The Brewers finally had their first domino fall on Thursday as they traded off third baseman Aramis Ramirez to the Pittsburgh Pirates. It had been a relatively expected move with the Brewers far out of contention and Ramirez not being a piece that would help in the long-term.
What couldn't be expected was what the Brewers would get in return. We could guess the level of prospect/player they might get back -- meaning, we figured they wouldn't get anything special back -- but the exact nature of the assets coming back were impossible to ascertain.
Now we know: The Brewers got right-hander Yhonathan Barrios, a 23-year-old reliever who reached Triple-A for the first time just this year. As expected, he's not someone that any Brewers fans should be extraordinarily thrilled about getting. That said, for what the Brewers gave up, getting someone like Barrios is far from a bad return.
To start out, here's what Bucs Dugout had to say about Barrios in their post about the trade:
The Pirates didn't give up much here, either. In fact, from their perspective, they're giving up almost nothing. Barrios is a former big-bonus infield prospect who converted to relieving a couple years back. He has a live arm, but he's now 23 and hasn't been particularly successful -- his 2.68 ERA in the minors this season looks nice, but he's also struck out just 21 batters while walking 17 in 40.1 innings. He's also set for minor league free agency and Rule 5 eligibility after the season, and there's no way the Pirates were going to put him on their roster. Maybe the Brewers see something they can fix, and as a converted infielder, it wouldn't be that shocking if Barrios took a while to bloom. But a 23-year-old minor league reliever who isn't even dominant is probably the least you can get in a trade while still claiming you got a prospect. If I were a Brewers fan, I'd be upset about this trade. Milwaukee wasn't going anywhere this season, but there also wasn't much reason for them to dump a useful player for so little.
The note about the Rule 5 draft eligibility is very interesting, but someone like Barrios doesn't figure to be an especially attractive candidate to be selected. If a team is taking a player in that draft, they tend to look at players who overpower batters and strike out a good amount of players, but maybe have big control issues. As noted, Barrios doesn't seem to earn many strikeouts yet. Over 109 minor league innings, he has struck out 81 batters. That number also gets worse as he has progressed to upper levels.
However, Barrios can throw hard, which is one of those things you can't teach. In fact, he's one of only a few dozen pitchers who can reach 100 MPH with his fastball, according to this list from Baseball America. That lends hope that there's something there for the Brewers to work with. Milwaukee also loves hard throwing relievers -- that list has about 50 players on it, and seven of them are now or have been Brewers.
Also good: Barrios is apparently a ground ball pitcher. Though Miller Park isn't the home run-friendly ballpark some might think, it's still preferred to have someone who forces batters to hit balls in the dirt.
Barrios, as noted by Bucs Dugout, is also a converted infielder. That means his secondary stuff isn't spectacular -- which may contribute to the low number of strikeouts as batters sit on the fastball. His further lack of whiffs in the upper minors also lends credence to that theory as he would be facing more advanced hitters. It also means there's certainly room for development.
According to Fangraphs, he works in a slider and change-up on occasion but, again, those need refinement. Barrios isn't big -- 5'10" and about 180 pounds -- but still is consistently around 92-97 MPH. You can watch video of Barrios pitching at that Fangraphs link.
Well he's far from a finished product, the Brewers are getting a player who certainly has the potential to be a top reliever. This is just his third professional season as a pitcher and he only has 109.2 innings on his arm so far. Though his fastball is already pretty good, he needs to develop the changeup and slider to really earn success or he won't fool batters.
Barrios might well end up being a career minor leaguer. That might, in fact, be the most likely result. But the Brewers weren't getting a good prospect for Ramirez. Ramirez had too many struggles early on, and his last 35 games weren't going to raise his value that much. Getting anything at all is a good thing for Milwaukee; getting what could be a strong reliever is not bad at all.
The Brewers are starting Barrios out in Double-A Biloxi. With work, Milwaukee will hopefully have a diamond in the rough.