Previewing the 2011 MLB Draft with Patrick Ebert

For a lot of reasons, the 2011 MLB Draft may just be the most important draft for the Brewers in some time. The offseason trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke have paid off for the club at the Major League level — after another improbable win in Florida, they’re in the lead for the NL Wildcard — but those deals also put a large dent in the farm system. Heading into the year, many called what was left of the system the worst in baseball.

That’s not necessarily a knock on the guys who are left — there are plenty of guys who could become solid MLB contributors someday. But there aren’t any stars in the making, and a small-market team like the Brewers needs to be able to produce their own stars if they’re going to contend long-term, and those stars need to keep coming as previous generations leave via free agency. Signing the likes of Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart to long-term deals buys the club some time to replentish the farm, but if the system isn’t repaired in a hurry, the big league team could be in trouble 5 years from now.

That’s why this year’s draft is so big for the Brewers. Not only does this look like one of the deepest classes in recent memory, but the Brewers have two picks in the Top 15, due to their inability to sign last year’s first rounder, Dylan Covey. Losing Covey may have hurt the Brewers in the prospect rankings, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise — Baseball America’s Jim Callis told WSSP that it’s likely the Brewers end up with an even better player than Covey at 15 this year. The caveat, of course, is that the 15th pick is unprotected — if they fail to sign a player with that pick again, it’s gone. That doesn’t mean the Brewers will necessarily take a player with a lesser ceiling just because they know he’ll sign, though (more on that later).

A lot of names have been connected to the Brewers in the past couple weeks, and as always, Brewerfan.net has done a great job of staying on top of all the rumors. If someone is linked to the Brewers, you’ll likely find their name pop up in this thread — it’s a convenient way to keep tabs on all the rumors. I like to read up on all the pre-draft stuff, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m just a casual observer at this point.

That’s why I contacted Patrick Ebert, who for so many years anchored BF.net’s impeccable draft coverage, and has since moved on to Perfect Game USA. There are a lot of draft experts out there, but few know the Brewers’ system as well as Patrick, and he was kind enough to answer a few Brewers-centric questions I had about this year’s draft. My questions and his answers are after the jump.

Vanderbilt pitcher Sonny Gray has been connected to the Brewers quite a bit, and I’ve seen you (among others) compare him to Ben Sheets. What inspires those comparisons? Some see him as an eventual reliever, but do you think he can stick as a starter?

I wrote up Gray in detail when I got to see him pitch against Kentucky last year, and his stuff and approach are almost identical to Sheets’.  He attacks hitters primarily with two pitches:  A fastball (that doesn’t have much movement, but he locates it well) and a hammer curveball.  The curve is a true power breaker that can sit in the 78-82 range.  Any true curveball thrown in the low-80s is a special pitch, which was Sheets’ signature offering.  All of the times I have seen Gray, high school and college, I haven’t seen him throw anything but his fastball/curveball, and he goes right after hitters and isn’t afraid to challenge them even after giving up a big hit.  He’s fearless.

However, Gray should hit a lot better than Sheets does.  While that’s not a hard trick to pull off, Gray was an accomplished two-way player in high school, and also served as his team’s quarterback (that won back-to-back state championships).

Yes, I think he can stick as a starter.  That was the knock on him coming out of high school as well, but he maintains his velocity well deep into games and has been doing the same thing for three years in a row now.

Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor have both been brought up occasionally with the Brewers. Assume both are there at 12 or 15, and the Brewers are set on taking one as their “shortstop of the future.” Who would you choose and why?

Lindor, and it’s not even close.  He is one of the best defensive players available for this year’s draft (prep catcher Austin Hedges comes quickly to mind as another), and is one of those players that makes any play in the field look easy.  Basically, even if Lindor’s bat never comes around, he should advance to the big-leagues thanks to his glove.

Baez flashed some big power during a pre-draft workout at Miller Park, but does he have the glove to actually stay at short if the Brewers wanted to force the issue? You’ve compared him to Ryan Braun and Brett Lawrie, which is obviously good when talking about the bat, but not so much when it comes to the glove. If the Brewers take him, would they have trouble finding a position for him?

I don’t think they will have a problem finding a position for him, but I hope they don’t get too cute like they did with both Braun and Lawrie.  If Baez is the pick, stick him at third base and let him get as many reps as possible there.

Most people seem to think the Brewers will make a “safe” pick at 15, since it’s unprotected. This leads to a little worry that the Brewers will pass up on a better player at 15 (in a loaded draft, no less) to get someone who they know will sign for slot money. Is the fear of an overdraft there a legitimate concern, or do you think the Brewers will still get good value with that pick?

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think there is a big difference between reaching for a pick and taking a player that will sign for slot value.  Sometimes that is one in the same player, but if a team does their homework (and the Brewers have been doing so since 2000) you can gauge a player’s signing interest relative to their prospective value.  So, while I don’t think you’ll see the Brewers take a player that has perceived signing complications, I don’t think the player named at 15 is going to be someone that causes all of us to scratch our heads.

In addition, I have always contended that it is all about who you take.  Even if you pass on a player perceived to be significantly better, make sure you nail the pick that you do.  This is something the Pirates have had difficulty with for years, and only recently have been showing a re-dedication financially towards scouting and player development.

I remember some fans complaining that the Brewers took Ryan Braun and not Cameron Maybin in 2005 because of money.

Just how deep would you say this draft is? A lot of people seem to assume whoever the Brewers take at 12 and 15 will become two of the organization’s top prospects once they’re signed, but would a second round pick also rank highly in the system right away?

Unfortunately the picks at 12 and 15 will become two of the team’s top prospects by default, but yes, it is a deep draft.  There aren’t too many can’t-miss bats, but there are a lot of players with considerable talent even if there are also noticeable flaws among this group.  Teams are going to be able to find talent comparable to supplemental first-rounders in the second and third rounds, which will allow them to find second and third round talents in the fourth and fifth rounds.

What this also means is that inevitably there is going to be some really good players going to college as well, meaning we may be having this same conversation three years from now pertaining to the 2014 draft.

I want to thank Patrick again for taking time out of what’s surely a busy weekend for him and the rest of the PG staff. If you’re looking for a place to follow the draft starting Monday night, be sure to check out their live coverage. Their draft tracker is going to be right next to a CoverItLive chat window, so you’ll be able to see their analysis of every pick as it comes in. Even better, all 2011 draft coverage will be free. You can’t beat that.

Here’s to hoping the 2011 draft is a good one for Milwaukee. In the mean time, follow Patrick on Twitter.

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