Perhaps no team has been more aggressive with their rebuild over the last 10 months than the Brewers. Former GM Doug Melvin and current GM David Stearns have combined to trade away Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Francisco Rodriguez, Adam Lind, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, Gerardo Parra, and others since last year's deadline.
As a result of those trades, the Brewers are quite bad this season, though they also have a much-improved farm system. The experts at Baseball America ranked their system ninth best in baseball coming into the season. No one likes to watch a rebuild, but sometimes it is necessary, and the Brewers had reached that point. Melvin and Stearns acted appropriately and decisively.
Saturday afternoon the Brewers beat the Phillies (MIL 6, PHI 3) thanks in large part to shortstop and leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar, who led the game off with a home run:
Villar went 3 for 5 with the homer -- it was his third straight game with a long ball -- and two runs driven in on the afternoon. He also stole his MLB-leading 20th base in the game. Villar is now hitting .313/.410/.465 with five homers and those 20 steals this year, and as our own Jonah Keri wrote earlier this week, there are reasons to think Villar can continue his excellent production moving forward.
Milwaukee acquired the 25-year-old Villar over the winter, but not as part of one of their "veteran for prospects" trades. They picked him up from the Astros for minor league righty Cy Sneed. Villar, who originally went from the Phillies to the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade, had spent the last few years as an up-and-down bench player and backup infielder with Houston.
The Astros were comfortable with their infield depth, so they made Villar available and the Brewers pounced. A rebuilding team is in perfect position to take a chance on a talented and athletic infielder. Villar switch-hits, has speed and sneaky power, and he's solid enough in the field. The Segura trade opened up shortstop and gave Villar a clear path to playing time. It was a perfect fit for both the team and player.
The Brewers have an elite shortstop prospect in Orlando Arcia, who could very well make his MLB debut in the coming weeks. Arcia figures to push Villar to second base long-term, which just might be his best position anyway. Either way, with the way he's been hitting, the Brewers will make a spot for Villar once Arcia joins the roster. He's been that good. The kid is thriving.
Sneed, on the other hand, has a 3.29 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 38 1/3 Double-A innings with the Astros this season. MLB.com does not rank him among Houston's top 30 prospects.
Everyone thinks of rebuilding as trading veterans for prospects. That's not always the case. Flipping a prospect for a talented young big leaguer and giving him a chance to play can yield big dividends too. The Brewers are seeing it with Villar.
Saturday's win improve the Brewers to 26-30 on the season, which obviously isn't great, but it's probably better than many expected coming into the season. Milwaukee is still unlikely to go to the postseason, so 2016 is all about nurturing young talent and figuring out who can be part of the solution long-term. Villar is showing he can be part of the solution. He's been an excellent pickup.