It's been an offseason of changes for the Milwaukee Brewers, as new general manager David Stearns ushers in a new era and a new vision for the future. Through his first offseason on the job, Stearns has been consistent with his goals and his message.
"At this point in our organizational cycle our main focus is to aggregate as much talent throughout the organization as we can," Stearns recently told Time Warner Cable's The Dennis Krause Show. "We're at a stage where we believe we have the ability to continue the process that Doug Melvin and his staff began over the summer, to continue to add young players that are going to be here for a long time and have the ability to help us sustain competitiveness for a long time. So that's been our main focus so far this offseason."
Those young players will also have a new farm director, although he's likely to be a familiar face to many of them. Tom Flanagan has been working with the Brewers for 26 years, including ten as the team's senior director of baseball operations. He's been on his new job since November, and described his workload as "steady" over that time.
"I don't know if there's one big thing I've learned," Flanagan said. "You're eager to get going on so much stuff, so you've got to really prioritize and attack things wisely. We feel like we've got a lot done so far, and there's still a long way to go before spring training gets underway. But it's been good so far."
New general managers coming from outside the organization don't always choose to fill positions from within, but Stearns described Flanagan as a "glue guy" in the organization.
"At the outset of all of these processes that we've started from a hiring perspective, my objective was to hire the best person for the position, and to the extent that this person already existed within the organization I was very open and willing to hire that person," Stearns told Krause. "Tom proved that he was the best person for that position and I was certainly happy to give him that opportunity."
Headed in the right direction
Flanagan and the Brewers' player development staff are tasked with maintaining the momentum of a minor league system that is trending upward. New organizational rankings for 2016 have yet to be released, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com predicted the Brewers could see a significant move up the charts.
"If you want to start with the premise that they were...and I'm somewhat arbitrarily saying...28th out of 30 teams before they started this rebuilding effort. If you were to say they probably belong right about 14 or 15, I wouldn't blink at that," Mayo said. "They have improved themselves quite a bit. And it may turn out, when we really look at it, that they're in the top third. Some of that will be determined when some of those high end guys that they've drafted the last few years, when those guys start performing that will catapult them to the top of those kinds of rankings."
Mayo credited the Brewers with rebuilding the right way, through trades and by drafting high-ceiling talent.
"When you're starting with a system that was generally considered to be a bottom-tier system, you need elite level talent, yes, but you also need depth," Mayo said. "The Brewers did a good job with the trades they made, particularly the Gomez trade, in doing both, coupled with guys like Orlando Arcia and Jorge Lopez who are already in the system really taking big steps forward to kind of lead the system. This is a team, trying to put together a Top 30 list a year ago or two years ago was a very gargantuan task. And now it's fun. There's a lot of talent now."
More talent should be on the way in June by way of the MLB Draft. The Brewers have the fifth overall selection in 2016, tied for the ninth highest draft position in franchise history and their earliest pick since they took Ryan Braun from the same spot in 2005. Including that pick and a Competitive Balance selection, the Brewers will have four of the first 81 picks this year. Flanagan said it's too early to discuss any plans on what direction the Brewers might look for draft candidates.
"(Vice President of Amateur Scouting) Ray Montgomery takes a similar tact to lining up the board and what he looks for all spring with his scouting staff. They do a great job lining it up every year," Flanagan said. "Picking that far at the top I don't think his approach necessarily would be much different: you've still got to see the whole country and you've still got to pick 40 rounds worth of talent. You may target your trips earlier and throughout the spring a little differently, in terms of guys that perhaps in the past you may not have thought had a chance to get to you and if they did get to you it may have been a slam dunk. But I don't know that he's laid out any certain criteria. It's just a matter of seeing everybody, lining them up as the scouts feel they fall and going from there."
Helping new players find their way
Flanagan frequently serves as a contact point for new minor league players entering the organization, and there have been a significant number of them this winter as the Brewers have made several trades.
"I may reach out to establish a contact point for the organization and then our staff may follow up to check in on a guy's routine, see what their offseason is like," Flanagan said. "Probably most importantly, some of the younger players, we've acquired a few that were in the middle of long rehab processes recovering from injuries. They were not 100% at the time of the trades, so we took over their rehab. Guys either had to come to Phoenix to continue their rehab or pick up where they left off with their old organization. So they've gotten to see our Maryvale complex in Phoenix."
Flanagan will be based out of Milwaukee during the season (his predecessor, Reid Nichols, was based at Maryvale), but has spent some time this offseason in Arizona as part of the Brewers' winter training programs. One of the players he met there was pitcher Trey Supak, who was recently acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Jason Rogers deal. The former second round pick quickly accepted an invitation to attend one of the Brewers' winter training sessions.
"Our staff can get to know him, what physical shape he's in, what his workout regimen has been in the past, possibly make some tweaks as we see things where we think we can maybe help him out, maybe improve different aspects as we head into spring training and overall just give him a sense of preparation," Flanagan said. "He may have been on the right track in the past, and we may want to tweak some things, but that way a month from now when he reports to spring training he can come in and nothing will be a surprise to him. He basically shows up and is ready to go."
A likely frequent visitor
Being based in Milwaukee means Flanagan isn't far away from Appleton, and he cited the close proximity as one of the positive things about his location.
"Being in Milwaukee has many advantages," Flanagan said. "Number 1, you have that day-to-day interaction with your fellow front office members. Not only can you pick up things and get a better pulse of things that are happening on a day-to-day basis, but you can also give feedback as things pop up through the organization. As things happen you're right there to answer any questions or provide any information you can in relation to the whole farm system. And I would hope that being there (in Appleton) will be easy: it won't necessarily have to be a special trip for 3-5 days. I can hop in the car and in an hour and a half I'm in the ballpark watching the T-Rats. So I'm looking forward to that aspect."
Despite changes in the Brewers organization, Flanagan said the goal remains the same.
"I don't know from the [Timber Rattlers] fan's perspective if there will be a dramatic difference in terms of what they see on the field. Our number one goal is still development, maximizing the players' ability. Hopefully they see improved play, certainly. You're always striving for that regardless of who's in," Flanagan said.