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BCB Mailbag 29: In defense of Keon Broxton

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Answering the burning questions from you, the reader.

St Louis Cardinals v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

I had every intention of doing this post during last night’s game. But my buxom vixen of a wife whisked me off on a surprise date - got a babysitter for the kids and everything - and we had a lovely evening exploring downtown Milwaukee. It was the first night we’ve had as just the two of us for quite a long time, so I won’t apologize for keep y’all waiting.

Anyways, on to this week’s batch of questions:

roguejim asks:

Is hatred for Keon Broxton tearing this site apart?

From what I understand, it very well might be. I know a lot of folks are upset and confused about the roster shuffling over the last couple weeks and the organization’s hesitance to give Lewis Brinson a full-time shot in center field. I had a similar discussion during a recent radio spot I did in Fon du Lac, so here’s my take:

If there’s one thing David Stearns has shown that he’ll do with his roster, it’s that he’ll take advantage of players on option years and shuffle guys through those final few bench and bullpen spots as he’s sees fit. We saw it plenty last year and we are seeing it again this season. The only difference is now instead of having guys like Alex Presley, Will Middlebrooks, Ramon Flores, and Andy Wilkins as advanced organizational depth, some of those AAA spots are now held by top prospects like Brinson and Brett Phillips. Whether we as fans want to take it seriously or not, the organization is competing this year. So if Stearns and co. decide they want to give Keon Broxton a brief stint in AAA to get his confidence back up, why would they hesitate to shuffle Brinson and Phillips to the big leagues for a few days based on matchups? Brinson started five games and accrued 20 plate appearances while he was up here; would it have been that much more beneficial for him if he would’ve instead taken 35-40 plate appearances for Colorado Springs during that time? I don’t really think so.

It’s fine that the organization isn’t ready to give Lewis Brinson the starting role in center field. This is a pennant race, and honestly, so far he just has not produced. He’s hitting .106/.236/.277 in 55 plate appearances and has struck out 31% of the time. Sure, there’s been some bad luck involved as evidenced by a .107 BABIP and 33% hard contact rate, and if the circumstances were different then maybe the club would be more willing to simply let him “figure it out.” But they aren’t and the team needs production from a spot that they have several different options at. Broxton appears to have worked through his cold streak (he posted a 1.077 OPS during his stint in AAA and has gone 3-for-12 with 2 walks since being recalled) and for the time being, he’s the best option in center field. His high-strikeout approach may not be the most fun to watch, but Broxton’s 83 wRC+ for the season puts his offensive contributions on a similar level with players like Orlando Arcia (88 wRC+) and Hernan Perez (86 wRC+).

Keon Broxton has taken 586 turns at the plate in his MLB career, or roughly a full-season’s worth of PAs. In that time, he’s produced a 94 wRC+ with 23 home runs, 41 stolen bases, and 2.6 fWAR. Wouldn’t we all be ecstatic if Lewis Brinson could produce at that level during his first full season in the big leagues? Look, y’all, Keon Broxton has been a pretty good player. I don’t fault the organization for allowing him to play regularly in center field over an unproven rookie (even one who is a top prospect) while this club remains in the postseason hunt.

Of course, if the club wanted they could find semi-regular playing time for Brinson as the rotating 4th outfielder, but that would mean that Hammerin’ Hernan and Eric Thames would have to stop making cameos on the outfield grass...

BrewcrewBLI asks:

Which of our A+ Mudcat prospects do you see making the jump to Biloxi and which will repeat at A+ next season?

I think most of the group will probably end up getting advanced. Jake Gatewood, Trent Clark, Isan Diaz, Cody Ponce, Kodi Medeiros, and Jordan Yamamoto have all shown enough to me that they deserve a shot at the next level next season. If I had to guess, I think they might bump Ray up to start the year too just because he’ll have already spent a full year and a half in high-A ball by then.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Erceg start back in Carolina next season before getting promoted to Biloxi at some point. Same for Marcos Diplan, who has struggled a lot with his command this year and probably isn’t ready for AA. Monte Harrison will probably be back in Carolina to start the year, too, just due to the fact that he hasn’t spent much time at the level at all.

Dreman50 asks:

Is Corbin Burnes the real deal?

I understand scouting tools, grades, and waiting for players to put it all together. However, I also consider utter domination of one’s competition an excellent indication of one’s skills. Braun and Fielder dominated in the minors coming up. Is Burnes a future front-line MLB starter?

Corbin Burnes has certainly taken steps this year to prove that he can be a starter at the MLB level, but let’s hold off on the “future ace” label for now. Really, we should do our best to try and avoid that label altogether for pitchers at the minor league level. Scouts rarely project “aces;” even most of the best pitching prospects in the game are labeled as “future #2 starters.” And how are things going for those pitchers who have recently been proclaimed as future aces by some in the scouting community, like Lucas Giolito and Alex Reyes? Even Clayton Kershaw wasn’t supposed to be Clayton Kershaw as a minor leaguer. MLB-level aces are the guys who hit their 90th percentile of projected outcomes, the guys where everything just happens to go right for them. Those players are tremendously rare.

We’ve seen Brewer prospects dominate the minor leagues before. Tyler Wagner and Jorge Lopez finished 1-2 in Southern League ERA just two seasons ago; Wagner has since been traded from Milwaukee and DFA’d by two different organizations, while Lopez has only spent a brief amount of time in the MLB and was just recently converted to a full-time reliever. Jimmy Nelson posted a 1.46 ERA in 111.0 innings in AAA in 2014, and then compiled a 4.46 ERA in his first 426.0 MLB innings before finally breaking out this year in his age-28 season.

At this point, Burnes projects to have above-average command of three average-or-better offerings along with a sturdy starter’s build. He’s not ranked in MLB Pipeline’s top 100, though Jim Callis recently tweeted that he is somewhere in the 101-110 range. For now, let’s get comfortable with the idea that this guy could ultimately be a pretty solid mid-rotation starter if everything continues to develop as we hope. If he winds up being better than that, well then we can all be pleasantly surprised that he surpassed reasonable expectations.

Southern Fried Badger asks:

Will Paolo Espino have enough time in the majors this season to get a MLB pension?

If my math is correct, so far our hero Paolo has spent 28 days on the major league roster this year. That would mean he only needs another 15 days in The Show this year for the requisite 43 days of MLB service in order to vest his pension. Assuming he gets called up when rosters expand in September (maybe after the Sky Sox regular season ends on September 4th) he should easily clear that service time threshold before the end of 2017.

nullacct asks:

Is the payroll being held intentionally low in anticipation of acquiring free agents or taking on salary in trade?

Or is it just the incidental consequence of having a lot of pre-arb guys?

I think that most of the low payroll can be attributed to the bulk of the team being made up of pre-arbitration eligible players. One could argue the Brewers may have whiffed this past offseason by not rolling the dice on lower-level signings like Drew Storen and Santiago Casilla, both of whom signed for negligible amounts in free agency. But I don’t really buy into the idea that the payroll that’s been “saved” these last couple of seasons is going into some kind of war chest for when the team is ready to make some splashy free agent acquisitions. Box office and concession revenues are no doubt down these past couple of years thanks to the team’s performance, cutting into the overall bottom-line. At the same time, the Brewers have made some heavy investments elsewhere - $20 mil for new concessions; what’s probably going to wind up being around $30 mil or so toward buying the Carolina Mudcats; from what I understand, a more concerted attempt to make sure minor league players are receiving proper nutrition; and according to recent reports, perhaps soon another $20 mil or so towards a new spring training facility. So it’s not like the payroll savings are just going into Mark’s pockets or anything. At least not most of it.


Thanks for all the great questions this week everyone! Here’s hoping our beloved Milwaukee Nine can take back first place in the division later today!

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs