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Friday, December 2, 2016

2016-2017 Brewers System Rankings

Over the last year and a half during my work with Disciples of Uecker and BaseballProspectus, I have worked on an extensive record of the Brewers farm system. This includes collecting information from BaseballProspectus, BaseballAmerica, and other sources where available, and also reading between the lines of scouting reports to guess at grades where they are not readily published. I have tried to keep a conservative standpoint in terms of prospect hype, and I generally attempt to favor overall future potential over floor. But it's obviously an imperfect science to balance these tasks with risk, assessing a player's breakout potential with their tools, or assessing their likelihood of depreciating from a top prospect to a bench player, a starting pitcher to a reliever, etc.

The Brewers have acquired boatloads of talent via 2015 rebuilding trades under Doug Melvin (see Marcos Diplan, Zach Davies [graduated], Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana [graduated], Yhonathan Barrios, Adrian Houser, Josh Hader, etc.); 2015-2016 rebuilding trades under David Stearns (see most notably Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz, who immediately became the top prospects in the system following the Jonathan Lucroy-Jeremy Jeffress trade); 2015-2016 counterbuilding trades by Stearns (see most notably Isan Diaz, as a part of the Chase Anderson/Aaron Hill return for Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner); and the first two drafts under Ray Montgomery's direction (see most  notably Trent Clark, Corey Ray, and Cody Ponce, among others obviously). This even fails to consider breakouts from the late Bruce Seid's scouting tenure, including most recently Brandon Woodruff.

As a result of this obscene influx of talent, I have found numerical rankings to be pointless. The Brewers system is at a point where there is really not that much of a difference in saying "Trent Clark is #4, and Devin Williams is #11," or "Jorge Lopez is #14 and Jon Perrin is #26." Rather, I find it more useful to split the farm system into segments based on approximations of the total number of players under reserve by the Brewers. Thus, I have found it more useful to judge players by their standing within the Top 25 percent (or so) of the system, which I have estimated around 60-to-65 players or so (counting the 40-man roster down to the Dominican Summer League). Within this framework, I have found it useful to assess players within certain ranks -- to my eyes, Brinson, Ortiz, and Diaz are the very best prospects in the system in terms of overall future potential and floor, and easily rank among the Top One percent of the system. Then, we can make somewhat meaningful distinctions between someone like Diaz and Clark (who has a fine OFP but struggled with injuries in 2016) or Miguel Diaz (who has an excellent OFP but more risk than Ortiz, Brinson, and Diaz thus far). Again, this is not an exact science, and getting hung up on the numbers risks missing more qualitative views of players' roles.


One of my favorite aspects of the expanding quality within the Brewers system is the quality of depth. First and foremost, there are prospects such as Phil Bickford, Demi Orimoloye, and others, who have potentially strong tools (a great fastball, or three potential 60 tools in Orimoloye's case), but tons of risk (in Bickford's case, his stuff is backing up; in Orimoloye's case, his distance from the MLB and overall polishing work). It would not surprise me if Bickford or Orimoloye take charge in 2017 and lead the system in next year's rankings. Similarly, I feel like most of my 2016 draft rankings are tenative, awaiting more information and another look. I'm not sure I would be surprised if someone like Corbin Burnes ends up ranking ahead of Corey Ray, or if Chad McClanahan becomes the third baseman of the future; then, there are total sleepers like Zachary Clark, who could have the best total tools package of the entire draft class. This is what makes ranking prospects both frustrating and fun -- there are cases where highly ranked guys will not ever reach those heights, and conservatism ends up making us look foolish on guys like McClanahan or Burnes. Outside of the 2016 draft, there are other total sleepers in Carlos Herrera and Trey Supak, Wendell Rijo and Franly Mallen (comparing scouting and stats, Rijo simply has never flashed his tools, but way too many reports grade him highly to surrender hope), and there are still a number of potentially talented profiles that are just too young and inexperienced to accurately rank yet (I'm looking at Jose Sibrian and Yohel Atencio here, who could help make the Brewers an amazing catching system behind Andrew Susac, Martin Maldonado, and Jacob Nottingham, among others [for example, I know some are high on Dustin Houle]).


(Photo Updated at 10:04 AM with corrected 2017 age)


A word on Luke Barker, who was recently signed out of the Frontier League and has received some attention from my esteemed colleague Kyle Lesniewski. Barker is a just plain fun addition to the system -- the eye test says he looks like Jake Arrieta, and his 6'4", 215-225 pound profile perfectly mimics Arrieta's listing. Translation: Barker looks like a physicality righty, and it's intriguing that he's a biomechanics scholar (which leads me to think of Mike Marshall, among others, as following a profile of baseball mechanics junkies).

According to a self-uploaded scouting video (h/t BCB), Barker throws five pitches, and the video shows some sharp stuff and a wrinkly little fastball. Given the Brewers' vast history as a biomechanics system, and Vice President and Assistant General Manager Matt Arnold's noted expertise in that area, it should be exciting to see what a signing like Barker produces. I ranked Barker just outside the Top 30 for fun, because I think it's hard to sleep on the frame and stuff profile. Basically, it's a hedge that the righty could serve as one of the system's big jumps in 2016 (but this analysis could very well be translated to Paolo Espino, as well, as Espino is much closer to the MLB and calls to mind the Junior Guerra pick up prior to 2016 for Milwaukee). It is my mistake not to include Espino here, but he could easily slot into the Top 20 or 24 percent of the system. Hell, by #60 in the Brewers system, there are probably (at least) a dozen guys that could be ranked any which way.