The three biggest Brewers stories from early in the season
The Brewers have struggled to stay relevant as a mid-market team in the NL Central. This year, though, they started out hot, and have been in contention for the NL Central title in a year where the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs have started slowly.
A few years have been very successful for them, with some draft picks panning out quite well. Ryan Braun has been one of the franchises best players for years, but they haven’t been able to quite put a team around him that can compete consistently. From an inconsistent fan base to a city that is underrated, yet can’t draw bigger free agents, will 2017 begin a different era in Brewers baseball?
1st Story: Eric Thames, the real deal?
Eric Thames struggled in his first stint in the MLB. After what was actually a solid rookie season with Toronto, with a slash line of .262/.313/.456 and 12 HR. He then took a step back, hitting .232/.273/.399 with both Toronto and Seattle. From there, he was out of baseball for a year, where he presumably retooled his game. He took Korea by storm in 2014. In his 3 years there, he didn’t hit lower than .320, have less than 35 HR, or hit less than .300 with runners in scoring position.
A report by Mike Axisa in April for CBS Sports showed one potential reason that Thames has gotten off to such a hot start. His big point: Thames’ strikeout and walk rates have taken a dramatic upswing. His contact rate in the zone and chase rate, according to Axisa, have increased and decreased respectively from 85.3% and 34.2% to 91.8% and 15.9%.
Taking into account these figures, it’s easy to see why Thames has gotten off to such a hot start. Conjecture could provide that he learned more plate discipline in the Asian game, where the philosophy to pitching is a little different. The higher emphasis on movement and mixing pitches likely helped Thames developed better plate discipline.
In addition to that, he’s increased his Hard Hit % by a prodigious amount. His highest % before this year in the majors was 34.2%. He’s currently been able to hit the ball with a Hard Hit % of 48.1%.
Granted, it’s still early in the year, but Thames appears to have turned his game around. He’s currently experiencing a slight slump, but his BABIP is a more realistic number, of .291. If he can maintain this rate and not regress into his previous habit of chasing balls out of the zone, Thames will provide some serious life to a Brewers team that desperately needs some life.
2nd Story: Is it wise to move Ryan Braun?
The short answer: for the right deal, why not? Ryan Braun has been undoubtedly the lifeblood at times for the Milwaukee Brewers. A quick glance at Baseball Reference’s player comparison at Braun’s current age, Baseball Reference’s top three comparisons are Lance Berkman, Larry Walker, and Carlos Lee. By any stretch, these were all great hitters. Braun’s first seven years in the league are some of the best in recent years. His slash line in those years was .311/.374/.561. He averaged 30 HR’s and would have been over that if he’d hadn’t dealt with the 2013 suspension. If there’s a blemish on Braun’s career, it is undoubtedly that.
That being said, he’s been able to make a solid recovery since then. Excluding his 2014 season, he’s had a .291 average, while hitting 25 HR’s in 2015 and 30 HR’s in 2016. Braun’s had made some serious strides towards redeeming himself both with the Brewers and with Major League Baseball.
With that, Braun’s trade value has definitely increased. The biggest issue for the Brewers is that across the Major Leagues, outfield is one of the deepest positions. However, any playoff contending team with a deep enough farm system would likely make a play for Braun if one of their starting corner outfielders would get injured. In addition to that, if he manages to maintain his offensive production, he’ll provide an upgrade for most AL teams at DH, or improve an outfield platoon for most NL teams.
The Brewers should not move him unless they get their specific price. He still brings people to the stadium and has a good following amongst the fans. It’s hard to put a price on that ability, but regardless the Brewers would have to pay most of Braun’s salary, but even that would be worth continuing the rebuild that they’ve started and has yet to fully produce prospects yet.
3rd Story: Does the farm system have some prospects that can help the Brewers in 2018?
According to MLB Pipeline, the Brewers have one of the better systems in baseball after one season of rebuilding. Their top prospects, Lewis Brinson, Corey Ray, Luis Ortiz, and Josh Hader, are the three most likely candidates to help the Brewers improve in 2018.
Brinson has the following ratings in the important prospect areas: 50 Hit, 60 Power, 60 Run, 55 Arm, 60 Field. This leaves him with an overall rating of 55. A power hitting right handed bat to play the outfield would definitely slide in nicely behind Ryan Braun if he’s still on the team in 2018, or if Braun is traded in 2017, it’s likely we’ll see Brinson after then September call-ups. Look for Brinson to start making an impact in 2018.
Corey Ray is another player in the Brewer’s system that could very well be called up in September to see how he performs. With a good hit, power, and run tools, Ray was drafted 5th overall by the Brewers in 2016. He’s dealing with a torn meniscus, but once that issue is cleared up, it’s likely that the Brewers have another stellar outfield player in the wings.
Luiz Ortiz is a right-handed pitcher who’s developed quickly due to his ability to feel the game, and his nice frame, 6-3 230 lbs. That frame will play nicely deep into ball games. In addition, he’s got a mid to high 90’s fastball to compliment a good slider and what projects to be an average changeup. Odds are good that he’ll develop over the 2017 season, and be able to join the Major League club at some point in 2017 before the September call-ups, and likely be fighting for a rotation spot in 2018.
Josh Hader is a left-handed power pitcher that will remind some Brewers fans of another lefty that helped them get to the playoffs some time ago. 6-3, and a lean 185, Hader boasts a 65 fastball 60 slider combination that plays well at any level. His control isn’t quite up to the same level, ranked 45 by Prospect Pipeline, and his 22 BB in 35.2 IP. As he gets ahead of hitters more, that will allow that slider to take full effect, giving the Brewers a possible 1-2 starter in Hader.