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Milwaukee Brewers 2019 MLB Draft Preview: Fans trust front office to make smart pick

The current regime has had a mixed bag of success at the top of the draft.

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MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to SB Nation FanPulse, a survey of fans across MLB. Each week, we send 30 polls to plugged in fans from each team. Brewers fans, sign up HERE to join FanPulse.

This year’s MLB Draft begins next week, and the latest FanPulse results had to do with how much confidence voters had in their front office to make a good pick. Fans of the Milwaukee Brewers are among the most trusting of their team’s executives to make a smart decision. In fact, only two fanbases — Houston (100%) and Minnesota (98%) — have more confidence in their front offices when it comes to the draft. Four fanbases had a majority of ‘no’ responses — the White Sox, Royals, Mets, and Phillies.

David Stearns wasn’t hired as GM until the end of the 2015 season, but we’ll trace this front office’s draft history back to that year’s draft because it was the first under Ray Montgomery, who retained his role as Amateur Scouting Director upon Stearns’ hire. The two drafts that Montgomery ran in 2015 and 2016 before getting promoted to a Vice President position have looked to be a mixed bag so far. Milwaukee’s first pick was at #15 overall in 2015, and they selected prep outfielder Trent Grisham (at the time, called Trent Clark) who was seen as the most advanced high school hitter in the draft. Four years later, he’s the owner of a mostly disappointing .241/.363/.364 slash in close to 1,700 plate appearances. He’s been criticized at times for having too passive an approach, he hasn’t developed much power, and he has tumbled down prospect lists to currently just #30 via MLB Pipeline. Grisham is still only 22 so there’s time for him to turn things around, but most seem to agree that at this point, the most likely outcome for him if he reaches the majors is a backup outfielder role.

Milwaukee’s other first-round pick in 2015 — left-hander Nathan Kirby at #40 overall in the supplemental round — has had his career derailed by injuries. The former UVA ace has thrown own 83.2 innings and topped out at Class A-Advanced since being drafted. He has undergone Tommy John surgery, a follow-up elbow procedure, and it was just announced that he went under the knife for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in late April. He’ll be 26 years old when the 2020 season begins.

Other notable picks in 2015 still with the organization are Cody Ponce (round 2), Nate Griep (round 8), Jon Olczak (round 16), and Quintin Torres-Costa (round 35). The only player that Milwaukee selected in 2015 that has made his major league debut didn’t do it for the franchise — 6th-round pick Eric Hanhold was traded to the Mets in 2017 for Neil Walker and made three appearances for New York in 2018.

The Brewers had their highest pick in over a decade in 2016, when they selected Corey Ray out of Louisville at #5 overall. He was seen as a potential star based on his college career, but unexpectedly developed swing-and-miss problems as a pro that have lowered his ceiling in the eyes of scouts. Ray put together his tantalizing tools during his 2018 season with Double-A Biloxi, mashing 27 homers and swiping 37 bags with an .801 OPS. But he’s hitting .178 with a .546 OPS so far in Triple-A this season while battling injuries, and his whiff-prone approach has him looking like a second-division regular or fourth outfielder if he makes the big leagues.

Corbin Burnes is the only player from that year’s draft class that has made his big league debut for the org, rising from a 4th-round pick to a top-50 overall prospect to an important high-leverage reliever during last year’s playoff run. The front office wants us to believe his future is in the rotation, but he struggled so much with his first trial as a starter that he was demoted to the minors and then shifted back to a bullpen role. He has been the worst player in baseball this season by bWAR.

Lucas Erceg (round 2), Mario Feliciano (round 2-supplemental), Braden Webb (round 3), Zack Brown (round 5), and Payton Henry (round 6) are selections from that year who are currently ranked among the organization’s top-30 prospects. Other notables include Daniel Brown (round 7), Chad McClanahan (round 11), Thomas Jankins (round 13), Weston Wilson (round 17), and Cam Roegner (round 20).

Montgomery was promoted to Vice President and Special Assistant to the GM after the 2016 season and Tod Johnson was bumped up to take over his role as Amateur Scouting Director. His first pick was at #9 overall in the 2017 draft, and with it Johnson and the Brewers chose Keston Hiura out of UC-Irvine. Considered to be the most advanced college hitter in the draft, Hiura fell to the Brewers due to concerns about his elbow and the possibility of Tommy John surgery.

But Milwaukee’s medical staff was able to nurse Hiura’s broken wing back to health and he avoided going under the knife while learning to play a passable second base. His outstanding hitting ability has fueled his rapid ascent to the majors — earlier this month, he became the first position player from across all rounds and all teams of the 2017 draft to make his MLB debut. Hiura looks like a potential All-Star and he’s off to a .256/.310/.410 start with a pair of homers through his first 11 games at the highest level.

The Brewers’ other first round pick that year came in the supplemental round at #34 overall. They selected prep outfielder Tristen Lutz, who currently rates as the org’s #4 prospect and has put up solid results at every level he’s appeared at. He’s seen as a prototypical right fielder with a power bat and strong arm and is currently playing at the Class A-Advanced level.

Caden Lemons (round 2) and Je’Von Ward (round 12) were both chosen in 2017 and rank among the top-30 prospects. Other notable selections that year were Bowden Francis (round 7), Alec Bettinger (round 10), Max Lazar (round 11), Justin Bullock (round 16), LG Castillo (round 17), and Dylan File (round 21).

After their successful 2017 season, the Brewers didn’t pick until #21 overall in 2018. That selection was used on prep shortstop Brice Turang, who is currently the org’s #3 prospect and batting .309/.418/.400 for the Class A Timber Rattlers. Turang receives strong grades for his hit tool but may need to add some more power to his game in order to profile as more than a utility player at the highest level. That could come if he further fills out his 6-foot, 170-lb frame.

Joe Gray (round 2), Micah Bello (round 3), and Aaron Ashby (round 4) are top-30 prospects selected from the 2018 draft. Other notable selections from the most recent draft include Justin Jarvis (round 5), Drew Rasmussen (round 6), David Fry (round 7), JT Hintzen (round 10), Korry Howell (round 12), Reese Olson (round 13), Clayton Andrews (round 17), Scott Sunitsch (round 18), Joey Maltulovich (round 20), and Michael Mediavilla (round 34).

So, no one approach in the draft has been fool-proof for Milwaukee Brewers in recent years. They’ve had one had advanced college pick rise quickly, and they have one who looks like a potential bust. They’ve got a couple of prep hitters who are off to strong starts in the lower levels, and they’ve got one who looks like a long-shot to make a big league impact. The only hurler they’ve selected highly blew out his arm almost right away, but they have had some good luck with pitchers selected in the later rounds.

On a national scale, voters tend to prefer their team to go after a college player in the first round rather than a younger player out of high school. Regardless of which direction David Stearns, Tod Johnson, and the rest of the brain trust decide to go during next week’s MLB Draft, they’ll have to get creative in order to add as much impact talent to the organization as possible. The team forfeited one pick when they signed Yasmani Grandal and traded another one for Alex Claudio, leaving them with a bonus pool of only $5,148,200, which is the second-lowest in the entire league. Milwaukee’s first pick will come at #28 overall, which will has a slot-value of $2,493,900.

We’ll continue to take a look at the top players available throughout this week during the run up to the 2019 MLB Draft, which takes place next week from June 3rd-5th.