Well folks, we’ve reached the last installment of ESPN’s Power Rankings. Unfortunately, my goal of making the top-2o failed to happen, as the Brewers dropped from last week’s No. 21 position down to No. 22. Is it disappointing? Yes, but I’ll get over it. Let me tell you why.
I had to address the rebuild in my comment. By now, every Brewers fan has heard that word a million times this season and rightfully so. Coming into this year, that’s what the team was labeled by: rebuild. There were assets that needed to be moved in order to advance the progression of the team. The on-field product was not anywhere near what the future lineup intends to look like. Uncertainty existed — would players advance themselves in an exponential manner that added depth to the team? How would certain roster spots be filled out? Many question marks circulated around this team and answers were needed.
Flash forward to Sunday. The Brewers stave off the even number of 90 losses on the year by winning in Colorado. Sure, they were 30 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the Central division. Sure, they were 14 games back of the top wild card spot. But it’s unfair to judge them based off of those numbers. We have to judge them by the expectations coming into the season (If you had them pegged for the postseason back in April, you’re even more optimistic than I am). When we do that, the argument of the Brewers exceeding those expectations and having a successful season comes into fruition.
I like to look at it like a list on a sheet of paper. The first priority of this season was to ship away players we knew were not going to be part of any rebuilding process here in Milwaukee. Exhibit A was Jonathan Lucroy. Despite the second consecutive year of hoopla at the trade deadline (this time with Cleveland), the Brewers found their trading partner in the Texas Rangers. By partnering Jeffress, the Brewers received a large chunk of Texas’ top prospects — Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Later, it was revealed that Ryan Cordell would be coming to Milwaukee as the player-to-be-named-later. Brinson and Ortiz shined in Colorado Springs and Biloxi respectively, and look to be sure-standing pillars of the organization moving into the future. Other moves such as the Will Smith deal also reinforced the Brewers’ minor league system when the team acquired Phil Bickford from San Francisco. Bickford was San Francisco’s top prospect. A Brewers fan couldn’t ask for anything better.
Moving on back to the MLB level, those questions in terms of development were answered. Jonathan Villar is shines the brightest in this category. You want to talk about development? Look at his jump in stolen bases — prior to this season, he had never stolen more than 20 bases in a year. This season? 60. Add on the fact that he nearly became the first player since Rickey Henderson (1990) to have a 20-60 stat line and there’s even more reason to celebrate. He solidified his spot on the roster moving forward, as he could fulfill either third base or second base, whichever Counsell deems more fitting.
You have players like Hernan Perez — who fans thought of just another bat off the bench coming into 2016 — evolve into a mega-utility man. Outside of his walk percentage (only 4.2 percent in 430 plate appearances), his .272/.302/.428 slash was a wonderful surprise. From the hot corner to second base to the outfield, Perez has done whatever has been asked of him. A utility man is vital in teams vying for postseason contention — look at clubs such as the Cubs and how well it’s benefited them.
The list goes on — you can’t talk about development without mentioning Junior Guerra. From just a waiver pickup to arguably becoming the team’s 2017 Opening Day starter, Guerra is the epitome of a diamond in the rough. A 9-3 record packaged with a 2.81 ERA is straight brilliance. He was perhaps the most fun part of this entire year (especially when his splitter was absolutely filthy). You can’t mention development within the pitching staff without bringing up Zach Davies either. I’ve talked about it in earlier articles. His first full MLB season stat line (11-7, 3.97 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) could possibly have him emerge into a No. 3 starter down the road. Even Wily Peralta got into the mix of finding a groove (2.28 ERA in the final month of the season). In fact, down the stretch, the Brewers entire starting staff combined for one of the best ERA’s in all of baseball. Once the offense comes around, things will begin to get more exciting.
So all in all, what I’m trying to say here is what I said in my comments this final week to ESPN. The rebuild tag has been lifted. The major decisions of whom to keep have been answered (for the most part). The assets have been corralled and are in the farm system (which MLB.com ranks the Brewers’ No. 1). Unless the team is in full dumpster fire mode come next year’s deadline, there will be little reason for Milwaukee to be one of the top sellers. We have eight of the top-100 prospects in all of baseball — our farm system is set. Now, we wait. Slowly and surely, names of top prospects will get called up. Don’t be surprised if Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips are receiving meaningful playing time late in the year. It’ll be fun seeing how aggressive the Brewers are with their promotions. Hopefully they wait and don’t rush anything, but we’ll see. If things come together immediately next season and the coalition exists, don’t be surprised if there’s a late-season Wild Card push in the Brew City 361 days from now.