For the Milwaukee Brewers, the old saying “the third time is the charm” might draw a sarcastic laugh. Here’s why: Out of the third-round picks since the 2000 season, only two have posted positive career WAR totals: Tyler Thornburg and Jonathan Lucroy.
Thornburg, of course, was a key component in the trade that brought Travis Shaw to Milwaukee prior to the 2017 season, giving the Brewers two of the best seasons of performance by a third baseman since they moved Ryan Braun to the outfield. Lucroy is arguably the best catcher in Brewers history. Logan Schaefer bounced between the Brewers and the minors for five years, and is the third-best third-round pick since 2000.
Other than that… the Brewers can point to K.J. Harrison, who was part of the package dealt for Gio Gonzalez, a key contributor in 2018 and 2019; Cole Gillespie, who was traded for Felipe Lopez in the 2009 season; Drew Gagnon, who was part of the package for Jett Bandy; and 2019 pick Alex Binelas, who was dealt to Boston as part of the Hunter Renfroe trade–which has netted the Brewers a solid bullpen asset in Elvis Peguero.
Don’t get me wrong, when you can trade a player, it helps, but some of the third-round picks who didn’t do so hot drew substantial bonuses–some of which come close to the major-league minimum. With the traded players mentioned here, seven out of the 21 picks from 2000 onward have ended up contributing something to the Brewers–about 33.3%. Now, .333 is not a bad batting average. Heck, if several Brewers were regularly hitting .333, it would be great. But when it comes to draft picks that they are spending some relatively big money on, it is not quite good enough.
We’ve all known the harsh realities about the hot-stove league that plague the Brewers for years, and with those realities comes another one: They can’t afford to miss with draft picks that they are spending mid-six-figure bonuses on, to say nothing of the seven-figure bonuses that second-round selections receive (we’ve discussed those picks earlier).
The Cubs, Dodgers, and Mets can always deal with misses in the draft by going out on the market to sign a big-name free agent–usually one from a smaller-market team–and they still make plenty of money, even with the luxury tax. Just look at what Steve Cohen was willing to spend this past offseason.
The Brewers do not have the luxury of big spending–not if they want to be profitable in the market they are in. For them to compete, they have to score big from the farm system time and time again. That pipeline needs to be not just solid, but close to bursting. So far, the third round has been more tough luck than a lucky charm for the Brewers.
If the Brewers want to emulate the Tampa Bay Rays or to be a team that is constantly in contention, this is one round where the Brewers need to make some big improvements in terms of drafting and developing players.