Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Milwaukee Brewers.
PHOENIX -- Tom Flanagan was a high school senior when he first joined the Brewers as a batboy in 1990, and the Wisconsin native has been with the organization ever since. He moved into baseball operations shortly after graduating from Wisconsin-Milwaukee and took over as farm director in November 2015.
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Flanagan's current job puts him in charge of overseeing one of baseball's best farm systems, No. 5 in MLBPipeline's recently updated rankings. He says he can't remember another time in his 27 years with the organization that it had as much Minor League talent.
• Brewers' Top 30 Prospects list
"It's as deep as I've ever been exposed to," Flanagan said. "The only parallel I can draw would be in the mid-2000s, when the blue-chip talent with Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun was maybe the same, but there wasn't nearly the same depth. When we do our roster projections, trying to figure out where does everyone belong, we have to make a lot of adjustments because of all the talent. It's exciting."
The Brewers are in a rebuilding phase, having finished fourth in the National League Central in each of the last two seasons while posting their worst two-year win total (141) since 2003-04. With the influx of talent on the way to Miller Park, they should return to contention by 2019.
At some point in 2017, they should get significant upgrades from outfielder Lewis Brinson, left-hander Josh Hader and righty Brandon Woodruff. Brinson has electric tools and 30-30-potential, Hader is the best southpaw pitching prospect in baseball and Woodruff topped the Minors with 173 strikeouts in 158 innings last year.
The next wave with 2018 ETAs includes outfielders Corey Ray and Brett Phillips, right-hander Luis Ortiz and infielders Isan Diaz and Mauricio Dubon. Outfielder Trent Clark, third baseman Lucas Erceg and righties Marcos Diplan headline another strong group that's a couple of years away.
• Q&A with Corey Ray
Several of those players were acquired in trades. GM David Stearns, who took over in September 2015, dealt for Brinson, Ortiz, Diaz and Dubon in his first full year on the job. Doug Melvin, his predecessor, acquired Hader, Phillips and Diplan in his final year before moving to an advisory role.
Milwaukee also has bolstered its system via the 2015-16 Drafts, which could be its best back-to-back efforts in a while. The 2015 crop includes Clark (first round), left-hander Nathan Kirby (supplemental first), righty Cody Ponce (second) and outfielder Demi Orimoloye (fourth). At No. 5 overall last June, Ray was the Brewers' highest pick since landing Braun in the same spot in 2005, and they also are encouraged by the early returns from Erceg (second round), catcher Mario Feliciano (supplemental second), right-hander Corbin Burnes (fourth) and third baseman Chad McClanahan (11th).
Few organizations have brought as much young talent into their organization during the past two years. Now the job is to turn all that promise into winning big leaguers.
"[Manager] Craig Counsell's message this spring was about having higher standards," Flanagan said. "Every year, the standard of what it's going to take to be a big leaguer with the Brewers is going to be higher and higher. I think the players get as excited about that as we do. They're also doing the math, looking around at the other guys. They're competitive and they feed off that type of environment."
Erceg won't make the Brewers 10 months after signing out of Menlo (Calif.), an NAIA program, but he's making a nice first impression on the big league staff. Drafted primarily for his left-handed power potential, he displayed it by hitting two homers against the Reds on Monday and has gone 4-for-7 in exhibition play.
Erceg, 21, can do more than mash. His approach and ability to make hard contact should allow him to hit for average, and he has the hands and strong arm to get the job done at third base. After batting .327/.376/.518 in his pro debut, he'll start 2017 in high Class A and should move quickly.
"In instructional league, he dabbled a little bit with playing shortstop and really surprised our guys there," Flanagan said. "That's a testament to the kind of defender he is. His future is still at third base, where he has a pretty good profile. He loves coming to the ballpark every day. He's got that no-batting-glove look, that old-school mentality. He's a grinder with tools."
Signed by the Rangers for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Diplan came to the Brewers 18 months later as part of the Yovani Gallardo trade. He made his full-season debut last year, dominating in low Class A and holding his own in high Class A at age 19. His lack of physicality might make it easy to underestimate the 6-foot, 170-pounder, but that would be a mistake.
"At first glance, he looks like a smaller guy, a pitchability guy," Flanagan said. "But he's a stuff guy. He has a big fastball and a good slider. It's just a matter of being able to repeat a little more, get deeper into games, just command the stuff he has. He doesn't need to be perfect."