Brewers recognize this draft critical

The Milwaukee Brewers built from within, getting top picks and

gems late in the draft to have the best farm system in baseball

only a few years ago.

The approach netted them top first-round talents such as Prince

Fielder (2002), Ryan Braun (2005) and Rickie Weeks (2003) as well

as Yovani Gallardo (second round), Jonathan Lucroy (third) and

Corey Hart (11th).

The culmination of their savvy work came in 2008, when the

Brewers reached the postseason for the first time in 26 years by

trading four prospects for CC Sabathia in the stretch run.

The deep farm system built by former scouting director Jack

Zduriencik allowed Milwaukee to trade its top pitching prospect for

2009 AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and top hitting prospect

for Shaun Marcum.

Now, the young Brewers look thin again.

”People say our system is a little low, well, it’s to be

expected,” general manager Doug Melvin said. ”We traded for other

players, and we had players that weren’t ranked high.”

They’ve also had problems hitting early in the draft

recently.

The past nine first-round picks for Milwaukee since Braun are

either gone by trade, deep in the minors or never signed. Six of

the top seven prospects as recently as 2009 are no longer with the

team.

Jeremy Jeffress (2006) was part of the Greinke deal along with

supplemental first-rounder Jake Odorizzi (2008). Matt LaPorta

(2007) went to the Indians for Sabathia. Brett Lawrie (2008) was

traded for Marcum.

Right-hander Eric Arnett (2009) went 1-9 with a 6.70 ERA in 20

appearances in Single-A Wisconsin last year and hasn’t pitched in

the minors yet this season. Milwaukee’s 2010 top pick, Dylan Covey,

opted for college after finding out he had diabetes. Covey went to

the University of San Diego instead.

With the system thinned, Melvin said the amateur draft that

begins Monday is critical for the Brewers again. Milwaukee will

pick 12th and 15th in the first round, followed by the 70th and

100th picks.

”We feel confident in the extra pick we’ll get this year, it

might be just as good as what Dylan would’ve been or even more

advanced,” said Melvin, who met with the scouting staff for three

days last week and again this week to prepare. ”I think the thing

we can do better at, we can do better going deeper in drafts.”

With Fielder eligible for free agency after the season, the

organization must find a way to bridge the gap again while drafting

and developing players such as Lucroy, who reached the majors in 2

1/2 seasons while never being considered a top 100 prospect.

Melvin said this year’s draft class is loaded with strong

college pitchers.

Two players that could be around when the Brewers pick are

right-handers Sonny Gray of Vanderbilt and Matt Barnes of

Connecticut. They could go for a high school arm such as righty

Taylor Guerrieri or one of several polished outfielders such as

Mikie Mahtook of LSU or George Springer of Connecticut.

”We’re getting into the stages where you can’t say much as far

as the strategy goes,” Melvin said. ”The list will probably

change right up until the last day.”

Then, the biggest issue will be signing the players, something

that will certainly be part of Milwaukee’s decision-making process

this week.

Melvin said they want to pick the best player available, but

that usually means the organization believes they’ll be able to

sign them quickly after the draft instead of waiting until the Aug.

14 deadline.

”The signing day has to be moved up. Development is a huge part

of what we do, our success,” Melvin said. ”It’s important to get

them signed early.”