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A Deeper Look at the Brewers

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A look at what may be the 4th place team?

San Francisco Giants v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

I started this series of posts because I wanted to learn more about the other NL Central teams. The way I force myself to learn about them is to write about them. Ideally I do the same for the people reading my posts. At least I hope so. I didn’t get much feedback on my Cubs post, which means I didn’t obviously screw up at least. Anyway, here is take two for a team who I’m going into a bit more blind, at least as far as organization depth.

Catcher

The Brewers made a surprising, unexpected move before the 2019 season by signing the criminally underrated Yasmani Grandal. They signed him to a one year deal with a mutual option. Grandal had a typical Grandal season, which is to say excellent (5.2 fWAR), so he declined his part of the option and entered free agency. Which created a big hole to fill, which they really attempted to do by trading for Omar Narvaez, a player whose bat comes about as close to Grandal as you’ll find with... much worse defense. He’s not a good defender at all. He he had negative value last year on framing, handling a pitching staff, on stolen bases - put it this way. Last year, he was a 119 wRC+ hitter as a catcher playing in 132 games... and he was worth less than 2 fWAR. That is ridiculously hard to do.

His backup is Manny Piña, a more than capable backup. They have two other catchers on the 40 man, though they will probably need an injury for promotion since Piña can’t be sent down. David Freitas is a 31-year-old who has languished in AAA since basically 2013, but hit for a 155 wRC+ in AAA last year. He has gotten 143 MLB PAs, and only a 55 wRC+ to show for it. Also on the 40 man is Jacob Nottingham, a non-prospect who hit for a 63 wRC+ in AAA last year.

The Brewers have two legitimate prospects in AA: Mario Feliciano (#5 by Brew Crew Ball Community), a 21-year-old with a 129 wRC+ in High A last year and Payton Henry (#14), who is turning 23 in June and had a 107 wRC+ in High A last year. The #19 prospect (I’m just using sister site BCB for this) is also a catcher; Nick Kahle who had a 116 wRC+ in the Pioneer League last year at 22. They also have David Fry (#34 prospect by FG last year) who had a 123 wRC+ in Single A, but he’s 24 this year. And MLB Pipeline lists Jeferson Quero as the #17 best prospect, which is insane because he is 17 and was just signed as an international free agent in July. Very deep system at catcher.

First Base

To replace Eric Thames, whose club option they rejected, they signed Justin Smoak. Seems like they should have just picked up Thames option. But they saved $3 million, so totally worth it. As “depth” they’ve signed Ryon Healy, who has three years of being a bad player MLB experience, and Logan Morrison, a non-roster invitee. 5th round pick Thomas Dillard is really the only prospect of note here. He was drafted as a catcher, but only played three innings there. He had a 123 wRC+ in Single A.

Second Base

Sometimes the farm system at a position is important. It is not at this position. Keston Hiura hit for a 139 wRC+ at the MLB level last year, although it came with a .402 BABIP. Backing him up is Brock Holt, who they signed in the offseason. They claimed Ronny Rodriguez off waivers from the Tigers, who is 28 and has a career -0.8 fWAR. Also they claimed him from the Tigers. The Tigers didn’t want him. Because they made moves like claiming Rodriguez, they also traded for Mark Mathias, a 25-year-old non-prospect, who hit for a 104 wRC+ in AAA last year. Both are on the 40 man. They also invited Jace Peterson and Andres Blanco, two vets with MLB experience, to spring training.

Third Base

Mike Moustakas declined his player option, leaving the Brewers with a hole. They appear to have filled it with Jedd Gyorko or Eric Sogard. Sogard had a good year at the plate last year, but will be 34 in May and has an 84 wRC+ ZiPS projection. He’s supposed to platoon with Jedd Gyorko, but it sure seems like Gyorko should be the one getting more PAs. 25-year-old Lucas Erceg is firmly in the former prospect status, getting the #13 nod from Fangraphs last year, but he had a 69 wRC+ in AAA last year and was not among the top 20 BCB prospects. Gabriel Garcia is 22-years-old who needed to repeat Single A, but he delivered in his second stop with a 117 wRC+. And that’s about it. This is not a great system.

Shortstop

I got to be honest. Just working my way through this roster, this does not look like a great team. I mean their plan at infield, Hiura excepted, is all below average players, and there’s no depth if they don’t work out. At short, they should go with Luis Urias, who was the #24 prospect according to Fangraphs last year. He had a disappointing 81 wRC+ in the majors and has already injured himself, but he hopes to start playing in games later this week, so he’s probably good for Opening Day. If not him, they also have Orlando Arcia, who has been below replacement level for two years in a row.

Luckily, their #1 prospect - by pretty much every site - is Brice Turang. Which isn’t really going to do them much good for their 2020 team, seeing as his highest level last year was High A and he was a below average hitter there in 207 PAs. Their #10 prospect is 17-years-old and had a 160 wRC+ in the DSL. He was their #7 prospect last year by FG before he even played a game in the DSL, which I think speaks more to their system than him as a prospect, even though it also speaks well of him as a prospect.

Outfield

This system is full of catchers, outfielders, pitchers, and not much else. The Brewers have Lorenzo Cain locked up for three more years, $51 million. Christian Yelich signed with the Brewers until 2028, which covers two of their outfield spots. And they signed Avisail Garcia, who came out of nowhere with the Rays last yeaR, to two years with a club option. They also have Ryan Braun, who’s in Milwaukee for one more year until the team rejects his mutual option. The fifth outfielder is Ben Gamel, who’s not all that good, but has weirdly been a lefty who has hit lefties better than righties in his career (not that I believe he’ll continue doing so).

Also on the 40 man is Tyrone Taylor, who appears to be a guy they want to avoid sending to the majors. Their other 40 man outfielder is an actual prospect. Corey Ray, a 25-year-old, spent most of last year injured and when he was healthy, he was astonishingly bad. Basically their Elehuris Montero, but considerably older. And also worse. He struck out 38.7% of the time in 230 AAA PAs. 38 wRC+. He’s BCB’s #7 prospect. They also signed Keon Broxton to a minor league, who had a 38 wRC+ in the major leagues last year. Funny enough the prospect writer said “if things go right, he kind of seems like Keon Broxton,” which really doesn’t seem like a compliment to me.

24-year-old Chad Spanberger was acquired in a trade for Chase Anderson. He is not a prospect at all, but did have a 108 wRC+. He’s listed as a 1B/OF so you can bet his defense is suspect in the outfield. They also have Cooper Hummel, a 25-year-old who hit for a 147 wRC+ in AA. His stated position is C/OF, so I’m guessing scouts don’t think too highly of his defense. I’m guessing because he’s also not a prospect.

Their #3 overall prospect is Tristen Lutz, who had a 120 wRC+ in High A last year. And because they have a lot of outfield prospects, I’ll just list the rest instead of going by level. Carlos Rodriguez, BCB’s #8 prospect, is a 19-year-old who had a 105 wRC+ in the Pioneer League. He has had fantastically low 3% and 2.5% walk rates the last two years. Also 19 is #15 prospect Micah Bello, who had a 90 wRC+ in the Pioneer League. Hedbert Perez is their #16 prospect and he hasn’t even played yet. Lord. Soon to be 20-year-old Joe Gray had a 57 wRC+ and is the #18 prospect by BCB. BCB says he’s been recovering from injuries most of his (short) professional career). MLB Pipeline has Luis Medina as the Brewers #11 prospect and he also has not played a single inning of professional ball.

Starting Pitcher

This Brewers rotation is going to be considerably different than 2019. In the offseason, the Brewers lost 89 games worth of starts, plus another 19 starts from Jhoulys Chacin who was released in August. To replace those innings, they’ll rely on Brandon Woodruff for a full season, who was a 3 WAR pitcher in just 22 starts. Eric Lauer was a 2 WAR pitcher last year for the Padres, but he did have some home run luck and will be moving from Petco to Miller Park, which would only be a more extreme change if he had to go to Coors. He also had a 4.45 ERA, so he’s firmly 4th-5th starter material. They signed Josh Lindblom from Korea, and his projections are okay. They have him with a 4.45 FIP and 1.9 WAR. They also signed the perennially injured Brett Anderson, who finally had a healthy year last year and was average. The fifth spot appears to be going to Adrian Houser, a 27-year-old with surprisingly good results last year.

They have a few players currently penciled in for the bullpen who could jump into the rotation. Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, and Brent Suter all have various reasons to distrust them in the rotation, but all seem capable of being close to average, if not average. Also on the 40 man is Trey Supak, who is not a particularly highly regarded prospect. He came to AAA for 7 starts last year and allowed more than a run per inning. The 24-year-old is the #13 ranked prospect on BCB. The Brewers also have Shelby Miller (!) and Jacob Faria signed to minor league deals with hopes to make the MLB team. Alec Bettinger had a solid season in AA last year, but he’s only the #20 ranked prospect on BCB. Zack Brown was a victim of the juiced ball in AAA. By FG, he was the #3 prospect, but pitched... not great in AAA. He’s only the #12 ranked BCB prospect.

Drew Rasmussen is technically a starting pitching prospect, but he started 18 games and pitched only 61 innings, because he missed all of his 2018 season to injury. But he was excellent in those 61 innings. I assume they’ll keep trying him at starter. He’s the #6 prospect on BCB. Soon-to-be 22-year-old Aaron Ashby pitched half a season in A ball and half in High A. He was excellent in the lower level, merely fine at High A. He’s the #4 prospect as judged by BCB. 23-year-old Dylan File is going to have a tough challenge in AAA, but he was very good at both High A and AA last season. He’s not ranked by BCB, but is the #24 ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline.

The Brewers #2 overall prospet is lefty Ethan Small, the Brewers 1st overall pick last year. He struck out 31 batters out while only facing 68 of them. Also just 4 walks. #9 BCB prospect Atoine Kelly, just 20-years-old, annilihated the competition at the AZL. He got one start in Single A, which went poorly. Lastly, the #25 ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline is 20-year-old Max Lazar who had an absurd 109 Ks to 15 BBs in 79 Single A innings.

Bullpen

Part of the bullpen depends on what they want to do with potential starters Peralta, Burnes, and Suter. But some certainties include lefty Josh Hader, free agent signing David Phelps, lefty Alex Claudio, and Ray Black, who is out of options. They traded for JP Feyereisen, who struck out 38% of batter in AAA last year. The caveat is that he’s never actually played in the majors and is 27. Corey Knebel is recovering from Tommy John at the moment, but could return at some point this year. Devin Williams, from Florissant, could also make the team, as he more or less held his own while skipping AAA.

Bobby Wahl tore his ACL last spring training and is attempting to return this year. Angel Perdomo struck out 35% of batters in AAA last year. The Brewers also claimed 29-year-old Eric Yardley from the Padres off waivers. All three of these guys are on the 40 man and could make the bullpen in theory. They signed two veterans to minor league deals and a spring training invite in Justin Grimm and Mike Morin as well. 23-year-old Clayton Andrews is the #27 ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline. He plays both pitcher and outfield. He struck out 38.6% of batters in High A and 25.8% in AA last season while also hitting for a 141 wRC+ in High A and 117 in AA. Both hitting lines came in extremely small samples though, but still kind of cool.

Overview

You know how the Cardinals are counting on Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt to bounce back? Well the Brewers are simultaneously hoping for bouncebacks and for iffy players to maintain what they did last year. In terms of bouncebacks, you have Lorenzo Cain, Jedd Gyorko, Luis Urias, and Justin Smoak. In terms of the iffy players, you have almost their entire planned starting rotation, Avisail Garica, Eric Sogard, and Orlando Arcia. So basicallly, you have Yelich, Hiura (who had a .400+ BABIP last year might I add), Woodruff, and the bullpen for people where you don’t have to hope. And one of those is the freaking bullpen. Maybe I’m crazy, but even the past few years, it seemed like they were better set up than this and I didn’t really believe in those teams! But this year seems flimsier than usual. They also have one of the worst farm systems in baseball, and the prospects they do have mostly aren’t ready for 2020. I don’t know. This seems like a 4th place team to me and I’m not even much of a believer in the Reds.