The 2016 season was an important one for the Brewers. In 2015, Milwaukee changed their general manager, and a number of front office moves were made. This meant the team was going into a different direction, with a different set of people, with a different set of skills, and ideas.
It was also a season where a number of moves needed to be made, as the franchise was officially changing directions from trying to contend to rebuilding.
A number of players, therefore, changed hands. The Brewers team we once knew was no more, and a whole new flock of young, and not so young players were given a chance at the major league level.
In the minors, this season was a glimpse into the future. The development of some major prospects was arguably the most important part of this season. If they all had poor seasons, then the Brewers could have easily gone from a good but not great farm system to a poor one, which would have set the team back for a number of years.
But, that didn’t happen. Yes, some prospects had setbacks or didn’t perform to what was expected, but on the whole, a number of young prospects shined. Perhaps most notably was Josh Hader, who came into the season with a lot of questions. Mainly as to whether he could start due to his weird delivery. Hader went on to have a great season, dominating at the AA level. While his ERA doesn’t look good in Colorado Springs (AAA), he still managed to strike out 11 batters per nine innings, and his FIP is respectable.
The development of prospects within the system was definitely important, but perhaps the most important aspect of this season came from the players that emerged throughout the year.
During the offseason, the Brewers front office made a number of buy-low moves in hopes that a few of them panned out. If none of them did, then the cost of acquiring them wasn’t all that high, and wouldn’t hurt the team financially. That said, it was important for the development of the franchise for at least few of them to pan out, and low and behold, a few did. Junior Guerra, Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez, Tyler Thornburg, Keon Broxton, and Zach Davies all emerged as productive players this past season.
While the Brewers didn’t have a ton of success on the field, as was expected, the development and emergence of these players at the major league level was a welcome sight for a franchise in need of some major league talent. It was a crucial part in the development because now the team has a number of options.
Many rebuilds are centered around prospects. In fact, many rebuilds are thought of primarily through the lens of prospects, their acquisition, and their development. This type of thinking can make teams blind to other possibilities of acquiring talent. However, Milwaukee will succeed going forward, and this primal idea should be something we remember most from this team. Many of these players will help the future Brewers teams to come. One example is Jonathan Villar, who was by WARP one of the five best shortstops in all of baseball in 2016. He won’t be playing shortstop going forward due to Orlando Arcia’s arrival, but this gives the Brewers more options, and eventually makes them a better team.
Villar can now be moved to either second base or third base, and most of his value comes from his ability to hit the ball. His bat, therefore, should transfer to whichever position he moves. The question will obviously be whether or not he can keep this up going forward, but the fact that he has shown, for an entire season that he has this ability, means that the Brewers can be hopeful this will continue. Sometimes, some players, just need a change in scenery, others break out from making adjustments. One major adjustment is that he’s started hitting off-speed and breaking pitches better than in years past.
But Villar only represents one of the many players I listed before. These other players will now not only help the Brewers with the on-field play, but also by increasing the talent pool of the franchise. The Brewers now have a number of options in the outfield, infield, and the pitching situation doesn’t look as dire as last year, when just about every pitcher on the Brewers staff looked like he would have a hard time cracking a competitive team’s top five.
The Brewers rebuild isn’t completely done, but we will probably see a transition phase next season. More prospects will start making their debuts, and we’ll start getting a clearer picture as to how this team will look going forward.
We haven’t yet gotten out of the tunnel, but we are starting to see some of the light.