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.

Future Crew: Who is on the way from the minors?

After taking a look at where the major-league roster stands, we take a look at what minor-league prospects could be lending a hand to the Brewers in the near future.

CATCHER

The skinny: The cupboard is pretty bare here. Juan Centeno got the call to the majors from Triple-A Colorado Springs when Jonathan Lucroy was hurt, but saw limited action, appearing in 10 games with 23 plate appearances. He was previously in the bigs with the New York Mets the last two years for a combined 14 games. But he appears to be just a backup as Nevin Ashley has gotten a bulk of the time at Triple-A, hitting .311 with eight homers and 60 RBIs in 90 games, while also throwing out 38 percent of runners attempting to steal (40 percent is considered good at any level). At Double-A Biloxi, Adam Weisenberger is the primary catcher and is hitting a mere .236 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 84 games. But he does well throwing out baserunners, having nabbed 44 percent of base thieves. Backup Parker Berberet also struggles offensively, hitting .215 with two homers and 20 RBIs in 51 games. He throws out 34 percent of runners.

When will help arrive? Ashley would seem to be the top candidate, but he also just turned 31 so he is more of a minor-league journeyman. Weisenberger has been in spring training, primarily as an extra catcher but if he is overmatched offensively at Double-A at age 26, the bat is not likely to come around to be anything more than a backup. Any help for this spot will need to come from outside the organization.

FIRST BASE

The skinny: Matt Clark has moved past prospect status and is more of a typical Triple-A first baseman. He is hitting .281 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs at Colorado Springs and showed well after making his major-league debut last season with the Brewers. At Biloxi, Nick Ramirez, a left-handed hitter like Clark, has 14 homers and 62 RBIs, but also has .241 average and 110 strikeouts in 124 games. Garrett Cooper hit .294 with eight homers and 54 RBIs before earning a recent promotion to Biloxi.

When will help arrive? Cooper is the best prospect here, although if Ramirez can increase his average and maintain the power numbers, he is a step closer to the bigs. Clark could provide immediate short-term help if needed. David Denson, the first openly gay player in affiliated baseball who just got promoted from rookie-level Helena to low Class A Wisconsin, could be an option but is probably three years away.

SECOND BASE-SHORTSTOP

The skinny: These two positions are being combined due to the Brewers’ shortstop depth. Orlando Arcia, 20, is the burgeoning star shortstop, hitting .305 with eight homers, 64 RBIs and 23 steals at Biloxi. Yadiel Rivera is at Triple-A and hitting .238 with one homer and 28 RBIs, while Luis Sardinas has split time at second and short, hitting .283 with one homer and 32 RBIs. Nick Shaw has been the primary second baseman at Biloxi, but is hitting .201 with no homers and 20 RBIs.

When will help arrive? Arcia is ready defensively to play in the majors and this season may have answered questions about his offense. With Jean Segura and Scooter Gennett the starters in the majors yet losing some of their luster, the Brewers could get aggressive and elevate Arcia to the majors and use Segura to platoon at short and second. Rivera could be stuck at Triple-A for another year, while Sardinas could be used in a utility role in the majors. The Brewers could also use their depth here for trades.

THIRD BASE

The skinny: Much like catcher, there’s not a lot here. Matt Dominguez is a former major-leaguer whom the Brewers picked up off the minor-league scrap pile after being put on waivers by the Houston Astros and is at Triple-A. Taylor Green is at Double-A who is still trying to live up to his top prospect promise (he was in the Arizona Fall League in 2008 and ’09). Brandon Macias is also at Biloxi, but is hitting .245 with two homers and 17 RBIs.

When will help arrive? Never is too drastic of a word, but that’s kind of where the Brewers are with prospects at the hot corner. Gilbert Lara, a top Dominican signing last summer, is currently a shortstop but has the big body and power that profiles ideally at third base, a move the will likely be made as soon as Lara runs into some of the minor-league shortstop depth. Lara was in the Arizona League this summer and was just bumped up to Helena.

OUTFIELD

The skinny: Outfield has the same type of impact players as shortstop, only a bit more dynamic. Center fielder Brett Phillips, acquired in the Carlos Gomez-Mike Fiers trade, leads this pack. Phillips hits for average and added power and is the Brewers’ No. 2 prospect. At three stops this year including Biloxi (the other two with the Astros), Phillips, a top-of-the-order hitter, is hitting .309 with 16 homers, 77 RBIs, 17 steals and 104 runs scored. Domingo Santana, who was also acquired in the same trade, has already been called up to the majors. Phillips’ acquisition moved promising center fielder Tyrone Taylor to right field at Biloxi. Taylor is intriguing as he was a high school football star before signing with the Brewers. The other key prospects are primarily corner outfielders: Kyle Wren, Michael Reed and Ben Guez at Colorado Springs, Victor Roache and Josh Fellhauer at Biloxi, and Clint Coulter, Omar Garcia and Michael Ratterree at high Class A Brevard County. A few others to watch who are more long-term projects are Trent Clark, Monte Harrison and Troy Stokes at Helena, and Demi Orimoloye and Joantgel Segovia at the Arizona League Brewers. Injuries have sidelined a few of these players this year, slowing there progress.

When will help arrive? Santana aside, as soon as Opening Day next year. Considering the Brewers’ outfield hole is in center, Phillips could have a chance to break with the big club, depending on what offseason moves are made. Phillips could benefit from a little more seasoning, while Taylor likely needs another year in the minors. Roache and especially Coulter, a converted catcher, are intriguing power prospects. Coulter will be a Biloxi next season in a crucial development year. Clark, the Brewers’ top pick this year, and Harrison, who broke an ankle rounding third base in late July, are a few years back. Regardless, there is quality depth here, at worst giving the Brewers chips to use in potential trades.

STARTING ROTATION

The skinny: The trade deadline did a lot to raise the level of pitching prospects. Zach Davies was picked up from the Baltimore Orioles for Gerardo Parra, while lefty Josh Hader and righty Adrian Houser came with Phillips and Santana from the Astros. Davies is set to be called up in the next week. Hader and Houser are likely to be invited to spring training and get at least a look at making the roster, although the minors are more likely to begin 2016. Also in the wings is Jorge Lopez, who is dominating at Biloxi, Johnny Hellweg and lefty Hobbs Johnson. A little bit further off is lefty Wei-Chung Wang (the former Rule 5 pick who spent 2014 in the majors with the Brewers) and Jorge Ortega at Brevard County, and lefty Kodi Meideiros, Cy Sneed and Devin Williams at Wisconsin. Lefty Nathan Kirby, a supplemental first-round pick this year who will likely be having Tommy John surgery, and Cody Ponce, this year’s third-round pick, are college pitchers who could progress quickly. Of course, Kirby’s progress won’t likely begin until 2017 if he has the TJ surgery.

When will help arrive? Davies will be given a good look in September in hopes he can earn a major-league rotation spot in spring training. Hader, Houser and Lopez could all be options for the rotation or long relief in 2016, but will benefit from any extra minor-league experience. Regardless of what happens at the major-league level in the offseason, there are quality arms ready to deliver next season should they get called to The Show.

BULLPEN

The skinny: Triple-A is filled with two types of players: older players who for one reason or another can’t crack a major-league roster and prospects who need seasoning. This article is focused on prospects. Ariel Pena came with Segura and Hellweg from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zack Greinke trade and is at Triple-A. He was in a relief role until recently making a handful of starts. He has a 4.11 in 76.2 innings with 78 strikeouts and 30 walks. Jaye Chapman is the closer at Colorado Springs, with a 2.79 ERA and 1.16 WHIP while 42 strikes and 11 walks in 38.2 innings. He has also only yielded one homer. At Biloxi, closer Damien Magnifico, lefty Michael Strong, Austin Ross and swingman Brent Suter all look like they could push for bullpen spots in the near future.

When will help arrive? As mentioned in the major-league article of this two-part series, not much help is needed in the bigs. But should a couple trades whittle into that depth, there are older players who could contribute immediately, as well as anyone on this list. With the volatility of bullpen spots, having a half-dozen or so arms you wouldn’t be afraid of calling up is a solid position. Of course, starters could always be used in long-relief roles, which is sometimes used to ease young starters into the bigs.

Trades have Brewers already looking toward 2016

Sure, you can’t project a starting lineup for Opening Day 2016 when August has just begun, but with all the moves at the trade deadline, next year is what the Milwaukee Brewers are looking at from here on out. Here is a way-too-early look at where the Brewers stand going into next year:

General manager: Doug Melvin is rumored to be moving out of the GM position and more into an overseer role with the Brewers. Behind the support of owner Mark Attanasio, Melvin has made the Brewers into a stable franchise that has probably overachieved with the way it has contended over the seven seasons before this one. A move to an up-and-coming GM could help the Crew take the next step.

Manager: Craig Counsell signed a three-year contract when he took over after Ron Roenicke was fired at the beginning of May following a 7-18 start. The Brewers have gone 37-43 since (including Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs). The length of the contract was surprising, but Counsell is a no-nonsense manager who follows the trend of ex-players jumping right into the role without managerial experience at any level. His job will be tough in the final two months, but he will also see who fits best into the Crew’s future and who the problem players are.

Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy is an excellent defender who might have peaked in 2014 with his offensive production (.301 average, 51 doubles). Martin Maldonado is a career backup. Lucroy gets bonus points due to his leadership. He is the quiet fire to this team who likely works hard behind the scenes to counsel and motivate his teammates. Lucroy, 29, is under contract through 2016 with an option for 2017. The Brewers are devoid of prospect catchers, so keeping Lucroy is vital.

First base: Adam Lind has been exactly what the Brewers were hoping for when they traded spot starter Marco Estrada to the Toronto Blue Jays for the left-handed hitter. He likely won’t reach 30 homers this year, but it is a mark the Crew should expect out of him next year if they choose to exercise their option on his $8 million contract for 2016.

Second base: Scooter Gennett was given the chance to be the everyday starter entering the season after hitting .289 in 2014 (his first full year in the bigs), but his offense was so bad early in the season that he was sent to Triple-A to work on his game. Ideally, Gennett would be a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, but he isn’t a stolen base threat or have surprising power and still often sits against left-handers, which means he is more of a No. 7 or 8 hitter. His defense is passable, but Gennett needs to step up or face a platoon situation.

Shortstop: Jean Segura was an NL All-Star in his first full season in the bigs in 2013, but 2014 saw him endure on- and off-field issues. His average dipped from .294 in 2013 to .246 in 2014 and he was overall just a lack of an offensive force last year. Segura also had to deal with the midseason death of his 1-year-old son, which obviously had to affect his performance in the second half. Segura has shown flashes defensively, but also seems to have a lackadaisical way about him. Maybe it is just how he is. In 2016, Segura is likely to face competition for the starting job or a position switch. His stocky frame has prompted many scouts to say he is suited for third base, which would fill a need for the Crew after Aramis Ramirez was traded. Waiting in the wings is Orlando Arcia, who is likely to be the organization’s minor-league Player of the Year for his performance at Double-A Biloxi. Arcia already had the glove to play in the majors, but this season is showing he can be a leader offensively. I expect Arcia to be the starter in 2016, with Segura moving to third — at least the way the roster is currently constructed. Luis Sardinas is likely to also be up and be the utility infielder, giving Counsell three excellent defenders at short. Yadiel Rivera, who has split time between short and second at Double-A and Triple-A this year, could be in the mix, too. The Brewers are deep at shortstop and it is likely a place where they can deal from in the offseason.

Third base: This is the wild-card spot for the Brewers. Hernan Perez is receiving the bulk of the playing time after the Ramirez trade and he has a decent average, but doesn’t drive anyone in. He is solid defensively, a good pickup by Melvin after he was waived by the Tigers. But he is purely a stopgap solution. At this point, there are no impact third basemen hitting the free-agent market this offseason, so either the Brewers fill from within or make a trade, the latter option is more likely. As mentioned previously, I see Segura being moved to third with Arcia taking over at short. Perez becomes a utility infielder who can play first, second and third.

Left field: Khris Davis is a one-trick pony — and he hasn’t been flashing that much magic this year. His only tool is power. After hitting 22 homers in 501 at-bats in 2013, his first full season in the bigs, injuries and the hot-hitting Gerardo Parra has hit seven homers in 194 at-bats entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs. So his power has dipped slightly and his average is at .237, after a .244 mark last year. He is also an iffy defender who has a weak arm. Domingo Santana, acquired from Houston in the Carlos Gomez-Mike Fiers trade, is a power bat who hits for a decent average. Santana got a taste of the majors this year, cracking a pair of homers in 14 games. He also brings a strong arm, making him a candidate for either corner outfield spot. Like Davis, Santana will strike out a fair amount. Santana will be given a shot to platoon with Davis in left next year.

Center field: Gomez’s departure makes this a free-for-all spot. No one on the major-league roster profiles as a center fielder, but there are two prospects who could be ready to make the jump next year. Brett Phillips, the key prospect acquired from the Astros in the Gomez-Fiers deal, is a legit star in the making. He already hit for average and has speed, but now he has developed excellent pop. Tyrone Taylor was the Crew’s second-round pick in 2012 and seemed to be Gomez’s heir apparent until Phillips came along. Both will get strong looks in spring training, but Phillips — a sixth-round pick in 2012 — appears to be further advanced, understandable considering Taylor was also a highly regarded running back coming out of high school. Unless Phillips, a lefty hitter who could bat leadoff, struggles in spring training, expect him to be patrolling center at Miller Park in 2016, perhaps with a veteran backup.

Right field: Ryan Braun hasn’t been an MVP-caliber player since following up winning the award in 2011 with a similar 2012 season statistically while under the shroud of performance-enhancing drug use. Unfortunately, 2016 is when his five-year, $105 million contract kicks in. Braun has been solid powerwise this year after dealing with a nagging thumb injury in 2013 and 2014. Ideally, Braun raises his batting average to the .300 level, which hopefully would lead to a few more homers. He should be a 30-homer guy, at the least, on a yearly basis, but will struggle to get there this year, especially as the Crew struggles to finish this year and he is their offensive centerpiece. A trade would free up cash to pursue free agents, especially considering only Lucroy is deserving of an extension at this juncture.

Starting rotation: Kyle Lohse will be a free agent, leaving Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson as the only locks for 2016. Taylor Jungmann, a disappointment in the minors since being a first-round draft choice in 2011, has shined since coming up in June and will be in the mix for the other two spots. Tyler Cravy and Tyler Wagner, who each had standout performances in their debut seasons, will be considered along with Jorge Lopez, who is dominating at Double-A, and Zach Davies, acquired from Baltimore for outfielder Gerardo Parra, are other top candidates, while left-hander Josh Hader will get a long look in spring training. Ideally, the Brewers are able to trade Garza in the offseason, but they go out and splurge on a No. 1 starter such as Jordan Zimmermann, a Wisconsin native currently with the Washington Nationals. A rotation of Zimmerman-Peralta-Nelson-Jungmann-Davies wouldn’t suck.

Bullpen: Not much work to be done here. Closer Francisco Rodriguez returns, with Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith in setup roles, and Tyler Thornburg, Corey Knebel, Michael Blazek and Brandon Kintzler in middle relief. Johnny Hellweg — acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zach Greinke deal that also yielded Segura — Wagner or Cravy could be the long reliever. Neal Cotts is a free agent and the other lefty in the bullpen, so a free-agent southpaw could be looked at.

Summary: Depending on how aggressive the new GM is — and based on Attanasio’s track record, I would imagine the GM will be smart and aggressive — a couple subtle moves and one big-ticket item could have the Brewers in the thick of things in 2016.

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.