Prior to last season, Milwaukee had just one entry on most Top 100 Prospects lists in shortstop Orlando Arcia, and he was usually located near the bottom of that list. With the highest-upside players in the organization largely still a long way away from contributing, the Brewers were considered by most analysts to be at or near the bottom of the farm system rankings. According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com (among countless others), that's all changing, in a big way.
There haven't been any MLB Top 100 Prospects lists released yet for next year, but Mayo speculates that in addition to Arcia and recently-acquried Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, who was especially impressive in the Arizona Fall League, and Jorge Lopez, who had a breakout campaign with AA-Biloxi in 2015, could join them. Domingo Santana, another top 100 prospect Milwaukee acquired in it's trade with Houston, has of course graduated from the ranks of prospects now that he seems to have secured a place on the major league roster.
Mayo certainly isn't the only analyst that's impressed with Milwaukee's rapid rebuild. Here's Jim Callis, also of MLB.com:
And then there's this from Christopher Crawford of Baseball Prospectus:
Oh hey guess what? The #Brewers system is coming out tomorrow, and...I think it might be my favorite system right now. Yep. The Brewers.— Christopher Crawford (@CVCrawfordBP) December 3, 2015
And also Mauricio Rubio Jr. from 2080 Baseball,
I've said it before but the Brewers have done an impressive job of turning that farm around.— Mauricio Rubio Jr. (@MRubio52) December 30, 2015
There isn't just one thing that the Brewers have done that you can point to as the catalyst for the dramatic turnaround in the organization's perception around the league -- they've improved the farm system by every conceivable avenue. The emergence of their top pitching and hitting prospects, Arcia and Lopez, has improved the outlook on some of the players that were already in the system. They've also of course added a ton of talent through trades in a variety of different kinds of moves; high-end talent in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade, immediate impact players with the Gerardo Parra-Zack Davies swap, lower-level wildcards in the trades of Jason Rodgers and Adam Lind, and everything in between.
The Brewers made a big jump with their drafts the past two seasons as well, adding a lot of high-upside talent. They added players at both levels of the Rule 5 draft this year, including a couple in Zack Jones and Colin Walsh who could have significant roles on the 2016 major league club, Finally, they've cleaned up on the waiver wire, adding a host of (mostly former Red Sox) prospects who had either under-performed or fallen out of favor with their original clubs.
Certainly not all these players will pan out -- for every Ryan Braun, there's a dozen Matt LaPortas, Mat Gamels, and other prospect busts who may or may not be named after floor coverings. However the process here is clear -- GM David Stearns is gathering as much talent as he can, and he'll see what the Brewers' coaching staff can do with it. You may not be in love with any of these players today, but the point is that you never know who's going to pan out and who isn't -- so it's important to gather as many bodies as you can.
You don't have to look far to see a success story with these supposedly failed prospects -- before he bat flipped the Rangers into space, Jose Bautista spent the 2003 season with five different clubs, including a pair of stints with the Pirates. With some of these moves, the Brewers are buying scratch-offs, and hoping one of them is a big winner. The result is a vastly improved farm system that is quickly becoming one of the league's best.
Just don't ask anyone at ESPN about it.