“Who is the highest ceiling pitcher now in the system? Who is the highest ceiling position player?” — @steelmann58
Right-hander Devin Williams is the hurler with the highest ceiling, though he’s light years away from realizing that ceiling and there’s not a high probability that he will reach that ceiling. He’s found some success in the Arizona League, but we don’t really have a good feel for what kind of pitcher he will become. Heavily relying on his fastball, Williams hasn’t shown much in terms of secondary pitches — despite for reportedly showing some feel for a changeup and a breaking ball. He’s athletic and has the tools you want in a prep pitcher. He’s just too far away to say anything with certainty.
As far as the position players are concerned, Tyrone Taylor was our number-one prospect in the updated rankings released a couple weeks ago, so I’ll stay true on that projection. Orlando Arcia should get some looks here, though. In addition, Victor Roache has crazy power, but I haven’t heard from anyone who’s confident he’ll make enough contact to consistently get to that power as he moves up the minor-league ladder.
“Do you think Wily Peralta has turned the corner? Is this what we can expect from him going forward?” — @IgnitorKid
It ultimately depends on what you mean by “turned the corner.” In his last ten starts, Wily Peralta has compiled a 2.10 ERA over 64.1 innings — including two complete games. He’s held opposing teams to a .204/.282/.301 slash line and has worked at least seven innings in five of those ten starts. In short, he’s been tremendous and been the best pitcher for the Brewers over the last couple months.
Some red flags exist over this stretch, though. He owns a .237 BABIP over his last ten starts, which doesn’t project to be sustainable for him going forward, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio still isn’t anything special. He’s still only striking out 6.85 batters per nine innings in his last ten games and hasn’t displayed sparkling command. It doesn’t seem to be the profile of a guy who can sustain a sub-3.00 over an entire season.
With that said, there’s a lot to like about Peralta and his chances of being a successful mid-rotation pitcher going forward. The sinker is obviously nasty and will always be his calling card, but he’s rediscovered his slider, which has helped him immensely. He’s also been very difficult to run on. Perhaps some of that credit should go to Martin Maldonado, but Peralta has only ceded two stolen bases in his last 12 starts. If he can sustain his slider and continue building trust in his changeup, there seems little reason to believe he can’t be a 3.50-3.75 ERA guy next year for the Brewers, which is very valuable at the league minimum.
“I like Norichika Aoki, but he’s becoming replaceable. The Brewers aren’t going to extend him, right? Who do you replace him with?” — @2ndHS
Aoki is a fan-favorite and brings a lot of desirable skills to the table. One of the best-kept secrets this season, though, is Aoki has actually been below average with the bat. His .312 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and 95 wRC+ (runs created) are below average for right fielders and for the league as a whole. The main culprit for his decline at the plate is a decrease in power production, which can partially be attributed to a higher ground-ball rate. More ground balls generally equate to less power and a higher reliance on BABIP — and Aoki has seen his BABIP decline almost 20 points this season.
The Brewers have plenty of options to replace Aoki in right field, if they decided to pursue that route. The question becomes whether any of the options are legitimate starting options. Logan Schafer would certainly upgrade the Brewers’ defense, though he doesn’t have adequate power for a corner outfield profile. Caleb Gindl has shown flashes, but he’s probably a platoon option at most. Khris Davis has shown power and can mash lefties, but he may be so limited defensively that he cannot reliably handle right field on a consistent basis. A Gindl/Davis platoon would be very interesting, at least at the plate.
As things currently stand, though, I cannot see the Brewers moving Norichika Aoki this winter. It would have been nice if the organization seriously pursued the idea of trading him prior to the deadline. However, they seemingly have embraced the idea of competing next year once everyone returns healthy, and it seems the front office believes Aoki is a part of that plan to compete in 2014. His contract is also very attractive, so that’s likely a component, too.
“How do you (if at all) balance supporting a team to win and to lose?” — @KyleAshauer
I don’t believe you ever willfully build a team to lose. Even the Houston Astros — who have sold off almost every veteran piece — aren’t trying to lose. They truly are attempting to win as many games as possible. What they are doing, however, is identifying their window to compete and trading pieces they don’t feel will be around when that window arrives. It may feel they’re trying to lose. Instead, they’re leveraging their assets to best build their team for their anticipated window. That means trading veterans nearing free agency for younger players who will break into the big leagues in 2014 and beyond.
The Astros also have ownership and a GM that are wholly committed to pursuing that window, regardless of the inevitable financial ramifications of aggressively rebuilding.
“Rickie Weeks has been below average on offense (even by position) and dead last in defense for two seasons in a row. Isn’t it time to give up on him as anything more than a replacement player? At very least, isn’t he being overpaid for his value?” — @vbarot87
Offensively, Weeks still possesses some skills which makes one hopeful he can return to being productive. The contact issues are maddening, but his contact rates over the last two years are no different than his contact rates in 2009-2011, when he was a very solid contributor at the plate. He’s started to hit more ground balls this year and has once again struggled with pitches on the outer half. Still, there’s substantial reason to believe he can turn it around in some capacity — even if it’s just against left-handed pitching.
The real issue is what you addressed in the second half of your first sentence. Weeks is no longer playable at second base defensively. I’m not really sure what to do with that, either, as he doesn’t seem to project anywhere else on the diamond. It’s a significant problem, and the Brewers’ pitching staff has suffered due to the below-average infield defense this year. And as our own Ryan Topp often points out, the organization’s homegrown pitchers who could break into the big leagues in the coming season are ground-ball pitchers. The defense needs to be addressed.
The money becomes a touchy subject for many fans, and that’s a significant reason many fans have heavily criticized Weeks in the last couple seasons. People don’t feel it’s fair for a non-productive player to be rewarded with a high salary. That’s where the “If I were that bad at my job, I’d be fired.” comments start. Unfortunately, baseball players sign guaranteed contracts, so that isn’t a productive discussion. Instead, if Weeks continues to produce at such a low level, the Brewers will attempt to mitigate the damage as much as possible — either through ensuring his option doesn’t vest in 2015 or relegating him to a platoon or bench role for a single season. Heck, maybe they even trade him this winter and give the starting role to Scooter Gennett.
Simply put: The Brewers have put themselves in a position in which Rickie Weeks’ contract should not hinder the Brewers’ this offseason, and that’s what ultimately is important.