Prospect Development 2015-2017

The folks up at the Baseball Prospectus mother ship have been slowly releasing the organizational top 10 prospect lists throughout the winter, and on Tuesday was the Milwaukee Brewers’ turn to be featured. If you are a fan of the Milwaukee Nine, it’s difficult not to get excited when reading the first sentence in the introduction to the article: “This system has everything you want.” Much has been made about how excellent of a job the Brewers have done during their rebuilding effort, which was started by Doug Melvin in mid-2015 and has been carried on by David Stearns since he was hired as General Manager some 16 months ago. So when we take a look back to the top 10 prospect list for 2015 (published in November 2014), we should see a group bereft of talent when compared to this year’s iteration.

2015 Top 10:

SS Orlando Arcia (20) 6 5 High-A
OF Tyrone Taylor (20) 6 5 High-A, AA
RHP Devin Williams (20) 6+ 5 R
RHP Taylor Williams (23) 6 5 High-A
OF Monte Harrison (19) 6+ 5 R
3B Gilbert Lara (17) 6+ 5 Instructs
RHP Jorge Lopez (21) 5+ 4+ High-A
RHP Tyler Wagner (23) 5+ 4+ High-A
LHP Kodi Medeiros (18) 6 4+ R
RHP Miguel Diaz (20) 6 4+ R

2017 Top 10:

OF Lewis Brinson (22) 70 55 AA, AAA
LHP Josh Hader (22) 60 55 AA, AAA
OF Corey Ray (22) 60 50 A, High-A
SS Isan Diaz (20) 60 50 A
RHP Luis Ortiz (21) 60 50 High-A, AA
OF Brett Phillips (22) 55 45 AA
OF Trent Clark (20) 55 45 A
3B Lucas Erceg (21) 60 40 R, A
SS Mauricio Dubon (22) 50 45 High-A, AA
RHP Cody Ponce (22) 50 45 High-A

(Note: the 2-8 scale used in 2015 is considered a shorthand version of the more popularly seen 20-80 scale that was used in 2017. The grades all still mean the same thing, with a 5 and a 50 being the equivalent of major league average, and a grade like 4+ can be considered the same as a 45).

Okay, hold on just a minute here. The almost universally praised 2017 system boasts six prospects who received OFPs of 60 or better. And the 2015 system, which was considered to be anywhere from the bottom 10 to one of the worst farm systems in baseball, featured…eight prospects who received OFPs of 60 or better? So in terms of OFP within the top 10, it could be said that this year’s system has actually taken a step back from where it was two years ago.

While this year’s top 10 may not offer as much promise as the 2015 list, an obvious distinction can be made between the two. Two years ago, the only player on the list who had even sniffed the AA level was Tyrone Taylor, who received a five game trial at the level at the end of the 2014 season. In 2015, BP’s scouting staff saw some eight players with the potential to be first division contributors, but all of them were years away from contributing at the big league level (two years later, just three of those players – Orlando Arcia, Jorge Lopez, and Tyler Wagner – have made their big league debuts). The 2015 list featured five players that had yet to even make it to full season ball, including one, Gilbert Lara, who hadn’t even played a game as a professional. With that much future projection involved, the 2015 top 10 was an inherently risky group.

Two years later, all but two of those players (Wagner via trade, Miguel Diaz via Rule 5 Draft pick) remain in Milwaukee’s system. With the exception of Arcia, who is no longer prospect-eligible, all of the 2015 class has fallen out of top 10 consideration. That speaks to the inexact science of scouting minor leaguers that are not in close proximity to The Show; while all those players still can boast some combination of promising tools, some have been beset by injury (Taylor Williams, Monte Harrison, Devin Williams), and others by inconsistent-to-poor performances (Jorge Lopez, Kodi Medeiros, Taylor, and Lara).

The 2017 list, on the other hand, includes five players who already have experience at the AA level or higher, and each player who made the list spent time in full season ball last year. For players like Lewis Brinson and Josh Hader, who finished last year in AAA, it’s no longer so much a question of “if” those players will make it to the big leagues, but “when” and “how much value will they provide”. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 2015, when top prospects Arcia and Taylor were still waiting to prove they could make the jump from high-A to AA, which is generally considered one of the most challenging developmental hurdles in a minor league player’s career. So while the ceiling for the 2017 group in terms of OFP may not be as high as the 2015 group’s was thought to be, the floor should be far less abstract; Brinson, Hader, Luis Ortiz, Brett Phillips, and Mauricio Dubon all appear likely to provide some modicum of MLB value in the near to mid-term future.

Ultimately, any given top prospect list is little more than a snapshot in time. The 2015 list appeared to be stuffed with potentially above-average MLB talent. Fast forward two years, and the only MLB contributions from that group are less than 35 combined innings from Wagner and Lopez and a .217 TAv from Arcia in 55 games, with major hurdles still facing the other seven players from that ensemble as they attempt to make it to the big leagues. The most recent top 10, on the other hand, figures to graduate a handful of potential impact players to the big leagues as soon as this season; though as BPMilwaukee editor-in-chief Nicholas Zettel discussed earlier this week, actualizing those 60 and 70 OFPs at the MLB level is a much rarer and more difficult task altogether.

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