The splash happened: For two-and-a-half years, Brewers fans and analysts wondered aloud what it might take for GM David Stearns to trade an impact prospect at the trade deadline. The debate softened somewhat during the 2017-2018 offseason, as Stearns certainly proved himself capable of parting with (several) impact prospects. This transaction was always explained away, as the deal involved five years of control for Christian Yelich, a true-prime, potentially top tier outfielder, the rare player with a 5.0 WARP season under the belt that still maintained a sense that we had yet to see it all come together. This transaction was never used as evidence that Stearns would certainly trade impact prospects if the price was right, for the time horizon of Yelich’s continued development and elite potential made the deal an anomaly.
Stearns just loudly answered that question this trade deadline.
|2018 Deadline||Brewers Trade||Brewers Receive|
|7/26/18||LHP Kodi Medeiros / RHP Wilber Perez||RHP Joakim Soria|
|7/27/18||OF Brett Phillips / RHP Jorge Lopez||3B Mike Moustakas|
|7/31/18||IF Jonathan Villar / RHP Luis Ortiz / SS Jean Carmona||2B Jonathan Schoop|
What is fascinating about each of these trades is that they are fantastic in the sense of bolstering an MLB roster, in order to ensure that this stretch run features as few weaknesses as possible, while also potentially being over-pays in each case. Yet it should be stressed that these overpays are palatable for several reasons: the Brewers maintain a largely controllable roster that is also relatively inexpensive; the Brewers have a relatively large set of players that have been minor leaguers long enough to need potential 40-man roster protection entering 2019; and, perhaps most importantly, there is an incredible amount of role risk involved with each player. These trades should provide grounds for further analysis into when and how potential overpays are helpful to a team, and they should certainly provide further evidence that WARP/$ is not the sole determination of a trade’s potential value or impact.
- Make no mistake about it, in terms of developing multiple quality pitches, command, and velocity, Luis Ortiz could potentially have the best pitching role for the Brewers system; there was a time, two years ago even, where it would not have been absurd for Ortiz to fight for a top tier pitching role in the prospect ranking cycle (and, really, it was not absurd). But Ortiz has been around forever in the advanced minors, it seems, without working full seasons. For example, the injury-fighting righty has 225 innings at Double-A without working 100 innings in a season, and with 68 innings at the 2018 deadline he could potentially miss 100 innings once again. If Ortiz can take his next step forward in the Orioles’ system, he is absolutely a more valuable asset, in terms of roster surplus, than Jonathan Schoop (and it is not close!!!), but that strong 60 Overall Future Potential (OFP) / 50 likely grade entering 2017 looks much more improbable. Ortiz is eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the 2019 season and almost certainly must be protected by the Orioles.
- Jean Carmona just made the jump stateside for the Brewers in 2018, and thus remains a full four levels away from the MLB. Additionally, Carmona might even be another year away from a clearly defined MLB potential role. In this regard, I do not envy the job of MLB scouts and analytics personnel, as it’s not entirely clear for me how I would price Carmona’s potential future value in terms of long-term systemic development.
- At BP Milwaukee, Kyle Lesniewski describe the roles and risks associated with both Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez. Medeiros could become an impact reliever at the MLB level, and it’s not unlikely that some observers still believe that he could start in some capacity, as there will always be hold outs for that sort of role. Given Medeiros’s delivery and command profile, however, as well as his fastball, Lesniewski outlines the difficulties that Medeiros may have for reaching even an impact reliever profile. Medeiros is eligible for the Rule 5 draft entering the 2019 season, and almost certainly must be protected by the White Sox, while Perez had yet to play stateside in the Brewers system.
- Finally, I already detailed the roles and surplus value for Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez, so I will not go into too much detail here. However, I will add that of each of the prospects included in this midseason deals, Phillips is arguably the most likely to have MLB floor and ceiling roles that both surpass the value of the trade return (which is not a knock against Mike Moustakas, he simply might only be in Milwaukee for a couple of months). With a prospect such as Corey Ray coming on strong in Double-A Biloxi, not to mention the considerable development of Troy Stokes Jr. at the advanced level as well, Milwaukee cannot necessarily lose sleep over trading away a depth outfielder from their stacked group when they are fighting a close divisional deficit and leading the National League Wild Card race.
|Potential Role Replication||Loss||2019 Rule 5?|
|Depth RHP Reliever||Jorge Lopez||Bubba Derby|
|Depth LHP Reliever||Kodi Medeiros||Quintin Torres-Costa|
|Depth OF||Brett Phillips||Troy Stokes Jr.|
So, readers will witness a couple of recurring facts in these trades: the Brewers largely traded away players that must be protected for 2019 to avoid their loss via the Rule 5 draft, or players with little-to-no stateside development experience (and thus years to reach MLB), and/or players with roles that may be replicated within a year. One need not believe that a player like Stokes will surpass Phillips, in terms of overall ceiling, to see the value of the young prospect’s potential to fill an MLB depth position in 2019. Phillips himself may not have had an opportunity in 2019 to take such a role. The same logic might apply to Quintin Torres-Costa and Bubba Derby. This should not be construed to mean that these current system prospects are categorically better than Phillips / Medeiros / Lopez; in fact, I would have ranked each of that trio ahead of their potential 2019 depth replacements. But once again, since systemic development, contending windows, and player development cycles are now orbiting a club that is contending for consecutive seasons (and the foreseeable future, hopefully), if it costs system depth roles to improve MLB weaknesses, the Brewers have to eat the risk of losing those ceilings.
I like when MLB trades can simply be called good baseball moves. For all the rebuilding narratives in Baltimore, Kansas City, and Chicago, the White Sox, Royals, and Orioles front offices arguably made sensible trades with quality returns that both have long and short time horizons and development cycles. Milwaukee is working as a true contender without trading from their most elite potential prospect stash. This is good all around.
Stearns priced out these converging development cycles and adroitly moved the future role risk to address an offense that absolutely needed help for a serious contending run. Just the other day I wrote, “At worst, Travis Shaw has simply begun a potential shift over to the right side of the infield, where he might serve as a viable first base option for 2019 should the Brewers and Moustakas exercise his mutual option for 2019,” without thinking that a realistic move to first base for Shaw could occur as early as this week. Now, with Jonathan Schoop in the mix for second base and Jesus Aguilar slumping, Shaw becomes a strong side platoon option at 1B to form a serious infield unit:
|1B Travis Shaw|
|2B Jonathan Schoop|
|3B Mike Moustakas|
|SS Orlando Arcia|
This infield could open 2019 should Stearns consider keeping both Moustakas and Schoop, and now the talk can turn to development cycles once more. While the Brewers continue to season second baseman Keston Hiura at the most advanced levels of the minor leagues, Schoop basically serves as an upgrade over the Jonathan Villar gamble (gambling that he’ll return to his 2016 form), thus giving the Brewers a quality starting option while Hiura completes his minor league development. While Hiura’s bat is arguably ready for the MLB, and has been mentioned as a potential MLB option by Baseball Prospectus in their latest Top 50 list, the infielder may need more work in the field after missing significant fielding development time due to an extended elbow injury. Once Hiura is ready in 2019, a Schoop / Hiura mix simply extends the #TeamDepth mantra, and the same can arguably said for the remainder of the infield.
Entering 2018, the Brewers system took a step back in terms of organizational rankings, due to a series of developmental setbacks for key prospects, MLB graduations, and trades. I began to highlight this during last year’s “Grading the System” feature, but as one can never predict baseball, the development cycles and potential OFP assessments calibrated for Corey Ray, Keston Hiura answered a crucial risk question (can he play 2B?), and a veritable gang of pop-up pitchers continued to march upward in the system, potentially boosting and extending the no-name, depth-oriented pitching staff into 2019. Make no mistake about it, the system might continue to rank in the middle of the league in terms of overall quality, and the set of clear potential impact roles (true 60 OFP+ roles) may end with Keston Hiura and Corey Ray should Corbin Burnes exhaust his rookie standing through the end of 2018.
Yet, given the instant development of 2018 First Round draft pick Brice Turang, the Brewers could demonstrate that they indeed nabbed an Elite Prep prospect that fell due to prospect fatigue. Turang could quickly help to boost the top of the system as an MLB potential role falls into place. Moreover, given the Brewers’ expanded efforts in International signings, as well as the quality use of signing bonus allocations in each of the last two MLB drafts, the lower minors could continue to host a variety of players that suddenly surge onto the prospect scene. While this does not make the Brewers system different than many other MLB systems, it provides a road map to how the club can continue to develop talent while contending. One could argue that it’s absurd to suggest that the Brewers “rely” on someone like Turang falling in the MLB draft, but this is exactly the type of prospect perception and role foresight that the Brewers must have if they are going to succeed while drafting in the bottom half of each round.
Of course, the notable graduations from the system should not be undersold as well. Now there are so many starters, depth roles, and trades from the Brewers prospect stock that I added a new category this year:
|MLB Graduates & Trades (T)|
|FA / 2011 / 2012 / 2013||RHP Jacob Barnes||LHP Brent Suter||RHP Taylor Williams||IF Nate Orf||RHP Jorge Lopez (T)|
|2014 / 2015 /2 016||RHP Brandon Woodruff||RHP Corbin Burnes||OF Monte Harrison (T)||RHP Jordan Yamamoto (T)||LHP Kodi Medeiros (T)|
|Trades (2015)||OF Domingo Santana||RHP Zach Davies||RHP Corey Knebel||LHP Josh Hader||RHP Adrian Houser||OF Brett Phillips (T)|
|Trades (2016)||OF Keon Broxton||C Jacob Nottingham||IF Jonathan Villar (T)||OF Lewis Brinson (T)||RHP Luis Ortiz (T)||2B Isan Diaz (T)|
|Trades (2016-2017)||C Manny Pina||RHP Freddy Peralta||RHP Aaron Wilkerson||C Jett Bandy||IF Wendell Rijo (T)||C Andrew Susac (T)|
|International||SS Orlando Arcia||SS Jean Carmona (T)||Wilber Perez (T)|
Now, with these graduates in mind, what does a somewhat thinner, but still rather interesting Brewers system look like?
Top 10 Consideration
Top 30 Consideration
Of course, it is also worth emphasizing how the system has been….decimated in key areas. Given the quick development by advanced prospects acquired from the major 2015-2016 trades, as well as the huge trades entering 2018 and during the recent deadlines, the pool of potential impact prospects acquiring via trade has waned:
|Trades (For Season)|
|IF Mauricio Dubon (2017)|
|RHP Marcos Diplan (2015)|
|RHP Carlos Herrera (2016)|
|RHP Trey Supak (2016)|
|[IF Yeison Coca (2017)]|
|[RHP Bubba Derby (2016)]|
|[RHP Phil Bickford (2016)]|
|[RHP Chad Whitmer (2018)]|
This is an important category to consider simply because Milwaukee demonstrated how adroit trades could quickly rebuild a system and reform an MLB roster. It will be worth watching to see if the Stearns continues to attempt to find Jonathan Villar and Keon Broxton types via trade now that the club is solidly contending. Of course, one could argue that Stearns is always trying to find this player (be it Oliver Drake, or Jesus Aguilar, or even Alec Asher), but that it simply the fact that these players will not always come via trade.
Thanks to the mechanical corrections, good health, and overall development of Corey Ray, as well as the surging role of Troy Stokes Jr., the development of draft prospects arguably has a better outlook entering 2019 than it did prior to 2018. Given the advancement of Corbin Burnes into a relief role, Brandon Woodruff and Taylor Williams into respective swingman and depth relief roles, and Brett Phillips into a fourth outfielder, it is clear that the Brewers front office is considering all possible role developments with each player (rather than following a cookie cutter model, or a model in which each prospect must immediately receive playing time in their clearest future role). It is arguable that this type of development strategy could maximize roles ranging from Stokes to Zack Brown, Jake Gatewood, and maybe even Lucas Erceg.
|Prospects by Draft|
|2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014||OF Troy Stokes||1B Jake Gatewood||RHP Devin Williams||[OF Tyrone Taylor]||[C Dustin Houle]|
|2015||OF Trent Grisham||RHP Cody Ponce||LHP Quintin Torres-Costa||OF Demi Orimoloye||[LHP Nathan Kirby]|
|2016||OF Corey Ray||RHP Zack Brown||C Mario Feliciano||3B Lucas Erceg||RHP Thomas Jankins|
|2017||2B Keston Hiura||RHP Caden Lemons||OF Tristen Lutz||C KJ Harrison||OF Je’Von Ward|
|2018||SS Brice Turang||LHP Aaron Ashby||OF Micah Bello||OF Joe Gray||[Injured Drew Rasmussen]|
Meanwhile, Milwaukee signed a couple of additional potential impact International Amateur free agents this July, continuing an attempt to build up the low minors. Carlos Rodriguez and Larry Ernesto are already making some noise in the Dominican Summer League, while prospects like Jose Sibrian and Jesus Lujano have made the leap stateside.
|2015||SS Luis Manon||OF Aaron Familia||C Jose Sibrian||OF Jesus Lujano|
|2016||OF Pablo Abreu||OF Francis Tolentino||SS Victor Maria|
|2017||OF Carlos Rodriguez||OF Larry Ernesto||OF Jeicor Cristian|
|2018||SS Eduardo Garcia||OF Eduarqi Fernandez||SS Branlyn Jarba||OF Erys Bautista|
Frankly, this Brewers system will not look as strong, in terms of potentially elite impacts roles, as the one that received ranking for 2018 at Baseball Prospectus. Yet, as new cycles of player development depth emerge in the low minors, and the Brewers continue their unique form of MLB roster construction (clearly using all 40 roster spots for MLB-adjacent roles and frequently shuffling those roles), Milwaukee could be an organizational well-suited to do more with less. For if 2017 fired the opening shot that the Brewers can contend simply based on giving high floor players a chance to work in the MLB, 2018 is advancing that ideal and carrying it to deeper logical, promotional, and transactional extensions.
Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports Images