The Milwaukee Brewers made three additions to their 40-man roster Wednesday, two from their system and one via trade, but also left one of their top pitching prospects unprotected.
The Brewers added outfielder Corey Ray and reliever J.P. Feyereisen, a Wisconsin native, to their 40-man roster and also traded with Cleveland for utility infielder Mark Mathias, another roster addition. The Brewers chose not to protect right-hander Zack Brown, the pitcher of the year in their farm system in 2018 who struggled badly last season in Class AAA.
The moves left the Brewers with 36 players on the 40-man roster, leaving openings for additions as they seek to fill many holes on their big-league club this off-season.
The Brewers left a couple of other Top 30 prospects off their roster in infielder Lucas Erceg and right-hander Braden Webb.
Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns admitted it was a tough decision to expose Brown to the Rule 5 draft in December but said his poor showing in 2019 at San Antonio (3-7, 5.79 ERA in 25 games, 1.73 WHIP) was the primary reason for doing so. Players taken must be kept in the majors for a full season by the drafting club or offered back.
“We still have high hopes for Zack Brown,” Stearns said. “Ultimately, he didn’t perform the way we hoped, the way he hoped and expected, at Triple-A last year. That certainly influenced our decision.”
As for the chances that another club will snatch away Brown, particularly with rosters expected to increase from 25 to 26 next season, Stearns said, “That’s always a risk. We have to make these calculated risks whenever we manage our roster. We do this every year. They are difficult decisions and we do our best to determine who has selection risk, who doesn’t have as much selection risk, and who we think is capable of contributing at the major-league level.
“We’ve been right most of the time. We’ve been wrong occasionally. That’s true for most teams. These are not 100% easy decisions and clear decisions to make on some players.”
Ray, 25, a first-round pick (fifth overall) out of Louisville in 2016, was the Brewers’ minor-league hitter of the year in 2018, when he had a big season at Class AA Biloxi, including 27 homers, 74 RBI and 37 stolen bases. But he suffered through an injury-plagued ’19 season, playing in only 69 games, including 53 at Class AAA San Antonio, where he batted .188 with seven homers, 21 RBI and a .589 OPS.
“Corey just had so many stops and starts with injuries last season, in particular a nagging finger injury,” Stearns said. “We felt it important to keep him on the roster and see what he can do in a repeat year at Triple A.”
Feyereisen, 26, was acquired in a Sept. 1 trade with the New York Yankees, allowing them to avoid the decision of a 40-man roster addition. He had a big season at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 10-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 40 relief appearances, with seven saves and 94 strikeouts in 61⅓ innings.
The River Falls native was taken in the 16th round of the 2014 draft out of UW-Stevens Point by Cleveland. Two years later, the Indians sent him to the Yankees in the big Andrew Miller trade.
“We think he’ll contend for a spot in our bullpen in the spring,” Stearns said. “He really changed who he was last year, got a ton more swing-and-miss. We like what we saw from him. We were able to make the deal largely because the Yankees didn’t think they could protect him heading into this offseason.
“We saw a situation where we might have the roster space to protect him too and ultimately were able to. We expect him to be a guy who can contribute at the big-league level next year.”
Mathias, 25, was a third-round draft choice by the Indians in 2015 out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. He played in 2019 at Class AAA Columbus, batting .269 with a .355 on-base percentage, .442 slugging percentage, 31 doubles, 12 home runs and 59 RBI in 115 games.
Mathias is primarily a second baseman/third baseman but also has seen action at shortstop. He has minor-league options remaining, which Stearns said was a key factor.
“He’s a guy who we think can play all over the infield,” Stearns said. “It’s important for us to have an infielder (with options) who can go up and down with positional versatility. We knew with some of the roster changes we had, with trading (Mauricio) Dubon (to San Francisco in July) that we were going to need to find an ‘optional’ infielder who we believe can provide depth and potentially contribute at the major-league level.”
Catcher Andres Melendez, 18, who was traded for Mathias, was an international free agent signed out of Venezuela in July 2017 for a bonus of $325,000. He played last season for the Brewers Gold team in the Arizona Rookie League, batting .258 with a .340 OBP and .352 slugging percentage in 36 games.