Summer is upon us and it’s just glorious. It’s baseball, baseball and more baseball for the next two months or so, interrupted only by some fireworks and the new Spider-Man movie.
The wonders of summer means that it is also graduating season. I mean, literally speaking, graduations occurred a week or two or three ago but hey, the Milwaukee Brewers are holding their graduation a little later.
“Graduating” in baseball means finishing your trying time in the minors and making it to the big show. There have been several high-profile cases for the Brewers in the past weeks, making the climb from Triple-A Colorado Springs to the main event at Miller Park.
A handful of trades have expedited the farm system from trending up to one of the league’s most promising. Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz and Ryan Cordell came over in the lopsided Jonathan Lucroy/Jeremy Jeffress deal; Brett Phillips and Josh Hader (and Domingo Santana) arrived in the irrefutably one-sided Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade. (Though the Astros got a no-hitter out of it.)
Not in the June 2017 Brewers graduating class but still worth noting are Isan Diaz (Jean Segura trade), Mauricio Dubon (Tyler Thornburg), Phil Bickford (Will Smith) and Marcos Diplan (Yovani Gallardo), all top 10 prospects in John Sickels’ 2017 Brewers rankings. Drafted outfielders Corey Ray and Trent Clark remain highly projectable and intriguing, respectively.
Santana has been in the bigs for some time and has coincidentally become the best player from the OG Hunter Pence package that kickstarted Houston’s rebuild. His Major League output has been mostly disappointing up until a very fine 2017.
But he’s not a member of the 2017 class. It starts with Brett Phillips and the ceremony began on June 5th.
Phillips, a former Texas Leaguer with the Corpus Christ Hooks (Houston’s Double-A affiliate), is one of my very favorite players and human beings I have ever covered. (As was Brinson, two of my favorites; enjoy them, Brewers fans!)
His birthing stint in the majors was brief, but he’s cracked the all-important seal to the top and will be back, already having been recalled once after his initial debut. Unfortunately, his path to consistent big league AB’s is rather cloudy (a problem as well for Cordell) given the rapidly expanding depth and talent of the Brewers’ outfield. No matter what, he has little else to prove in the minor leagues and has re-established himself as a highly valued commodity this year.
Days later, his trade-mate Josh Hader got the call. Hader was perhaps expected to be the first one to make the transition north, but was a close second to his long-time teammate. June 9th became his graduation day.
Hader was acquired in Jeff Luhnow’s extremely underrated Bud Norris-to-Baltimore trade in 2013 (that has also produced recent call-up Derek Fisher) and moved on with Phillips to Milwaukee two years later. Long considered a potential weapon out of the bullpen (not just because his long hair, high velocity and left-handedness), Hader was still tried as a starting pitcher in Triple-A and struggled.
His 2017 numbers for Colorado Springs are unsightly, but he managed to strike out 8.8 batters per 27 and walks were more troublesome than giving up hits, to find another positive. The Brewers brass (headed by Luhnow’s former right-hand man David Stearns) saw enough and promoted the 23-year old anyway. So far so good in three hitless appearances.
The prize of the Lucroy deal came next in the form of Lewis Brinson, one of the most anticipated promotions in all of Major League Baseball. Brinson entered the fiscal year as the team’s biggest gem, but not without reservations. Since being drafted in the first round by Texas in 2012, he’s projected as a future everyday player on his glove and speed alone. The bat was the big question, and he’s answered it remarkably well this season.
An aggressive Triple-A assignment upon his acquisition in 2016 sparked his quick emergence from blue chip to impending big leaguer. He absolutely raked in a brief sample size at the level last season before continuing that pace in ‘17.
His overall Triple-A numbers are resplendent: in 76 games, .346/.410/.545 with 11 homers, 14 stolen bases, 49 RBI, 101 total hits and 152/156 converted chances in his centerfield stomping grounds. His graduation date? June 10th.
In his MLB debut, many eyes watched as Brinson walked twice and stole a base. Unlike Phillips, don’t expect Milwaukee to mess with his stay in the big leagues.
Finally, some homegrown cooking. Brandon Woodruff was given that special phone call on June 13th, capping off an eight day stretch where Milwaukee recalled four of their top prospects. (Not without yet another tie to the Rangers, though. Woodruff didn’t sign after being a fifth-rounder of Texas in 2011.)
Woodruff wasn’t lighting it up in Triple-A, but the passing of the ludicrous ‘Super Two’ deadline seemed to green light the call for talented reinforcements to the surprising, first place Brew Crew.
Never really considered an elite prospect, Woodruff burst onto the scene with a strong 2016. After dominating High-A, he was just as good in Double-A, earning the promotion to Triple-A to start this season. At age 24, the Brewers are definitely being aggressive with him.
Unlike the others, he still awaits his first MLB appearance. Regardless, there’s a lot going very, very right all up and down the Milwaukee Brewers organization.