Yesterday, the Brewers waived second baseman-turned-potential utilityman Scooter Gennett, and division rival Cincinnati took a flyer on the lefty batting veteran. Gennett will be known for the short term as a flawed starting second baseman whose lack of positional flexibility got the best of him on a roster that is gearing up to be as flexible as possible. Yet, in the big picture, Gennett is already a smashing success of player development, and an example of a prospect that probably produced exactly as much value as one should have expected.
When arguments are made about the state of the Brewers farm system that impeded contending runs between 2011 and 2015, fans might be tempted to look at the 2009 draft as a failure, as Gennett, Mike Fiers, and Khris Davis were the best talent returned to Milwaukee. But that’s backwards; Gennett, Fiers, and Davis were not the reason for a lack of contending clubs, the missed opportunities at the top of the draft (and relatively shallow drafts by Jack Zduriencik’s scouting department in 2007 and 2008) hurt the Brewers much more. In some universe, Milwaukee hit on the top talent and Gennett, Fiers, and Davis served as fantastic supporting cast starters in contending runs from 2013 through 2015.
Scooter Gennett appeared on three top prospect lists for Baseball Propsectus, bouncing between sixth (2012), seventh (2011), and tenth (2013). For the earlier years, Gennett scaled low among the Brewers’ three-star prospects, behind Kentrail Davis, Cody Scarpetta, Mark Rogers, Kyle Heckathorn, Amaury Rivas, Wily Peralta, Jed Bradley, Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Thornburg, and Taylor Green. Yet Gennett has had a better MLB career than each player thus far, with the potential asterisk that Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg are wild cards that could extend MLB roles to produce more future value than Gennett. Again, that’s a relatively rough memory lane to experience for Brewers fans, but Gennett is not a part of the problem of player development for those Brewers; he’s a resounding success story.
Let’s meet Gennett in 2011. Baseball Prospectus introduced the “16th round pick who signed for fourth round money,” who was thought to be “a remarkably adept hitter with excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination who consistently barrels balls with gap power. He has solid average speed and plays the game with an infectious energy.” The “bad” was already well-projected, even at this relatively early stage in the game: “It’s hard to imagine a player who looks more like a Scooter, as Gennett is short, skinny to the point of frail, and wears his socks high to accentuate his rail-thin build. He has no physical projection and needs to keep hitting, as second base is his only defensive option, and he’s no more than an average fielder.”
Fast forward to 2013, and under a new prospect ranking system, Gennett ranked as a 5 OFP, a low risk “second division starter” with the same knocks as before: “Lacks plus tools; hit tool is carrying weapon; glove is only average; arm plays below average; shows some pop, but game power will play well below-average; will need to play above ceiling to make it work.” Yet, even here the upside was worth gambling on: “Good baseball instincts; plays with intensity and purpose; can make consistent contact; can square quality stuff; shows good bat control; some pop in the stick; glove will play as average tool; improving through repetition; gamer type (of course, guys named “Scooter” have to be gamers).” As the name indeed suggests, Scooter was made to be the player that he is, and his 4.0 WARP career speaks to these scouting reports, as the second baseman carries a -10.9 FRAA with a .263 Total Average.
Even if one considers that Gennett is more akin to a fourth rounder that fell due to signability concerns than a true late rounder, the second baseman is one of the success stories of the 2009 draft. Using Baseball Reference draft data, Gennett ranks 30th among players that signed out of that draft.
|2009 Draft (Signed)||Round / Pick||WAR (B R)|
|Mike Trout||1 / 25||48.5|
|Paul Goldschmidt||8 / 246||29.0|
|Kyle Seager||3 / 82||24.3|
|Nolan Arenado||2 / 59||20.1|
|Jason Kipnis||2 / 63||20.1|
|Brian Dozier||8 / 252||18.4|
|Stephen Strasburg||1 / 1||18.2|
|Matt Carpenter||13 / 399||17.5|
|Brandon Belt||5 / 147||16.9|
|A.J. Pollock||1 / 17||15.3|
|Mike Leake||1 / 8||13.1|
|Dallas Keuchel||7 / 221||12.5|
|D.J. LeMahieu||2 / 79||11.4|
|J.D. Martinez||20 / 611||9.6|
|Shelby Miller||1 / 19||8.5|
|Dustin Ackley||1 / 2||8.1|
|Yan Gomez||10 / 310||7.9|
|Billy Hamilton||2 / 57||7.0|
|Khris Davis||7 / 226||7.0|
|A.J. Ramos||21 / 638||6.4|
|Randal Grichuk||1 / 42||6.0|
|Garrett Richards||1s / 42||6.0|
|Drew Storen||1S / 10||5.5|
|Trevor Rosenthal||21 / 639||5.4|
|Wil Myers||3 / 91||5.3|
|Brock Holt||9 / 265||5.3|
|Jake Marisnick||3 / 104||5.2|
|Mike Fiers||22 / 676||5.1|
|Rex Brothers||1s / 34||5.0|
|Scooter Gennett||16 / 496||5.0|
|Joe Kelly||3 / 98||4.7|
|Patrick Corbin||2 / 80||4.5|
|Adam Warren||4 / 135||4.5|
|Dan Straily||24 / 723||4.4|
|Matt Adams||23 / 699||4.3|
|Mike Minor||1 / 7||3.9|
|Vidal Nuno||48 / 1445||3.2|
This chart also supports the notion that Gennett was part of an extremely successful late round campaign by Bruce Seid, underscoring the fact that it was the top round failures that defined this draft’s issues rather than Gennett, Davis, and Fiers. Comparing Gennett to pick 496 in the history of the draft further emphasizes the success of the second baseman:
|Pick||MLB / Picks||WAR||WAR / Pick||Median WAR||Depreciated Value|
|496||11 / 52||88.0||1.69||NO MLB||$2.5M|
Gennett nearly tripled the expected performance level of his draft pick, providing extensive value to the Brewers for their player development in this case.
Along with the draft success, Gennett’s 2016 featured intriguing shifts, showcasing a veteran that could potentially adjust to increase his value or staying power in the MLB. The articles linked above document the intriguing adjustments Gennett made in 2016. Yet, for all the improvements against southpaw pitchers, or in the field, BPMilwaukee’s own Seth Victor proved prescient: “His career .263 TAv (in 1,637 plate appearances) speaks to his true talent level with his bat, and his defensive history speaks to his true talent level with his glove. He has absolutely earned the right to start at second base going into next season (barring an unforeseen upgrade at third base that pushes Villar across the diamond), but expecting that the Brewers have a league-average second baseman they can slot into their lineup every day is a mistake.” So it goes: an infield of Eric Thames, Jonathan Villar, Travis Shaw, and Orlando Arcia elbowed out Gennett. However, it would be a mistake to use this waiver move as evidence that Gennett is nearing the close of his career; if there is any lesson to be learned from Gennett’s career adjustments thus far, he is always ready to prove us wrong once again.