As recently as pre-2014, the Brewers were ranked as one of the very worst farm systems in the major leagues. Milwaukee had been cooling off after a pretty successful multi-year run that was brought on in large part by a great minor league crop consisting of players like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, Corey Hart, etc etc.
Once those players graduated to the majors and started winning, the Brewers struggled to maintain success in the draft as they picked much lower in the first round. A string of early picks didn't work out as hoped for various reasons -- Eric Arnett, Kentrail Davis, Kyle Heckathorn, Dylan Covey, Jed Bradley.
The ones that did work out didn't necessarily stay in the system. Players like Lorenzo Cain, Michael Brantley, Brett Lawrie and more were dealt for players who could help the team immediately. Whether you approve of this strategy or not, the Brewers saw they had a window to compete for a World Series and took their shot with CC Sabathia, Zack Greink and Shaun Marcum. It almost worked too, if it weren't for the danged Cardinals.
These drafts weren't complete busts, producing guys like Jimmy Nelson and Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett who are contributors, but maybe not likely to be stars.
More recently, however, the Brewers have taken a different approach to the draft. In recent years, the Brewers have shied away from the Arnett/Jungmann/Bradley archetype of fast-rising, lower-ceiling college player. Instead, they've gone for younger players with big upside.
The Brewers, in essence, are looking to find another star. They didn't have a first-round pick in 2013, but took a high school pitcher with a big arm, Devin Williams, in the second. They then took prep shortstop Tucker Neuhaus in the third before taking a string of college players.
In 2014, the Brewers went even further with the strategy. Five of their first seven picks were high school players, including incredibly high-potential players in shortstop Jake Gatewood and outfielders Monte Harrison and Troy Stokes. The very early returns on these players has not been especially promising. First rounder Kodi Medeiros has looked better of late, but most of the early 2014 picks have struggled.
They're young, but there's huge risk in these players. The Brewers opted to go for huge upside -- Harrison has work to go, but has garnered comparisons to players like Andrew McCutchen; Gatewood has immense power but many think he'll never put it together; Medieros is talented, but has a small frame and might not be able to handle a workload.
In 2015, the Brewers again opted for big talent. Trent Clark, Demi Orimoloye, Nash Walters...many have raved about their natural talent, but there are huge questions whether they'll be able to put it together. In 2015, the Brewers balanced it a bit more with more college talent early, too.
On the surface, the last few Brewers drafts are as exciting as they've been since the early-2000s. The raw talent is there, but the key thing is that it's raw talent. Now the Brewers have a task to develop these players into actual major leaguers, to get them to capitalize.
It's a risky play for Milwaukee. If it works out, they could have a top farm system in just a few years. How the Cubs and Astros were looked at coming into 2015, the Brewers could be looked at heading into, say, 2018. Maybe Gatewood becomes a Javier Baez type, Harrison a George Springer, Orimoloye a Kris Bryant. Medeiros a Carlos Rodon. Clark a Byron Buxton.
If it doesn't work out? If nearly all those players flame out and can't live up to their potential? That sets the Brewers back another few years. It's how Milwaukee ended up with over a decade of losing seasons in a row. If that happens again, that's devastating.
Of course, it almost definitely won't be one or the other. Maybe Orimoloye and Medeiros become top prospects while the rest fail to get out of Double-A. Or a couple of the other players. Or Gatewood becomes a superstar, Medeiros tops out as a middle-rotation pitcher, Clark is a fourth-outfielder, Orimoloye manages an All Star season or two and the rest either barely touch the majors or don't sniff it at all.
It's very, very early and we don't know how these drafts will turn out. But there is a huge risk involved. So what I'm curious about is how do you feel about this strategy? Should the Brewers have taken fewer risks and opted for a couple more surer-things. Maybe take Medeiros and Harrison, but skip Stokes and Gatewood? Almost entirely have gone with less-risky players (though there's never a certainty a player will become a major league contributor).
Personally, I think I'm happy the Brewers went the route they did. I think their late-round drafting in 2015 is kind of an analogy for the last few years of drafting. That is to say, they picked a handful of players in the round who were strong college commitments and very unlikely to sign, else they would have been high-round picks. However, if one or two of them signed, it's a big coup for Milwaukee.
The Brewers are taking a big risk, but they likely don't expect every single draftee to pan out. Some of these guys have true superstar potential, though, it seems like. If one or two even come close to living up to their lofty potential, it's a huge win for Milwaukee as they rebuild back into a contender.
At the very least, it's going to be exciting to keep an eye on the Brewers minor league system the next few years!