The Brewers 2009 Draft Revisited | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

To say that Brewers fans are a little disappointed with how Bruce Seid‘s tenure as the team’s director of amateur scouting have gone would be a massive understatement. Mention the state of the Brewers’ farm system and drafts, and people tend to get pretty hostile in a hurry. Some of that is pretty understandable, given how it was an outstanding crop of farm products that drove the Brewers back into contention the past decade.

Some of it, though, borders on the unfair. As much fun as it would be to write 7,000 words breaking down Seid’s first five drafts at the helm, comparing say 2009 to 2012 creates all kinds of logical and logistical nightmares and you don’t want to read that much anyway. So what we’re going to focus on here is a deep look at his first draft in 2009. Maybe someday we’ll get to the others, but this one offers so many interesting facets that it deserves a post of its very own.

Here is the complete list of all of the Brewers picks that year, along with some basic major league stats for those that have made it there so far:

Rnd OvPck RdPck Tm Pos WAR G OPS G ERA Type
1 26 26 Brewers Eric Arnett (minors) RHP 4Yr
1s 39 39 Brewers *Kentrail Davis (minors) CF 4Yr
1s 47 47 Brewers *Kyle Heckathorn (minors) RHP 4Yr
2 73 24 Brewers via NYA *Max Walla (minors) RF HS
2 74 25 Brewers Cameron Garfield (minors) C HS
3 105 25 Brewers Josh Prince (minors) SS -0.1 8 .472 4Yr
4 136 25 Brewers Brooks Hall (minors) RHP HS
5 166 25 Brewers D’ Vontrey Richardson (minors) RF 4Yr
6 196 25 Brewers Hiram Burgos (minors) RHP -0.7 6 .250 6 6.44 4Yr
7 226 25 Brewers Khris Davis (minors) RF 1.3 56 .949 4Yr
8 256 25 Brewers Chadwin Stang (minors) LF JC
9 286 25 Brewers Jonathan Pokorny (minors) LHP 4Yr
10 316 25 Brewers Tyler Roberts (minors) C HS
11 346 25 Brewers Andre Lamontagne (minors) RHP 4Yr
12 376 25 Brewers Rob Currie (minors) RHP 4Yr
13 406 25 Brewers Sean Halton (minors) 1B -0.0 42 .687 4Yr
14 436 25 Brewers Mike Brownstein (minors) 2B 4Yr
15 466 25 Brewers Del Howell (minors) LHP 4Yr
16 496 25 Brewers Scooter Gennett (minors) SS 2.1 69 .834 HS
17 526 25 Brewers Tyler Cravy (minors) RHP JC
18 556 25 Brewers Caleb Thielbar (minors) LHP 1.3 49 49 1.76 4Yr
19 586 25 Brewers Scott Krieger (minors) LF 4Yr
20 616 25 Brewers Franklin Romero (minors) CF JC
21 646 25 Brewers Brian Vigo (minors) SS HS
22 676 25 Brewers Mike Fiers (minors) RHP 0.6 36 .167 36 4.20 4Yr
23 706 25 Brewers Austin Pressley (minors) RHP HS
24 736 25 Brewers Peter Fatse (minors) 2B 4Yr
25 766 25 Brewers Demetrius McKelvie (minors) RF HS
26 796 25 Brewers Lex Rutledge (minors) LHP HS
27 826 25 Brewers Ryan Platt (minors) RHP 4Yr
28 856 25 Brewers Eugene Escalante (minors) C HS
29 886 25 Brewers Chandler McLaren (minors) RF HS
30 916 25 Brewers Brandon Sizemore (minors) 2B 4Yr
31 946 25 Brewers Jose Oviedo (minors) RHP JC
32 976 25 Brewers Chris Ellington (minors) RF 4Yr
33 1006 25 Brewers Jacobbi McDaniel (minors) 3B HS
34 1036 25 Brewers Mike Ojala (minors) RHP 4Yr
35 1066 25 Brewers Matt Costello (minors) LHP 4Yr
36 1096 25 Brewers Joshua Turley (minors) LHP HS
37 1126 25 Brewers Cullen Sexton (minors) RHP 4Yr
38 1156 25 Brewers Casey Stevenson (minors) 2B 4Yr
39 1186 25 Brewers Brady Rodgers (minors) RHP HS
40 1216 25 Brewers Kyle Hansen (minors) RHP HS
41 1246 25 Brewers Steven Sultzbaugh (minors) CF 4Yr
42 1276 25 Brewers Brad Schreiber (minors) RHP HS
43 1306 25 Brewers Kyle Dhanani (minors) 3B 4Yr
44 1336 25 Brewers Andrew Morris (minors) RHP JC
45 1366 25 Brewers Richard Stock (minors) C HS
46 1396 25 Brewers Jordan Wong (minors) RHP HS
47 1426 25 Brewers Trevor Kirk (minors) LF JC
48 1456 25 Brewers Rey Cotilla (minors) RHP JC
49 1486 25 Brewers J.J. Altobelli (minors) SS HS
50 1516 25 Brewers Darren Farmer (minors) C HS
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/13/2014.

The headliner is obviously Eric Arnett with the 26th pick. The Brewers also had three extra picks in 2009: the 39th and 74th as a result of losing CC Sabathia to the Yankees and the 47th as a result of losing Brian Shouse to the Rays. With those picks, the Brewers selected Kentrail Davis, Kyle Heckathorn, and Max Walla. Catcher Cameron Garfield rounded out their five picks in the top 75, and a lot of the criticism of the Brewers’ draft centers around the fact that none of them have yet to reach the majors or make waves in prospect rankings.

First round busts like Arnett, who essentially stunk from the word go, will inevitably raise the ire of people. How could a team be so foolish to draft a guy like that who so clearly wasn’t up to the task of making it to the big leagues in the role envisioned for him? In Arnett’s specific case, scouts have said that he basically showed up to the Brewers facility without anything like the fastball velocity he showed that spring at the University of Indiana. While it may be fair to criticize the scouting staff to a degree for that, it’s important not to lose sight of just how hard it is to find really good players that late in the first round. This chart from Michael Jimenez at A View From The Bleachers does a pretty good job of summing it up:

The drop-off from the top 5-10 and the bottom of the first round is pretty staggering, really. The fact that the Brewers had 5 picks in the 26 to 75 range is nice, but it really doesn’t compare with having a top 10 pick like those Jack Zduriencik turned into Prince FielderRickie Weeks and Ryan Braun. The rate that players taken after where the Brewers started picking turning into stars just isn’t very good at all, and it only gets worse from there. Even if we’re charitable and give the 39th, 47th, 73rd and 74th picks the same success rate as the 26th, that’s still only five 10% chances at finding a “successful” player, and obviously the odds at 73 and 74 aren’t going to be as good as those at 26.

Remember too, that the final word on guys like Heckathorn and Kentrail Davis have yet to be written. One of the hardest things about evaluating drafts is that it takes such a long time for it to become completely clear what the players involved are going to end up being. Evaluations of a given draft can change quite a bit over time. For instance, this was the Baseball America assessment of the Brewers 2009 draft that ran in the 2010 Prospect Handbook:

Arnett (26th) and Heckathorn (47th) both lasted longer than expected, a boon for the pitching needy Brewers. Milwaukee also stocked up on position players, as Davis and Walla have potentially dangerous bats.

It’s interesting that both Arnett and Heckathorn were considered something along the lines of a “steal” because they slid further than expected. In researching this piece, I found multiplemock drafts” that had one or both players going ahead of the Brewers first pick at 26. I even found one that had the Brewers taking Mike Trout, but that’s a depressing thought for another day. On one hand, it shows that there were quite a few people who considered them reasonable or even good picks at the slot they were taken. On the other, perhaps their relative lack of success is due to things that other teams picked up on, but the Brewers missed.

Anyway, by the 2011 handbook, BA had soured somewhat on the draft, giving it a “C” and noting that Arnett was a “disaster” and Heckathorn and Davis were somewhat disappointing. In 2012, the grade and tenor stayed about the same, but both Scooter Gennett and Mike Fiers garnered mentions. Interestingly, in 2013, the grade jumped up to a “B” largely on the strength of the emergence of Fiers, Gennett and Hiram Burgos. They’re giving credit for finding players deeper in the draft despite early misses, something that has been a trend throughout Seid’s tenure.

Really, we’re trying to hit a moving target here because, in reality, the players involved are just beginning their major league careers or in some cases have yet to make big league debuts that will come soon. There are some things we can do in trying to compare the Brewers’ draft with others, though. One way is by looking at how much WAR each team’s draft has produced thus far:

Angels 23.1
Cardinals 17.2
Mariners 15.7
Diamondbacks 13.3
Nationals 10.8
Rockies 10.7
Indians 10.3
Blue Jays 9.7
Giants 9.4
Reds 8.8
Royals 8
Phillies 5
Brewers 4.5
Braves 4.3
Twins 3
Rangers 2.7
Cubs 1.9
Yankees 1.4
Marlins 1
Athletics 0.9
Astros 0.2
White Sox 0.2
Rays 0.2
Dodgers 0
Padres -0.2
Tigers -0.3
Pirates -0.5
Red Sox -0.9

Out of the 30 MLB teams, the Brewers are currently 13th in total Baseball Reference WAR generated by the 2009 draft with 4.5. Obviously this is going to change over time, probably largely depending on how Scooter Gennett and Khris Davis fare in the coming years, though others could certainly figure in as well. My guess is that they end up somewhere in the bottom third before it’s all said and done, but that wouldn’t be an outrageous result given that they didn’t pick until so late in the draft.

Another point to consider in Seid’s defense, first raised by Jonah Keri in his excellent piece The Rise and Fall of the Milwaukee Brewers last summer, is the idea that there was a significant “brain drain” from the Brewers’ scouting staff right before this draft:

 Zduriencik’s departure to take over as Mariners GM after the 2008 season hurt. But the Brewers also lost four crosscheckers who went on to become scouting directors with other teams: Tom Allison and Ray Montgomery, who both took that job in Arizona (Allison first, followed by Montgomery in 2011); Bobby Heck, who became scouting director in Houston; and Tom McNamara, who followed Zduriencik to Seattle and assumed the head of scouting role there. A skeptic could argue that the entire Brewers organization reaped a halo effect from years of successful drafts, and that Heck and Allison didn’t hang on to their new jobs for long. You could also circle back to the argument that aside from poor-drafting clubs like Pittsburgh, the Rays and other teams have also leveraged high picks into highly successful rebuilding projects. But there are too many cases of Jeff Clement– and Ricky Romero–style disappointments during the past decade to assume that draft success is a given, or that the Brewers’ deep stable of seasoned bird dogs didn’t play a significant role in their success.

It’s undeniable that the amount of upheaval that went on in the Brewers’ scouting department around that time was an obstacle to success. They lost a lot of scouting talent in the months before that draft and had to promote people to positions that were new to them all at once. It’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t something that impacted their process, though obviously it’s impossible to say if they would have taken different players in the top 75 if they hadn’t lost so many people.

In the final (at least for now) analysis, it’s impossible to be overjoyed with the Brewers 2009 draft. They may not have picked early, but but they certainly had their share of missed opportunities in the top 75. None of the players they drafted stand out as likely stars, future or present. Still, there certainly are some bright spots in this draft that show they weren’t just fumbling around in the dark blindly without a plan. They may have missed on some their earlier picks, but none of them was particularly high and they did find quite a few players later on that at least offer the hope of a decent return.

This probably isn’t very satisfying for those that really want Seid gone, but it’s just hard to really make much of a case that the 2009 draft was the complete disaster that it is often portrayed as. One could make an argument that things haven’t gotten much better in the years since, though 2010 may yet end up to be a pretty good draft depending on how Jimmy NelsonTyler Thornburg and Hunter Morris turn out. 2011 gets a lot of ink for the twin “failures” of Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley in the middle of the first round, but of course the it’s still very early to make too many firm assessments there. 2012 and 2013 are just too new to say much of anything concrete about.

The most important thing to remember is how quickly some of these things can change. After five drafts on the job, then Cardinals Scouting Director Jeff Luhnow had the 29th ranked farm system in all of baseball according to Baseball America and the wolves had to be at least somewhat at the door. Within three years of that draft his remarkable turnaround of the Cards system had earned him the Houston Astros general manager position. If that seems overly optimistic, well, it almost certainly is and definitely shouldn’t be expected. Things do change, though, especially when it comes to farm system assessments, and at least from the outside the Brewers 2009 draft is hardly a fireable offense.

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