It’s prospect evaluation and top 100 list season, a time that many Brewers fans have probably come to loathe after the last few years. None of the news has been particularly good for Milwaukee, though there has certainly been a range of opinions within the overall assessment that they’re towards the bottom of all franchises in terms of system strength.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis ranked Jimmy Nelson the 83rd best prospect in the game, the only Brewer to make a major top 100 list so far. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus didn’t have any Brewers in his top 101, but did say that Tyrone Taylor had a good case on his most recent podcast. Incidentally, they spent a considerable amount of time talking about the Brewers in that podcast, so it’s definitely worth a listen. On the other end of the spectrum, Keith Law had no one in his top 100, ranked them last in the game in overall system strength and, when asked in his chat, said “Nobody came close. That’s a really weak system.”
The Brewers pretty clearly have one of the weaker farm systems in the game right now, at least in terms of what is most readily apparent at the moment. Farm systems can sometimes get better as players mature and skills that may not have been apparent earlier become clear as the players improve. Brewers fans can certainly hope for this, and if you listen to Parks, he does see some upside in the system that could boost the current crop down the road. At the same time, though, every effort should be made to improve the Brewers’ farm system going forward, because just doing what got them to this place and hoping for better results isn’t all that likely to lead to the major, hoped-for changes.
Let’s work under the assumption that the Brewers need to get more top 100-type prospects. Even if these lists are flawed, they are a pretty good place to start when talking about which players in the minor leagues will end up being the best future major leaguers. Let’s take a look at exactly who is on Law’s list in terms of how they got into pro ball.
|First Round||Second Round||Third to Fifth Rounds||6th Round or Later||International|
Some things pop right out about this list. Over half of the players (58) on it were taken in the first round of the draft. The next largest group was those signed as international amateurs, mostly from Latin America, but also from the Far East. From the second round on, the draft produced only 20 players on Law’s list. It’s worth noting that the definition of first round has changed from year to year because of the large amounts of compensation picks that used to be handed out. Now that the system has been streamlined, there are fewer first round picks, so guys that perhaps would have been taken in the first round in the past would now often slip to the second.
Anyway, it’s obviously critical to hit on first rounders if you want to have guys on top 100 lists. It’s not quite that simple, though, because not every team has access to the same first rounders as every other team. If a team picks first, they can take anyone they want, at least in theory. If a team picks 20th, they can’t take any of the first 19 picks. This limits how well a team can draft, at least to some extent. Below is a table of the top 100, but this time it’s broken down by whether or not the Brewers had the ability to draft the player or if they were already off the board by the time they had their first pick:
|Drafted Before||Drafted After|
|1 to 10||7||0|
|11 to 25||8||4|
|26 to 50||12||9|
|51 to 100||9||29|
Of the seven players in Law’s top 10 that were drafted, the Brewers could have drafted exactly none of them, because they were all off the board by the time they picked. Of the 40 players taken drafted who made Law’s top 50, the only 13 were ever on the board for the Brewers when they picked. The back half of the top 100 is another story, though, with only nine of 38 players unavailable to the Brewers.
Of course, many of the teams in MLB that have had some success in recent seasons could also claim that they’ve been limited in this way and yet have managed to put together better farms than the Crew. Some have done it by spending lots of money, an option that simply isn’t available to teams anymore under the new CBA that’s been in place the last two drafts. Others used the Latin American market to more effect than the Brewers have, something the team has focused on improving, but will take some time to pay off given how long it takes to develop most talent from that area. Still others used trades to great effect to bring in players that they maybe couldn’t have drafted but were able to move present talent to get.
Realistically, if the Brewers want to add lots of top flight talent to their farm system, here is what they need to do:
- Make the most out of lost seasons
This is a little tricky, because it means accepting and even embracing losing from time to time, something the Brewers have been pretty allergic to in recent seasons. The idea is basically that when a team falls out of it, they should not be afraid to deal away some of their older players and get back prospects in return. This not only helps bolster the farm system immediately, but it should also help the team move up some in the following year’s draft. This also gets the team more money to spend on both the draft and international amateurs. The Boston Red Sox in 2012 demonstrated just how powerful a tactic this is.
- Make Latin America a priority
The team appears to be ahead of the curve on this one, at least, with the new facility in the Dominican Republic and the recent shakeup to the scouting staff. The new CBA should actually help the Brewers compete in Latin America better than they were able to before, since teams can no longer go in and just dump huge amounts of money for tons of players like they used to. As mentioned before, though, it’s going to take some time for this to pay off.
- Draft better in the first round
The Brewers may not have picked very highly in recent drafts, but they have passed on a considerable amount of talent without “hitting” on a top prospect is quite a while. There have certainly been times when it seemed like the team narrowed their focus, like when they went with a pair of college pitchers in 2011 or like 2012 when they drafted three potential power hitters early. Whether or not they really did narrow their field, no team can afford to draft for need and they definitely cannot do so going forward. The Brewers do have some talent with upside in the system now and a decent amount of depth. If they can just add a few top prospects going forward, the system could really improve in a hurry.