Minors Picture

Role Risk and Roster Building

Earlier this week, I looked at the future roster outlook for the Brewers, given the perceived roster crunch due to the 2018-2019 Rule 5 draft. Common wisdom says that the Brewers will need to trade away players in order to mitigate the effects of that roster crunch. However, I showed that the club does not necessarily need to trade anyone, as there are plenty of potentially expendable contracts and roles on the roster in order to protect as many as 10 prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. The Brewers do not need to make any trades in order to mitigate a roster crunch, then; trades can indeed occur from positions of depth or positions of strength, in order to design the best possible MLB roster, but if the price is not right, GM David Stearns can easily (and justifiably) hang on to prospects.

Related Reading:
Do the Brewers Need to Trade?
Roster Surplus and Depth Questions

In fact, one potential demonstration of a 40-man roster entering 2019 offseason shows how prospects can be accommodated and protected from the Rule 5 draft. In this scenario, I left someone like RHP Carlos Herrera unprotected under the assumption that the young prospect will still be in A-ball (likely Carolina) for 2019, making his scenario a potential repeat of the Miguel Diaz non-protect by Stearns. Players like RHP Corbin Burnes and 2B Keston Hiura do not make an appearance on this roster because they do not need to be protected after the 2018 season, and I am not making any assumptions about MLB ascension; this is an exercise in organizational necessity as connected to prospect protection.

Player Position
RHB Manny Pina C
RHB Jacob Nottingham C
LHB Eric Thames 1B/OF
SWT Jonathan Villar IF
LHB Travis Shaw 3B
RHB Orlando Arcia SS
RHB Ryan Braun LF
RHB Lewis Brinson CF
RHB Domingo Santana RF
LHB Brett Phillips OF
RHB Hernan Perez UTIL
RHB Mauricio Dubon UTIL
RHB Jake Gatewood minors
LHB Isan Diaz minors
RHB Troy Stokes minors
RHB Jett Bandy minors
RHB Monte Harrison minors
RHP Chase Anderson SP
RHP Zach Davies SP
RHP Brandon Woodruff SP
RHP Jimmy Nelson SP
RHP Jhoulys Chacin SP/RP
RHP Junior Guerra SP/RP
LHP Josh Hader RP/SP
LHP Brent Suter RP/SP
RHP Jacob Barnes RP
RHP Jeremy Jeffress RP
RHP Corey Knebel RP
RHP Taylor Williams RP
RHP Adrian Houser RP
RHP Marcos Diplan minors
RHP Cody Ponce minors
RHP Trey Supak minors
RHP Freddy Peralta minors
RHP Jordan Yamamoto minors
LHP Nathan Kirby minors
LHP Quintin Torres-Costa minors
RHP Luis Ortiz minors
RHP Josh Pennington minors
RHP Jon Perrin minors

On the face of it, this is not a bad roster. However, once one views this strategy of protecting prospects, and valuing their protection over potential trades, another set of questions arise. Most importantly, is this type of roster actually moving the club forward? Should this club enter 2019, there would be many question marks about the development of players from Orlando Arcia and Josh Hader to Lewis Brinson and Brandon Woodruff. This type of roster would absolutely heighten the “role risk” faced by each developing player. Additionally, one could challenge whether or not this type of roster strategy adequately capitalizes on the great steps forward in 2017, as the added focus on rostering Monte Harrison, Josh Pennington, and Luis Ortiz, among others, behind the likes of Brinson, Hader, and Woodruff undoubtedly pushes the Brewers’ likely competitive window into the 2020s. If players like Brinson or Brett Phillips will need a couple of years to develop at the MLB level, the same may be said for the next line of prospects as well. This puts a premium on developing players at the MLB level, which raises questions about whether the Brewers can consistently sustain a develop-and-compete strategy. One could argue that the club adequately demonstrated this ability in 2017, although it bears repeating that the front office failed to maximize resources to reach the playoffs in that case (even though the development aspect of the roster was largely a success).

Moreover, after 2018, rostering another set of prospects heightens the role risk of that group of players. Below, here is an example of some of the risks one can expect from this group of players:

Player Role Risk
RHB Jacob Nottingham Potential back-up C with pop
RHB Lewis Brinson Hit tool impedes 5-tool ceiling
LHB Brett Phillips Platoon role / 4th OF
RHB Mauricio Dubon Infield utility role
RHB Jake Gatewood Hit tool impedes ceiling
LHB Isan Diaz Hit tool must carry profile
RHB Troy Stokes Bench role
RHB Monte Harrison High-risk hit tool
RHP Brandon Woodruff Mid/Low rotation / Relief role
RHP Marcos Diplan Relief role
RHP Cody Ponce Fading rotation role
RHP Trey Supak High risk rotation ceiling
RHP Freddy Peralta Relief role
RHP Jordan Yamamoto High risk rotation ceiling
LHP Nathan Kirby High risk rotation ceiling
LHP Quintin Torres-Costa Relief role
RHP Luis Ortiz High risk rotation ceiling
RHP Josh Pennington High risk rotation ceiling
RHP Jon Perrin Depth role

The trouble with the current Brewers farm system is that even if there are potential impact roles under club control (such as Monte Harrison’s star centerfielder potential, or Luis Ortiz’s mid-rotation+ potential), there is considerable risk for reaching these roles at the MLB level (Harrison remains a raw prospect who has the same type of hit tool questions of Lewis Brinson; Ortiz has significant workload risk that impacts the quality rotation ceiling). Remaining arms in the system also exhibit rotation risk, from Nathan Kirby’s injury history to repertoire concerns from Cody Ponce and Freddy Peralta to Josh Pennington and Trey Supak.

In many cases, the roles that Brewers fans are dreaming on will indeed be impeded by risk. So the question becomes not whether the Brewers must trade these players (they don’t have to), either to win-now or to avoid a roster crunch, but whether the 40-man roster can bear the level of risk presented by these prospects. The risks associated with developing these players from advanced minors roles to MLB roles must be heavily weighed against the risks associated with trading these prospects. I do not believe that this conversation occurs in earnest among Brewers fans and analysts. The assumption is always that if the Brewers trade Brinson or Harrison, they are trading a star centerfielder; but, should the Brewers trade these types of players, they are also trading the risks associated with developing those roles at the MLB level (including adjustments necessary to address those risks).

Drawn from this particular 40-man roster, and the acceleration of potential roles and risks associated with those roles from the minor league to MLB scale, one must understand that relying on internal prospects to develop the next Brewers contender is as “all-in” a strategy as trading away prospects to acquire MLB contracts. A middle ground includes some of these prospects on the big league club, say one of Brinson or Harrison, and a trade involving the other; the same can be said of Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, Josh Pennington and Trey Supak, and so on down the minor league ladder. The ability of the Brewers front office to develop the next contending club will rest with their diversification of risk throughout the MLB club and 40-man roster: there is no silver bullet for winning, not even one that involves hanging on to each and every high ceiling prospect in the system. Will David Stearns learn from midseason 2017, and become shrewd enough to find the proper balance of risk types and roster roles?

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