Congratulations to everybody reading this post. We’ve finally made our way through the desolate wasteland of five months without any baseball. With Opening Day here, we thought it’d be fun to make some “bold” statements that we could see happening throughout the course of the year, and we’ll provide some reasons why. Let’s play some baseball.
1. Christian Yelich will become an MVP candidate.
Due to the outfield logjam that has come to fruition from the acquisitions of Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, many fans are voicing displeasure that a move wasn’t made to ship off Domingo Santana for a pitcher. With that being said, part of me thinks that may be distracting some people away from just how good Yelich actually is. In recent years down in Miami, Yelich has put forth incredible seasons. In 2016, he slashed a .298/.376/.483, tallying a 132 wRC+. Those numbers dipped slightly last season to .282/.369/.439, but that’s nothing to gripe about. One thing to keep an eye on? His fly ball rate. In 2015, he hit 56 fly balls, 89 in 2016, and 118 last year. Now, remember that he was playing in the hitter’s vacuum of Marlins Park. Should those fly balls continue to increase and he lowers his ground ball rate even more, that short porch in right field at Miller Park could glimmer nicely with his hidden power. And remember, he was a 5 win player with the Marlins. That’s more than enough reasons to get excited about his possibilities in Milwaukee.
2. It’s not the end of the world that the Brewers didn’t add one of the pitchers on the free market.
Would I be lying if I said I wasn’t initially disappointed that the Brewers weren’t more involved in the free agency market this offseason? Yeah, I would be. It’s the inevitable anxiousness that comes with the offseason, especially one as slow as this past one. But I wasn’t devastated like some were. I don’t think the Brewers are going to fail to contend because of it. The way I look at it now is by gauging the situation from David Stearns’ eyes. Clearly, he didn’t feel as if adding the arms of a Jake Arrieta or an Alex Cobb would be the moves that would push this team to the next level. None of them are clearly studs. They’re not the cream of the crop like a Clayton Kershaw, a Max Scherzer, or a Corey Kluber. Essentially, all of the free agent pitchers (including Arrieta and possibly Darvish to an extent, but more Arrieta and Cobb) have a question mark of uncertainty to their name. It’d make all the sense in the world if David Stearns feels comfortable sitting back and wants to wait until a better time to make the big splash that’ll take this team to the next level. So in a nutshell, am I really saying that I think the pitching staff that Milwaukee currently has is enough to make it to the postseason? You bet I am. Come at me!
3. Chase Anderson throws the first perfect game in Milwaukee Brewers history.
Okay, now we’re cooking these takes with gas! Yes, I said it. I feel it. Maybe I’m just riding the exciting wave from Opening Day, but man — he’s been so close in years past. It seems like with every fifth or sixth start, Chase the Ace is flirting with perfection. He’s bound to break through one of these times. I believe. The last perfect game tossed in a Major League Baseball game was by Felix Hernandez in 2015 — so why not Milwaukee next?
4. Chris Archer will be a member of this team by the time the trade deadline rolls around.
This is jumping off the points I made in my No. 2 response. Archer is a guy that you know will produce numbers at a consistent and solid rate. Sort of similar to the reason why Milwaukee traded Brinson and others for the talents of Christian Yelich — there’s a proven track record there and you know what you’re going to get. There’s not an uncertainty that you’d have with Alex Cobb on the hill, especially at the price he came with. While you’d have to pay both in prospects and money, I think Stearns is complacent with the detph in the farm system and would be fine if it meant a talent like Archer was on his way to town and helped the Brewers make the postseason.
5. Keston Hiura makes a mid-summer appearance.
If there was an MVP to hand out for Spring Training, it more than likely would’ve gone to Keston Hiura. I know the games don’t matter, but when somebody is hitting Tony Gwynn-esque .400 numbers, you don’t just bat an eye. I discussed the possibility of this with Matt Pauley on his Brewers Weekly podcast about a week or so ago. Initially, I was skeptical, but Matt did a strong job of persuading me into agreement of yes, it’s definitely logical for him to receive at-bats this season. So, what’s his quickest route to Milwaukee? If he continues his progression in the first half of the Minor League season and the Brewers’ second base situation between Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard doesn’t go as planned, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Milwaukee’s first round pick from last year make a stint at the MLB level. At the very least, I’d expect him to receive a September call-up. We’ve seen it before with players in Milwaukee’s farm system (Orlando Arcia and Jean Segura to name a few). It’d be ideal and perfectly understandable for Hiura to get some plate appearances at the Major League level before he stays in Milwaukee for good.
Alright! Those were some takes for the Major League level. Now, I’ll hand things over to my buddy Jake Covey, who will breakdown the Minor league levels, alongside with some prospects to watch!
1. The Brewers will, yet again, draft a college bat in the 1st round.
It’s not a “Hot-Take” by any stretch – more of a lukewarm one.
In both of the last two seasons, Stearns & Co. have drafted two college bats in OF Corey Ray and 2B Keston Hiura, both of which were highly-lauded with their sky-high ceilings and legitimate offensive potential. While we have yet to see long-stretches of such offense in Ray, his offensive 25-25 ceiling is still in-play to match the hype of Hiura’s lightning-quick bat speed. But in a draft where the Crew own the 21st pick, the high-quality ceilings that we’ve drooled over in players’ past may not be available. However, there are a ton of interesting names that may slip to the scouting department’s hands: power bats like 1B Luken Baker and OF Joe Gray Jr., big-bodied prospects like 6’4″ OF/1B Greyson Jenista, 6’5″ 3B/1B Alec Bohm, and 6’11” RHP Sean Hjelle, professional descendants such as LHP Ryan Weathers (former Brewers pitcher David Weathers’ son), OF Tristan Pompey (Blue Jays’ OF Dalton’s brother), and 1B Griffin Conine (son of former all-star Jeff Conine), and even players with 80-grade names – namely OF Steele Walker and 1B Seth Beer. If you’ve already done some snooping on draft lists like myself, you might have noticed the trend: most of these names are college bats.
With the 6th-lowest bonus pool in this year’s draft, the Crew might have to be even more mindful of their overall spending – especially around high school prospects with high demands and commitments to D-1 schools. Both Hiura and Ray were college names that agreed to sign under their expected signing bonuses, and I would expect them to deploy the same strategy this season to nab more intriguing draftees down the line.
2. The team already has a future top-tier closer lurking in the farm system.
Three things are pretty much locks for happening to us Brewer fans: death, taxes, and our beloved Blue and Gold having an emerging late-inning reliever waiting to explode onto the scene.
Ever since Trevor Hoffman blessed us with his 41 save presence in 2009, the Crew has enjoyed a string of phenomenal closers. After catching multiple strikes of lightning in two bottles with John Axford and Jim Henderson paired with the security of Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez from 2011-2015, Milwaukee had been covered in the ninth inning. By the time K-Rod was left in 2015, then-GM Doug Melvin began the rebuilding process by grooming both Jeremy Jeffress and Tyler Thornburg for the later innings. Even after David Stearns traded both away in before 2017 rolled around, Corey Knebel slipped seamlessly into the final inning last season post-Neftali Feliz experiment, with Josh Hader as the setup man.
Though saves as a statistic are fading into irrelevancy, the late-inning game continues to be both a scouting and developing strength for the farm system – most likely why the team didn’t pursue either Anthony Swarzak or any other major relief name this winter. Even with Knebel and Hader entrenched in the later innings, the next bullpen flash could already be down in the farm system. The most obvious name is RHP Taylor Williams who, after coming back from Tommy John surgery last season, returned to his electric upper-90’s form despite 21 walks in 46.2 innings of work. Though Stearns could easily stretch him out further, the righty’s fastball-slider repertoire can mirror that of other fallen promising starters as a highly-effective late-inning option that so many teams covet.
While I believe Williams is closest to this opportunity, a few other high-octane relievers could be found. Similar to Williams, fallen-prospect RHP Jorge Lopez could also find himself in the same situation – though more mirroring Corey Knebel’s fastball-curveball repertoire. After continuing his starting struggles in Double-A, he finished the season with a 2.65 ERA in his final 34 innings out of the bullpen. Opponents hit a paltry .218 against him, striking out 30 times to only 10 walks in that stretch. What was even better about his stretch was that nine of his 23 appearances in that stretch were for at least six outs – placing him more as a potential right-handed minor league equivalent of Josh Hader last season. We see the same thing with 2013 first-round pick LHP Kodi Medeiros, as he held opponents to a .185 average out of the bullpen, owning a 2.31 ERA with a 35-12 strikeout-walk ratio in 35 innings. Due to his relative youth (21), I highly doubt they would have the southpaw switch to relief full-time when he could have a another full season to figure things out as an effective starter. I would also discuss RHP Adrian Houser here, but the organization will stretch him out as a starter in Double-A Biloxi – a smart move for a big-bodied arm with some years left of control.
There are plenty of options to choose from, but it appears Williams would be poised to do so earlier than the others.
3. Corbin Burnes will become human in 2018.
This one keeps me up at night.
There’s nothing to doubt that what top pitching prospect Corbin Burnes been doing can’t be continued in Double-A this season in some capacity; his groundball rates were solid despite dropping to 49.1% last season while his .280 BABIP was actually more normal than ever in Double-A despite posting a 2.10 ERA. I can’t rationally explain the fear aside from the thought that we have yet to see him truly get tested on the mound and meet some wall. For the sake of the fanbase, I want it to happen so we all don’t expect him to be the next great thing and be disappointed when he doesn’t meet our lofty expectations. Burnes is a very exciting prospect and so easy to envision as a legitimate top pitching option in the next couple seasons – that’s what makes the situation so scary.
Now, here’s a brief list of prospects to keep an eye on this season!
I’ll run through a short list of my Watch-List, for good or bad:
OF Je’Von Ward: A big 6’5″ outfielder with plenty of loud tools, Ward reminds me a lot of how we saw OF Demi Orimoloye after his rookie season. He’s a highly-variable prospect that could follow the Monte Harrison mold, and there’s a good chance we’ll see him extensively in Low-A Wisconsin.
OF Corey Ray: I’m watching the former #5 selection to see if he makes any more adjustments or reverts to his tactics in college. Some writers believed he was changing too much/focusing on too many mechanical things while dealing with injuries. Perhaps a fresh, clean season will help realign himself with that 25 HR/25 SB potential.
RHP Zack Brown: An owner of a low-to-mid 90’s fastball paired with a solid curveball and a sneaky-good changeup, he could be tested as high as Double-A this season after quietly posting great numbers in Low-A Wisconsin and High-A Carolina last season. He could be another intriguing back-end starting option in a couple season if his high effort delivery doesn’t put too much stress on his body.
RHP Thomas Jankins: I’m a sucker for a young arm with a good changeup, and the 2016 draftee’s pitch is up there for one of the best in the organization. He’s also got the workings of a decent breaking ball – especially with his over-the-top delivery giving him more drop on his pitches – so I’ll be interested to see if he can put together a respectable repertoire around that very low-90’s fastball.
RHP Jayson Rose: See changeup comments as above – he’s got the most consistent and deceptive one in the organization. Seriously.
RHP Michele Vassalotti: The 17-year old Italian prospect is already pretty sizeable (6’2″, 180 lbs) and has decent command of all three of his pitches. I’m not a huge fan of the low-three quarters arm slot, but who am I to judge when he tosses 38.2 innings of 1.63 ERA – ball while striking out 32? He’s about as deep as I can get, though I admittedly found out about him through Eric Longenhagen’s 2018 prospect list for the Brewers (via Fangraphs).
1B/3B Gabe Garcia: Another Low-A name, Garcia has garnered fans for his offensive abilities and pitch recognition in Rookie ball (435 PA’s, .311/.411/.910 line with 29 2B, 11 HR). He’ll get his first big test in Appleton this season despite him being only 20-years old. Could be a trendy top-25 prospect by the end of the season.
RHP Nathan Kirby: A former Day One draft pick who has now recovered from two Tommy John surgeries. He’ll have to take a relief path as well, but two years away from a field will be hard-pressed to overcome.
RHP Phil Bickford: He was acquired alongside recently-dealt C Andrew Susac for Will Smith. Scouting reports looked absolutely ugly on him earlier this spring, so I’m not expecting anything even if they move him to relief full-time.