Late last night, the Milwaukee Brewers sent Corbin Burnes to the Baltimore Orioles for two 25-year-old players – left-handed pitcher DL Hall and infielder Joey Ortiz – as well as a Competitive Balance Round A pick in the 2024 draft (pick no. 34 overall). Milwaukee’s active roster is worse today without Burnes, who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since moving into the rotation full-time in 2021. But the player portion of return for one year of Burnes, who is slated to hit free agency after the season, succeeds in threading the small market needle by providing both short- and long-term reinforcement to the big league club, as both players are major league ready and also under club control for the next six seasons. Burnes was unlikely to re-sign with Milwaukee, and the Brewers get a comp pick similar to the one they would have received had they extended him a qualifying offer after the 2024 season, plus two good, young players.
Let’s talk about those players, starting with Ortiz. A fourth rounder in 2019, Ortiz has a career .286/.357/.449 line in the minors and reached the big leagues in 2023. With so many other infielders, chiefly Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday, also in the upper-level mix for playing time, the Orioles had a surplus of players like this in their system. Ortiz was a top 100 prospect last offseason and ended the 2023 season as my 57th overall prospect. His profile was initially rooted in his plus combination of defense and feel for contact, but in 2023, he traded some of that contact for meaningfully more power. Ortiz’s underlying contact quality took a leap across the board, most notably his hard-hit rate, which rose from 31% in 2022 to 46% in 2023. This was coupled with a noticeable shift in his physicality, as Ortiz looked bigger and stronger. Ortiz’s contact rates, both overall and in-zone, dropped a tad compared to 2022 and he’s a bit chase-prone, but his well-rounded offensive output should clear the relatively low bar for middle infielders.
While a capable shortstop, Ortiz is not quite the defender that Willy Adames is. Unless Adames is also traded, Ortiz is more likely to wind up playing second base, where he is an exceptional, Gold Glove-caliber defender. His range and acrobatics are rare for that position. If not for Rhys Hoskins’ presence at first base, Milwaukee’s current projected group of Adames, Ortiz, and Brice Turang would be one of the best infield defenses in baseball. Ortiz projects as an everyday middle infielder at either position and is talented enough to be a part of Milwaukee’s core for the next half decade.
As for Hall, back when it looked like he had a better chance of remaining a starter, he was one of the best couple of pitching prospects in baseball. His velocity was peaking in the upper 90s, he was flashing a plus slider and changeup, and for a minute, it looked like he was getting his walks under control. Multiple elbow maladies (tendinitis and a stress reaction) derailed what otherwise might have been a 2021 debut and kept Hall on the shelf until after the start of the 2022 season; he pitched 13.2 big league innings late in the season. He then struggled badly enough with walks that after 12 Triple-A starts to begin 2023 (15% BB%, 5.14 FIP), the Orioles shifted him into the bullpen. He came up again in August and pitched well down the stretch, earning a spot on the Orioles’ postseason roster. When we last saw Hall, he was pumping 96-98 mph uphill fastballs past Rangers hitters in an out-of-hand playoff game.
If the Brewers want to give it a try, the way they can make the most of this deal would be to successfully return Hall to a starting role, but he has had some combination of control or health issues for long enough that I’d consider this unlikely. Hall’s arm swing is long and very difficult to repeat. It badly impacts the quality and location of his secondary stuff, especially his changeup, which has a bad habit of finishing in the meaty parts of the strike zone. The explosiveness of Hall’s fastball allows him to be imprecise with that pitch and still dominate, but the same is not true of his other offerings. Many pitchers with such long arm actions at least try to shorten up to find a more consistent release; to my knowledge, that has never been attempted here. This is easier said than done, of course, and changes may put Hall at risk of regressing in other, unforeseen ways. His fastball alone is likely to make him a late-inning reliever. If the Brewers deploy him in a multi-inning capacity as a bridge to Devin Williams, they can keep his innings count high enough to make a rotation move down the line. Hall is no longer rookie eligible, which is why you won’t see him on our forthcoming Orioles list.
What about the comp pick? The upcoming draft isn’t especially strong, but at the moment, that’s really only apparent at the very top of the draft class, which is devoid of impact high school talent. By the time selection day arrives, it’s likely enough that good players will have emerged to ensure the player Milwaukee selects at pick 34 is at least close to the typical player quality. Also remember that the Brewers aren’t just getting the guy who is theoretically the 34th-best player in the draft, but also additional bonus pool space that could allow them to be more creative or aggressive with their other picks. For example, the Brewers’ proper first round pick will be 17th overall. The slot value of last year’s 17th overall pick was just shy of $4.2 million; the slot value of last year’s 34th pick was just shy of $2.5 million. Milwaukee could target a player seeking close to $6 million (slot value at pick no. 8) with pick 17 and still give nearly a million bucks to their pick at 34. There are many, many permutations of this possible across their entire draft class, and if Milwaukee’s recent M.O. is any indication, they are more likely to spread that bonus space out across several selections to try to have as deep of a class as they can.
This trade marks the unceremonious end to the most recent era of Brewers baseball. Brandon Woodruff’s late-season injury, the departures of Craig Counsell and David Stearns, and finally this deal remove many of the main characters from the past half decade of the franchise. Conversely, the wave of young players who are just getting their big league footing should make the Brewers a fun team to watch scrap for a wide open NL Central crown. Of all the projected members of the Brewers’ starting lineup, only Christian Yelich and Hoskins are over 30 years old, and Adames is the only other starter over 27. William Contreras, Jackson Chourio, Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer, and Ortiz make up a formidable young core of hitters whose careers are just getting started.