Brewers Draft History Has Had Big Hits, Big Misses

Jun. 19, 2017
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yount
Robin Yount, first-round draft choice of the Brewers in 1973.

This past week, the Brewers made their selections in the 2017 MLB Draft. The Crew made some bold choices and some noted that they seemed to have a “boom or bust” attitude in their high-round picks. The ability to draft and develop star players is as essential in today’s game as it has ever been. But the draft is a wildly inexact science. Producing a good crop of talent from the draft is (at best) equal parts skill and luck. Looking back at the Brewers’ draft history, they have had more than their share of hard luck and botched picks, the results of which have contributed greatly to their down years. Furthermore, they have also proven that drafting talent is only one part of the equation, as some of the biggest names in franchise draft history refused to sign and later became stars with other organizations. On the other hand, the Brewers have drafted and signed a pair of first-ballot Hall of Famers – something only three other franchises have done over the same time span – and have a surprising track record of first-round success.

Even as they have developed their minor league system into one of the best in baseball, it has been a while since the Brewers have drafted an impact player. The 2012 draft was the most recent in which players the Brewers drafted appeared with the MLB team (Damien Magnifco, Brent Suter, and Tyler Wagner) and you need to go back to 2010 (Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Thornberg) to find any players who have become regulars. Jonathan Lucroy (2007) is the most recent all-star the Brewers have drafted.

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The 2006 draft might have been a bonanza for the Brewers. The team drafted four future All Stars, including an MVP and a Cy Young Award winner. Unfortunately for the Crew, two of those players (Jake Arrieta and Andrew Bailey) did not sign and another (Michael Brantley) was traded before making the majors. The 88.5 (and counting) WAR of that year’s Brewers draftees ranks as the second-highest total in team history, bested by only the Paul Molitor-led class of 1977.  

Of course, it is not uncommon for players drafted in later rounds not to sign and find stardom elsewhere. The Brewers drafted Hunter Pence in the 40th round in 2002 and tagged Jason Giambi in the 43rd round in 1989. But occasionally a high-round pick will also hold out, hoping for a bigger contract or to be picked up by a more favorable organization the following year. The Brewers missed out on two future stars this way, failing to sign first-round pick Alex Fernandez in 1988 and fifth-rounder Nomar Garciaparra in 1991.

Ignoring the three most recent drafts, the Brewers have had at least one member of their draft class make the majors, although not always in Milwaukee. The very worst Brewers draft of all-time might have been 1975, when only a single player (19th rounder Bob Stoddard, who did not sign) eventually made the bigs. The 1973 draft class also produced just a single major leaguer. But that class also showed that one player – in this case California high schooler Robin Yount – can make a draft.

Yount, and Paul Molitor in 1977, were both first-round picks. Even with such recent high-profile flops like Matt LaPorta, Antone Williamson, and J. M. Gold, and with six top-ten picks between 1971 and 1978 accounting for all of 89 major league appearances, the Brewers have been historically skilled at finding talent in the first round. Brewers’ first rounders include Yount and Molitor, Darrell Porter, B.J. Surhoff, Gary Sheffield, Gorman Thomas, Geoff Jenkins, Ben Sheets, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Brewers number ones who reached the majors have averaged 15.2 career WAR among them, which is easily the highest in Major League history and more than 70% higher than average such first rounder’s WAR.

Of course, only time will tell if the Brewers recent drafts produce big league talent. And boom or bust, the impact of these drafts will be felt for years to come.

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