The records of the Brewers minor-league affiliates this season has been a topic of conversation that has come up several times this year. All of the Brewers affiliates seem to be struggling this year, yet the farm system is ranked at #1 by MLB.com. If the system is so good, why are the results not there? There’s several reasons why, but let’s start by looking at the current status of the teams and their chances of a playoff run.
Minor League Affiliates and the 2016 Playoffs
(Note: All numbers are taken as of Wednesday morning.)
Triple-A Colorado Springs
Pacific Coast League
While Colorado Springs has not been eliminated from contention, their chances of making the playoffs are near 0%. They are 8.5 games behind division-leader Oklahoma City for a playoff spot, with an elimination number of 5. The PCL only takes the four division leaders for their playoffs. The Sky Sox have thirteen games remaining, with their last game on September 5.
64-62 Overall / 25-32 in 2nd Half
Biloxi missed out on a playoff spot in the 1st half of the season by 1.5 games, finishing behind Pensacola. The Shuckers are last in the South division in the second half, 8.5 games down with an elimination number of 6. However, they could also make the playoffs if Pensacola wins the 2nd half (currenly down 3.5 games) and Biloxi finishes in 2nd place in the overall standings (currently 3.5 games behind 2nd place). They also have 13 games left and finish their regular season on September 5.
Class-A Advanced Brevard County
Florida State League
37-89 Overall / 14-44 in 2nd Half
Playoffs are the farthest thing from the minds of Brevard County at this point. They are by far the worst team in the league (14 wins less than the second worst), and potentially could end up with the worst record in their franchise’s history. The Manatees have lost 13 straight games and won just 3 games in the month of August. Since a four-game winning streak in mid-July, they are 4-27. To avoid their worst season in franchise history, they would need to win 6 of their final 12 games. Their season ends on September 4.
63-65 Overall / 29-29 in 2nd Half
The Timber Rattlers may have the best playoff chances of any of the Brewers affiliates. While they are 14 games back in the second-half standings, the league takes four from each division to the playoffs. To be in that group, the Timber Rattlers likely need to finish third in their division in the second half, which they are currently two games behind. They have 12 games remaining with their regular season finale on September 5.
Dominican Summer League
The Dominican Summer League is the other league for the Brewers affiliates that goes by full season standings rather than half seasons. That doesn’t help the DSL Brewers here, as they are last in their division and have already been eliminated from playoff contention. They have just four games left, with their season ending on August 27.
23-36 Overall (8-13 in 2nd Half)
Helena’s playoff chances are slim at this point as they are last in the second half standings (down 4.5 with an elimination number of 12) and overall standings (down 11.5). They do have time to try to rally, but only have 16 games remaining, with the last one on September 8.
22-27 Overall (10-11 in 2nd Half)
The AZL Brewers playoff chances are nearly done as they are 4 games down in the second half with an elimination number of 2, and are 9 games down in the overall standings. They have five games remaining and their season ends on August 29.
Losing Records and the State of the Farm System
If the Brewers system is so good, why are so many teams struggling? Only Biloxi has a winning record this season, and only by two games. It’s counter-intuitive that a farm system can be good if the teams in it are bad. Despite the records, there are a few reasons why a system can be good without good results.
1. The minor league system is composed of more than the top prospects.
After the trades to end July, the Brewers system now contains eight of the top 100 prospects in baseball (according to MLB.com). That was enough to land them in the top spot on the rankings of all 30 MLB farm systems. It would make sense, then, that the Brewers affiliates would be doing better.
However, baseball is a game where a team has to field more than one player. Most of these teams have their own 25-man rosters, and many of those players are nothing more than organizational filler / career minor-league players. Between the Brewers seven levels, they probably have close to 200 minor-league players. That would mean the top prospects only account for 4% of the total system. While that 4% can have a bigger impact than any other player in the other 96%, they typically can’t carry a team by themselves. So, if the rest of the players that fill out the team aren’t good enough to compete, then the team as a whole can struggle.
2. The Brewers play many of their prospects a league ahead of where they should be.
Another factor that can affect a team is how much the organization decides to challenge them. If a player can consistently succeed at the level they are at, is it in the best interest of the player to keep them at that level? Some teams might do that to build confidence, but the Brewers have shown that they like to continue to challenge their prospects. Once a player has shown all he can at a certain level, he gets moved up to a higher level. That level can challenge a player more, and potentially produce weaker results as the player adjusts to the new challenge. This also can affect team results because the numbers that player puts up are lower.
3. Each organization has a different philosophy on how to handle their prospects.
MLB teams have different ways to handle their affiliates over other MLB teams. Some may let their top prospects linger at a level they are succeeding at longer to build their confidence. Some teams may stack prospects at certain affiliates to help them succeed. Some may choose to avoid certain affiliates with their prospects, creating an overflow at another one. Each organization functions differently on how they build their minor league system. While some teams may value minor-league results more, others may ignore the final record in pursuit of the best situation for their players. You can’t really say which is better unless the results of the players show that.
4. Winning isn’t top priority in the minor leagues.
It’s not a topic that is touched very often, but it is a general agreement that the affiliates have with the parent teams. The primary purpose of these teams is development, not winning. While winning is a nice side effect that can boost development, it’s not the top concern. Of course, there is a line that has to be walked here as well. While minor-league teams may not care as much about winning, there is still a desire in the minors to win. Winning helps bring in fans, drive sales, and improve the team overall. Though several seasons of losing may not be as much of a problem as it would be in the majors, not winning can still be a strain.
Losing Records and the Relationship with Affiliates
(Note: For this section, we are only discussing the affiliates that the Brewers do not own. Since the Brewers own their DSL and AZL affiliates, this section will not apply.)
While we’ve established that record isn’t everything to a minor-league system, this does bring up another question: If a team is constantly putting together losing rosters, how does the minor-league affiliate feel about that? There’s no solid answer to this either because each affiliate could value their relationship with the parent team differently.
For example, let’s look at the Brewers relationship with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. In the eight years the teams have been affiliated, the Timber Rattlers have finished with a losing record in five years (and potentially six pending the end of this season). They have only made the playoffs twice (potentially a third time this season), though they did win their league in 2012.
Despite these rough records, the Brewers and Timber Rattlers have signed a PDC through 2020. Even though the records haven’t been the best, the Timber Rattlers are seeing a boost from their proximity to Milwaukee. Their top seven seasons in attendance have come in their first seven seasons with the Brewers. Having the major league club so close has increased interest in the team overall. It’s a boost that they wouldn’t get with any other affiliate, and should insure that the two sides work together for many years.
It’s a similar situation with the Biloxi Shuckers. Last year, it was hard to gauge the relationship between the Brewers and the Shuckers even though the Brewers had committed to them for four years. The Shuckers were having stadium issues, forcing the Brewers prospects to spend about two months of their lives on the road. However, with the stadium issues gone and the team seeing plenty of success, it’s one of the strongest relationships that the Brewers have right now. In fact, it’s so strong that the Brewers worked out an exhibition game in Biloxi before the season. The two sides have already added on two more years to their deal, insuring the two will be working together through 2020.
However, there’s also the bad side of affiliations. The debacle that happened with the Nashville Sounds two years ago is one example of that. Nashville had been dealing with stadium issues for years, but despite that, the Brewers stuck with them and even helped them get a new stadium deal in place. However, with the stadium set to open in 2015, the Sounds decided to dump the Brewers and sign on with the Athletics for four years. While the Sounds claim that they followed the rules with an affiliation change, the rumors of the change had been swirling for months, way before the official negotiating period opened. Considering how it played out, at best the Sounds were flirting with violating the rules of negotiations (even if they didn’t actually violate any), and at worst it was a blatant slap in the Brewers face, stringing them along until the deal with the Athletics was done.
In addition, one of the points that came up with the switch is that the Sounds felt like the Brewers didn’t field competitive enough teams, while the Athletics could give them that. While the two sides never discussed it being important, it was a point that came up after the split. To further add salt to the wound, in the official releases from the Sounds, they never once thanked the Brewers for their years of working together. It was a messy divorce between the two sides, one that has left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many Brewers fans.
Following this, the team was forced to pair with Colorado Springs. While the Brewers and Sky Sox have tried to make it look like a happy pairing, it’s obviously only a pairing because the sides have to align with someone. The Brewers are likely looking at getting dumped again in 2018 if/when the Sky Sox franchise relocates to San Antonio, and could end up in another forced Triple-A pairing if no other options are available. The whole situation is rough for the Brewers as their ability to get access to top facilities for their minor-league teams is limited, and they are continuously dealing with facilities that lack the amenities of top stadiums.
Could all of this have been avoided if the Brewers fielded better teams in Nashville? We can’t say for sure. Maybe the situation would have played out exactly the same way, or maybe the Brewers would have been able to stay in Nashville. It definitely wouldn’t have hurt the Brewers chances to retain the Sounds as an affiliate. If the many years of substandard teams did play a role in the split, it has put the Brewers in a position at the Triple-A level that could take them at least four more years (if not longer) to dig themselves out of.
Hopefully that helps better explain the minor-league situation for many of you. While the Brewers affiliates are not doing well this season, it doesn’t mean that the system is in trouble. They still boast several top prospects even if the records don’t show it. The minor leagues are about development more than winning, though minor-league teams do like keeping a balance between the two when possible. Don’t let those records drag down your view of the minor-league system. The situation with the Brewers prospects is much better than those records indicate.