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Milwaukee Milkmen swing trade for Frontier League All-Star Aaron Hill

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Another potential impact bat for the 2020 lineup.

The most notable news around one of the Cream City’s professional baseball teams so far this offseason has been a drastic reduction of payroll and a lack of substantive rumors as to how they’ll reallocate those funds. But if you are dissatisfied with what the Brewers have been doing lately, perhaps you ought to consider checking out the moves that Milwaukee’s “udder” pro ball club has been making this winter.

The Milwaukee Milkmen recently announced yet another significant transaction, this time a trade with the Lake Erie Crushers of the Frontier League. On his way out is 28 year old Jose Rosario, who was the primary third baseman and a fill-in corner outfielder for Milwaukee during their inaugural season in 2019. He appeared in 90 out of 100 games while batting .246/.289/.382 (79 OPS+) and finished third on the squad with eight home runs.

The incoming infielder in the swap — soon-to-be 25 year old Aaron Hill — appears to be primed to make a much larger impact than that for the Milkmen in 2020, however.

After a four-year stay at the University of Connecticut, Hill began his professional career with the Crushers in 2018. Almost immediately, he became one of the top young hitters in the Frontier League and the best offensive player on his team. Splitting his time between second base and shortstop, Hill was a catalyst atop the lineup while batting .297/.407/.432 with five home runs and 14 steals in 96 games and 421 plate appearances, good for an outstanding OPS+ of 134 (or 34% better than the league average). He led qualified Crusher hitters in on-base percentage and on-base plus slugging; among Frontier League batters with at least 300 PA, he finished with the seventh-best OBP and was 17th overall by OPS. Hill was named to the All-Star team and at season’s end, he was awarded as the Frontier League’s Rookie of the Year.

Hill returned to Lake Erie for the 2019 season and continued to be a thorn in the side of FL hurlers both at the plate and on the basepaths. His batting average fell to .269, though that drop was accompanied by a major boost in power production. Hill more than doubled his dinger output, swatting 12 balls over the fence while also peppering outfields with 28 doubles, tied for most in the league. He increased his stolen base total to 24, sixth-best on the circuit. In 95 games and 421 plate appearances, Hill batted .269/.390/.465 and saw his OPS+ climb all the up to 147. Only three players (minimum 300 PA) in the league posted a higher OBP than Hill, and just five batters were better at the plate by measure of OPS. Hill played almost exclusively at the keystone in 2019, and at the end of the year he was voted as the league’s best player at the position of second base.

There is a fair amount of swing-and-miss in Hill’s game, as he whiffed in 23.2% of his plate appearances in 2018 before that number rose to 25.7% this past year. But the additional strikeouts were obviously worth it as he increased his Isolated Power mark by 61 points and boosted his OPS+ by another 13% relative to the rest of the league. He was also among the Frontier League’s best at earning free passes, finishing drawing 58 walks for a 13.8% BB rate in both his seasons with Lake Erie. Those totals were good enough to finish tied for the league’s third-most walks in 2018 and the second-most base on balls in 2019.

Assuming his skills translate to the more advanced competition of the American Association, Hill’s combination of power, speed, and on-base ability will be a welcome addition to the Milkmen offense. The club finished with the AA’s second-lowest cumulative OBP (.319), third-lowest slugging percentage (.358), and swiped the fifth-fewest bags (77) this past season.

There will, of course, be an almost entirely new stating lineup filing out of the home dugout at the Ballpark Commons in 2020 based on the moves that the Milkmen have already executed this winter. With Aaron Hill, Ryne Birk, Devon Rodriguez, and Miguel Gomez set to join returning stalwarts Adam Walker and Manny Boscan, fans in Franklin should have a much more potent offense to watch as the Milkmen chase their first-ever American Association playoff berth in only their second year of existence.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference