If you tuned out the Brewers this past week, which was relatively easy to do given their trip to Arizona this weekend, you’re going to be surprised at how different this team is (just seven days removed) from last Sunday. This past week featured a number of player transactions that have significantly changed the makeup of this Brewer’s team. The player moves, four in total, were based on performance, injury, and personal tragedy. The transactions carry both short and long term significance, and it wouldn’t feel like a proper weekly recap if I didn’t take time to discuss the shakeup, and what it means for our beloved Milwaukee Brewers, who continue to sit atop the NL Central.
Paulo Espino- Espino returned to the club for his second major league start this year, and pitched well enough to give the Crew a chance to win the ball game, allowing three earned runs over four innings, and handing the bullpen a 3-3 tie that they would eventually let slip away. He was optioned back down to Colorado Springs just two days later. Of the moves made this past week, this was the most insignificant, as Espino is a 30-year old rookie who’s been a career minor leaguer. As the Brewer’s top minor league pitchers continue working through the ranks of the minors, Espino is likely running out of chances to impress the Brewers at the major league level.
Brett Phillips- I was thrilled to see Phillips make his Major League debut this week in a Brewers uniform. As the Brewers 10th ranked prospect in their system, he was batting .297 for Colorado Springs with a .369 OBP and 21 walks through 49 games. He’s also got a cannon of an arm, as evidenced by this impressive outfield assist.
He’s a straight up absolute hustle player, which I adore (as the former winner of the Hustle Award for my varsity volleyball team). I’ve never seen someone run out a drop third strike like Phillips did in his MLB debut. He’s easy to cheer for, and made quite a name for himself for his infamous laugh. As a fan, I like players that are easy to cheer for, and Phillips is just that guy. Since he became a part of the Brewers system two years ago in the Carlos Gomez trade, I’ve been anxiously awaiting his arrival in Milwaukee. Let’s hope he finds enough success at the plate to stay.
Josh Hader- Desperate for bullpen help after another couple of brutal late inning losses, the Brewers called up their top pitching prospect in 23-year-old Josh Hader. While the Brewers see Hader as a starting pitcher in the future, they need the help so bad that they couldn’t wait any longer. Hader has solid career numbers in the minor leagues, owning a 3.26 ERA across 541.0 innings with 610 strikeouts and 238 walks, but he has struggled in Colorado Springs this year. Given their long term outlook on Hader and the lack of success the Brewers current relievers not named Corey Knebel have had this year, my guess is that David Stearns figures he’ll let Hader cut his teeth against major league hitters instead of struggling with the altitude factor out in Colorado. Hader pitched a scoreless inning in his major league debut last night in a critical spot in the game, although he did allow two walks. But more important than anything mentioned previously, Hader now owns the best hair on the Brewer’s 25-man roster.
Lewis Brinson- The final, and most significant call up of the week was that of Lewis Brinson, the number one ranked prospect in the Brewer’s number one ranked farm system. Brinson is batting .312 for the Sky Socks and has an OPS of .900 with 6 HRs. He made his major league debut this afternoon, going 0-2 with two walks. Brinson is a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball, and he’s certainly a part of the future for the Brewers. Many were hoping he would crack the Major League squad after Spring Training, but the Brewers opted to go with Kirk Nieuwenhuis, presumably to give Brinson consistent playing time. Both Brinson and Phillips can’t stay unless the Brewer’s send Keon Broxton down, which I don’t think they’re ready to do just yet, so it will be interesting to watch the two of them battle it out to stay up over the next week or so.
Who’s down (figuratively)?
Jonathan Villar: Villar has been struggling mightily this year, to the point where he was losing starts to Eric Sogard, and rightfully so. It’s June, and Villar is batting just .213 with an OBP of .283. But just when Villar was starting to show some positive signs at the plate, he injured his back after making what I firmly believe was a game saving play in the bottom of the 8th and had to be carted off the field. The Brewers placed him on the 10-day DL the next day with lower back strains. There is no question that the Brewers are better with Jonathan Villar when he’s playing even close to the level he played at all of last year, but his absence will give those who have been screaming to see Eric Sogard as the daily second baseman a chance to see what he’s really made of.
Travis Shaw: Shaw and his wife welcomed a baby girl last week and Shaw was placed on 3-day paternity leave, allowing the Brewers to call up Brett Phillips. Shaw was due back this weekend, but was placed on emergency medical leave, due to complications with his newborn daughter. The Brewers aren’t saying much, and rightfully so; some things are much more important than baseball. Prayers to the Shaw family for a positive outcome here.
What does it mean in the short term?
Look- I’ll be the first to admit I’m excited to see the young guys up in a Brewer’s uniform. There’s a hunger to the way they play the game- every single pitch, strike, out, and fly ball is critically important to the guys; they’re literally fighting for their major league lives. But on the offensive side of the ball, seeing these prospects comes at the expense of Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, and Jonathan Villar: it’s a tough pill to swallow. The Brewers already lead the NL in strikeouts- that number will almost certainly grow as Brinson and Phillips get used to Major League pitching, and hitting in ballparks where the ball doesn’t carry like it does in high-altitude Colorado Springs. The Brewers are in first place; these at bats matter, and the young guns are almost certainly going to go through a frustratingly long adjustment period… that’s just the way it goes.
As far as the pitchers are concerned, I say good riddance! Honestly, if I had my way, the Brewers would take a page out of the Milwaukee Admirals playbook and do a complete line switch in their bullpen. Is Josh Hader going to get roughed up for a while? Probably. But I’d rather watch Hader work through it than the likes of Neftali Feliz (awful), Oliver Drake, Carlos Torres (so disappointing, given his 2016 numbers), and Wily Peralta (what happened to you, Wily?). The Brewers bullpen leads the majors in losses and walks. Sure, they rank second in innings pitched, but I’m not playing the chicken or the egg game here. It’s the chickens, and they need to fly the coop as far as I’m concerned. That bullpen is playing scared, and that’s a virus for a group of athletes charged with pitching in high stress situations. The more prospects the merrier in the bullpen, in my opinion; it can’t get much worse.
What does it mean in the long term?
I’ll keep this short and sweet: the future is here. Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, and Josh Hader were not in the Brewers system two years ago to date. They came here in exchange for some of the hottest players in all of baseball, traded to teams that needed them to make a playoff push. You better believe that players like Keon Broxton and Orlando Arcia, who have been below average offensively for much of their time in the majors, are going to start feeling the pressure to produce at the plate. That kind of pressure is a GREAT thing for a young ball club. It keeps everyone on their toes, and ensures that nobody takes their playing time for granted.
Keep in mind this is just the first round of the future. There are many MANY more prospects making their way through the ranks of the Brewer’s minor league system with the hopes of making it to the Big Show just in time for a playoff push. There’s still plenty of work to be done, and part of that work involves being patient as a fan, but admittedly it’s fun to see these guys finally break through, even if it’s just for a couple of games.