Waking up Friday morning, Brewers fans were greeted with a variation of Christmas morning gifts: instead of recalling an organizational depth arm or making a waiver claim to replace Wily Peralta, the Brewers are rumored to be recalling prospect Tyler Wagner. The move is somewhat shocking because Wagner has yet to make 10 starts at AA Biloxi, but it is also not surprising that the struggling big league club is digging into their best (and most interesting) affiliate. Wagner is one of the most intriguing prospects on the road warrior Shuckers, and if you’re skeptical of an AA player’s ability to cut it at the big league level, remember that the Shuckers are dominating their league despite playing 47 consecutive road games (and counting). Ironically, rumors about Wagner’s call-up surfaced the same day that Biloxi’s stadium-opening plans were finalized.
On to Wagner, who has the pedigree to weather a leap to the MLB. Wagner is yet another sinker / slider Brewers arm, but he works at a velocity level between the low-and-mid 90s. While some cite 96 as his top velocity, Bernie Pleskoff noted 94 as his top velocity. His slider can loop or break sharply; while videos show him throwing it in the low-80s, BaseballAmerica calls the pitch a mid-80s offering. The big question for Wagner has been his change up, but BaseballAmerica cited the pitch as one of his weapons against lefthanded bats (p. 262). In a detailed description, Pleskoff also noted:
Wagner is big and strong at 6-foot-3, 195-pounds. He has excellent mechanics, using a fairly simple three-quarters arm slot in a delivery that he repeats well. The ball comes out of his hand with ease, and there are no extraneous movements or distractions in his motion. In short, his delivery is really “clean.”
Perhaps the greatest development in 2015 is Wagner’s diminished split between right-handed and left-handed bats, while also improving his walk rate and maintaining his line drive rate at a more advanced level.
|Wagner Minors||K% / BB% / HR% (Batters Faced)||OPS vs. RHB||OPS vs. LHB||LD%|
|A (2013)||18.9 / 9.1 / 1.6 (613)||.629||.652||14%|
|A+ (2014)||19.8 / 8.1 / 1.7 (595)||.570||.617||12%|
|AA (2015)||17.6 / 6.7 / 0.05 (216)||.586||.576||13%|
According to Baseball-Reference, Wagner also exhibits an extreme groundball-to-flyball ratio. Since two late April starts in which Wagner posted 17:14 groundball:flyball, Wagner produced 64:27 groundball:flyball. It should be noted that Wagner will not maintain such an extreme low line drive rate at the big league level, and in the same manner, his groundball and flyball ratio might even out, too. However, what matters is that the righty has worked to improve elements of his game (walks, LHB/RHB split) while also advancing on the farm.
One could argue that Wagner’s path to the MLB accelerated when the organization placed him in the Arizona Fall League after his campaign at Advanced A ball. While Wagner did not excel in a relief role, the righty also did not take a rough AFL performance as a setback for his career. It is only speculation, but one simply gets the view that Wagner relished the chance to start in the Brewers’ system, and now the righty will have his chance to disprove everyone that views him as nothing but a potential reliever at the big stage.
Furthermore, since the shift from an early-season AA prospect to the big leagues is quite extreme in some regard, this transaction also hints that the organization is not simply content with A+-AA-AAA orthodoxy, but ready to simply evaluate each prospect on their own terms. (From this view, it is difficult not to wonder what will happen to impact prospects Orlando Arcia and Tyrone Taylor if the organization is ready to recall Wagner. One might hypothesize that if Wagner’s ceiling is closer to “back-end rotation starter,” recalling him for a replacement role is more warranted than recalling one of the club’s impact prospects.)
Finally, Wagner’s advancement to the big league also presents an intriguing moment for the Brewers farm. It is no secret that Milwaukee’s prospect potential has taken many national hits over the last few years. Even as the farm system arguably improves, some note that the gap between the organization’s top three prospects and other organizational depth is quite wide. Wagner represents an arm that stands squarely on the latter side of that “impact potential / depth” divide, and therefore has the chance to also prove that Milwaukee’s system might be better than some expected; certainly, it might not be as bad as its reputation suggests. For a club that undoubtedly must reevaluate its approach throughout 2015 and 2016, it is not a stretch to suggest that Wagner’s recall is a point of optimism, and perhaps a referendum on President & GM Doug Melvin‘s oversight of an improved farm.
BaseballAmerica. Prospect Handbook: 2015. Durham: BaseballAmerica, INC., 2015.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2015.
MLB Advanced Media.