Since last season’s trade of Aramis Ramirez, third base has been a rather unsettled position for the Milwaukee Brewers. Here’s a list of the players that have appeared at third base over the last two years, since the start of 2015:
- Ramirez himself
- Yadiel Rivera
- Luis Jimenez
- Hector Gomez
- Elian Herrera
- Jason Rogers
- Luis Sardinas
- Hernan Perez
- Will Middlebrooks
- Aaron Hill
- Colin Walsh
- Jake Elmore
- Jonathan Villar
Jonathan Villar has certainly shown he has the capability to be an everyday player with his outstanding season this year. While he’s been making most of the starts at third base since Orlando Arcia’s call-up, he probably profiles better at second base over the long-term. I like Hernan Perez as well as anyone, but even with his modest breakout campaign this season he’s probably more valuable in a super utility role than he would be playing everyday at the hot corner.
Again, that leaves third base as a relatively unsettled position as the team looks to the future. Milwaukee has long had a hole in their farm system at the third base, which helps to explain why so many retreads and never-were’s have been cycled through the position at the big league level of late. A long-term solution may have finally come, however, in the form of the club’s second-round selection from this summer’s draft, Menlo College’s Lucas Erceg.
Since being selected 46th overall a couple of months ago by Ray Montgomery and his staff, Erceg has done nothing but hit in the professional ranks. The 21 year old began his career in the Pioneer League, which proved to be of little challenge to him. In 26 games and 115 plate appearances, Lucas posted a video game-like .400/452/.552 slash line with 11 extra base hits (including two home runs). He even swiped eight bags, as well. The Pioneer League is considered an offensive league, but even in that context Erceg’s .333 TAv with Helena is mighty impressive.
The youngster quickly earned a promotion to the Midwest League and suited up for his first game with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on July 20th. Full season low-A ball is considered to be more advanced than the short season rookie leagues, but that hasn’t stopped Erceg from toying with opposing pitchers. After a 2-4 performance last night (including a home run), the third baseman is boasting a .299/.340/.526 slash with six home runs in 147 plate appearances.
BP Scout James Fisher recently published an eye-witness report on Erceg to provide some scouting context to go along with his ridiculous early-career numbers. On the 20-80 scale, Fisher grades Erceg as follows:
40 Hit || 50 Power || 35 Speed/Baserunning || 50 Glove || 70 Arm
Fisher notes that while Erceg has above-average bat speed, his swing can get long and he struggles with quality breaking pitches. He also adds that though Erceg has plus raw power, his in-game power plays down because of holes in his swing, and that his swing-and-miss tendencies make him a rather high-risk prospect. He does have room to add to his lean 6’3″ and 200 lb frame, which should give him more home run power as he matures. In the field, Fisher notes that Erceg loves to show off his plus-plus arm (he pitched in college with a 95 MPH fastball) and that he’s got the proper range and instincts for third base. He won’t be a base stealer at the big league level, but he’s steady enough on the bases and can go from first to third when necessary.
As mentioned above Fisher believes there’s considerable risk with a prospect like Erceg, but if it all comes together for Lucas he projects as a major league regular at the hot corner with power to all fields.
— Brewers Prospects (@BrewerProspect) August 26, 2016
— Bryan Buchholz (@BryanBuchholzNV) August 21, 2016
Fisher is not the only one who sees a potentially exciting future for the third baseman. In Tuesday’s Minor League Update on the BP main site, Mark Anderson said of Lucas: “Erceg has continued to crush the ball with the look of a fast-moving prospect. Even a move to High-A to start next season is unlikely to really challenge Erceg, and he should see Double-A in short order, giving such a polished hitter the first real test of his professional career.”
There have been questions about Erceg’s makeup, including this tweet from Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen during the draft:
Erceg has been connected to Milwaukee for a while. Huge talent, big time off-field questions.
— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) June 10, 2016
I have spoken with another scout as well who concurred with Longenhagen, who told me that Erceg’s poor makeup turned a lot of area scouts off on him. That same scout mentioned that the Brewers don’t value makeup as much as other organizations do, and to Erceg’s credit he is doing everything he can to shed that stigma. After having to transfer from Cal to Menlo College for academic reasons, Erceg took and passed a 24 credit course load in the fall semester to become eligible to play this past spring. He told BPMilwaukee’s Travis Sarandos, in an interview for Disciples of Uecker, that he’s doing his best to fall in line with his teammates:
“When I first got [to Appleton] I kept myself from thinking that I know everything … For me, it’s just been ‘keep quiet, do whatever my teammates do.’ They’ve obviously been doing all the right things, and they’ve helped me adjust to the promotion and the higher standard of professional baseball.”
With his off-field issues hopefully in the past, Erceg can continue to focus on keeping up his outstanding start to his professional career. If Anderson is correct and Erceg begins next season at AA, realistically he might only be a year or two away from the big leagues. Before free agent import Aramis Ramirez, the last Brewer to start three or more consecutive Opening Day games at third base was Jeff Cirillo, who started four straight from 1996-99. If all continues to go well in the development of Lucas Erceg, he could very well become the club’s next long-term starter at third base in relatively short order.