Melvin proved somewhat prophetic on that front. Promising youngsters Wily Peralta (#1), Tyler Thornburg (#4) and Scooter Gennett (#6) all upped their stock in one way or another. A couple of older players, Logan Schafer (#7) and Taylor Green (#8), who had battled injuries in recent seasons, reasserted their value with strong years. Still others, Michael Fiers (#9) and Santo Manzanillo (#12) most notably, overcame long odds and now stand good chances at getting a shot at the major leagues at some point in the near future. The year wasn’t without its disappointments, as more than a few players failed to take steps forward and some even fell back, but any system can say that any year.
In June, the Brewers took advantage of having two picks in the top 15 and a major league squad providing an influx of cash. They selected and later signed a very solid draft class. Headlined by college starters Taylor Jungmann (#2) and Jed Bradley (#3), the Brewers popped pitchers with the first four picks. Though never a stickler for staying within baseball’s bonus recommendation structure, it was still something of a departure to see them go over “slot” value early and often in 2011. By being willing to pay, the Brewers landed some very toolsy high schoolers in Jorge Lopez (#5), Michael Reed (#21) and Chris McFarland (#27), any of whom could break out and rocket up the list. Overall, seven of the players on our top 30, or nearly one quarter, were drafter last June.
Looking further at the makeup of the system, its clear that it’s especially pitching heavy at the top. That isn’t to say there are no major league caliber position players; they actually have quite a few now with defensive skills that profile to the middle of the diamond. Rather, what they lack is what they produced so well for the majority of the last decade: an impact power bat. Barring some unexpected break out, it’s hard to see anyone currently in the system anchoring the middle of a potent big league lineup. With Fielder’s departure and Corey Hart only under contract through 2013, the Brewers will need to address this issue as soon as possible.
To help with that effort, the team acquired pick number 27 and 38 as a result of losing Fielder to the Tigers. Combined with their own pick, number 28, they will have 3 picks in the top 40. Unfortunately, the 2012 draft doesn’t seem likely to be nearly as loaded as the 2011 draft was. Finding big time impact bats that late in the draft has, in the past, required good scouting and a willingness to spend over slot. For better or worse, baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement has made it much harder for teams to spend to get talent in the draft. It’s hard to say exactly how this will play out in June, but it’s going to have an impact and closes off one route that teams have taken to quickly build up their farm systems.
On the international front, the Brewers are doing their best in a game of catchup. After years of not having one, 2011 marked the second year in existence for the Brewers Dominican Summer League team. Starting in 2012, they’ll move into a newer, better facility. All these efforts are starting to pay dividends. Headlining an interesting group of young signees is shortstop Orlando Arcia (#18) who showed a very mature approach to the game for a 16-year-old. MLB’s new international rules will also limit teams from going out and spending tons of money in Latin America and hoarding prospects. Short term, that should help the Brewers to increase the level of return on their investments there, even if it does limit the market’s potential long term.
It’s important to remember that even with the improvements, the farm system is still commonly ranked in the bottom third of the game at this point. The top pitchers, while talented and relatively low risk, aren’t overly likely to develop into aces. Also, with each passing year the Brewers core players get more expensive and, in most cases, nearer free agency. Replacing them is something the team has to start thinking about sooner rather than later. Since Milwaukee will never be a market that can afford sign superstars in their prime to market free agent contracts, they’ll need to produce more than mid-rotation starters and complimentary position players to stay relevant. That means redoubling their efforts to acquire those stars as amateurs and develop them from within to keep up within a division that is getting smarter and more talented all the time.