Don’t Blame the Messenger

By Nathan Petrashek

Esteemed ESPN analyst Keith Law created quite a stir among Brewers fans when he released his updated organization rankings today.  The Brewers clocked in at number 29, trailed only by the Angels.  If not for the midseason Zack Greinke trade that sent pitchers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg to Milwaukee, its entirely possible the Brewers would have wound up at the bottom of the pile.

Not that last place is a foreign position for the Brewers. In 2011, Law ranked the Brewers dead last.  That was the year they pried Grienke from the Royals for a package that included top prospects Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Jeffress, and Lorenzo Cain, as well as MLB shortstop Alcides Escobar.  The Brewers also lost Brett Lawrie to Toronto, but gained an NL Central Division crown in the process.

Law ranked the Brewers number 23 in 2012, but seemed to give the team a healthy bounce based on anticipated restocking as free agents departed at the end of the year.  In other words, Law’s rank from last February already had the team’s expected gains in the 2013 draft baked in.  The problem with that approach is pretty obvious.  With no draft pick compensation from Greinke, Marcum, or Francisco Rodriguez forthcoming, those gains won’t be as plentiful as Law perhaps expected.

Still, Brewers fans no doubt expected the team’s farm position to improve a bit after the 2012 draft.  Picking at the back end of the first round, it seemed the Brewers did well enough; they snagged C Clint Coulter and OF Victor Roache with back-to-back picks, and then added OF Mitch Haniger in the first compensation round.  But it seems the second-round pick was the only one that really impressed Law, who projects Tyrone Taylor to be an above-average regular.

There are reasons to be skeptical of Law’s ranking.  Farm system comparisons are highly subjective exercises; not only is there room for error when determining how the farm systems stack up against one another, but there is potential for errors in judgment when evaluating the individual talent that comprises the whole.

That being said, the Brewers probably don’t have the 29th-worst system, but also probably don’t deserve to be ranked much higher. The 2012 pickups help; indeed, Law’s biggest criticism seems to be that the Milwaukee didn’t manipulate its money pool better.  However, the Brewers simply don’t have enough elite prospects compared to its rivals.

In other words, don’t get hung up on the number 29.  Law’s broader point-largely beyond reproach-is that most teams have a better farm system than the Brewers.  Don’t blame Law for that; blame a scouting department that hasn’t really hit the jackpot since Jack Zduriencik left Milwaukee.

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