Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/16/12
PHOENIX After the Milwaukee Brewers traded for starting pitchers Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke in December 2010, there was a vocal minority of Brewers fans and baseball observers who suggested that general manager destroyed the team's farm system. To be fair, Melvin did pay a hefty cost, giving up four of the organization's top prospects to land Greinke and a potential star in the making in Brett Lawrie to pry Marcum from the Blue Jays. At the same time, the moves paid dividends for the 2011 Brewers, who won a franchise-record 96 games, their first division title in 29 years and came within two victories of their first World Series since 1992. Greinke and Marcum played leading roles, combining for 29 wins and a 3.67 ERA. As for the players Milwaukee gave up, only shortstop Alcides Escobar was an everyday starter, hitting .254 in 158 games. "It helped that the players we traded for, we were able to keep for two years," Melvin said. "We don't win, we don't get where we were without Greinke and Marcum last year. It's a fine line." Outfielder Lorenzo Cain, once considered the Brewers' center fielder of the future, spent most of the season at Class AAA Omaha, where he hit .312 with 16 home runs and 81 RBI.Two other players -- pitchers Jeremy Jeffress (2-3, 7.12 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (10-7, 3.73) -- spent their seasons in the Royals' farm system; Jeffress at Omaha and Ororizzi splitting time at Class A Wilmington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas. Lawrie made his major league debut on Aug. 5, going 2-for-4 with an RBI against Baltimore. He appeared in 43 games for the Blue Jays, finishing with a .293 average, nine home runs and 25 RBI. Melvin parted with another prospect, infielder Cutter Dykstra, to land Nyjer Morgan at the end of spring training last year, and in 2008 he shipped top prospect Matt LaPorta along with Michael Brantley and pitchers Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson to the Indians for CC Sabathia. All of those players were expected to eventually make significant contributions at the major league level. But after making the playoffs for the second time in four seasons, the Brewers aren't lamenting what could have been had they kept their farm system intact. "It turned out to be good for both sides," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of last winter's deals. "It certainly worked out for us. Impressions aside, the Brewers' farm system isn't quite as devoid of talent as some would think. There are plenty of prospects left, though most of them have been at the lower levels the last few years. Looking at the big picture, the need for stars-in-the-making isn't as big as it was just a few years ago. Of the nine regular position players, three Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks are locked into long-term, multi-year deals; first baseman Mat Gamel is a rookie and several years away from arbitration, catcher Jonathan Lucroy is entering his second full season in the majors and third baseman Aramis Ramirez signed a three-year contract last winter. Take into account that of those players, Ramirez, 33, is the oldest regular signed beyond this season (shortstop Alex Gonzalez is 35 and on a one-year deal) and the organizational structure starts to look a little bit better. Melvin has often said the Brewers' best young prospects are already at the major league level. "We did trade some young players, but it was at the expense of trying to win now and create a winning environment here," Melvin said. The Brewers' prospects don't agree with the notion that the cupboard is bare. "I don't know who's saying that, it's pretty ridiculous," outfielder Logan Schafer said. Schaefer, 25, has had an impressive spring for the second consecutive year and .... "We have an unbelievable amount of talent. We have so many guys in this locker room, and only 25 can go to Milwaukee." Schafer is just one of a number of prospects expected to refine their skills in 2012 with Class AAA Nashville. Caleb Gindl, another outfielder, will be there. So will pitchers Wily Peralta and Mike Fiers. Brewers minor league player of the year Taylor Green, if he doesn't crack the big league roster as a bench player, will likely be the Sounds' starting third baseman. Those names don't have the same kind of appeal as Weeks, Braun, Hart or Fielder, but that's to be expected. Melvin admitted that the caliber of prospect is down compared to years past, but there are simple explanations for that. Put simply, the Brewers are a much better team than they were 10 years ago and are no longer finding themselves among the first five to 10 teams picking in the draft. "You don't get players like that unless you finish last," Melvin said. "The only way to get those impact players is to be one of the five or six worst teams in baseball." Because of that, the opportunity to add can't-miss talents like Fielder or Braun just isn't there, putting the onus on the Brewers' scouting department to do its diligence and find potential contributors. "It's hard," Roenicke said. "Some clubs are fortunate where they do get some surprises. It happens every draft. But it's hard to draft, especially trying to figure out what a high school player is going to become. With college players, it's a lot easier." Still, there is no reason to worry about the future, which the Brewers think has a lot of promise. "When we see the Gindls and the Schafers and the Peraltas," Roenicke said. "I think it's nice to see that there are some guys still coming along that we think are major league players impact players, not just utility players." Follow Andrew Wagner on Twitter.
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