For the past 14 months, the Brewers have been a system on the rise. Draft picks, trades, and in-house breakouts have transformed a farm that, until very recently, was overtly mocked by scouts and pundits into a system that is both deep and stacked with high-end talent. The Brewers have eight prospects on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, and they have several other rising stars who could find themselves replacing the highest Brewers on that list as they are promoted to the majors. Two of those prospects, Lucas Erceg and Isan Diaz, are just a short drive up I-41 away for Milwaukee fans at Low-A Wisconsin. I spoke with Erceg this weekend, and met a young man who is living his dream.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” he said of being drafted. “Just being able to go out and play baseball every day is a blessing and I’m really taking the opportunity and taking full advantage. I’m just going out every day, having a blast, and competing to win some ballgames with my teammates.
“I started off in rookie ball in Helena, MT and got promoted after about 30 games and I couldn’t be happier. But the journey only begins now.”
Projected as a third round pick, the Brewers didn’t let the 21-year-old get that far, making him the 46th overall pick on day one of the draft. While Erceg recognizes the pressure that comes with being a early round pick, he said he embraces the challenge.
“It feels great. I definitely feel like there are some eyes on me, and for me personally, I hold very high standards for myself,” Erceg said. “It goes along with the ‘high draft pick’ that hey, you know, top three rounder or whatever you have to put the numbers up.”
So expectations are a little higher?
“Exactly, exactly. It’s kind of an adjustment for me because I’ve always been a middle of the pack guy. I’ve always not really tried to stand out and just be quiet, stay humble and just do whatever I can to help my team win.”
If trying to be middle of the pack and not standing out has been Erceg’s goal as a professional, it is the first time in his baseball career that he has failed spectacularly. He raked at rookie-level Helena, hitting .400/.452/.552 with eight stolen bases in just 26 games, forcing a promotion to Wisconsin. He’s hardly slowed down against the increased level of competition, hitting .317/.362/.492 with a 147 wRC+ while hitting in the heart of the Timber Rattlers order and providing protection to Diaz. Erceg praised the city of Appleton, saying he loved the atmosphere of his new home.
“It’s a great environment, a great stadium definitely,” Erceg said. “The crowd is awesome, they’re very into the ballgame. They’re troopers too; [Thursday] night we had a couple of fans out there that were sticking it out in the rain and it’s really cool to see because you know, we’re grinding out there through the rain and all the other things that come along with that and they couldn’t even give a care in the world — they just want to watch some baseball.”
Erceg began his collegiate career at University of California at Berkeley, later transferring to Menlo College. He was a two-way player at both California and Menlo, playing third base and closing at both schools. Erceg was a First Team All Pac 12 selection in his sophomore year, helping to lead the Golden Bears into the NCAA tournament. During his lone season with Melno, he posted a .308/.351/.639 batting line with a school record 20 home runs as well as a 0.78 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 innings. Originally listed as a pitching prospect out of high school, he’s now been fully converted to a position player.
Academic issues forced Erceg’s transfer from California, which made scouting him during his junior year difficult for a pair of reasons. The level of competition in the NAIA, of which Menlo is a member, is very different (read: much lower) from the Pac 12 and NCAA Division I. Also at play, deserved or not, concerning the circumstances of his exit from California were questions about his character and work ethic. After he was drafted Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs went so far as to say that Erceg had “big time off-field questions.”
That’s a big and potentially unfair claim to make and Longenhagen, when I asked, alluded to the transfer and to “other stuff from this spring,” about which I could find no information. After transferring to Menlo, Erceg was required to pass 24 credits — twice what qualifies as full time — in the fall in order to become eligible to play, and he did so with flying colors, according to D1Baseball.com. At the time, Erceg acknowledged the mistakes that led to his having to transfer, ad he looks to have worked hard to rectify them. My conversation with Erceg revealed a very humble, very mature young man who not only knows where he wants to go, but what it’ll take to get there.
“When I first got [to Appleton] I kept myself from thinking that I know everything … For me, it’s just been ‘keep quiet, do whatever my teammates do.’ They’ve obviously been doing all the right things, and they’ve helped me adjust to the promotion and the higher standard of professional baseball,” he said.
In a season where several of Milwaukee’s prospects at the lower levels have struggled at the plate, Erceg has started his career by bursting through even the most optimistic expectations. Along with Diaz, Trent Clark, and Troy Stokes, he is part of a formidable top of the lineup in Appleton that is giving Brewers fans a fascinating look at the team’s future.