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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ranking Brewers Prospects

I began covering Brewers prospects during Milwaukee's exceptionally disappointing 2015 season, since the big club was doing nothing and it was clear that looking to the future would be more entertaining. The season was particularly interesting because several key prospects took huge steps forward (Orlando Arcia, Jorge Lopez, and Michael Reed most notably), which was a huge boost for the system prior to the influx of talent through an excellent draft (Cody Ponce, Trent Clark, Nathan Kirby, Demi Orimoloye, etc.) and slicing rebuilding trades (Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser, Zach Davies, Malik Collymore, Yhonathan Barrios). Milwaukee even made some quiet International signings that could be praiseworthy as well (Jose Sibrian, for example). From four fronts, the Brewers system immeasurably improved.

The same development has occurred under David Stearns's watch. In his first season as GM, Stearns has made remarkable low-cost/no-risk moves (Junior Guerra, Jonathan Villar, Garin Cecchini, Rymer Liriano, Keon Broxton, Trey Supak, etc.), which are especially astute for their counterbuilding nature (i.e., Stearns unloaded prospect depth to acquire Villar, Broxton, Supak, and Liriano, for example). A couple of true rebuilding moves netted Freddy Peralta, Carlos Herrera, Daniel Missaki, Jacob Nottingham, and Bubba Derby.

Stearns adroitly acquired a "bad" contract (Aaron Hill) while moving Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner to the Diamondbacks, which added potential impact talent to the Brewers not once (Isan Diaz) but twice (Wendell Rijo), thanks to the recent pre-deadline deal to Boston. Once again, the Brewers executed a perfectly orchestrated draft in terms of leveraging risk and potential assets, which is beginning to create a signature for scouting director Ray Montgomery (Corey Ray, Chad McClanahan, Lucas Erceg, Zachary Clark,  Zach Brown, Braden Webb, Francisco Thomas, and Thomas Jankins, among others).

All told, Milwaukee has added or developed at least 30 intriguing-to-impact prospects over the last calendar year. This is a bewildering task for judging talent within the system, for even this number hardly accounts for the fact that previous impact-potential prospects are continuing on their course to success, too (Devin Williams, Marcos Diplan, and Franly Mallen, for example). Milwaukee's system is not simply stacked, it is stacked with depth pipelines emerging for Catcher, Second Base, and Shortstop, not to mention the club's glut of outfielders. The low minors may currently feature more true impact potential than the advanced minors at the moment, but several of the advanced prospects are tuning up their games in preparation for legitimate shots at MLB roles. Arcia's glove alone could carry him at shortstop; Brett Phillips is flashing five tools in centerfield; and even through some setbacks, Jorge Lopez adds rotational depth.

So, how to rank these players? Admittedly, some of these pitchers may still have question marks about whether they will start or relieve, and some of the centerfield prospects are more likely to work at other outfield positions, which digs into their potential impact. Still, there is an impressive array of tools available, and even if some players move off of elite middle diamond positions, they may have the bats to carry an offensive juggernaut. More raw power is appearing throughout the system, and there are several power/speed potential profiles. For this reason, I am inclined to believe that the bats are ahead of the arms at this point, although this could arguably be a reflection of the fact that the system's best potential arms have not yet hit AA.

I am writing this ranking here because it is too unwieldy, and also has too many question marks, to publish elsewhere. There is simply to way to say, right now, the system's #35 prospect is better than their #25 prospect; after five or six true impact top prospects, there are at least 20 intriguing prospects with tools that could grade into some MLB role.

I ranked prospects first and foremost on their highest potential tools and roles, giving preference to high probability middle diamond players and starting pitchers. But I do have a liking of big tools on their own, so it's tough for me to pass on Josh Hader's 97 MPH lefty fastball whether or not he starts or relieves. I am also trying to round out the general Top 30 range with high-floor players that could provide MLB impact in starting or bench roles. This is a necessity because prospects like Michael Reed, Jon Perrin, Damien Magnifico, and Garin Cecchini still have immense value, even if they do not have the high ceilings of other prospects.

For the purposes of this exercise, I mean the following:

  • An elite role is a starting contribution that could provide at least 10 runs above average (all around, bat and field) or 10 runs prevented. 
  • An impact role is a contributor that could be average or better (0-10 runs). 
  • A "bench" role is someone that has a tool to make the MLB, but a role that is somewhat uncertain. 
  • Power/speed players are ranked separately because I like them too much to grade fairly against others. I would invariably rank many of these players higher than I "should."
  • There are other players that I think are interesting, but there is some injury issue or they are simply too far from the advanced minors to grade.
Here's the table:
Elite Roles (6) Impact Starters (6) Impact Depth (Uncertain Role) (10) Power or Speed Loves (10) Depth (18) Don't Know / Extreme Risks (14)
Orlando Arcia Jorge Lopez Marcos Diplan Demi Orimoloye Trey Supak Nathan Kirby
Cody Ponce Isan Diaz Freddy Peralta Lucas Erceg Bubba Derby Taylor Williams
Bertt Phillips Trent Clark Kodi Medeiros Jake Gatewood Garin Cecchini Daniel Missaki
Jacob Nottingham Devin Williams Michael Reed Gilbert Lara Tyrone Taylor Aaron Familia
Miguel Diaz Corey Ray Adrian Houser Chad McClanahan Damien Magnifico Jean-Carlos Carmona
Josh Hader Franly Mallen Jon Perrin Victor Roache Francisco Thomas Karsen Lindell
Carlos Herrera Zachary Clark Zach Brown Nash Walters
Javier Betancourt Malik Collymore Braden Webb Jordan Yamamoto
Monte Harrison Tyrone Perry Jose Sibrian Nelson Hernandez
Aaron Wilkerson David Denson Troy Stokes Carlos Luna
David Burkhalter Johel Atencio
Thomas Jankins Max McDowell
Drake Owenby Yhonathan Barrios
Jake Drossner Rymer Liriano
Dustin Houle
George Iskenderian
Jose Cuas
Gentry Fortuno

Even with this table of 64 players, I am certain I forgot several interesting prospects. Like Wendell Rijo, for instance (whoops!).

Additionally, the Brewers have several rookies currently playing in the MLB:

2016 Rookies (WARP)
Junior Guerra (2.0)
Zach Davies (1.0)
Jhan Marinez (0.3)
Jacob Barnes (0.3)
Andy Wilkins (0.0)
Yadiel Rivera (-0.2)
Colin Walsh (-0.2)
Ramon Flores (-0.3)
Keon Broxton (-0.4)

What is especially interesting for the Brewers is the emerging pipeline at each position on the diamond, which should allow Milwaukee's front office to consider more depth trades (alongside the traditional/expected "rebuilding" trades involving MLB players). This chart is based on games played, as of late June, so I excluded Arizona Rookies, given that their team was under construction with draft signings:

Brewers Pipeline C 1B 2B 3B SS
AAA Pina Cecchini Elmore Middlebrooks Arcia
AA Nottingham Cooper McFarland Shaw Macias
A+ Houle DeMuth Iskenderian Cuas A. Ortega
A McDowell Sharkey Allemand Gatewood I. Diaz
R+ N. Rodriguez J. Ortiz Mallen Erceg Lara
Brewers Pipeline LF CF RF Depth Depth
AAA E. Young Jr. Reed Wilkins Pinto Orf
AA Roache Phillips Taylor Betancourt O. Garcia
A+ B. Diaz J. Davis Coulter Collymore Ray
A Stokes Harrison Belonis T. Clark L. Aviles
R+ Y. Martinez Segovia Orimoloye W. Wilson R. Gideon

With this type of depth, the Brewers front office can begin trading players that might have similar profiles, in order to maximize high prospect value and turn it into MLB wins (by both trading some prospects and developing others). Each of these players will not make the MLB with the Brewers, so as the big club's roster needs unfold throughout 2017 and 2018, the Brewers will have the deep farm system to (a) withstand injuries, (b) make impact trades, and (c) graduate talent to the MLB.