The Brewers rebuild, only insofar as it is interesting, is interesting for primarily two reasons:
- President Doug Melvin and GM David Stearns have rifled through the MLB roster in an astonishingly short amount of time, almost completely remaking the organization in 20 months thanks to the 2015 and 2016 Drafts, as well as through trades and waivers.
- The Brewers’ influx of talent via trades has returned numerous second-chance prospects from the 2013 class, including classic rebuilding trades (Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, Lewis Brinson), hybrid trades (Andrew Susac), and stunning counterbuilding trades (Jonathan Villar).
This second fact is astonishing because as an organization, the Brewers’ 2013 prospect class has been relatively underwhelming. Khris Davis is by far the best player from this class, and he does not get counted in this exercise because he was not a Top 10 prospect in 2013. The Top 10 never really surpassed an “organizational depth” role. Scooter Gennett and Wily Peralta are the other notable regulars from this prospect group, and a couple of question marks remain (as one example, RHP Jorge Lopez). In fact, in terms of overall production value, the Brewers’ 2013 prospect class ranks in the bottom third among all MLB clubs.
2013 Top 10: Value & Risk
Yet, the acquisition of Villar for the 2016 season, and his subsequent performance upon receiving a full season and blank slate to produce, showed that the 2013 Top 10 lists very much remained alive and unsettled. The tiered construction of a prospect list is not simply due to the staggered development of college players, advanced minors prospects, and high-ceiling / high-risk 18-year olds. Prospect lists are also tiered because second-chance prospects can forge MLB roles, thereby reframing the value of a class. Houston’s general 2013 prospect class proves this flexible nature:
- The Astros graduated and retain Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, and Lance McCullers;
- They traded Jared Cosart, Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, Santana, and Villar;
- They lost Delino DeShields Jr. to the Rule 5 Draft.
This constellation of player development successes, failures, and diverse transactional outcomes shows one benefit to building a surefire top rank farm system: teams can retain merely 40 percent of a prospect list and still classify that group as a smashing success. Compare the Astros’ total value produced by their 2013 Top 10 with the MLB:
|Team||WARP||Years||Made MLB||Currently In Organization?||Top 30 WARP||Others?|
|Marlins||41.1||28||90%||5||[Fernandez] Yelich / Ozuna||Realmuto [Straily]|
|Rays||36.9||17||70%||5||Archer / Odorizzi||Guerrieri / Colome|
|Mets||36.4||23||90%||7-9||Syndergaard / d’Arnaud||Wheeler / Flores|
|Astros||34.7||26||100%||4-5||Springer / Correa||McCullers|
|Blue Jays||32.8||20||70%||3-6||Stroman||Sanchez / Osuna|
|Cleveland||32.5||17||60%||4-9||Lindor / Salazar||C. Allen|
|Diamondbacks||32.3||30||80%||4-6||Pollock||Owings [T. Walker]|
|Rockies||27.7||18||90%||7-8||Arenado||Story / Dahl / Matzek / Anderson|
|Dodgers||26.8||17||80%||3-5||Puig / Seager [A. Wood]||Pederson|
|Royals||24.7||17||50%||2-7||[Ventura]||[Soler] / Zimmer / Starling / Mondesi / Bonifacio|
|Cardinals||24.2||30||90%||5||Martinez||[Grichuk] / Rosenthal / Wong / Wacha / Adams|
|Twins||21.5||24||90%||6-8||Gibson||Buxton / Sano / Rosario / Berrios / Kepler|
|Pirates||21.1||11||60%||6-10||Cole / Polanco||Taillon / Hanson / Bell / Mathisen / Glasnow|
|Red Sox||18.2||28||100%||6-7||Bogaerts / Bradley||Barnes / Swihart|
|Mariners||17.2||23||60%||3-7||Zunino / Hultzen / Paxton|
|Nationals||15.3||20||90%||6||[Eaton] Rendon||[J. Ross]|
|Tigers||11.0||20||70%||4-6||Castellanos / Rondon [Fulmer]|
|Orioles||10.9||18||70%||6-7||Gausman||Bundy / Schoop / Wright|
|Rangers||10.6||23||80%||5||Profar / Perez / Guzman / Mazara / Gallo|
|Brewers||7.9||19||70%||3-6||[J. Villar]||W. Peralta / [D. Santana / Hader] / [Susac] / J. Lopez / [Brinson]|
|Giants||6.6||16||70%||3-5||Crick / Panik|
|Reds||6.4||11||40%||4-7||Hamilton / Cingrani [Brantly / Brice]|
|Angels||6.1||14||60%||2-6||Cowart / Cron|
|Cubs||5.7||14||60%||2-5||[Russell] / Almora / Baez / Underwood / Johnson / [La Stella]|
|Phillies||3.9||15||70%||5-7||Franco / Morgan / Quinn / Joseph / Martin|
|Yankees||3.5||10||60%||3-6||Sanchez / Williams|
Players with [brackets] around their names either were not on their current organization’s Top 10 list in 2013, or they are no longer reserved by their original organization.
First things first, it must be emphasized that over the first four seasons even the most productive system from 2013 averaged 10.0 WARP per season; the median is much closer to 4.0 WARP per year from a prospect class within their first four years.One prospect class cannot drive the future of an organization; if one expects anywhere from 40-to-50 WARP each season to compete or contend, one prospect class might comprise a quarter of that season’s value. Even a very good prospect class might only provide four-to-five WARP annually for the first four years after its Top 10 list. A very good system might retain half of their Top 10 list, too. The trouble is, in many of these systems the expected WARP per season will not increase after four seasons, as fewer players are retained; it is difficult to see even ten teams on this list boasting 10.0 WARP annually from the 2013 prospect class over the next four years.
This list should feature some known entities (the Astros), some surprises (the Cubs won the World Series despite one of the worst prospect classes from 2013), some that have withstood win-now trades (Blue Jays), and some difficult to classify systems (the highly rated Rangers have simultaneously experienced some of the toughest player development obstacles from this class while retaining some of the most impactful high-ceiling, high-risk players for the future). Indeed, even the Cubs show what astute trades can accomplish; their development of prospects-in-system from 2013 leaves something to be desired, but thanks to a set of trades the Cubs retain a potential long-term starting shortstop and strong MLB depth.
For their low WARP ranking, the Brewers’ retained talent arguably rates among the best in the MLB from the 2013 class. Villar, a one-time second-chance prospect, used his 2016 breakout to catapult himself into the Top 30 of the 2013 prospect class. Furthermore, the Melvin and Stearns rebuilding trades both brought back former extremely young, high-risk prospects that morphed into less-risky, potentially impactful MLB OFP (Hader and Brinson), MLB rotation depth (Wily Peralta and Lopez), and another middle diamond candidate awaiting MLB playing time (Susac).
Even with this talent group, it will be difficult for the Brewers to catch up to other teams. Compare the Brewers to the Rockies, who not only have graduated the best player from the class (thus far, Nolan Arenado), but also have just graduated and retain David Dahl, Trevor Story, Tyler Matzek, and Tyler Anderson. That’s quite a serviceable MLB roster core, if not better. The Astros still have Correa, McCullers, and Springer, which is nearly as strong a trio as any organization claims from this prospect class. Pittsburgh has become well-known for a conservative front office that typically refuses to deal prospects, and while their current group may be riskier than Gerrit Cole and Gregory Polanco, having a quartet of graduating players paced by Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon offers more serviceable MLB roles for the Pirates.
This exercise should showcase several lessons for Brewers fans and their beloved 2017 Top 10:
- It is indeed important to acquire and develop homegrown, above average OFP roles.
- Trading away prospects with average or better OFP is not always a deathblow to a system.
- The most certain prospects may not produce at the MLB for a variety of reasons.
- The riskiest, youngest prospects may emerge years later as the strength for a particular class.
Perhaps these lines sound like truisms, but I am hopeful that in the context of organizational analysis of 2013 Baseball Prospectus Top 10 lists, each of these lines offers accurate bases for further analysis of the Brewers rebuild and prospect class expectations. Brewers fans should not expect the 2017 class to be the source of winning seasons in the future, and they should not be surprised if half the prospects listed have careers that materialize elsewhere. Should the club become competitive and eventually contend within the window of 2018-2020, the Brewers will require several additional avenues of player acquisition.