Pitchers and catchers (finally) report later this week which will bring an end to "prospect season," the time every year in the weeks before spring training starts when all the latest prospect rankings are released. Our own beloved local nine has done quite well in this year's various prospect rankings thanks largely to the rebuilding trades made in the last year by Doug Melvin and Slingin' David Stearns.
The Brewers came in ranked at fifth overall according to ESPN's Keith Law and ninth by Baseball America. Those rankings are based on prospect reports, tool grades, and risk factor. Over at Fangraphs, Chris Mitchell has developed a statistical projection system called KATOH that is also used for forecasting prospects, but in a little bit of different manner. KATOH takes out some of the human element, like the risk associated with a prospect, and projects future WAR produced through age-28 based on minor league stat lines. According to KATOH's projections, the Milwaukee Brewers have the number one minor league system in baseball.
KATOH forecasts the Brewers' farm system for 86 cumulative WAR, which is a full nine wins better than Houston, who came in second place with 77 WAR. Besides the Brewers the rest of NL Central was bunched together in the middle third of teams. Pittsburgh was ranked 10th with 60 WAR, the Reds were 12th with 55 WAR, St. Louis came in at 15th with 48 WAR, and finally the Cubs were ranked 17th with 45 WAR.
Breaking down things a little bit further, according to the projections Milwaukee has 17 wins projected from 1-2 WAR players at the MLB level, 20 wins projected from 2.0-3.5 WAR players, and a whopping 50 wins forecasted from 3.5 WAR or better prospects. Only one team, the Dodgers, has more forecasted production from their high-end prospects with 51 WAR projected from 3.5+ WAR prospects. The Brewers 86 projected wins above replacement come from 20 wins by pitchers (5th most in the league) and 66 wins by position players (1st in the league). It's worth bearing in mind that KATOH does tend to favor hitters or pitchers, as well.
The Brewers ranked 28th in last year's KATOH farm rankings, which is just another testament to how far the system has come in such a short time. As Mitchell notes in his post, seven of the Brewers' top eight prospects according to KATOH have joined the organization since last July. The Brewers had six players in KATOH's top 100 prospects when it was released back in November: Orlando Arcia (5), Ramon Flores (30), Brett Phillips (40), Javier Betancourt (57), Josh Hader (63), and Zach Davies (71). They've since added a seventh and eighth top-100 player in catcher Jacob Nottingham (15) and infielder Isan Diaz (69) in more recent deals.
Spring training starts up after just a few more days, at which time we can finally stop talking about projections and have some actual baseball to talk about. But it's at least nice to know that even though the over/under on Brewers wins is just 71.5 for 2016, their remade farm system is being unanimously praised and there is a wealth of talent flowing through the pipelines. Slingin' Stearns and the Brewers may very well have "won" the offseason with their flurry of activity and look to be well on the way to building a sustainable winner, and if all goes according to plan we should start seeing competitive baseball in Milwaukee again in the near future.