There has long been a narrative surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers that “they just can’t draft pitching.” This idea is mostly rooted in the the fact the Brewers have drafted and developed just one legitimate “ace” during my lifetime: Ben Sheets, who was chosen in 1999 and was a top-20 pitcher in the league for a stretch from 2001-2008.
As I’ve discussed previously in this space, those kinds of “aces” are few and far between and are very difficult for any team to come across. As such, there’s more that goes into successfully drafting pitchers than finding a legitimate number one starter. And as it turns out, Milwaukee has actually been rather successful at drafting pitchers when compared to the rest of baseball:
Since 2007, Dayton Moore's first draft, the @Royals are the only team with net negative WAR from their drafted pitchers. #TrustTheProcess pic.twitter.com/eUAex6c2oZ
— Jeff Zimmerman (@jeffwzimmerman) December 29, 2016
A few caveats about this graphic from Jeff Zimmerman, whose work has been featured at several outlets like Fangraphs and Baseball America:
- This chart covers the last 10 years of drafts, dating back to 2007.
- Overall value is measured by Fangraphs’ FIP-based WAR.
- Drafting team was the only consideration used. So if a player was drafted but not signed and makes it to the big leagues, his value is still attributed to that team (Carlos Rodon, for example, was drafted by the Brewers and the White Sox. His value counts for both teams, and he accounts for approximately 20 percent of the Brewers’ reported fWAR in this case). Same goes for if a player was drafted by one organization and traded to another, his value is attributed to the drafting organization. It’s a very “absolute value” way of looking at the draft results.
Interestingly enough, by fWAR the Milwaukee Nine have been the eighth-most successful organization at drafting pitching in the last decade. In terms of innings pitched, the Brewers rank right in the middle of the pack at 15th with pitchers drafted in the last decade having tossed 1,457 innings thus far. Only nine teams have more starts from drafted pitchers than the 216 that Milwaukee’s selections have made. That may not all jive with one’s preconceived notions, until we really start to think about just how much of the pitching staff is made up of homegrown talent. Even though that talent may not be the transcendent arms that we all dream about, Jack Zduriencik (2007-08) and Bruce Seid (2009-14) have been better than average at identifying big-league quality arms in June’s annual amateur draft when compared to rival scouting directors around the league. The jury remains out on the work of Ray Montgomery with the Brewers, as he has yet to graduate any draft prospects to The Show, though several of his selections are currently considered top prospects within the organization.
It’s also rather compelling to note the teams at the bottom of the graphic. The Royals, Red Sox, Giants, and Cubs are all among the bottom-five teams at drafting pitchers over the last decade, yet have combined to win six of the seven World Series championships since 2010. It just goes to show that drafting great pitchers isn’t the only way to win, especially in the Cubs’ case in 2016. Chicago’s main starting rotation in 2016 included Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel; none of those players were drafted by the Cubs, but were acquired via trade or free agency while Chicago’s front office focused on building an offensive juggernaut through drafting position players.
So, who are the hurlers that Milwaukee has drafted in the last decade that have made an impact in the big leagues?
Rd 14 – RHP Donavan Hand (71.3 IP, 3.53 ERA, 4.96 DRA)
Hand enjoyed a solid season as a swingman in the Brewers’ bullpen in 2013, but failed to make it back to the big leagues in 2014 and was eventually released. Last pitched for the Reds in 2015.
Rd 1 – RHP Jake Odorizzi (562.0 IP, 3.75 ERA, 4.46 DRA)
Milwaukee used Odorizzi to help bring in Zack Greinke from the Royals and made it to the NLCS in 2011. Odorizzi was eventually traded from Kansas City to Tampa Bay and only just started pitching consistently at a mid-rotation level within the last two seasons. As a result, Odorizzi is worth a whopping 7 fWAR in Zimmerman’s tweet chart.
Rd 13 – RHP Rob Wooten (68.0 IP, 5.03 ERA, 3.98 DRA)
Wooten spent parts of three seasons in the Brewers’ bullpen from 2013-15, but the bottom-line results never were able to match his promising peripheral statistics. He was released after the 2015 season and spent last year pitching in the minors for Atlanta.
Rd 21 – LHP Lucas Luetge (89.0 IP, 4.26 ERA, 4.45 DRA)
Luetge was lost as a Rule 5 pick to the Mariners in 2011 and he spent parts of 2012-15 pitching in the majors for Seattle. He spent last season with the Angels’ AAA affiliate in Salt Lake.
Rd 50 – LHP Sean Nolin (31.3 IP, 6.89 ERA, 6.07 DRA)
Nolin didn’t sign with the Brewers and re-entered the draft in 2010, where he was selected in the sixth round by Toronto. He was dealt to Oakland as a part of the Josh Donaldson trade before getting claimed by Milwaukee, and is currently a part of the organization and recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Rd 6 – RHP Hiram Burgos (29.3 IP, 6.44 ERA, 6.16 DRA)
Burgos made it to the big leagues for Milwaukee in 2013 and made six starts before he started getting besieged by injury. He missed a good portion of 2013-14 while recovering and has spent the last two seasons enjoying modest success in AAA. He recently re-signed a minor league deal with the Brewers for 2017.
Rd 17 – RHP Tyler Cravy (71.0 IP, 4.56 ERA, 5.83 DRA)
Cravy has been up and down with the Brewers over the past two seasons. He’s struggled as a starter in the big leagues but a solid stretch out of the bullpen to end 2016 could have him competing this spring for a spot on the 2017 Opening Day roster.
Rd 18 – RHP Caleb Thielbar (98.7 IP, 2.74 ERA, 5.12 DRA)
The Brewers released Thielbar a little over a year after drafting him, and shortly after he caught on with the Twins. He eventually pitched parts of 2013-15 in the big leagues with Minnesota but spent 2016 pitching in unaffiliated ball.
Rd 22 – RHP Mike Fiers (572.7 IP, 3.87 ERA, 4.26 DRA)
Fiers briefly debuted with Milwaukee in 2011 and spent parts of 2012-15 in the starting rotation, albeit with inconsistent success. He was traded to Houston along with Carlos Gomez for Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser in July of 2015 and has pitched for the Astros ever since.
Rd 39 – RHP Brady Rodgers (8.3 IP, 15.12 ERA, 8.46 DRA)
Rodgers didn’t sign with the Brewers in 2009 and was eventually selected by the Astros in the third round of the 2012 draft. He had a rocky debut in the big leagues in 2016 with Houston.
Rd 2 – RHP Jimmy Nelson (436.0 IP, 4.38 ERA, 5.15 DRA)
Nelson was at one time the Brewers’ top prospect and has some success in the big leagues, including posting a 4.11 ERA across 30 starts in 2015. Major control issues and problems repeating his delivery lead to major regression in 2016, but when he’s right Nelson has shown the ability to be a solid cog in the middle of any big league starting rotation. 2017 will be an important year in determining whether or not Nelson will be a part of the rotation going forward.
Rd 3 – RHP Tyler Thornburg (219.7 IP, 2.87 ERA, 4.68 DRA)
Like Nelson, Thornburg was a top prospect coming up as a starter. He had to deal with numerous role changes from starting to the bullpen and narrowly avoided Tommy John surgery after injuring his elbow in 2014, but finally settled in as a setup man in 2016 and enjoyed a dominant season out of Milwaukee’s bullpen. He was traded to the Red Sox earlier this month for 3B Travis Shaw and two prospects.
Rd 43 – LHP Steven Okert (14.0 IP, 3.21 ERA, 4.04 DRA)
Okert was actually drafted twice by the Brewers – in the 43rd round in 2010 and the 33rd round in 2011, both as a junior college player – and didn’t sign either time. The Giants selected him in the 4th round of the 2012 draft following his lone season at Oklahoma, and he debuted with San Francisco as a reliever in 2016.
Rd 1 – RHP Taylor Jungmann (146.0 IP, 4.50 ERA, 4.48 DRA)
Jungmann was considered one of the top collegiate arms available in the 2011 draft, but he didn’t make it to the big leagues quite as quickly as pundits expected him to. After a solid debut season with Milwaukee in 2015 (3.77 ERA in 21 starts), Jungmann began to battle his mechanics and lost velocity before getting demoted back to the minors in 2016. He made it back as a September call-up but his future with the Brewers is unsettled, to say the least.
Rd 1 – LHP Jed Bradley (7.0 IP, 5.14 ERA, 6.13 DRA)
Bradley, who was selected one pick after Jungmann, was a total flop for Milwaukee. After posting a 6.20 ERA in 17 relief appearances in AA Biloxi, the Brewers sent the lefty to Atlanta for cash. His hometown Braves gave him a brief cup of coffee this past September, but he was DFA’d after the season and claimed by the Orioles, who have since outrighted him off the 40 man roster.
Rd 2 – RHP Jorge Lopez (10.0 IP, 5.40 ERA, 3.85 DRA)
Lopez was considered a project when he was selected out of high school, and it looked like the club’s investment was finally about to pay off after he won the Milwaukee’s MiLB pitcher of the year in 2015 and made two starts for the big league club. He struggled mightily in an assignment to AAA Colorado Springs to begin 2016, however, before getting demoted back to AA to rediscover his command and his curveball.
Rd 7 – RHP David Goforth (35.3 IP, 6.11 ERA, 3.98 DRA)
Goforth throws hard and generates plenty of ground balls, but doesn’t miss many bats or have that great of control. He was up and down between Milwaukee and Colorado Springs several times between 2015-16, but never generated strong results and was outrighted off the 40 man roster after the conclusion of 2016.
Rd 14 – RHP Jacob Barnes (26.7 IP, 2.70 ERA, 3.87 DRA)
Barnes pitched out of both the rotation and the bullpen in the lower minors, but he took off once the organization made him a full time reliever in 2015 and he could focus on his outstanding fastball/slider combo. He was called up to Milwaukee this past summer and pitched well enough that he should have a spot secured in the bullpen to start 2017.
Rd 16 – LHP Carlos Rodon (304.3 IP, 3.90 ERA, 3.80 DRA)
Rodon didn’t sign with Milwaukee after they selected him in the 16th round in 2011, and his decision to instead attend college paid off when he was selected by the White Sox in the first round three years later. He debuted in the majors in 2015 and appears to be an integral member of Chicago’s roster going forward.
Rd 33 – LHP Steven Okert (14.0 IP, 3.21 ERA, 4.04 DRA)
Rd 4 – RHP Tyler Wagner (23.7 IP, 4.94 ERA, 5.46 DRA)
Though he possesses only average stuff and command, Wagner posted excellent results in the minor leagues before debuting with Milwaukee in 2015. He was dealt to Arizona along with Jean Segura last winter in the trade that netted Aaron Hill, Chase Anderson, and Isan Diaz. The D-Backs DFA’d him following the 2016 season and he was claimed by Texas.
Rd 5 – RHP Damien Magnifico (3.0 IP, 6.00 ERA, 5.53 DRA)
Like Jacob Barnes, Magnifico began his career as a starter but didn’t really start experiencing much success until after he was converted to full-time relief. He throws a hard fastball/slider combination but struggled with his command and doesn’t miss as many bats as someone who throws 98 MPH probably should. He’ll battle for a spot in Milwaukee’s bullpen next spring.
Rd 15 – RHP Buck Farmer (79.0 IP, 6.84 ERA, 4.90 DRA)
The Brewers were the second team that drafted Farmer (2009, 46th round by ATL) and they weren’t the last, as he elected to return to school rather than sign with Milwaukee. He was chosen by the Tigers in the 5th round of the 2013 draft and has spent parts of the last three years in the big leagues.
Rd 31 – LHP Brent Suter (21.7 IP, 3.32 ERA, 4.54 DRA)
Not many 31st round picks make the big leagues, especially those who have a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s. Suter does possess a bevy of offspeed pitches and terrific control, however, and is comfortable working as both a starter and reliever. He made the first start by a left-hander for the Brewers in more than three years when he debuted in August and should compete for a spot in the bullpen come next spring.
Also of note: Rd 3 – Drew Gagnon (traded with Martin Maldonado during 2016-2017 offseason for MLB catcher Jett Bandy); Rd 4 – LHP Nick Ramirez (drafted as 1B, began conversion to pitcher this winter)
Rd 2 – RHP Devin Williams (prospect)
Williams, D was drafted as a project but is considered one of the club’s top prospects. He’s has battled some injury issues thus far in his young career but made it to Advanced-A Brevard County this past season.
Rd 4 – RHP Taylor Williams (prospect)
Williams, T was the talk of Spring Training 2015 after impressing Ryan Braun with his outstanding fastball and above-average slider and command. Then came Tommy John surgery, which kept Williams on the shelf for all of 2015 and 2016. Though he hasn’t pitched competitively in two years, the Brewers still thought enough of Williams to add him to the 40 man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Also of note: Rd 12 – LHP Trevor Seidenberger (traded for OF Rymer Liriano)
Rd 11 – RHP Brandon Woodruff (prospect)
Woodruff’s stock has taken off recently, as his fastball has gained velocity, his command has improved, and his slider and changeup have both made strides since an uneven college career. He was the Brewers MiLB pitcher of the year in 2016.
Rd 12 – RHP Jordan Yamamoto (prospect)
Yamamoto had an excellent season in low-A Wisconsin and brandished improved command in 2016 along with a fastball that touches 95 MPH and an average to slightly above-average breaking ball. His smallish frame and lagging changeup could foreshadow a future role in the bullpen, though his stuff could play up in relief.
Also of note: Rd 1 – LHP Kodi Medeiro; Rd 3 – RHP Cy Sneed (traded for IF Jonathan Villar)
Rd 2 – RHP Cody Ponce (prospect)
Ponce was considered a potential first-round prior to the 2015 draft, but wound up falling to the Brewers in the second round after some injury issues during his final collegiate season. He’s hit the ground running with the Brewers, showing three above-average to plus pitches and making it to Advanced-A last season.
Also of note: Rd 1 – LHP Nathan Kirby (injured)
Rd 4 – RHP Corbin Burnes (prospect)
Burnes made it all the way to Appleton this summer after being drafted in the fourth round, showing a plus fastball and solid slider and receiving good grades for his command.
Rd 5 – RHP Zack Brown
Brown also made it up to Appleton during his first summer as a professional, brandishing a plus fastball along with a curveball and changeup that both flashed above-average.
1 comment on “Drafting and Developing Pitchers”
Considering that the 2 most prominent starters on this list made their MLB debuts for other teams, this is pretty uninspiring.