The Milwaukee Brewers have until the end of the day to protect minor league players from the upcoming Rule 5 draft by adding them to the 40-man roster, and it looks like the team is working ahead of schedule. The team had six open spots on the roster and chose to protect some of their most prized prospects and a recent draft pick:
#Brewers have purchased the contracts of Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips, and Taylor Williams from minors.— MiLB Roster Tracker (@MiLB_Tracker) November 18, 2016
The team hasn’t formally announced the additions to the roster yet.
The first four players reportedly protected were foregone conclusions as the prized prospects that came back in recent trades.
Brinson will likely open the season as the Brewers' top-ranked prospect, and could be named a Top-10 prospect in all of baseball coming into 2017 after being ranked 16th by Baseball America last year. Brinson took advantage of the altitude in Colorado Springs after coming to the organization in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, hitting .382/.387/.618 with 9 doubles, 4 home runs and 20 RBI in 23 games.
Cordell ended up being the Player To Be Named Later in the Lucroy trade and didn't join the organization until after the end of the minor league season. He hit .264/.319/.484 as a 24-year-old in Double-A Frisco with 19 home runs and 70 RBI. He's currently playing Winter Ball in the Dominican Republic.
Hader simply overpowered hitters in Biloxi this year, putting up a 0.95 ERA in 11 starts with 73 strikeouts in 57 innings before earning a promotion. He was a victim of altitude in Colorado Springs, though, where his ERA ballooned to 5.48, but he still struck out 88 in 14 starts. He'll likely begin 2017 at Colorado Springs but is a candidate to make his big league debut during the season.
Phillips struggled to get going at the plate this past season, hitting just .229/.332/.397 in Double-A, but he still showed a good eye at the plate and was young for the level at age 22. With the outfield situation in Colorado Springs looking tight, the Brewers can probably afford to send Phillips back to Biloxi to start the next season before promoting him to Triple-A during the season.
Taylor Williams' protection is a big surprise, considering the former 4th round pick hasn't pitched for the organization since 2014 and never above High-A after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He did impress that season before getting hurt, putting up an ERA of 2.72 in 27 appearances (17 starts) between Wisconsin and Brevard County with a 4.89 K:BB ratio.
Now that these five are on the 40-man, it will cost the Brewers an option year if (more likely when) they don't make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training.
The most notable exclusion (at this point -- the team still has until the end of the day to fill that last 40-man spot if they wish) might be LHP Wei-Chung Wang, who's rebounded from being a disastrous Rule 5 pick in 2014 to put together a couple solid seasons in the minors as a starter. He's still only 24 years old, and is much more Major League-ready than he was a few years ago when the Brewers took him just to get him into the system. Wang had a 3.52 ERA in 19 starts for Double-A Biloxi this year before getting promoted to Triple-A.
The list of other notables left off the 40-man roster includes some strong minor league performers and two of the organization's top picks from the 2012 draft:
OF Clint Coulter
OF Tyrone Taylor
1B/OF Garrett Cooper
UTIL Nate Orf
OF Kyle Wren
RHP Tristan Archer
IF Javier Betancourt
RHP Josh Uhen
RHP Angel Ventura
RHP Miguel Diaz
As mentioned, there's still one 40-man spot open, but it's a decent bet the team will keep that spot open just in case they see someone in the Rule 5 draft pool they'd like to take a stab at. Last year, the Brewers selected Colin Walsh in the Rule 5 draft before ultimately returning him to Oakland.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference