The Brewers have announced that they’ve placed infielder Jonathan Villar on the 10-day DL with a lower back strain. To take Villar’s place on the active roster, the Brewers have promoted outfield prospect Lewis Brinson.
Villar’s injury is the latest setback in a miserable campaign for a player who was an offensive standout for the Brewers last year. Then a shortstop/third baseman, Villar led the majors in stolen bases (62) and delivered a terrific .285/.369/.457 batting line with 19 home runs in 679 plate appearances. Villar, now a second baseman, remains a threat on the base paths (14 steals), but his work at the plate hasn’t given him the opportunity to swipe as many bags. Across 248 PAs, Villar has batted a meager .213/.283/.342. As long as Villar’s out, the majority of the work at the keystone figures to go to Eric Sogard, who has hit a red-hot .375/.500/.609 in 80 PAs.
With Brinson now up, Milwaukee has added its two best prospects in as many days, having promoted left-hander Josh Hader on Friday. Brinson is regarded as the better of the two, as Baseball Prospectus (No. 12), MLB.com (No. 13), FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Baseball America (No. 20) each rank the 23-year-old among the game’s 20 best prospects, while ESPN’s Keith Law (No. 38) is only slightly less bullish.
Brinson joined the Brewers last summer as the centerpiece of the package they received from the Rangers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress. The right-handed-hitting Brinson, a first-round pick in 2012, has done nothing but produce since he joined the Milwaukee organization, slashing .382/.387/.618 in 93 PAs with its Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs last year and .312/.397/.503 in 204 plate trips this season. Along the way, Brinson has drawn walks in 10.8 percent of PAs and added six homers and seven stole bases. Brinson has the type of power and speed that could lead to his emergence as a 30-30 threat in the majors, according to MLB.com. Unsurprisingly, his speed also comes in handy in center field, continues MLB.com, as it it helps him overcome “shaky jumps and reads.”
Brinson could open in left field for the Brewers (depth chart), whose top option, Ryan Braun, has been on the disabled list since late May. Once Braun returns, it’s unclear how the Brewers will handle the young outfield quartet of Brinson, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips for the rest of the season and in the coming years. All four have minor league options remaining, and only Santana has fared well this year at the big league level. If Brinson holds his own, it could lead to a bench role or a minor league demotion for the strikeout-prone Broxton, whose output has paled in comparison to that of both Braun and Santana. The Brewers could also trade Braun, who’s controllable through 2020, but there’s no indication they’re in any rush to do that.
In the event Brinson remains with the Brewers for the rest of the season, he’ll accrue 114 days of service time and should fall short of Super Two eligibility. If that happens, Brinson wouldn’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 season and he wouldn’t be in line to hit free agency until the conclusion of the 2023 campaign.