Grading The System

On July 23, 2015, the Brewers rebuilding efforts began in earnest, as President & GM Doug Melvin traded veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for right-handed relief option Yhonathan Barrios. The move was hardly one that would signal the next contending era, but it was a strong move toward future value nonetheless. By the end of that deadline, Melvin had supplanted an excellent June draft with a handful of intriguing MLB-ready prospects and advanced minors talent.

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It has been worth retelling this story over the last year, since the franchise is clearly changing their vision from the short term to the long term. But in this story, there is a clear difference between the talent landed by Melvin, and the talent that incoming GM David Stearns acquired from fall 2015 onward. The GMs worked the rebuild on several different fronts, which arguably has strengthened Milwaukee’s current position.

  • Doug Melvin acquired prospects that could immediately begin playing in the MLB with a strong “floor” (or base skillset. See Barrios, Domingo Santana, and Zach Davies, for instance).
  • Melvin bolstered his trades with advanced minors prospects that basically could and should arrive in the MLB around the 2017 trade deadline (Brett Phillips and Josh Hader).
  • Outfielder Malik Collymore, previously a potential Top 30 member for the St. Louis Cardinals, is Melvin’s largest future play (along with January trade return, righty Marcos Diplan, which makes the Yovani Gallardo trade look more like a rebuilding effort).
  • Stearns countered with low minor acquisitions that began filling out the system behind Melvin’s advanced acquisitions (this list includes roughly six players).
  • The new GM also spurred several counterbuilding efforts, including trades involving Brewers’ prospect depth Cy Sneed, Trevor Seidenberger, and 40-man reserve asset Jason Rogers. This added significant “high floor” talent to the system, in the form of the “second-chance prospect.” It is crucial to keep mentioning this because this talent now largely escapes prospect lists (see Garin Cecchini or Keon Broxton, for instance).

With this development as a backdrop, Stearns’s 2016 deadline moves appear shrewd. The GM received a sizable amount of social media backlash for failing to demand the “hype” prospects, but what these prospects lack in name recognition they counter with tools. Previous top five Rangers prospects Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz could arguably top the system immediately, as Baseball Prospectus graded both players with strong 60 future roles. Giants prospect Phil Bickford received less stunning grades from the BP team, but even if Bickford ends up in the bullpen his role could grade out into the high leverage camp. Catcher Andrew Susac may be the best deadline acquisition, adding to the clear “second chance” prospect theme of 2016. Susac previously received future grades as a starting backstop, and, freed from Buster Posey, he will now receive the plate appearances to prove it.

So, the rebuild comprises approximately three clear fronts at the moment:

  • Continue acquiring low minors talent to create solid pipelines of talent at each position (approx. 8 prospects).
  • Grab as much advanced minors potential impact talent as possible (approx. 9 prospects).
  • Acquire “second chance” or blocked prospects that have either “outlived” their welcome or do not have an impact role in their previous organization.

In terms of timeline, the rebuild has now added another notch. If you don’t believe that the system is quite far along, consider a three year window beginning with last year’s opening shot for rebuilding:

  • 2015 (July, Offseason)
  • 2016 (July, Offseason)
  • 2017 (July, Offseason)
  • 2018 (July, Offseason)

Milwaukee is now through approximately half of their midseason trading windows, and a quarter of their offseason trading windows. Of course, it is worth mentioning that if the club continues to land second chance prospects (like Jonathan Villar) and successfully develop them into regular MLB players (like “future third baseman”), that shortens the rebuilding window in terms of answering MLB question marks (“who will be the third baseman of the future?” Jonathan Villar).

In terms of result, one cannot necessarily call the rebuild a success until one defines the desired outcome (Championship? LCS? Consecutive division titles? Sustained 1525 Elo Rating? 900 wins between 2019 and 2028?). In terms of process, however, it is difficult not to praise the systems building efforts of both Doug Melvin and David Stearns. Melvin effectively ensured that the rebuilding years could sustain a high floor by adding near-ready prospects; Stearns could then continually look for talent across various levels without as much concern for immediate MLB graduations. Adding in various player development successes (from Michael Reed, Jorge Lopez, and Orlando Arcia in 2015, to Jake Gatewood, Jon Perrin, or Brandon Woodruff (among others) in 2016), Stearns can soon turn his future efforts to both acquiring depth and dealing from depth. The rebuilding process now becomes one of consistent velocity, where each player development success becomes an answer to a particular question. It is now up to Stearns to know the questions.

Perhaps the arguments are not what Brewers fans need any longer. So, to grade the progress of the rebuild, let’s visualize the system through three routes (the draft, the trades, and international signings).

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Three Up Three Down: Mallen, Orf, Perrin
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If the 2015 season belonged largely to the 2011 draft (Reed, Lopez, and Jacob Barnes), the 2016 season belongs to the 2014 draft. Jake Gatewood is using mechanical adjustments to spur his most successful professional campaign, and a step into multiple positions to accommodate other prospects will only hasten Gatewood’s MLB opportunities (consider Gatewood the “true corner depth player” or “the 1B” or “the 3B;” that’s at least three potential MLB roles now). Brandon Woodruff is surging at AA Biloxi, thanks to his hard upper-90s fastball and strike zone dominance (78 K / 22 BB / 3 HR / 49 percent GB against 282 AA batters).

But, this is only two examples. If one seeks to construct a potential “Top 30″ list based on roles, floors, ceilings, and MLB proximity, the drafts are looking quite strong.

  • KEY:
  • Top Ten considerations in bold and italics, top 30 considerations in bold, [just interesting depth or MLB grads in brackets].
Prospects by Draft (17)
2011 (2) RHP Jorge Lopez OF Michael Reed [RHP Taylor Jungmann] [RHP Jacob Barnes] [RHP David Goforth]
2012 (1-2?) OF Tyrone Taylor RHP Damien Magnifico [LHP Brent Suter] [OF Victor Roache] [OF Clint Coulter]
2013 (1-2?) RHP Devin Williams RHP Taylor Williams [LHP Clint Terry] [SS Luis Aviles] [1B Garrett Cooper]
2014 (4) LHP Kodi Medeiros 3B Jake Gatewood OF Monte Harrison RHP Brandon Woodruff OF Troy Stokes
2015 (5) OF Trent Clark LHP Nathan Kirby RHP Cody Ponce OF Demi Orimoloye RHP Jon Perrin
2016 (5) OF Corey Ray 3B Lucas Erceg 3B Chad McClanahan RHP Corbin Burnes RHP Zack Brown

The drafts have provided a steady set of strong tools for the Brewers system, especially from 2014-2016. By contrast, the Brewers front office has revolutionized the system through trade. This is not to knock the draft, but to note that it features an entirely different purpose than the trades; via trade, Milwaukee has largely acquired players with better defined future roles / ceilings and tools than via the draft (which seems logical):


By Trade (17)

2015 (5) 2016 (12)
OF Brett Phillips OF Lewis Brinson
LHP Josh Hader RHP Luis Ortiz
RHP Marcos Diplan IF Isan Diaz
RHP Adrian Houser C Jacob Nottingham
OF Malik Collymore RHP Freddy Peralta
[RHP Yhonathan Barrios] RHP Carlos Herrera
[OF Domingo Santana] RHP Phil Bickford
[RHP Zach Davies] RHP Trey Supak
[RHP Corey Knebel] IF Garin Cecchini
[IF Luis Sardinas] IF Wendell Rijo
IF Javier Betancourt
RHP Bubba Derby
RHP Daniel Missaki
[IF Jonathan Villar]
[OF Ramon Flores]
[OF Keon Broxton]
[C Andrew Susac]

Finally, a revitalized International Complex has allowed the Brewers to more aggressively sign some top talent (like Gilbert Lara), and graduate more talent into the low minors. The international prospects are quite intriguing, if far from defining their MLB potential roles and tools.

It is easier to dream, however, as Orlando Arcia makes the leap to the MLB:

Prospects by International (12)
AAA (1) [SS Orlando Arcia]
AA RHP Angel Ventura RHP Jorge Ortega
A+ OF Elvis Rubio
A (1-2?) RHP Miguel Diaz 1B Juan Ortiz
R+ (3) SS Gilbert Lara C Johel Atencio SS Franly Mallen OF Joantgel Segovia OF Yerald Martinez
R (4) OF Nic Pierre 1B Nicol Valderray RHP Nelson Hernandez LHP Joan de la Cruz
DOSL (1-3?) C Jose Sibrian Johan Dominguez Antonio Pinero Aaron Familia Jesus Lujano Luis Manon Bryan Connell Luis Avila

If you’ve lost count, that’s approximately 23 MLB graduates, 16 prospects worthy of Top Ten consideration, more than 40 prospects worthy of Top 30 consideration, and at least another dozen “just interesting” prospects. This visualization should underscore the extent to which the Brewers system will soon bear MLB impact development and sustain “win now” trades (when necessary).

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