Overview (Present Rank: 22nd | Future Rank: 20th)
Even with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the way, the Milwaukee Brewers have earned two playoff appearances over the last 33 years. The Milwaukee franchise has captured one American League pennant, but no World Series trophies in its 47-year history. Now a World Series appears further away than ever as the Brewers look nothing like the team that was crowned 2011 National League Central champs. With Braun and Jonathan Lucroy likely on their way out within the next year, the Brewers are preparing themselves for a long rebuilding process. Milwaukee’s ownership believes newly hired GM David Stearns is the right guy to turn things around. After an offseason of acquiring various young talent, the Brewers’ future suddenly has light at the end of tunnel.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 2, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Originally known as a frame specialist behind the plate, Jonathan Lucroy has developed into one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball. Before a toe injury and concussion limited Lucroy’s 2015 production, the 30 year-old established himself as a top-5 catcher. Lucroy’s peak came in 2014 when the former third round pick earned his only All-Star bid as well as the fourth most MVP votes in the National League.
If Lucroy can stay healthy, he could re-emerge as one of the elite catchers in the game over the next two years before he hits the free agent market for the first time in his career. As Milwaukee enters a rebuilding project, Lucroy will likely be one of the first players to be dealt. Expect the 30 year-old to be playing elsewhere as soon as July of this year, especially considering the Brewers already traded Khris Davis for their catcher of the future.
(EDIT: After Lucroy used his no-trade clause to reject a trade to the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee shipped the 2016 All-Star to the Texas Rangers along with RHP Jeremy Jeffress in exchange for promising prospects OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named later. Click here to see how Lucroy will fit with the Rangers organization going forward [8/1/16]).
Khris Davis is evolving into one of the best power hitters in baseball, but Milwaukee couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to snag Lucroy’s potential replacement, Jacob Nottingham. Entering the league as Houston’s sixth round pick in 2013, Nottingham was just getting accustomed to Oakland before being traded to Milwaukee in February. While his time in Oakland was short lived, Milwaukee is preparing to keep Nottingham for the long haul.
The 6’2”, 230lb backstop has plenty of raw power and contact skills that he should get the most out of. His receiving/blocking could use some work, but he still has another two years before he should be ready for the big leagues. If he never develops his defensive game, he could move over to first base where he played 18 games last year. How he performs against Double-A pitching this year will be a big sign in how he can handle advanced pitching going forward.
Until Nottingham arrives, the Brewers can comfortably employ Martin Maldonado as the team’s backup. He will never be mistaken for a starting-caliber player, but he gets the job done when needed.
(EDIT: Milwaukee targeted acquired C Andrew Susac along with RHP Phil Bickford from the San Francisco Giants for RP Will Smith before the mid-season trade deadline. Susac will be the frontrunner for becoming Milwaukee's catcher of the future. Click here to read more about what Susac will bring to the Brewers [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: Lucroy's as good as gone
Jonathan Lucroy has emerged as a top-5 catcher in the MLB. However, at 30 years old with only two years left under team control, Lucroy won’t be very helpful to a Brewers team that doesn’t figure to contend anytime soon. Trading Lucroy appears to be inevitable at this point with the question being a matter of when, not if. Acquiring Oakland’s No. 3 prospect (according to Baseball Prospectus) in Jacob Nottingham could have expedited the process of finding Lucroy’s eventual replacement.
(EDIT: Now that Lucroy is officially wearing a Texas Rangers uniform, the team can think about life without the seven-year veteran. After acquiring Andrew Susac from San Francisco in a seperate deal, it's unclear whether Susac or Nottingham will be the long-term option behind the plate, but having two options is always better than one. Neither catcher looks to make much of an impact in 2016 or 2017 so the Brewers might be interested in a stop-gap solution for 2017. Scouring over the options on the free agent market seems like the likeliest possibility if the team doesn't believe Martin Maldonado or Andrew Susac is capable of full-time catching duties next year [8/1/16]).
A disappointing first five months of the 2015 season saw Chris Carter bat .182/.296/.376 over 346 at-bats. However, Carter finished the year batting .349/.391/.860 over his last 15 games. The A’s didn’t think enough of the small sample size to keep him on their roster, but the rebuilding Brewers took a chance on the former top prospect. The 29 year-old still comes with three years of team control and the potential to blast 30+ HR’s any given season. Despite struggling for the majority of the 2015 season, Carter has still accumulated 90 home runs over the last three years combined. The Brewers will be getting some much needed power in their lineup for the foreseeable future, but not much else.
Future Outlook: Chris Carter isn’t the answer
Chris Carter definitely has some positives. In addition to his outstanding performance in September of last season, Carter is regularly among the league-leaders in home runs. However, other than the long ball, Carter brings very little to the table. He came close to setting the single-season record for strikeouts in 2013 (212), and his plate discipline hasn’t improved much since. His fielding leaves much to be desired and speed is almost nonexistent in his game. Because of his exceptional power though, Carter remains a serviceable first baseman during Milwaukee’s rebuilding project. However, GM David Stearns must start searching for the team’s eventual replacement when Carter is eligible for free agency after the 2018 season. Investing in a young prospect, whether through the draft or international market, would be a smart move as well. Until then, Hernan Perez' ability to play first base makes him the only logical in-house replacement once Carter's team control expires after 2018.
Scooter Gennett took the league by storm during his 69-game debut in 2013. Coming into the season as the eighth ranked Brewers prospect, Gennett more than outperformed the billing by batting .324/.356/.479 as a rookie. Since that offensive display, Gennett has declined significantly. After posting a mediocre .675 OPS last season, it’s looking increasingly likely that his 2013 outburst was just a case of beginner’s luck. At 26 years old, Gennett still has an opportunity to re-emerge as a viable starting second baseman. He’ll have to show he can do at least some damage against lefties (.310 OPS vs. LHP in 2015) before the Brewers can have faith in him as their everyday second baseman without a platoon partner.
Future Outlook: A scooter isn’t a Ferrari, but it will get the job done
Scooter Gennett had a great rookie season, but eventually he fell down to earth in line with his prospect profile. Gennett has time to still be a serviceable second baseman going forward, but don’t expect Scooter to ever be a top-5 second baseman. If Jose Altuve is the MLB's version of a Ferrari then Gennett would be.. just a scooter.
GM David Stearns made another low-risk investment by trading prospect RHP Cy Sneed for SS Jonathan Villar. Villar spent the majority of his major league career playing for the rebuilding Astros (besides 2015) and will now spend the 2016 season playing for a different rebuilding team in the Brewers. Villar’s speed is what stands out most, but he started to put things together at the plate last year as well. Skeptics will point to his high .360 BABIP as a sign that regression is coming, but Villar has benefitted from a BABIP above .359 in each season since 2012 (besides 2014 in the MLB). His speed and ground ball swing plane (57.5% ground ball percentage in 2015) keeps his BABIP high which should translate to solid batting averages. At just 25 years old, Villar is still improving his game. A .300 average with great speed and positional versatility could be the usual from Villar going forward.
Villar’s versatility will come in handy as he might not be playing the shortstop position for long. Milwaukee has it’s No. 1 prospect (according to Baseball America) starting the 2016 season in Triple-A. Orlando Arcia also found himself among the top-10 prospects in baseball on both Baseball America and MLB.com’s rankings. The 21 year-old has four above-average tools with power not being essential to Arcia’s game. He should become one of the better defensive shortstops in the league while also being an above-average hitter. Arcia is the franchise shortstop the Brewers have been looking for since Hall of Famer Robin Yount moved to the outfield in 1985.
While Arcia is polishing his development in Triple-A, Hernan Perez will be backing up Villar at the major league level. The 25 year-old doesn’t have much major league experience, but he made the most of his 230 at-bats with the Brewers last year, performing well for a player off the bench. He still has the upside to be a below-average regular until he’s eligible for free agency in 2021.
Future Outlook: 30 years later, a franchise shortstop is on the horizon
Irrelevant names like Bill Hall, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Royce Clayton have been handed the reigns as the starting shortstop in Milwaukee for years. Those players are a far cry from Robin Yount, who once held the position as a former MVP and current Hall of Famer. However, since Yount’s transition to the outfield in 1985, the Brewers have experienced 30 seasons without an impact shortstop. While Jonathan Villar is a sleeper that could do some damage, Orlando Arcia is the real talent Milwaukee is looking forward to. The 21 year-old will be starting the year in Triple-A, but once he makes his major league debut, the Brewers will never look back, and will finally have that franchise shortstop they’ve been desperately looking for for over three decades.
Aaron Hill was once viewed as a potential franchise second baseman, but is now on the decline of a rather disappointing career. Hill lived up to his top prospect billing in two separate seasons (2009 and 2012), but hasn’t been much better than a replacement player in the other nine years of his career. Though he has much more experience at second base, Hill will be the Brewers starting third baseman in 2016 after receiving solid UZR ratings at the hot corner last year. With one year left on his deal, Hill will hope to regain some of his old Silver Slugger form before he hits the market for what could be his last multi-year contract.
(EDIT: Milwaukee traded Aaron Hill to the Boston Red Sox for 2B Wendell Rijo and RHP Aaron Wilkerson. While Wilkerson is a 27 year-old in Triple-A, the 20 year-old Rijo still has potential to be an impact starter for Milwaukee some day. Click here to read more about what to expect from Rijo in the future [7/7/16]).
Milwaukee doesn’t have much brewing in the farm system at the hot corner, but Nathan Orf is a player that could potentially make an impact at the major league level. Like Hill, Orf can play both second and third base, along with almost any position on the diamond. Orf will likely settle in as a useful utility player off the bench.
Future Outlook: Over the hill
With Aramis Ramirez’ officially retiring, a gaping hole opened at third base that the Brewers needed to fill. New GM David Stearns traded away promising SS Jean Segura for a package of D-Backs players that included Aaron Hill. Naturally a second baseman, Hill will move over to third base to fill the vacancy in 2016. However, Hill is well past his prime and only has one year left on his contract forcing the Brewers to make another move to address the position in 2017 and beyond. With Orlando Arcia’s imminent arrival, the Brew Crew could decide to stay in-house for a replacement and move Jonathan Villar over to the hot corner to accommodate Arcia at shortstop. The youthful Villar would be a nice change for the Brewers as the last few third baseman in Milwaukee have been over the hill.
Now that Khris Davis has been traded, Ryan Braun can return to his natural position in left field. However, Braun is counting the days until he himself is traded as well. The 32 year-old superstar has had quite a controversial career. His accolades speak for themselves (six-time All-Star, five Silver Slugger awards, 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, 2011 NL MVP) but his legacy was damaged forever once Braun was suspended for PED use. Before he was indicted for Performance Enhancing Drugs, Braun inked a 5yr/$105MM extension in 2011 that didn’t kick in until this season and won’t expire until after the 2020 season. Any team looking to land a power bat at the trade deadline (Nationals?) will have to make room for his expensive salary.
The Brewers had another superstar-caliber player in the outfield, but traded Carlos Gomez to Houston before last year’s trade deadline. Domingo Santana headlined the package Milwaukee received for the two-time All-Star. Santana has the potential to match Gomez’ high-caliber play, but he’s failed to live up to those expectations in his young major league career. Still just 23 years old, he has a chance to improve his awful contact skills (33.7 SO% in 2015) and unleash his raw power. If he can ever improve his hit tool, he’ll be one of the better fight fielders in the game.
Santana wasn’t the only potential impact outfielder the Brewers received in the Carlos Gomez deal as the team also acquired Brett Phillips. Baseball America’s No. 57 prospect heading into 2016 might have the more promising future outlook. Phillips is a do-it-all five-tool player that could be a mainstay in Milwaukee’s outfield for years to come. Player comps are never completely accurate, but Brett Jackson was viewed in the same light as Phillips a few years ago as one of the Cubs’ most promising outfield prospects. However, an increasing strikeout rate due to swing-and-miss tendencies ended up plaguing him in the end. Phillips could become a great center fielder, but his increasing strikeout percentage has to be alarming for the Milwaukee organization.
Phillips won’t be ready for big league action until at least mid-2017, so Kirk Nieuwenhuis will be called upon to fill the role in 2016. The 28 year-old only batted .185 last season, but a year before that he posted a superb .828 OPS. Nieuwenhuis is best left in a limited role as a fourth outfielder, but due to Milwaukee’s inadequate roster, he’ll be a starter in 2016.
Rymer Liriano had a chance to be the team’s starting center fielder this season, but he suffered a facial fracture in Spring Training that will likely cost him the majority of the season. The unfortunate incident is the second serious injury in Liriano’s professional career as he missed the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The former top prospect still has the potential to be an average starter, but he’ll need to show he can stay off the shelf. Luckily for Milwaukee, both of those injuries could be considered flukey and Liriano isn’t yet considered an “injury prone” player. 2017 could be a make or break year for Liriano.
While Keon Broxton, Shane Peterson, or Ramon Flores could fill the fourth outfielder role this season, the Brewers have much bigger hopes for top prospects Michael Reed and Trent Clark. Both players stand out for their plus speed and potential as on-base machines. Reed in particular has cemented a high floor with a strong arm and an OBP reaching .371 against Double-A/Triple-A pitching. Clark, 19, has plenty of things to work on with his swing, but he could be a quality top-of-the-order hitter once he reaches his prime.
Tyrone Taylor, Monte Harrison, Demi Orimoloye, and Clint Coulter are all highly regarded prospects in Milwaukee’s system, but none of them have delivered enough production to be convinced they’ll make an impact at the major league level. While they’re each still young enough to figure things out with their standout tools, time is starting to run out.
(EDIT: The Brewers acquired OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named later from the Texas Rangers for C Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress. Brinson is a unanimous top-100 prospect among major outlets and projects to be the team's center fielder of the future. Click here to read more about what Brinson can bring to the Brewers going forward [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: A plethora of options to choose from
The Brewers traded two of the game’s best power hitters in Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis over the past year. While that hurt’s the team in 2016, it will give multiple young prospects an opportunity to prove themselves. With Domingo Santana, Rymer Liriano, Michael Reed, and Brett Phillips all having the capabilities of starting in a major league outfield as soon as next season, it’s looking more likely Ryan Braun could be on his way out as well. The 32 year-old Braun is much more valuable for a team competing for a World Series right now than Milwaukee’s rebuilding club.
If Tyrone Taylor, Monte Harrison, Demi Orimoloye, or Clint Coulter show any significant progress in their development, the Brewers will definitely pull the trigger on a Braun deal. Even if none of them produce much in the minors this season, the best move for GM David Stearns is acquire young talent for Braun, open up starting roles for the team’s young players, and get rid of his expensive contract. The team might be worse over the next few years without Braun, but that just means they’ll get higher draft picks that will further improve future Milwaukee Brewers teams.
Unless the Brewers make a midseason acquisition, the team is likely to have a rotation strictly full of right-handers. However, thanks to their midseason trade of OF Carlos Gomez, the team will have LHP Josh Hader ready to go in 2017. The 6’3” southpaw is somehow underrated in baseball circles as Baseball America didn’t even include him on Milwaukee’s top-10 prospect list entering the 2016 season. Despite being snubbed, Hader has a very deceptive 180-turn in his delivery (similar to Dontrelle Willis) that makes his mid-90’s fastball seem even faster. His offspeed pitchers still need improvement, but his curveball has flashed as a plus pitch while his changeup has improved immensely over the last couple years. If he can consistently locate his curveball and keep the same arm speed on his changeup, Hader could be a frontline starter some day.
The Brewers don’t have much else to be excited about when it comes to left-handers, but Nathan Kirby is one name to keep an eye on. The 2015 first round pick will miss the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, but if he can come back healthy, he’ll give Milwaukee three plus pitches that could help elevate him to a mid-rotation role in the future.
Future Outlook: Overlooked no more, Hader is the real deal
While 2016 likely won’t feature any lefties in Milwaukee’s rotation, help is on the way. The Brewers did a great job of acquiring three potential impact players for Mike Fiers and one and a half years of Carlos Gomez. Instead of watching Gomez sign elsewhere after the 2016 season and get nothing in return, the Brew Crew now has a potential frontline starter eager to make his major league debut. While Hader might be the last one to reach the majors between him, Brett Phillips, and Domingo Santana, the 6’3” lefty could have the biggest impact by the time Milwaukee is competitive again.
While Milwaukee’s rotation features nothing but righties, no right-hander sticks out as an ace-caliber pitcher. Jimmy Nelson will likely lead the staff in 2016, but he just had his first full season and couldn’t even surpass 180 innings. He’ll likely never fill that ace void in Milwaukee, but he could develop into a quality mid-rotation starter. At 27 years old, he must show he can reach that status soon for the Brewers to invest anything in him beyond his team control that expires after 2020.
Matt Garza was once an ace-caliber pitcher, but after a horrendous 2015 season, nobody knows what to expect from the 32 year-old. Wily Peralta has a similar uncertainty surrounding him, but at least he would make for a quality reliever as a backup plan if he can’t improve his changeup. Garza was sent home in September of last year because he refused to make the transition to the bullpen. With 2yrs/$25MM left on his deal, the Brewers hope he can re-establish some value so the team can ultimately trade him as well. A change of scenery would benefit both sides.
Taylor Jungmann had stretches of dominance last year, but it was fueled by a lower than usual .290 BABIP. Not likely to luck out like that again, Jungmann’s track record suggests 2015 was a fluke. Posting a 3.77 ERA over 119 innings was great, but evaluators don’t believe the 26 year-old will ever be able to replicate that kind of success.
Chase Anderson and Zach Davies were both acquired in separate trades over the past year. They each have the stuff of a future mid-rotation starter, but have yet to deliver that kind of production. Anderson will be given a spot in the rotation to start the year while Davies should be arriving later on in 2016. At just 23 years old, Davies is the one with the higher potential and could even be better than Anderson as soon as 2017.
Jorge Lopez could be a mid-rotation starter himself, but fringe command and a mediocre changeup could leave him in the bullpen. Devin Williams is another highly regarded prospect, but command issues could keep him in the bullpen as well. Like Nathan Kirby, Taylor Williams will miss the entire 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His future outlook will become much clearer once he makes his return.
Cody Ponce is a right-handed prospect that has the best chance to be successful as a starter. The 2015 second round pick made an impact right away by owning a 2.15 ERA in his 46 inning debut for the Single-A team. Already 22 years old, the Brewers are hoping Ponce can move quickly through the system and be ready by 2018. His fastball/curveball combo should help him become a quality mid-rotation starter in the 2020’s.
(EDIT: In two separate blockbuster moves, the Brewers targeted potential impact starters and received two righties that could emerge as high-quality starting pitchers. The Brewers acquired RHP Luis Ortiz along with OF Lewis Brinson and a player to be named later from the Texas Rangers for C Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress. Milwaukee then received RHP Phil Bickford along with C Andrew Susac from the San Francisco Giants for RP Will Smith. Click here to read more about what Luis Ortiz can bring to the table or here to see what to expect from Phil Bickford in the coming years [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: An ace-caliber arm needed
It’s pretty clear the Brewers won’t have a good rotation in 2016. With a staff full of righties, it would be expected that at least one right-hander has ace-caliber potential. Unless you’re one of those people still holding out for Jimmy Nelson to suddenly deliver a sub-2.40 ERA, the Brewers don’t have any righty in their system that would be an Opening Day starter on most teams. For a team that’s hoping to contend in the next decade, GM David Stearns must target high-potential righties in the draft or on the international market between now and then in hopes of landing their next Yovani Gallardo... Or even better: an actual ace.
(EDIT: While Ortiz figures to be more of a mid-rotation starter, Phil Bickford has everything it takes to be the frontline starter Milwaukee desperately needs in the 2020's. Junior Guerra's unexpected 2016 season gives the Brewers hope he can keep up his dominance on the mound despite already being 31 years old [8/1/16]).
With holes all over the roster, the bullpen might be the best group Milwaukee has to offer in 2016. Even with K-Rod departing for the Motor City, the Brewers still have a couple of relievers capable of closing games. Jeremy Jeffress will be the frontrunner as the 2006 first round pick has been excellent over the past three seasons (2.53 ERA, 108K/37BB) despite not registering a single save.
Will Smith and Corey Knebel are also two possibilities to fill the closer role. Smith has more experience, but Knebel is arguably better against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Smith will be the best southpaw in the ‘pen regardless of what his role is. Knebel is another former first round pick that could emerge as a power arm for Milwaukee in high-leverage situations.
Tyler Thornburg and Michael Blazek are the two best options Manager Craig Counsell can turn to late in games besides the team’s three potential closers. Thornburg is more of a righty specialist while Blazek’s 2015 rookie campaign was cut short due to hand fracture.
Carlos Torres, Blaine Boyer, and David Goforth are three other relief pitchers that could fill the middle relief role throughout the 2016 season and beyond. None of them stick out as potential closers, but do enough to get the job done in low-leverage situations.
Yhonathan Barrios and Jacob Barnes are two younger relievers that could do some damage in the coming years. Barrios will unfortunately miss the majority of the 2016 season after getting rotator cuff surgery which further clouds his future outlook. Barnes is a recently converted starter with a future as strikeout artist out of the bullpen.
Bowdien Derby, Mitchell Lambson, and Marcos Diplan are three minor leaguers with a chance of making an impact for Milwaukee’s big league bullpen. Diplan and Derby are converted starters while Lambson will be a lefty specialist. Diplan has the most potential of the three as the centerpiece of the Yovani Gallardo trade with the Texas Rangers last year.
(EDIT: As Milwaukee was in the midst of another losing season, the need for quality relievers is trumped by the desire to acquire high-upside talent that could emerge as impact players when the team will be closer to contention. So the Brewers traded Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith in two separate deals netting a significant package of promising prospects. To see how Jeffress will fit in with the Rangers click here or to read about the Giants' attempt at more even-year magic with Harris now in the fold, click here [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: No K-Rod, no problem
Since being traded by the New York Mets in 2011, K-Rod has led the Brewers in saves only two times (2014 and 2015). While he did spend half of the 2013 season with the Orioles, Milwaukee has proven they can get by in the bullpen without K-Rod shutting the door on opposing teams. Jeffress, Knebel, and Smith should form a trifecta that will deliver the results Milwaukee needs in high-leverage situations for years to come. The rest of the bullpen is mediocre, but once the Brewers get back into a state of contention, they can pluck guys out of free agency for cheap. It should also be noted Marcos Diplan, Jacob Barnes, Bubba Derby, Michael Lambson and Yhonathan Barrios could all have a significant impact as relievers going forward.
(EDIT: Now that Jeffress and Smith are relievers for the Rangers and Giants, the future outlook of the bullpen has significantly declined. However, considering the Brewers are still years away from contention, the bullpen will be the team's last priority, and can always improve on a yearly basis through free agency [8/1/16]).
OVERALL OUTLOOK: The Brew Crew will have to keep brewing
Despite a solid playoff run earlier in the decade, the window of contention has officially closed for the Milwaukee Brewers. Ryan Braun is the only hitter left that imposes fear to opposing pitchers while no hurlers in Miltown induce the same effect. Unlike Cincinnati, who is in a similar situation with their rebuilding efforts, Milwaukee doesn’t have the young pitching in place that could eventually lead to annual contention. Former GM Doug Melvin’s poor decisions left one hell of a mess for this Brewers franchise.
New GM David Stearns has his work cut out for him in bringing legitimacy back to the Badger state. With multiple top-10 picks looming, Stearns’ only hope is to build through the draft, make the right trades, and develop from within. The fans will have to be patient as it’s going to take time to put together a contender on the field. After Stearns came over from a successfully rebuilt franchise in Houston, the Brewers are hoping he can do the same thing in Milwaukee.