By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 104 G, 406 AB, .268 BA, 15 HR, 61 RBI, 17 SB, .773 OPS
It’s been a rough few seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers. Since winning 96 games and the National League Central crown in 2011, the club has finished above .500 twice in five years and has won a combined 141 games in the last two seasons. The team seemed to sit in limbo for a few years before really going into full rebuild mode in ‘15.
The Brewers took a big step toward their future last year at the Trade Deadline when they shipped star catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Texas Rangers. In return, the Brewers got a pair of top prospects — promising young right-hander Luis Ortiz, and the main attraction, outfielder Lewis Brinson.
Brinson was drafted out of high school in the first round by the Rangers in ‘12 because of his clear raw skills. In his first full season at 19 years old, those skills were put on full display with a 20-20 season (21 homers, 24 steals). Those shiny numbers were overshadowed, however, by his 191 strikeouts that year. Strikeouts are an issue for many young hitters, but that is a ridiculously high number. So, many were concerned.
Fortunately for the outfielder out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the strikeouts took a dive the following year and have decreased the past two years. In 2015, Brinson had 20 homers, 18 steals and a ridiculously good .332/.403/.601 line as he advanced through three levels all the way up to Triple-A. Entering last year, Brinson hit the top prospect rankings for the first time with a bang, being ranked No. 16 on both the Baseball America and MLB.com Top 100 prospect rankings.
An unfortunate shoulder sprain marred Brinson’s ‘16, but after the trade he managed to put together an impressive 23 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs with four homers, four steals, 20 RBIs, and a .382 average.
Brinson is graded as a complete player with plus-speed, -pop, and -defensive ability. He projects as an above-average center fielder and a perennial 20-20, .300 threat. ZiPS is the only projection system that gave Brinson a large number of games in the Majors this year, and they see him hitting 18 homers with 12 steals and a .254 average in 110 games. Brinson had a solid Spring Training, going 10-for-34 (.294) with two homers, eight RBIs and a steal before he was — as expected — optioned to Minor League camp.
The likely starting center fielder for the Brewers, Keon Broxton, is a young speedster who the Brewers like and has had a strong Spring as well. The team also likes the powerful Domingo Santana in right field, with veteran Ryan Braun in left. It may take a bit for Brinson to break into the outfield this year, but a trade of Braun (something that has been rumored for a while now) or an injury to or subpar performance from Broxton or Santana could lead to Brinson’s debut with the Brewers and an extended audition to live up to the hype. He’ll start the year at Triple-A, but if he shows mastery of the level for a bit, the Brewers would be hard-pressed not to insert him into what will be one of the younger lineups in baseball.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.