have heavy pressure on his bat if he landed at 1B, but the 2013 #5 Mets prospect may now possess that elusive above average in-game power.
- 2016 Impact: 1.3 WARP (.314 TAv, -2.5 FRAA)
- Future Impact: 3 years arbitration control; power bat infielder/1B.
The Astros Return
RF Domingo Santana
The biggest contrast between the Mets and Astros package was the future-oriented aspect of the Houston offering (with much less immediate access to that potential). In the context of that package, Domingo Santana was the least risky trade return, in the sense that the powerful right fielder had already cracked the big leagues. However, the MLB future of Santana had many question marks, especially in terms of Santana’s contact within the strike zone. Upon entering Milwaukee’s batting order, Santana instantly won admirers with a .299 TAv and enough walks to offset those strike outs. Santana had nothing left to prove at AAA, so the Brewers traded established left fielder Khris Davis to Oakland to open a roster spot for Santana (thereby doubling down on organizational future potential).
Unfortunately, Santana has struggled with injuries throughout the bulk of the 2016 season. These struggles include a recent setback that truncated Santana’s rehab stint. On the field, the right fielder continued the extremely high walk and strike out profile at the plate, but lacked the home run punch in irregular playing time. Still, a .278 TAv is not dreadful, especially as one considers that the 23 year old’s longest stretch of uninterrupted starts yielded only 100 PA. One could be inclined to argue that Santana’s injury riddled season hurts the Brewers in the sense that Milwaukee still has to answer his question mark in 2017, but that’s hardly a complaint given Santana’s positive bursts since coming to Milwaukee.
- 2016 Impact: 0.5 WARP (missed 56 team games thus far)
- Future Impact: Remains under reserve (approximately 1 year, 79 days service after 2016); Three True Outcomes starting right fielder
CF Brett Phillips
If Santana was the least risky prospect returned in the trade, Phillips was arguably the headliner, as the athletic CF annihilated Advanced A ball and had already earned a promotion to AA within the Astros system. 2015 BaseballProspectus scouting reports of Phillips generally painted a potential five average tool (at least) profile, even though both observers disagreed about the potential hit and power tools (50 / 50 vs. 55 / 45). Phillips’s glove and arm drove the outfielder’s value, however, largely leaving most to believe that he could start in centerfield.
Phillips’s 2016 campaign at AA Biloxi is not as thrilling as his 2015 efforts for that club, as the left-handed bat has found his game power and maintained his walk profile while also enduring a brutal slump. Over the weekend, Phillips snapped a nine game hitless streak, which was part of a prolonged .143 / .271 / .275 slump over 109 PA. Even during that slump, Phillips’s bright spots shone, as the 22 year old collected seven extra base hits and 16 walks. Now, Phillips has a chance to show that he can endure professional difficulty and respond by making adjustments and showcasing that hit tool along with his others.
- 2016 Impact: 1.52 WARP (.273 TAv, -2.6 FRAA. Overall 37th of 81 200+ PA Southern League)
- Competition: Youngest 30 percent of Southern League regulars (200+ PA median age 24); Top 40 percent competition (.690 opposing OPS). [Translation: Phillips is notably young for his league and is facing relatively tough competition.]
- Future Impact: Full reserve control; Toolsy starting centerfielder.
LHP Josh Hader
There is an argument to be made that Josh Hader was the biggest riser among the Brewers prospects returned in the Gomez / Fiers deal, given the lefty’s 50 K / 11 BB / 3 GR performance over his seven games in Biloxi during 2015. The debate about Hader is well-known to BPMilwaukee readers by now: despite a legitimate high velocity fastball from the south side, some combination of off-speed stuff, command, and/or delivery (arm slot) caused many to question whether Hader will be a starter or elite reliever.
Hader has hit some road bumps since earning his 2016 promotion to AAA Colorado Springs, but the southpaw still looks like someone who may force their way into a September call-up. Of course, the youngest age of any Pacific Coast League regular pitcher (50+ IP) in 2016 is 23, so the 22 year old Hader is almost absurdly young for that advanced league. The strike out profile has not left in this advanced league, either, even if Hader is showing some issues with command while pitching in the Rockies. Even if the role is not predetermined, Hader will probably receive every chance to start with the rebuilding Brewers.
- 2016 AA Impact: 2.14 FIP (top among Southern League regulars [45+ IP])
- AA Competition: Youngest 25 percent of Southern League regulars (45+ IP median age 24); second-weakest competition (.662 opposing OPS). [Translation: Despite being notably young for his league, Hader faced weak competition.]
- Future Impact: Full reserve control; High octane lefty.
RHP Adrian Houser
Adrian Houser was the least hyped among the prospects returned, but the righty earned a quick call-up to Milwaukee and Arizona Fall League placement (along with Hader). Last Friday, BPMilwaukee’s Kyle Lesniewski featured Houser in detail in his weekly prospect feature. Lesniewski highlights Houser’s “under the surface” improvements that preceded the righty’s Tommy John surgery.
- 2016 Impact: 3.67 FIP median among Southern League regulars (45+ IP median FIP of 3.66)
- Competition: Youngest 45 present of Southern League regulars (45+ IP median age 24); Top Third opposing difficulty among Southern League regulars (.695 opposingOPS). [Translation: Houser was near median age for his league, but faced notably difficult competition.]
- Future Impact: Injury risk increased; Role Unknown.