State of the Farm: 2012 | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

State of the Farm: 2012

By on February 10, 2012

Everyone is now familiar with how the Brewers assembled their first division championship team in almost 30 years. Starting with a core of position players drafted in the first half of the last decade, general manager Doug Melvin went into last off-season with the mission to trade for the pitching that would vault them into contention in what figured to be Prince Fielder’s last year with the team. Using a mix of recently graduated prospects (Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain) and the best his system currently had to offer (Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress), Melvin acquired the arms he needed to make his run. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum both played key roles in getting the Brewers into the playoffs, even if their post season performances were underwhelming and disastrous, respectively.
The win-now approach did not come without a cost, though. Those trades, combined with two straight drafts in 2009 and 2010 where the Brewers failed to land an impact prospect in the first round, left the system clearly down at the bottom of the heap in Major League Baseball. Melvin never accepted the characterization, arguing that the team had young players with upside already on board that would demonstrate ability above what was currently assumed.

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.

RHP Taylor Jungmann

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.

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  1. @THEKID_ says: February 10, 2012

    Nice article Ryan.

    I’d like to give you major kudos for not simply falling down at the Greinke alter and referring to the talent Melvin gave up simply as “spare parts” …as one of your co-authors did earlier this week.

    And having actually seen the majority of Thornburg’s starts the first half of last season before the call up and watching Scooter play all season long in 2010 (I noted the kid could flat out hit and he continued hitting at BC & the AFL last year)…it’s nice to see someone give those two some love…contrary to what others on your staff have opinioned in the past…only to later change their mind :)

    • Ryan Topp says: February 10, 2012

      I can only speak for myself when I evaluate trades like these. Clearly, the Brewers gave up a lot for Marcum. That trade made me uneasy at the time, because I saw Lawrie as a potential anchor bat. I held out on blasting the deal, though, basically saying “now they have to get another” to make this work. They did that, and as hard as it was to see Lawrie (and Odorizzi and the others) go, it served it’s purpose.

      Now, as for the trade for Greinke, I have to say that I didn’t find it that hard to give up Escobar’s bat, Cain’s overall upside and Jeffresses issues. Odorizzi was a tough pill to swallow, but it turns out that the 2011 draft was so loaded with talent they ended up with suitable replacements in a hurry. “Spare parts” is a bit strong, but that wasn’t a collection of world beaters. I worry a lot more about giving up a star like Lawrie than I do the 4 guys they gave up to get Greinke.

      As for the other stuff, you’ll have to take that up with the other writer.

      • @THEKID_ says: February 11, 2012

        Fair enough. And my point has always been is that the Greinke trade was not a bad one, it’s just that I didn’t feel it was as much of a slam dunk as some people want to make it out to be.

        At the very least it needs to be revisited when Cain (this year) and Odorizzi are every day players with the big club. Agreed that while Jeffress 100 mph is enticing…the issues is there. No, Escobar’s bat is really not there…but the Royals all last year talked about runs he saved with his glove (vs Yuni the year before) versus runs he didn’t get with his bat.

        I tried to post on the I Love Greinke article earlier this week…but the comments were turned off…interesting :)

  2. John says: February 10, 2012

    This has been a great series. Thanks a lot. The big question is: Compared to other teams in the division, where do you see the Brewers’ system? What about all of baseball?

    • Ryan Topp says: February 10, 2012

      First off, thanks so much for reading and the kind words. We really appreciate it.

      Within the division, the Cardinals and Pirates both have very strong farm systems, each led by a pair of pitchers with true ace upside, and both have pretty strong depth behind that. The Reds decreased the value of their system substantially to go out and get Mat Latos from the Friars, but they still have a pretty solid system that’s set to graduate some real talent soon and has upside in multiple places. The Cubs are rebuilding and trying to get stronger, but they’re still digging out from the Hendry years. They started spending more in the draft last year, but they didn’t get an outstanding return on that investment because the scouting staff was working short handed. Read this offseason that Jim “Scouts over stats” Hendry employed the smallest scouting staff in baseball by the end. Houston is recovering from a half decade of an owner not allowing his people to spend on the draft and a refusal, until the deadline in 2010, to ever really “sell” to build. They have probably the worst top to bottom talent (ML included) that I can ever remember. At least the Tigers in 2003 were starting to build a real farm system.

      At the end of the day, I think you can draw some hard lines after the Cardinals and Pirates, then again after the Reds and you can probably lump the bottom 3 together as being somewhat similar. Given that neither Chicago or Houston possess currently a likely high impact bat and the Brewers do have a solid depth of probably pitching, I would probably keep MKE’s system over those two….though if need wasn’t an issue I would probably take the Cubs. It’s a tough question to answer.

      As for all of baseball, like I said they’re bottom third. I follow NL Central prospects closer than any other division, so I have a better feel for that than the whole thing. Keith Law has them at #23 and I’m pretty sure that Baseball America has them bottom 5. Law has a bit more of a “depth heavy” approach though, so both rankings make sense for what they’re judging on. It’s hard for me to be more detailed than that, because I obviously don’t follow and write on the prospects for all 30 teams.


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