Brewers need only look at Royals to see how to build a winner

When the Kansas City Royals celebrated winning the World Series on Sunday, the story line was that it was a culmination of a yearlong journey of redemption after coming up 90 feet short of tying Game 7 of the World Series in 2014 against the San Francisco Giants.

But that journey was a bit longer.

Experts took notice of the Royals a couple years ago as a team that was on the precipice of contending, having a young core of position players the franchise developed augmented with homegrown and acquired pitchers.

But it wasn’t an overnight success.

Left fielder Alex Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. Catcher Salvador Perez, the spirit of this Royals team and the Series MVP, was an international free agent who signed in 2006. Third baseman Mike Moustakas was the second overall pick in the 2007. First baseman Eric Hosmer was the third overall pick in 2008. Shortstop Alcides Escobar, the AL Championship Series MVP, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, last year’s ALCS MVP, were among the players acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Zack Greinke before the 2011 season. Another player from the Greinke deal, pitcher Jake Odorizzi, was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays along with outfielder Wil Myers for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis before the 2013 season. Shields was the anchor of last season’s rotation, while Davis has become the best reliever in the majors.

So when new Brewers general manager David Stearns preached to a gathering of season ticket-holders last week that his goal is to acquire young, controllable talent in order to make the Crew a consistent contender, he could use the Royals or the Houston Astros — a team he was assistant GM for until being hired last month and a team that had back-to-back 100-loss seasons just a few seasons ago — as primary examples.

There has been some heavy lifting already done. The Brewers’ farm system isn’t the barren wasteland it was a couple seasons ago. The development of players including shortstop Orlando Arcia and pitcher Jorge Lopez, as well as the acquisition of a handful of players not that far away from being ready for the majors has the Brewers not having to take a major step back.

But there will be growing pains. 2016 figures to be focused on development rather than contending. After that? Arcia, Lopez, center fielder Brett Phillips and pitchers Adrian Houser and Josh Hader figure to be in a group of prospects ready to break through no later than Opening Day 2017. They will join outfielder Domingo Santana, who established himself as an everyday option after his call-up, and right-hander Zach Davies, who pitched well in his September audition and figures to be a rotation candidate going into spring training.

Stearns, still officially formalizing his front-office staff, will begin in earnest the process of molding the roster in the vision he promised owner Mark Attanasio when hired, with first baseman Adam Lind‘s $8 million option his first significant player decision.

Brewers fans will have to be patient. One more thing to keep in mind: The Royals were successful because, for the most part, they kept their core players together at the same level as they migrated through the minors. Everyone points to the talent at Double-A Biloxi — and rightfully so — but with an exception or two, most of that team should be at hitter-friendly Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2016 before becoming ready for prime time.

Brewers go prospecting

Living in San Francisco, I get an overload on the Giants. They are hard to hate.

Not only have they won three World Series in five years, but they might be the model franchise in all of sports. The built their picturesque ballpark with their own money and have sold it out all of their home games for more than four calendar years. They are heavily involved in city happenings and becoming a heavy hitter politically.

Now, I don’t expect that same thing out of the Milwaukee Brewers. Well, at least not the political aspect, anyway. They already have a very nice ballpark (built with taxpayer money) that more than suits their needs and keeps fans coming to the stadium.

All they need is that World Series — and I’m not talking about just appearing in one. That happened in 1982 for the only time in franchise history and fans still cling to those memories like they were yesterday.

To say this year’s Brewers have been disappointing may be disrespecting the word disappointing. At times, their play has been embarrassing. This poor play goes back almost a year, when the Brewers were in first place in August, yet finished eight games out of a playoff spot. An offseason of basically standing pat didn’t cure what ailed them and a managerial change a month into the season has only slightly steadied the ship.

But general manager Doug Melvin’s move at the trading deadline has given the Brewers a fighting chance to get back into the postseason soon. Melvin dealt away five major-leaguers (Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra, Mike Fiers and Jonathan Broxton) and received seven prospects, all but one who were at the Double-A or Triple-A level.

This bodes well as the Brewers start thinking about 2016, even with two months left in the 2015 season. While their farm system entered the season 19th, according to Baseball America’s system rankings (it was 29th to begin 2014), it has a good nucleus of solid talent. Since that ranking, the Brewers drafted three players that immediately slid into their top 20 prospects and acquired four more in trades that are in that same class, giving them a chance to move well into the top 15.

Outfielder Brett Phillips is the prize of the trade-deadline haul. The left-handed hitter is a probable leadoff hitter who combines average with speed and improved power. He will come into spring training with a chance to win the center field job now that Gomez is in Houston. Domingo Santana is a corner outfielder with power. He got a taste of the bigs with the Astros this season, hitting a pair of homers in 39 at-bats before returning to Triple-A. He could supplant Khris Davis in left, but at worst should be a platoon option next season.

The two pitchers the Brewers got from the Astros — left-hander Josh Hader and right-hander Adrian Houser — are strikeout pitchers. Hader has been compared to Chicago White Sox All-Star Chris Sale due to his three-quarters, funky delivery. The book on Houser is a bit more mixed, with some rating him as a top-75 prospect in all of Major League Baseball, while MLB Pipeline ranked him the Crew’s 27th-best farmhand.

The other impact prospect is Zach Davies, a right-handed pitcher picked up from the Baltimore Orioles for Parra. Davies will make you look twice as he strolls out to the mound as he has the appearance of a batboy at 6-foot and 150 pounds. But analysts already say he has perhaps the best change-up in the minors.

All three of those pitchers figure to enter spring training with a shot at a rotation spot, especially with at least one spot likely to open up with Kyle Lohse set to become a free agent.

Yhonathan Barrios, acquired from Pittsburgh for Ramirez, is a converted infielder who is learning how to be a reliever. He comes with a fastball that reaches triple digits. Malik Collymore, picked up from St. Louis in the Broxton trade, has still finding his way at the lower levels of organized ball. He has struggled offensively, which was one reason he was moved off second base and to left field as his hitting could have been affecting his defense. Both of these players are fliers.

Regardless, the deadline deals infused the Brewers organization with top-end talent. Put that together with a star shortstop on the horizon in Orlando Arcia, plus a cast of other talented teammates at Double-A Biloxi, and the Crew could be ready next year to jump back into playoff contention, but only with a couple of shrewd offseason moves, too. After all, the NL Central is stacked with three of the top teams in the league (St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs), all set to contend for years. And all are hoping to be like the Giants.