Last year, I was pretty diligent about following the Brewers’ farm teams and prospects, and even subscribed to milb.com’s game streaming service in order to watch home games of the Sounds and Rattlers, as well as the Stars when they were playing away games against teams that have TV broadcast. Even though any two-bit pundit will tell you that the Crew’s farm system is weak and depleted, last summer I was struck with the realization that we have something of a glut of outfielders who fall somewhere on the spectrum of legitimacy; from mediocre to potentially decent. This isn’t a scouting report—just an attempt at a head count.
The outfield situation was somewhat fluid last year, what with Braun’s suspension and the question marks hovering over Aoki and Hart. This off-season saw things solidify somewhat at the top. Braun’s back, and Gomez will be our centerfielder for at least a few more years. Schaefer comes off the bench. Khris Davis turned out to be the lucky dog from the prospect litter that was able to find a home, but what became of the other puppies?
Guys like Caleb Gindl and Sean Halton are back in Nashville, and they have a good shot of making their mark in Milwaukee. Despite a midseason promotion to the Sounds last year and a spring training invite, Kentrail Davis has been bumped back down to Huntsville. Josh Prince spent all of last year no lower than Triple-A, but now he’s also back with the Stars. It’s hard to say what the future holds for any of these guys, and there’s something of a logjam forming.
The situation is compounded by an upsurge of talent at the lower levels. Last year’s T-Rat triumvirate of Tyrone Taylor, Victor Roache, and Michael Reed are now covering the Bermuda grass in Brevard County. It’s far too early to tell, but new arrivals to Wisconsin such as Michael Ratteree and Johnny Davis are worth watching. D’Vontrey Richardson is getting a little long in the tooth for us to say he has "potential," but his bounce back from injury looks promising. For what it’s worth, he’s had a hot start in Double-A.
I wish I could say I’ve been up on Mitch Haniger since his days with the Green Bay Bullfrogs, but in reality I have only been a fan since June 4, 2012, when he became a Brewer ten picks after Victor Roache did. It’s been interesting to follow the trajectory of these two guys. Despite having a nasty leg injury, Haniger ended his rookie season with Wisconsin, while Roache nursed his ails from home. Since then, Haniger has been one half-step ahead. They shared the outfield with the Rattlers early last year, but Mitch got the mid-season promotion to Brevard. At that time, I assumed that Haniger was on the split-year track (due as much to space-making as production) and would begin 2014 with the Manatees with the possibility of another mid-season promotion if the opportunity should arise. After a stellar stint with the Surprise Saguaros last fall and a solid spring training, Mitch has started this year with Huntsville. That, and there had to be room for Roache, Taylor, and Reed to move on up to Florida.
So my belabored point is that a frozen top and surging bottom make for a bloated middle. The upper-level players are treading water, and there doesn’t seem to be any value to fast-tracking the younger, more promising crop. Weird things are starting to happen. Consider the men who made up the outfield of the 2012 Midwest League Champion Wisconsin Timber Rattlers: Chadwin Stang has been released, despite a promotion to Double-A last year to make room for Haniger. Ben McMahan was shown the door. Max Walla is back in rookie ball, where he is being redefined as a pitcher. Even weirder is Lance Roenicke, who is back in Appleton to be a player/coach—with a likely transition to full-time coach of some kind. We can be thankful that this awkward bit of nepotism didn’t continue to exacerbate the outfield situation in the middle levels.
Value is value, and something’s got to give—whether this summer or next winter. In the "Modest Proposal" section of the Brewer page of Sports Illustrated’s 2014 baseball preview, Joe Sheehan beats the drum for an Ike Davis trade. I quote:
"Whether it’s a back-end arm like Johnny Hellweg or a suspect outfielder like Mitch Haniger, Melvin has to find the name that gets a deal done."
Sheehan’s comment is puzzling in his implication that we have pitchers to burn, but he does point to the obvious: one or more of these outfielders will likely be moved in the next ten months. It would be nice to see what we have first, but isn’t there value to selling high on a guy like Mitch Haniger? As blasphemous as it sounds, what about Tyrone Taylor? Taylor projects as an everyday centerfielder, but are we grooming him until/if Gomez walks? We won’t sell the whole farm before Khris Davis truly earns his keep, but even if Braun’s thumb hurts…isn’t there always a Gindl or a Prince? Kentrail Davis?
So what can we expect by the year 2022, when Braun will be a free agent? Here’s my prediction: our World Series outfield will be Roache, Taylor, and Haniger. Richardson will be the DH, because by that time either the National League will have the DH or the Brewers will be back in the American League—one or the other. Knuckleballer Max Walla will get the ball for game one and game five against the mighty Indiana Rays. In the ninth inning of a tied game seven, Michael Ratteree will come in to pinch hit with a man on first. Manager Lance Roenicke will signal to bunt.