HomeTrending MLB NewsBrewers expected to promote acclaimed infield prospect

Brewers expected to promote acclaimed infield prospect

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Black, 23, was selected by the Brewers with the 33rd overall pick in the 2021 draft. Since then, he has climbed the minor league ladder, earning huge amounts of praise for his plate discipline. 

He spent 2022 in High-A, walking more often than he struck out. He was limited to 283 plate appearances in 64 games due to a fractured scapula but drew 45 walks while getting punched out 44 times, leading to respective rates of 15.9% and 15.5%. He only hit four home runs but his .281/.406/.424 batting line translated to a 137 wRC+.

He got over his injury and returned to the field last year, playing 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A. He walked in 15.8% of his trips to the plate on the year while striking out at a 17.9% rate, hitting 18 home runs in the process. He hit a combined .284/.417/.513 between the two levels for a 145 wRC+. He returned to Triple-A this year and has produced a batting line of .303/.393/.525 so far.

Though the plate discipline is his most standout tool, he also has some speed to offer. He stole 13 bases in his injury-shortened 2022 campaign before swiping 55 bags on 67 tries last year. He’s tallied another three in the early going here in 2024.

Defensively, he’s more of a question mark. He was a second baseman in college and the early parts of his minor league career, spending some time in center field in 2022 as well. But since the start of last year, he’s been exclusively on the infield corners, primarily at third.

Regardless of the defensive question marks, the strong offense and the speed are enough for him to be considered one of the best prospects in the league. Baseball America currently lists him as their No. 73 prospect. MLB Pipeline has him at No. 42, ESPN at No. 51 while Keith Law of The Athletic put him in the No. 44 spot. 

Though for a dissenting opinion, Black doesn’t crack the top 100 at FanGraphs, and Eric Longenhagen put him at just No. 10 in the Brewers’ system last month. Longenhagen expresses concern that Black won’t stick at third base and will eventually end up at first, where his contact-over-power approach will be insufficient.

Given the current Milwaukee infield alignment, it would seem that Black probably has a better path to playing time at first base for now. Joey Ortiz has been the regular at third and is hitting a strong .279/.392/.426 so far this year, 134 wRC+. First base has been split between Rhys Hoskins and Jake Bauers, though the latter hasn’t been performing especially well. Bauers is hitting .200/.250/.383 while striking out in 37.5% of his trips to the plate this year.

Both Bauers and Black are left-handed hitters, so it seems Bauers is the player most likely to lose playing time with Black promotion. Bauers is out of options and would have to be designated for assignment if he is to be squeezed off the roster. Though if the Brewers want to keep him around as a bench bat, they could option someone like Joey Wiemer, Oliver Dunn or Owen Miller.

It’s late enough in the season that Black can’t earn a full year of service time, at least not the traditional way. A major league season is 187 days long, but a player needs 172 days in the big leagues or on the major league injured list to get to the one-year mark. Since we’re over a month into the 2024 campaign already, Black can’t quite make it to that line.

The current collective bargaining agreement contains measures to disincentive service time manipulation by rewarding clubs for promotion of top prospects while also allowing such players a path to getting one year of service even if held down. If a player is on two of the three top 100 lists at BA, MLB Pipeline or ESPN, they are considered eligible for the prospect promotion incentive, which applies to Black since he’s on all three.

Had the Brewers promoted Black earlier in the year, they could have earned themselves an extra draft pick depending on how he performed in awards voting, but that won’t be in play now. Black will be able to earn a full service year if he can finish in the top two in Rookie of the Year voting, the other new measure in the CBA, though he will have an uphill battle in achieving that. 

Players like Shota Imanaga, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Jared Jones, Jackson Merrill, Masyn Winn and others have already had a head start of over a month to rack up stats while Black is just getting started.

Even if he comes up short of the one-year mark here in 2024, he would be in line for Super Two status after the 2026 campaign if he can stay up in the big leagues from this point forward. He would be able to go through arbitration four times instead of three before being slated for free agency after 2030, though future optional assignments could delay either of those trajectories.


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