Unless you closely follow minor league baseball, you’ve probably never seen outfielder Lewis Brinson play. But, if you’ve been following the Milwaukee Brewers, you’ve probably at least heard of him.
When the Brewers traded All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and closer Jeremy Jeffress to the Texas Rangers last summer, Brinson was the most-heralded of the three Minor Leaguers they received in return. He’s currently the near-consensus No. 1 prospect in the Brewers organization, and the 18th best prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Rebuilding teams tend to use the future as a distraction during down times, so many Brewers fans already knew a fair amount about Brinson before they met him at Brewers On Deck at the Wisconsin Center on Sunday.
“Getting traded is kind of a weird experience for the first time,” Brinson told fans as part of the event’s “Rising Stars” panel, which opened with him and three of the organization’s other leading prospects modeling t-shirts. “But you know, getting traded over to the Milwaukee Brewers, like [fellow prospect] Brett [Phillips] said, you guys have been awesome. On social media, and in this, my first time meeting everyone, you guys have been really warm to me.”
Despite the expectations of many, the Brewers opted not to call Brinson up to the majors to finish the 2016 season in Milwaukee. As such, this weekend was his first public appearance in the city and his first chance to meet many of his potential major league teammates.
“It’s pretty cool being here and meeting all my new teammates and meeting all the great fans,” Brinson says. “It’s been great so far.”
As part of his first On Deck, Brinson signed a lot of autographs, participated in a panel discussion and even told fans about his favorite food (steak).
“This is a great event, and the Brewers have really outdone themselves,” Brinson says. “Doing this for the fans in Milwaukee, they seem pretty excited about the season coming up and all of us young guys and the guys returning. I’m pretty excited to be here.”
Brinson also appreciated the opportunity to transition to a new organization alongside a familiar face. His longtime minor league teammate Ryan Cordell also came to the Brewers in the Lucroy trade and made his first On Deck appearance this weekend.
“It’s awesome. I played with him all the way through the minor leagues with the Rangers and he’s a class act guy, first of all. I’d trust him with my kids,” Brinson says. “Having him here, a familiar face from my time with the Rangers, it helps a lot with easing into and getting used to being with a new organization now.”
Both Brinson and Cordell met Brewers manager Craig Counsell for the first time this weekend. While the soon-to-be third-year skipper is excited to have highly regarded talent in the organization, he emphasized the difference between being an oft-discussed minor leaguer and a major leaguer.
“They’re not household names yet, I don’t think,” Counsell says. “If they’re household names, then we’ve got to make them more household names. That’s for sure. They’ve got a ways to go. Being a prospect is not a household name. You’ve got to be a player. But we’re looking for big league players. I’m glad we have very good prospects and very well thought-of prospects, but we need them to be major league players.”
For his part, Brinson is also ready to shed the “prospect” label.
“I tell everybody all the time that I’m honored to be on prospect lists and be considered one of the best players in the minor leagues. It’s pretty cool to get that notification, but at the same time I want to not be a prospect anymore,” Brinson says. “It means I’ve been in the big leagues for a while. So that’s my ultimate goal, is to not be a prospect anymore. It’s all good and dandy now, but the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues.”
Brinson played at the AA level with the Rangers, but was promoted to AAA by the Brewers immediately after joining the organization in August. In 23 games for Colorado Springs Sky Sox, he batted .382 with a .618 slugging percentage. Security Service Field is a notoriously hitter-friendly environment in a notoriously hitter-friendly league, but Brinson was the only member of the Sky Sox to make at least 60 plate appearances and post an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) over 1.000. The big leagues are the next step from the AAA level, and Brinson said he feels like he’s ready to make that jump in 2017.
“I’m shooting for it. All offseason I’ve been working my butt off to make my dreams come true this year and get up there and help the Brewers win, and help them win for a long time with all these young guys and the guys we have up here,” Brinson says. “I’ve been working hard trying to get up there this year. So I think this is going to be the year for me.”
With that being said, some of the factors that could accelerate or delay Brinson’s MLB debut are out of his control. Incumbent outfielders Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are all scheduled to return for 2017, and the Brewers’ decision to promote Brinson may depend on the health and performance of those four players. Like any player awaiting a promotion to the next level, all Brinson can do is focus on what he has control over.
“Whatever happens at the end of spring or May, or June, or the end of the season, whatever happens, that’s not up to me,” Brinson says. “So I’m just going to go out there and play my game and whenever I get up there, I get up there.”
In the meantime, Brinson enjoyed being around so many fans at On Deck who knew who were excited to see him.
“It’s pretty cool, man. I love it,” Brinson says. “I try to sign everybody’s autograph, even though I had to say no to some people walking in. But one day they’re not going to want my autograph. So I try to sign everybody’s and give everybody and equal amount of attention because they took the time and paid money to come out here. So the least I can do is sign their ball or whatever.”