How Brewers landed some steals in '23 Draft

May 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy’s Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MILWAUKEE -- If you’re up for a lesson in MLB Draft economics, here’s the story of how the Brewers’ shrewd construction of last year’s class is paying dividends in the case of a pair of high-profile picks.

To understand how third-round pick Eric Bitonti and sixth-round pick Cooper Pratt fell to the Brewers requires a reminder of MLB Draft rules. Each selection in the first 10 rounds comes with an assigned value, and the sum of those values adds up to the total a team can spend in those rounds without incurring a penalty. If a team agrees to an “under slot” bonus for its first-round pick, for example, it means there is money left over to go “above slot” for a talented player who falls further down the board, often wooing that player away from a college scholarship offer.

It’s a puzzle that requires great scouting and an understanding of each player’s assessment of his own value. The teams that execute best come away with more total value than they would by lining up a prospect board on talent alone.

“On a macro level, it’s not as simple as, ‘Let’s just take the best player available when we pick,’” said Brewers assistant GM Matt Kleine. “It’s really about, 'What’s the pick we can make that also allows us a chance to capture the most possible value at the end of the Draft?'

“And we’re not alone in that strategy. I think if you gave all the other teams truth serum, that’s probably what the majority of them are doing.”

The hard part is that teams never know how a Draft will unfold. But in the case of last year, the Brewers happened to have a chance to draft a handful of players -- first-rounder Brock Wilken, second-rounder Mike Boeve, competitive balance pick Josh Knoth and fourth-rounder Jason Woodward, whom they valued higher than the industry consensus. By agreeing with all of those players on below-slot bonuses, the Brewers “saved” more than $2 million in pool funds.

They put that money to work on Bitonti, who signed for $1,750,000 when slot value was $796,200, and Pratt, who signed for $1,350,000 when slot value was $309,900. In both cases, the Brewers spent first- or second-round money to convince the player to forgo a college commitment (Bitonti at Oregon, Pratt at Ole Miss).

So far, it’s money well spent. Bitonti’s 1.002 OPS in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League is second among qualified hitters in Milwaukee’s system. Pratt’s 119 wRC+ at Single-A Carolina ranks 14th in the system.

Bitonti is the Brewers' No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and Pratt is No. 8.

(Boeve, ranked No. 13, also warrants a nod. He has a 163 wRC+ and is slashing .349/.431/.458 in 45 games between High-A Wisconsin and Double-A Biloxi.)

“A ton of credit needs to go to our scouts and our people in the office to determine where those differentiations in value can be found,” Kleine said. “Every pick, you’re on the phone with agents to make sure you’re on the same page about where signability is going to be, and then when our pick is up we have to make a choice between Player A, B or C, or maybe it’s just two players.”

Now you know why teams’ Draft war rooms are so crowded when MLB Network cameras peek in. At any one time, GM Matt Arnold, his three assistant GMs (Kleine, Karl Mueller and Will Hudgins), executive advisor Matt Klentak, VP of domestic scouting Tod Johnson and others might all be on the phone with various agents.

“It’s fun. What people think working in baseball is like, versus what it actually is, is often very different,” Kleine said. “When you’re a kid you think it’s, ‘Put a Major League team together.’ But that’s seven percent of what the job entails. There’s this other 93 percent that goes into building an organization. Having really good people. Trying to innovate. Trying to find the next thing. It’s all of the people and process behind the scenes that have helped us get to where we are now.”

More highlights from Milwaukee’s full-season affiliates:

Triple-A Nashville

Brewers manager Pat Murphy said the club was informed that 's six-game suspension stemming from a benches-clearing fight with the Rays on April 30 has been reduced to four games on appeal. MLB has yet to make an announcement because Uribe has since been optioned to Triple-A Nashville, where he has allowed one run in seven appearances for the Sounds. He’s also walked seven batters compared to seven strikeouts.

“So, now we have to pick the spot [to bring him back to the Major Leagues],” Murphy said. “He’s got to pitch well and do the things we ask him to do. If he pitches well, then we find a spot to get him in.”

Double-A Biloxi

Triple-A Nashville pitcher Carlos F. Rodriguez is on a hot streak, but don’t forget about the other Carlos Rodriguez in Milwaukee’s farm system. Outfielder Carlos D. Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two walks in Biloxi's 8-4 loss to Birmingham on Sunday and has multi-hit efforts in six of his 15 games in May. For the month, Rodriguez is batting .442/.525/.519 (23-for-52) with two doubles, one triple, 11 RBIs and six runs scored.

High-A Wisconsin

Right-hander Alexander Cornielle is 2-0 with a 0.76 ERA (two earned runs in 23 2/3 innings) in four starts in May after delivering another strong start in a 9-8, 11-inning win over South Bend on Sunday. Cornielle had his scoreless streak snapped at 20 innings by allowing a run in the third, but he recovered to hold the Cubs to two runs on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

Single-A Carolina

Outfielder Yhoswar Garcia has the ninth-best wRC+ (130) and the 12th-best OPS (.776) of qualified hitters in Milwaukee’s system after going 6-for-17 last week against Myrtle Beach. Garcia, 22, signed with the Phillies for $2.5 million in March 2020 but was released in March and then signed with the Brewers.