Yesterday, the Milwaukee Brewers called up their third highly-touted minor leaguer in less than a week when it was announced that Lewis Brinson would be taking the spot of the injured Jonathan Villar on the big league roster. Brinson, 23, began his career when the Texas Rangers made him the 29th overall pick in the 2012 draft as a prep player. He joined the Brewers’ organization last summer, when he was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to Texas. Brinson has been widely regarded as Milwaukee’s top prospect since the moment he joined the organization and is considered by most to be a top-25 prospect league-wide. A late trip from Colorado Springs to Phoenix yesterday meant that Sweet Lew didn’t arrive at the game in time to make the starting lineup and didn’t appear as a pinch hitter, but today he is scheduled to make his major league debut while batting leadoff and playing in left field. So what can we expect from the exciting young outfielder?
Brinson’s right-handed swing has undergone several changes throughout his professional career, adjustments that needed to be made after striking out 191 times in 122 games as a 19 year old in A-ball back in 2013. The current iteration sees Brinson with significant bend in his knees and waist, a slightly opened stance and with his hands position below his chin. He has a short leg kick but is able to generate excellent bat speed, giving him consistent power to all fields:
This year for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Brinson had batted a stellar .312/.397/.503 through 204 plate appearances with 6 home runs and 7 stolen bases. Of his six dingers, three have been pulled and three have been hit to center or the opposite field and he has a very balanced spray chart overall. Brinson’s line has been boosted by a .381 BABIP, which has helped mask the fact that he’s striking out in 22.1% of his plate appearances. That rate is a marked improvement over his earlier years in the minors leagues and is certainly a manageable total in today’s strikeout-heavy environment, but Brinson’s swing can get long at times and his pitch recognition is still coming along, making him susceptible plenty of whiffs. It’ll be important to keep in mind that he’ll will likely strike out at a rate close to one of every four plate appearances, or more, while he’s playing in the big leagues. The hit tool projects to be average, but the floor is potentially much lower given the swing-and-miss in his game.
Sweet Lew has never been an overly patient hitter at the plate, walking in a little over 8% of his minor league plate appearances. Prior to this season, this was even more true against the more advanced pitching in AA and AAA; last year Brinson walked in just 21 of his 434 plate appearances (4.8%) in 104 games between those two level. He’s made promising improvements on those totals this season, however, more than doubling his walk rate to a career-best 10.8%. He may never exactly be an on-base threat, but he should hopefully be able to draw free passes at roughly a league-average clip.
When Brinson does put the bat on the ball, it has a propensity to travel a long ways. Brinson’s improved contact over the years has allowed him to more consistently tap into the raw power that is routinely graded as plus. He’s eclipsed double-digit home runs in each of his five full minor league seasons and at his peak, should have the power to put 25 balls or more over the fence on an annual basis against big league pitching. On the basepaths, Lewis’ plus speed and good instincts make him a legitimate stolen base threat. If he can get on base enough, he should have little issue stealing 20+ bases in a given season.
Overall, the offensive ceiling for Brinson is as high as nearly any prospect around the game provided he can avoid the injury issues that have plagued him at times in the past. He’s an authentic power-speed threat who could have 20/20 potential in the future. There’s plenty of volatility in a profile like that, however, and the floor is a low-average, low-OBP hitter who doesn’t make enough contact to fully utilize his impressive power at the plate.
Even if Brinson’s offensive game winds up being closer to his floor than his ceiling, the defensive prowess that he’s displayed should be enough to make him an everyday-caliber player. His plus speed plays well in center, where he uses his long strides and good reads to track down balls all over the field. The presence of Keon Broxton on the roster as well as the continued absence of Ryan Braun likely means that Brinson will see plenty of action in left field as he transitions to the big leagues, but don’t expect him to stay there long-term. As of now there seems to be little reason that the organization would consider moving him away playing from center field on a regular basis (he pushed another strong defender, Brett Phillips, off the position for most of the year in AAA), but if that does wind up being the case Brinson’s strong arm will also play well in both outfield corners.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference