The top layer of the Milwaukee Brewers’ strong farm system is bubbling up to the majors. The Brewers have promoted Brett Phillips, Josh Hader and Lewis Brinson in the last week. While each is a top-10 prospect in the organization, Brinson is one of the very best prospects in baseball.
Take away Brinson’s 2016 season, which was marred by a shoulder injury, and what remains is a consistent record of a prospect who can hit for average, walk frequently, provide home run power, and steal bases. Brinson wasted no time getting in the stolen base column, swiping his first bag in his major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.
In terms of an equivalent player currently in the majors, look no further than teammate Domingo Santana, who is batting .281 with a .377 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and six stolen bases in 60 games for Milwaukee. That may be the best we can expect from Brinson this season, but since he is nearly two years younger than Santana, he has far more value in the long run.
Given the Brewers’ crowded outfield situation, it is not a given that Brinson is here to stay, but if his minor league numbers roughly translate to the majors, it will be hard to send him back down. Given his potential to contribute across the board, it’s a worthwhile gamble for owners in all but the shallowest formats to pick Brinson up.
Other Under-Owned Players
- Sean Newcomb, SP, Braves
I will admit I was slow to act on the news that the Atlanta Braves were calling up Newcomb from Triple-A Gwinnett to make his major league debut in one of Saturday’s doubleheader games against the Mets. The allure of the 24-year-old lefty is obvious: He has posted high strikeout rates at every level of the minor leagues, both in the Braves’ and Angels’ organizations. He has also had serious control problems as he climbed the ladder through the minors, and in each of the last three years, his walk rate has exceeded 10 percent.
That’s why it was shocking that Newcomb emerged from his major league debut having thrown 70 of 96 pitches for strikes and issued two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He allowed just a single unearned run in that outing. Newcomb induced swings at pitches outside of the strike zone at an impressive 40 percent rate, yet he also worked in the zone at a healthy 51 percent rate. Against an aggressive team like the Padres or Royals, one could attribute some of Newcomb’s success to his opponents, but the Mets have not shown poor plate discipline this season.
It’s not a good idea to put too much stock in a single start, but for those who want to give Newcomb a try, there is another reason to trust him. Despite walking batters at a 13 percent rate at Gwinnett, Newcomb had been throwing strikes at a respectable 62 percent clip. He has shown enough improvement to merit a rotation spot in 14-team mixed leagues, and he is at least worth a stash in 12-team mixed league formats.
- Mallex Smith, OF, Rays
This former Braves prospect has yet to carve out a place as a regular, but in three separate stints as an injury replacement, he has distinguished himself. Smith first appeared in the majors as a fill-in for Ender Inciarte early last season, and then he began his first year with the Tampa Bay Rays as the larger part of a left field platoon while Colby Rasmus was recovering from hip surgery. That stint ended when Smith went on the DL with a hamstring injury, but now he is back to replace Kevin Kiermaier, who is out for at least two months with a fractured hip.
Since returning to the Rays on Friday, Smith has stolen four bases, including three in his first game back. That gives Smith a total of seven steals on the season with a .378 batting average. While he is clearly due for batting average regression, he could hit .270 with 15 to 20 steals over the next two months. That should be helpful to owners in virtually all Roto leagues.
- Howie Kendrick, 2B/3B/OF, Phillies
Less than two weeks after returning from an abdominal injury, Kendrick owns an everyday role, because Cesar Hernandez has landed on the DL with an abdominal injury of his own. There has not been much interest in Kendrick, but he is a legitimate option to replace Hernandez in fantasy.
Last season aside, when he batted .255, Kendrick has been a reliable .290 hitter. While he will have a hard time maintaining his current .342 batting average, there is no reason why he can’t get back to his pre-2016 form. Kendrick is still an all-fields hitter who makes steady, solid contact. Emblematic of that approach is the fact that he has not popped out since 2013.
In addition to possibly outperforming Hernandez in batting average, Kendrick could replace his steals. He already has four stolen bases in 21 games.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for opting for Brandon Drury, Josh Harrison or Chris Taylor if needing a second baseman from waivers, but particularly in mixed leagues with 14 teams or more, you are unlikely to find a better option than Kendrick.
- Buck Farmer, SP/RP, Tigers
Farmer has spent much of the last four seasons shuttling back and forth between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo, and through last season, he had a 6.84 ERA over 79 major league innings to show for it. Two starts and 13 innings into his 2017 tenure with the Tigers, Farmer has yet to allow a run.
What’s the difference? At Toledo, he was throwing strikes at a 67 percent rate and inducing swinging strikes at a 13 percent rate — both upgrades over his prior marks at Triple-A. That carried over to his season debut against the Chicago White Sox, but on Wednesday versus the Los Angeles Angels, a 17 percent swing rate on pitches out of the zone left him with six whiffs and only 57 strikes out of 100 pitches. The White Sox and Angels are at two extremes in terms of plate discipline, so in all likelihood, Farmer is neither a dominant starter with impeccable control nor a wild contact pitcher.
At age 26, it’s conceivable that the gains Farmer made at Toledo are signs of a breakout. Even if he has taken his game to a higher level, Farmer does not have the ceiling of Newcomb or a prospect of his caliber, but he is worth a try as a streamer in 12-team mixed leagues and as a staple in any format deeper than that.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, StatCorner.
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