Low expectations and a young roster filled with plenty of question marks meant the bar was set low for the Milwaukee Brewers this season. Twenty games in, the Brewers, led by Eric Thames’ breakout start — .373 average, 8 home runs — are 9-11. Though they don’t have a winning record, they have been one of the most surprising teams in baseball.
Whether or not the success is sustainable in 2017 remains to be seen, but the positive signs are only glimpses of what is yet to come.
Thames, as stated above, has proven — at least so far — to be a terrific value signing at three-years and $16 million.
Ryan Braun has provided the usual power in the middle of the order that we have grown accustomed to, and while his .288 average is lower than his career .304 average, he is still having a strong start of the year, with 6 home runs and 12 RBIs.
Even a player such as Travis Shaw, acquired in the Tyler Thornburg trade, has shown positive signs, at least on the offensive side. He is tied for fourth in the major leagues with 5 doubles early on in the year.
Add in that the Brewers are fourth in baseball in runs scored (87) and first in home runs (33), and the offense is in good hands. Then add that they still have top prospect Lewis Brinson, plus Lucas Erceg, Isan Diaz and others set to come up within the next year or so, and it’s clear the team is in a good spot moving forward.
Brinson is considered by scouts across baseball to be a top-three outfield prospect in the game, with many calling him a “future star.” His tools were on display in spring training and left many, including myself, impressed. When talking to scouts, his strikeout numbers get brought up as a concern. If he’s able to keep those numbers down, he’ll be able to reach that star status, the scouts opined.
Long-term starting pitching is something that needs work, with Zach Davies being the only real long-term front-of-the-rotation option on the major-league roster. Some believe that Josh Hader, the team’s top pitching prospect, is best as a reliever, but one scout who “loves” Hader feels that he’s a starting pitcher in the big leagues, citing his strikeout numbers (570 in 503 innings pitched) and an improved velocity, with it being up about one mile per hour early on this season.
In talking to players about Hader, some say he has the best arm they have faced in the minor leagues. Those same players bring up concerns that his command issues need to be taken care of (11 walks in 14 innings) before he makes the next step.
Milwaukee also has the added benefit of having pieces people want; should they decide to trade Braun, even more top prospects could find their way into the Brewers farm system. Some feel it’s a matter of when, not if, they trade him. A trade involving Braun is not believed to be imminent, but there seems to be a consensus among people in the game that this will be his last year with the team.
Trading Braun will cause a stir among people in Milwaukee, but general manager David Stearns is in the middle of undergoing a full-blown rebuild and has shown no reason not to trust him.
The early optimism surrounding the Brewers is warranted. The team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011 and have only been there one other time in the last 34 years. The team is ready. The fans are ready. It may not be this season, but possibly next year, and certainly by 2019, a return to the playoffs is a realistic goal.
By Robert Murray