By Sam Marks
While this summer has not been particularly kind to Milwaukee’s local nine, Brewers GM David Stearns seems to be pressing all the right buttons in this long rebuilding process. From the deadline deals of franchise cornerstone Jonathan Lucroy and talented relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith, not much top end talent seems to remain on the major league club. Now wait, before you decide that this article is another one of those depressing “Give ‘em time, with our #1 ranked farm system, we could be really good in 4-5 years” pieces, let me give you a guide as to why this big league club still has some salvageable, enjoyable parts to bridge the gap till then. Unlike in basketball, where the concept of tanking seems to have taken a negative connotation, baseball doesn’t seem to be facing the same kind of blowback.
Jonathan Villar: In the near future the Houston Astros should really steer clear of doing business with former employee David Stearns, because the Harvard man has seemingly gotten the better hand on several deals involving that franchise. While the Carlos Gomez Blockbuster of 2015 has seemingly turned into one of the most lopsided swaps of this decade, the Villar deal is my sneaky-good steal of the year. Some in the state of Wisconsin will miss Cy Sneed’s handlebar mustache in reminiscence of former ace Pete Vuckovich, but they won’t miss Sneed’s decent at best numbers. Villar has provided the Brewers this season with one of the most feared threats at the top of the order and it only cost them a prospect not currently ranked in their top 30!
Through 120 games played, the Dominican Dynamo has batted an excellent .298 with .381 OBP while being 2nd in the majors with 50 bases swiped. Not every player is perfect though, besides getting caught a ML-leading 16 times, Villar’s committed an NL-leading 17 errors at SS before moving to 3B to make way for top prospect Orlando Arcia. Although he will not project to hit for much power, the switch hitter has been able to parlay his speed into stretching those infield singles into terrorizing experiences on the basepaths for opposing catchers and spectators alike! Combined with his relative youth (25), team control (won’t be granted free agency until 2021), and connection to Stearns, Villar will hopefully continue to provide excitement in a Brewer uniform.
Orlando Arcia: Now I’m definitely not old enough to have been around at the time, but legend has it that the Brewers once called up a young phenom shortstop in 1974 who became the undisputed face of the franchise for two decades. No way should we put that kind of pressure on Brewers top prospect Orlando Arcia, but it’s the maturation process of a youngster that we should look at for comparisons to the great Robin Yount. Yount was called up at the incredibly young age of 18, while Arcia has recently made his debut before his 22nd birthday. With similar wiry frames and defensive abilities, let’s hope younger fans that didn’t get to witness The Kid play are able to see something similar in Arcia. The growing pains will be rough, but with no real expectations for the next couple years, enjoy the growing process. Like watching your kid in little league, you just root for him to develop and make memories. It will be all the more fun to see Arcia grow into the special player that many baseball eggheads think he can be. Hopefully he plays more like Yount and less like some lesser revered shortstop prospects…
Watch for Major League references: The 1989 film is a classic in the sports genre. Although it’s based on the Cleveland Indians franchise, that film shares a special connection with Milwaukee residents. What does the fictional movie have to do with the current iteration of Brewers? Nothing really, but trying to find archetypes for the movie characters can be pretty darn fun. You’ve got an overpaid, prima donna vet in Ryan Braun who can still rake (Roger Dorn), a fastball-mashing, curveball-missing OF-1B in Chris Carter (Pedro Cerrano), and a top of the order base-stealing showboat in Villar (Willie “Mays” Hayes). (Full disclosure, Carlos Gomez was the closest example we had to Hayes, but since he signed a minor league deal with Texas, that dream is gone). In the movie, at the beginning of the season, there is a montage of fan reactions after reading the opening day roster, unless you follow the team closely, you probably had the same reaction with this team. The next time you tune into hearing legend Bob Uecker talking about the latest Brewers mishap on the field, just imagine what Harry Doyle would do. It should put a smile on your face and get you through the rest of the season.
September call ups: While the expansion of rosters usually bears more emphasis for teams in contention, once September 1st hits, Milwaukee fans could be treated to a glimpse of the future if they call up some of their top prospects to dip their feet into the majors. Teams remain pretty protective about the service times of their prospects, but with the recent call up of Arcia, fans might get a couple more surprises. If anything more than ownership to sell some more tickets and put butts in the seats of Miller Park during the last month, the beginning of September can serve as a consolation for those who Brewers fandom don’t follow bandwagon lengths. We might not see top hitters like Lewis Brinson (injured) or Maverick Phillips, but with the Colorado environment having turned almost all of our AAA pitchers into 2014 Marco Estrada at a Home Run Derby, a call up to major leagues might not be the worst idea for some of the staff. Zach Davies got to make 6 encouraging starts in 2015, maybe the success he showed will convince Brewer brass to let hurler Josh Hader get a couple starts? With a current record of 53-70 and in the middle of a dogfight with a glut of teams for the 3rd worst record in the ML, don’t expect a lot of wins for the Brew Crew this final month and change. Nevertheless, there are still some positives that can be taken from this team.