Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Brewers.
PHOENIX -- A year ago at this time, the Brewers had the No. 5 farm system in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, a climb from No. 9 in 2016. They were rebuilding and made trades to bring in a number of exciting prospects, Top 100 and otherwise.
• Brewers Top 30 Prospects | Mauricio Dubon Q&A
Things have changed a bit, most notably in the form of Christian Yelich. Bringing the outfielder in cost the farm system some of its better players, namely Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison and Isan Diaz (and Jordan Yamamoto). The Brewers have shifted to more of a "win now" attitude and that's thinned the organization some, knocking it out of the top 10.
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
"There's always that initial reaction whenever you trade players you've gotten to know, there's always the human component," Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said. "Overall, we see the big picture. To get a guy like Christian Yelich back, that's going to require giving up players you like. For the big picture, it's something our guys are really excited about because they know what's in store for the big league team. We're all in."
That doesn't mean the players traded won't be missed. There's a certain parental aspect of being a farm director, and Flanagan clearly wants to see his "kids" do well.
"You enjoy seeing the growth that occurred in these players and making the call to tell them they've been traded is a tough call, but at the end of the day, it's really a great opportunity for those guys as well," Flanagan said. "They can go to an organization where maybe they're a little closer to the big leagues. They'll have a bright future with the Marlins."
The Yelich trade certainly didn't leave the cupboards bare. The Brewers still have three players on the Top 100 and several other intriguing prospects who could impact the big league club this season. And one thing the trade does create is opportunity for new prospects to step up.
"There are a number of other guys over there in big league camp who, based on some other guys we had, might have flown under the radar a little bit," Flanagan said. "They're making a good impression over there. There are new opportunities, there's a new chance for growth for our staff to push some guys and find the next wave to replace those guys. We're excited about some of the guys we have and look forward to seeing them step up this season."
Pitchers on the way
The Brewers have often been known more for developing bats than arms, and they've typically put out productive lineups at the big league level. But, especially with the departure of some of the best position players to the Marlins, there are some intriguing ams at the top of the team's Top 30. Both No. 2 prospect Corbin Burnes and No. 3 Brandon Woodruff are in the Top 100 and both are in big league camp, with a chance to help out in Milwaukee this season. They may not have top-of-the-rotation stuff, but considering Burnes was a fourth-rounder and Woodruff was an 11th-round pick, the Brewers are excited about the return on investment.
"I think our scouts have done a great job finding guys a little bit later in the Draft," Flanagan said about the duo. "They're impactful to our starting rotation. Woodruff made his way up there last year, Burnes is pretty much knocking on the door and will probably be in Triple-A to start the year. We've kind of been known for the bats. Our big league ballpark and the runs the big league team puts up steal some of the headlines, but there is a nice stable of arms coming up that made some progress last year."
That includes a former first-round pick on the mound in Kodi Medeiros, the lefty who was taken out of the Hawaii high school ranks as the No. 12 pick in the 2014 Draft. It's been a little bit of a slog for the southpaw as he's spent the last two seasons in Class A Advanced leagues, with very mixed results.
His 2016 was disjointed, not because of any serious arm injury, but because of fatigue, the flu and more minor things of that nature. And while his 4.98 ERA in the Carolina League in 2017 doesn't jump off the page, the player development staff loved what they saw.
"Last year, some of the stats at a quick glance might not wow people, but to our staff, the velocity was really good," Flanagan said. "He really dominated stretches of games. This would be his first Spring Training had he gone to college and he's going to be somewhere in that Double-A rotation. He's really jumped forward here in camp. It's just a matter of his confidence catching up to his talent.
"His ball moves so much. Nothing ends up where he starts it, so he kind of gotten a handle on that at some point last year and he's brought that into camp. We're excited to see him once the games fire up over here."
Hiura can hit, but can he defend?
Keston Hiura, the organization's top prospect and first-round pick from last June, is in big league camp and continuing to show what he can do with the bat. Yes, he might currently be famous for looking foolish on a Shohei Ohtani breaking ball, but what didn't make it into that GIF is that he smoked a ball in the gap off of the lefty earlier in that game.
No one questions that his bat will play, but will he find a position so his bat can be in the lineup regularly. He hadn't played the field for a year because of an elbow injury. Slowly, but surely, though he's made enough progress where the Brewers feel he'll be just fine at second.
"Last year, introducing him back to the field, getting him back at second base, a little bit during the season, building his arm strength up, and then in instructional league, he's come a long way," Flanagan said. "He still has a ways to go in that regard. I think that's going to be the big thing for him this year, just establishing the daily repetition, the workload playing a lot of second base. Obviously, doing it on a daily basis, over an 140-game season, eventually hopefully a 162 big league season, that will be the true test. We're confident he'll be able to handle it."
That's a good sign, because his plus hit tool is going to get him to Milwaukee in a hurry.
"He arrived and he had that tool ready to go," Flanagan said. "Probably since Ryan Braun showed up, we haven't had a guy as prepared to hit as Keston."