The Brewers reached the playoffs for a second straight year in 2019, claiming the second Wild Card spot in the National League with an 89-73 record. But after coming within a game of reaching the World Series a year ago, the club was unable to advance beyond the opening round in its return to the postseason, suffering a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals.
A year removed from winning the National League MVP in his first season with the organization, Christian Yelich turned in another MVP-caliber campaign before a fractured right kneecap prematurely ended his season in early September. While losing Yelich was a crushing blow both to the Brewers’ roster and the club’s postseason aspirations, the strong supporting cast of homegrown talent that had emerged around the Brewers’ star during the season helped to soften the blow.
Former first-round picks Keston Hiura (2017) and Trent Grisham (2015) became fixtures in the Brewers’ everyday lineup in 2019 and appear poised to take on even greater roles with the club going forward. Hiura enjoyed a quick rise through the Minors en route to becoming a middle-of-the-order run-producer for Milwaukee, while Grisham, after struggling for much of his pro career, put it all together during a breakout season. Brandon Woodruff, meanwhile, just continued to improve, garnering All-Star honors during his first year in the starting rotation.
But the arrivals of Hiura and Grisham, along with the organization’s decision to trade upper-level prospects such as Mauricio Dubon (sent to San Francisco in Drew Pomeranz deal), also has left the Brewers without much upper-level, big league-ready talent -- a notion that’s only compounded by regressions from players like Corey Ray and Zack Brown.
As a result the Brewers’ farm system is thinner now than at any point in recent memory, although the club has made a concerted effort to replenish its talent pool by adding athletic, potentially up-the-middle players via the Draft and international market.
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR
Trent Grisham, OF: An adjustment to the former first-round pick’s point of contact allowed him to breakout in earnest in 2019, as Grisham erupted to produce a .300/.407/.603 line with 27 homers in 97 games between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A San Antonio before making his big league debut on Aug. 1. The 23-year-old went on to play in 51 games for the Brewers over the final two-plus months of the regular season, finishing with a .738 OPS, 14 extra-base hits and 24 runs scored.
Trey Supak, RHP: Acquired with Keon Broxton in the December 2015 trade that sent utility man Jason Rogers to Pittsburgh, Supak was named the Double-A Southern League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2019 after going 11-4 with a 2.20 ERA and a circuit-best 0.87 WHIP and a .192 opponents' average. The 23-year-old righty didn’t fare as well after a move up to Triple-A, though, overall, he still established career-high totals by tossing 152 2/3 frames across 27 starts.
Mario Feliciano, C (No. 8): Selected with the No. 75 pick in the 2016 Draft out of Puerto Rico, Feliciano rebounded from an injury-plagued 2018 campaign to emerge as one of the most potent offensive prospects in Milwaukee’s system. The 20-year-old backstop hit for both average and power, batting .273/.324/.477 with a Carolina League-best 19 home runs and the circuit’s second-most RBIs (81).
Corey Ray, OF (No. 4): The former No. 5 overall pick appeared to turn the developmental corner in 2018, hitting 27 homers and swiping 37 bags en route to Double-A Southern League MVP honors. But an early-season finger injury halted the 25-year-old’s progress in ’19, and he struggled to get back on track in Triple-A after making a healthy return, finishing with a .188/.261/.329 line with seven homers and 89 strikeouts in 53 Pacific Coast League contests.
Draft: Ethan Small, LHP, 1st round (No. 5 on Brewers Top 30); Antoine Kelly, LHP, 2nd round (No. 10); Nick Kahle, C, 4th round; Thomas Dillard, OF, 5th round (No. 23)
International: Luis Medina, OF (No. 20); Hedbert Perez, OF; Jheremy Vargas, SS; Alexander Perez, SS; Alberto Ciprian, IF
Trade: Chad Spanberger (from Blue Jays)
After taking middle infielders Hiura and Turang with their first-round picks in consecutive Drafts, the Brewers shifted their focus to pitching in 2019 and selected Small and Kelly, a pair of college left-handers, in the first and second rounds. The organization also made a haul during the international signing period by inking five players for $500,000 or more. That group is headlined by Medina, a 16-year-old slugger whom the club signed for $1.3 million out of Venezuela.
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT
Drew Rasmussen, RHP: The Brewers decision to take Rasmussen in the sixth round of the 2018 Draft was based on their belief that the hard-throwing right-hander could make a healthy recovery from his second Tommy John surgery. He did just that in ’19, flashing dominant stuff (96 K in 74 1/3 IP) while ascending from Class A to Double-A in his pro debut. Rasmussen’s health will likely determine whether he can remain a starter, but there’s little doubt among evaluators regarding the 24-year-old’s potential to become a lights-out bullpen piece in the near future.
Hit: Brice Turang
Power: Mario Feliciano
Run: Korey Howell
Arm: Lucas Erceg
Field: Antonio Pinero
Best athlete: Corey Ray
Fastball: Drew Rasmussen
Curveball: Braden Webb
Slider: Aaron Ashby
Changeup: Clayton Andrews
Control: Dylan File
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
The Brewers' Top 30 list is largely homegrown, with 27 players having entered the system via the Draft or international signings. While the high total reflects the organization’s willingness to trade from within in order to improve its big league roster, it also speaks to the Brewers ability to identify and develop young talent. Specifically, nine of the club’s Top 10 prospects are products of the Draft -- all taken no later than the fifth round -- and five of the seven international signees on the list received a seven-figure signing bonus.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
The Brewers will have many roster vacancies to fill ahead of the 2020 season following the departures of free agents such as Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas and Eric Thames, and because they have little upper-level prospect depth to tap into it, the club will likely be forced to address its deficiencies via offseason trades and free-agent signings. The good news is that the Brewers’ system is deep enough in some areas to execute such trades, as they’ve amassed a wealth of highly athletic outfielders (13) through the Draft and international market who could be dangled in the right deal.