Improving the Brewers Farm System | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

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
Spots 1-10 7 0 0 0 3
Spots 11-25 10 1 1 0 3
Spots 26-50 17 1 1 2 4
Spots 51-100 24 5 6 3 12
Top 10 7 0 0 0 3
Top 25 17 1 1 0 6
Top 50 34 2 2 2 10
Top 100 58 7 8 5 22

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
Top 10 7 0
Top 25 15 4
Top 50 27 13
Top 100 36 42

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.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. dbug says: February 5, 2014

    It would be interesting to know how many of those top 100 players have one year or less of time in the minors. To some extent, first round picks without much of a professional track record are overrated. There will be a lot of guys on the list that just haven’t been exposed yet. I’d like to see a list that only has players with 2+ years in the minors. That would give you a better idea of players that will actually make it to the majors.

    • Ryan Topp says: February 5, 2014

      Off the top of my head (I broke down the list twice just to make sure, but didn’t check that specifically) I think there were something like 10-15 from the 2013 draft. Most of them, outside of Appel, Gray and Bryant, were in the back half of the top 100.

      Anyway, to your larger point, you’re not wrong that there are issues. How do you comp a 17 year old Dominican kid to a 20 year old college junior, let alone a 25 year old? That being said, I think the guys that make these lists do a pretty good job of keeping those things in perspective. I’m not sure breaking it down into ever more granular looks will really result in much better lists long term.

      • dbug says: February 5, 2014

        That’s fair. I’m actually really surprised that so few from 2013 are on the list. If anyone were to look for a long-term project, a grading of the graders would be really interesting. I know Law occasionally does a “what I got wrong” podcast, but he goes pretty easy on himself.

  2. Eugene Mannarino says: February 5, 2014

    I agree they really need to open their minds and get the Best player regardless of position. But we need a future 3rd baseman and of Course a potential bone fide #1 starter

  3. SecondHandStore says: February 5, 2014

    I’m going to be very interested to see what the Brewers are able to do this coming season with regards to international free agent prospects. Eloy Jimenez (top free agent) signed for around $2.8 million last year which is approximately what the team with the 11th slot value would have been allotted to spend. To be clear, that includes all four slots. The Brewers had about $2.3 million to spend. The slot values aren’t available yet, but I think it’s safe to assume they won’t be much larger than last year. If that’s true then the Brewers will probably have somewhere round $3 million to spend. I wonder if it would be more advantageous for them to (attempt to) sign 1 top int’l free agent than to spread the money across 2 or 3.

    On a side note, Melvin in a recent interview talked about the value of prospects. He said ideally you’d like to see them become Brewers, but that they were valuable commodities because they can be traded to add talent to competing major league teams. They way he said it has me concerned about the trade deadline if the Brewers are still in the race…

    • Ryan Topp says: February 5, 2014

      On the second point first, yeah, it’s a concern. Of course, right now, there isn’t anyone in the system that I would actually really have a fit about giving up. Hopefully, by mid year a few guys will have joined that group.

      I’m really going to be interested to see what they do in Latin America. I’m not even really sure I would want them blowing all their money on one guy, but I won’t complain if it works out that way. Part of me hopes they just blow off the cap and take the slap on the wrist.

      • SecondHandStore says: February 5, 2014

        Yeah. The Cubs did that last year and they walked away with 2 of the top 3 guys and more. If they really feel very confident in their ability to compete this year it wouldn’t be the worst idea since it would mean, if they’re correct, that next time around they’d have less money to spend again.

        Arcia, Coulter, Taylor, Roache, Neuhaus, & Williams are the guys I couldn’t rationalize giving up. There are certain prospects I could handle being traded. Haniger seems like a guy that could be a good “sell high” type. Especially if Khris Davis is real. Haniger could turn into a solid average RF or Logan Schafer 2.0. Delmonico is another guy I could take or leave. They could probably also part with Jungmann and I’d be okay with it. Not sure they’re the type of prospects that gets a deal done though.

  4. Jeff says: February 5, 2014

    So, really, these are lists of guys that everybody drafts high, pretty much. Meaning, analysts like the guys that analysts have already liked. Meaning Grass is Green, as far as I can tell.

    How do these lists compare to actual major league talent? Prospects are just prospects, after all.

    • Gman says: February 5, 2014

      Yup, a good ol’ fashioned analyst/scout circle jerk!

      • SecondHandStore says: February 6, 2014

        Is it really hard to believe most of the best prospects come from the first few rounds of the draft? Hardly a circle jerk.

  5. Benn says: February 6, 2014

    This is me being completely ignorant to how the overall finances work for a team/owner, but I’m curious what extra money Mark A has kept coming in by not just being a complete seller and “giving up” on a season, fully selling out, etc.
    As a fan of the bigger picture (pretty much in-line to what Ryan has stated here), I would be 100% okay with embracing a losing season for what it is. I don’t think it would really lessen the likelihood of attending a game for me – at least I could see the hope for the future. Not sure that is the norm though.
    Would they lose that much more at the gate/merch/vending if they did embrace those losing seasons more?

    • Ryan Topp says: February 8, 2014

      It’s probably helped them quite a bit at the margins, I suspect. Not giving up on seasons makes a ton of short term business sense, and this is ultimately a quarterly business world. They would have to make some revenue sacrifices for sure if they did this.

      But isn’t prizing long term success over short term profits what we want in an owner? Don’t we vilify owners who only worry about lining their pockets and aren’t willing to make balance sheet sacrifices to win? Food for thought…

      • Benn says: February 8, 2014

        100% agree that we want an owner that is willing to sacrifice some profit at times for the overall end game. Just an honest question. I hadn’t thought much about Mark’s purely monetary reasons for not just accepting a losing season or two.. Or three haha

  6. MS says: February 6, 2014

    Good article, thanks.

    • Ryan Topp says: February 8, 2014

      No, thank you for reading and for your kind words.

  7. Btplaya says: February 6, 2014

    My question is, historically, what proportion of the top MLB players were on Keith Law’s top 100 list? I wouldn’t mind getting a few more Scooter Gennett’s out of the farm system, and I doubt he was on the Keith Law Top 100 last year (but I’m not an insider, so I’m not sure about that)

    • Ryan Topp says: February 8, 2014

      No, he wasn’t. It’s hard to grade lists like this, except WAAAAY down the line once everything is all said and done. Eyeballing these lists over time, they’ve gotten better at judging talent. Old BA lists can be pretty amusingly bad. They’re not gospel, but they do have a lot of truth in them.

  8. Dan V says: February 6, 2014

    It’s definitely more fun to have a competitive team, one that even if everything has to go right, can indeed compete. But, I have no problem rooting for the future. The Brewers are in a position where it seems like they could take advantage of being in a very competitive division and make a faster turnaround. And forgive me but they have veterans that could return role players but they also have a couple of guys that could return a legit haul…Not that I want to part with guys I’ve enjoyed watching but its hard to imagine a competitive Brewers team in 2 years. The depth and upside talent on the farm would look a lot better with a few impact players mixed into the system. Who knows maybe one of the upside guys exceeds their potential and we have reason to be optimistic about the future of the crew…

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