Amid the noticeable excitement stemming from the Milwaukee Brewers’ acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, a sizable portion of the fan base has been griping about the prospects lost to the Miami Marlins for Yelich. Save for a fleecing of the Marlins - which some may have expected considering their earlier deals - it was predictable that people would show anxiety over losing young talent they’ve grown to “love” during a rebuild.
Therein lies the catch-22 of highly-regarded prospects in a rebuild - if and when it is time to use farmhands as assets, fans often have a strong connection to the players they expected to be part of a resurgence. It’s completely understandable considering the club’s emphasis on their future impact; however, the reality is, nothing guarantees any of them success in Major League Baseball.
So when looking at the Yelich trade specifically, it’s important to see why fans shouldn’t be worried about the four prospects the Brewers lost in the process. For one, Yelich is even better than you probably think. We won’t get into the details of Yelich’s exciting value, as you can find that in a previous article. Not to mention, he’ll only be better by playing half his games in Miller Park instead of Miami.
But if we focus on the four men shipped to Miami, you’ll see why the Brewers were comfortable trading away potential talent. It may have seemed like a high price to pay (only time will tell), but it was a fair deal and a wise gamble. Take a look at each prospect involved and why you shouldn’t lose sleep over them.
Lewis Brinson - OF
While he was the consensus top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, experts certainly have concerns that Brinson was falling from elite prospect status. No one is denying Brinson’s tantalizing tools and “look” of potential future All-Star, but the questions had become louder and more frequent recently.
Brinson has already shown some proneness to injury, a lack in consistency with his ability to make contact, and real struggles with above-average pitching. Plus, while it was a limited stint (55 plate appearances), failed to make an impact at the MLB level - even appearing overmatched at times.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Brinson will already turn 24 in May, while Christian Yelich just turned 26. Thus, you’re talking about a two year difference between a completely unproven prospect who has spent six years in the minor league and a four-and-a-half year MLB pro with a Gold Glove, MVP votes, a .369 career OBP, and at least 4.5 fWAR in three of his four seasons.
Basically, the Brewers could have merely hoped that Brinson could be as good as Yelich in a couple of years. Instead, they got the real thing and a more sure thing instead of wishful thinking.
Plus, as he’s under team control for five seasons (at a value price), he belongs to the Brewers for essentially the same amount of years as Brinson would have been. So unless you truly believe Brinson will reach the levels of Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, Milwaukee simply acquired the proven version of Brinson and jumped a few years into the future - instead of betting on mere potential.
Monte Harrison - OF
Another athletic, toolsy outfielder, Harrison could not stay healthy his first few years in the minors. Baseball America ranked him 4th in the Brewers’ system after the 2014 season, but he fell to 14th the following year, and 20th after the 2016 campaign. He finally saw the field consistently last year, and Harrison had a huge year. He split time in Low-A and High-A, jumping up to 5th in the Crew’s system (number 75 in MLB) according to Baseball America.
Despite some reports of developmental gains, the 22-year-old remains a rather raw baseball player. His elite athleticism makes up for some flaws, but a long swing and a general lack of awareness at the plate are major issues that will be exploited as he gets to higher levels.
The combination of his major injury history (broken ankle, broken hamate) and no track record of sustained success make Harrison an extremely high risk-high reward type of player. With plenty of controllable depth in the outfield at the MLB level and additional potential in the minors (e.g. Corey Ray, Tristen Lutz, Trent Grisham), the Brewers could let go of a lottery ticket with great uncertainty.
Isan Diaz - 2B, SS
The sweet-swinging lefty had a fantastic 2016 season, but came crashing down last year. All of his major stats took a tumble as his slash line fell to .222/.334/.376/.710 over 110 games with High-A Carolina. The major dip in performance may be an aberration, and MLB Pipeline still ranks him as the 4th-best second basemen in baseball in their prospect rankings.
While Diaz’s true talent is likely somewhere between his 2016 numbers (.264/.358/.469/.827) and last season’s stats, he doesn’t get the raves from scouts nearly as often anymore. He could very well stand to be a solid contributor at the Major League level, but it’s hard to see him as a major impact player.
But the biggest reasons you shouldn’t worry about his inclusion in the deal is, once again, Milwaukee’s other minor leaguers at the position.
Keston Hiura, the Brewers’ 1st-round pick in 2017 (9th overall), is viewed as a premier hitter who could very well fly through system and be with the big club in no time. MLB Pipeline and Baseball America both rank him 3rd among second base prospects, with the latter listing him as a top 50 prospect overall.
Milwaukee also has Mauricio Dubon, a slick-fielding middle infielder who could see time in the majors this year. The Brewers’ brass love his swift hands and feet, strong arm, and versatility (a huge asset on a Craig Counsell team). Dubon’s infield glove work is MLB-ready, he has played some outfield, and the 23-year-old has continued to improve at the plate.
Jordan Yamamoto - RHP
Surprisingly the only pitcher included in the trade Yamamoto was likely under the radar for most Brewers’ fans. Yamamoto was about to join MLB Pipeline’s top 30 prospects for Milwaukee for the first time on the heels of a terrific 2017 at High-A (2.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). It was the second straight year of improved numbers for the 21-year-old right-hander.
Yamamoto is still a relatively unknown in terms of Major League projection, making it tough to gauge if his inclusion is a big deal or not. The reason fans shouldn’t think too much about it is simply this: he was still way down in the pecking order of young Brewers pitchers.
It would be fair to say there are at least six or seven hurlers that would be ahead of Yamamoto - and that’s probably a low number. The key is that nobody named Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Luis Ortiz, or Freddy Peralta were part of the trade.
Woodruff, Baseball America’s 61st-ranked prospect is expected to compete for a starting job with the Brewers. Burnes, another Baseball America top 100 guys (74th), has been phenomenal the past couple of seasons and could have the highest ceiling of them all. Hanging onto all of their high-quality young pitchers is a major victory.
So there you go. Plenty of ifs and possible talent in the future, but you really can’t argue there are any “sure things” among the quartet of prospects dealt. In fact, multiple reports have noted Milwaukee’s system have tons of above-average depth, but nothing elite on the high end or awful on the low end. Thus, many prospects in the 11-30 range were fairly close in talent to some in the top 10. Even after the Yelich deal, Baseball America still ranked Milwaukee’s farm system a solid 11th overall among MLB clubs.
Considering the impact Yelich will have on the Brewers for the next half decade - a potential multiple-time All-Star - you really shouldn’t worry about the unproven potential that may never make much headway in Major League Baseball.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference