For the better part of the last decade, the Milwaukee Brewers have prided themselves in their outstanding scouting, drafting, and development of young players from minor-league amateurs to MLB talent. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and, yes, even Prince Fielder (to name a few) are quintessential examples of that efficiency.
Last winter, however, GM Doug Melvin dealt a number of top-tier minor league prospects to furnish deals that would send Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee. Though largely successful, the transactions would recede the level of talent in Milwaukee’s minor league system, sparing a handful of pertinent players down on the farm.
Which remaining youngsters have the best opportunity for success in the near future? Let’s take an early look at Milwaukee’s top 15 prospects heading into 2012.
Honorable Mention: RHP Santo Manzanillo
Manzanillo signed with the Brewers as a non-draft pick back in 2005, but has only begun to find his stride down in the minors.
The young power-righthander put together a nice 2011 campaign between high class-A Brevard County and double-A Huntsville. He worked 61.2 innings and posted a combined 1.75 ERA, distinctly in a reliever/closer role. He also punched out 62 in that same time-frame.
He’s been able to find the most success with his upper-90s fastball thus far. If he’s able to stay within himself as far as his command goes, he’ll only continue to work his way through the system.
Dishonorable Mention: RHP Mark Rogers
No matter how disappointing or enigmatic his short-lived career has been up to this point, it would be an outrage not to mention the 25-year-old former prodigy.
Drafted fresh out of high school as the fifth-overall pick in 2004, Rogers was expected to be the next best thing since sliced bread for the Brewers, but quickly found out his arm wasn’t quite ready for prime-time. Suffering a shoulder injury in 2006, Rogers injured his right shoulder and underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.
He would not pitch until three years later, where in 2009 he would go 1-3 with a 1.67 ERA, 67 SO in 64.2 IP. His 2010, arguably his best, Rogers went 6-8 with a 3.71 ERA while garnering 111 SO in 111.2 IP, prompting a mid-season call-up, where the youngster made his first start as a Brewer.
Then, last March, the right-hander was suspended for 25 games for testing positive for a stimulant. He probably still has a future with the organization, but this certainly isn’t the way we all foresaw it transpiring.
Selected by Milwaukee at 49th overall back in 2009, the lanky right-hander made a solid impression on the organization back in 2010, going a combined 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA between single-A and class-A advanced ball.
Coming off his stellar showing, Baseball America ranked Heckathorn as Milwaukee’s ninth-best overall prospect heading into 2011. He wouldn’t live up to expectations, however, going a lackluster 5-10 with a 4.97 ERA while punching out just 89 in 22 starts.
While there’s no questioning his skill-set, the 23-year-old has yet to strut his best stuff with consistency. The youngster will have that opportunity next spring with double-A Huntsville.
15. RHP Jimmy Nelson
Coming into 2011, the 6’6″, 235-pound power right-hander was ranked as Milwaukee’s eighth overall prospect by Baseball America — and for good reason.
In his first minor league go-around with, Nelson went 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA while punching out 33 in just 26.2 innings of work as a member of the Brewers’ rookie club in Helena. As a starter, the University of Alabama product would go 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA, 120 SO and 146.0 IP in 25 starts with single-A Wisconsin.
He features a four-seam fastball that tops out in the mid-90s with a sinker, along with a slider and developing changeup. Look for him to start with class-A advanced Brevard County in 2012.
14. RHP Austin Ross
Another productive pitcher taken by the Brewers back in 2010, Ross has gone relatively unknown around Milwaukee. That may be about to change.
In five starts with Milwaukee’s rookie club in Helena, the 23-year-old went 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA, 52 SO and walked just six in 46.2 innings of work. He also held the opposition to a .246 BA and allowed just one home run during those starts. Yet, like so many other young pitchers, Ross’ production tapered a bit as he moved up, posting a combined 5.28 ERA and striking out 114 in 133.0 IP between class-A Wisconsin and class-A advanced Brevard County.
By no means is Ross a power pitcher that will strike out a lofty number of batters. However, he’s able to limit mistakes — he conceded just a 1.13 HR/9 in 13 class-A advanced starts last season — making him a near lock to be promoted to Milwaukee within the next few seasons.
There’s no doubting the 24-year-old righty is on the cusp of being a call-up for Milwaukee in the very near future, but his poor execution has led to him dropping out of our top 10.
Signed by the Brewers back in 2005, Rivas has put together a number of splendid minor-league campaigns, most notably in 2010, going 11-6 with a 3.37 ERA and 114 SO in 141.2 IP with double-A Huntsville.
Invited to spring training prior to last season, the youngster had his sights set on another noble effort with triple-A Nashville in 2011. That was not the case, going 7-12 with a less-than-impressive 4.72 ERA in 28 starts. He has the stuff to be a potential No.4 starter for Milwaukee, but he’ll need to put together a complete minor league season before that becomes a reality.
12. LHP Dan Meadows
“Unheralded” doesn’t even begin to describe this 24-year-old southpaw.
A 49th-round selection out of Temple Texas College in 2008, Meadows’ 6’6″, 223-pound frame initially classified him as a future starter in the big-leagues.
Going 13-6 with a 4.07 ERA and 108 SO in his second minor league season in class-A ball, Meadows established himself as a real workhorse in the making. The very next year, his label would change drastically.
Promoted to class-A advanced Brevard County, Meadows registered 2.86 ERA, 92 SO and a .221 BAA in 91.1 IP (42 games) in 2010, strictly in a relief role. He would be called-up to double-A Huntsville to start his 2011 campaign, where he would go 6-2 with a gaudy 1.51 ERA while holding batters to a .185 BAA, evoking yet another promotion to triple-A Nashville later that year.
11. 2B Eric Farris
Calling the 25-year-old Farris “fleet-of-foot” would be a bit of an understatement.
In just five seasons in Milwaukee’s system, the former fourth-round selection out of Loyola Marymount has ripened into a true barn-burner on the basepaths, stockpiling a Brewers record 70 stolen bases in 2009, a year he also batted .298 with 7 HR and 49 RBI.
Like so many other speedsters before him, though, Farris truly lacks power at the plate. The youngster maintained a .792 OPS during his lone year in rookie ball in 2007, but has seen a gradual decrease in OPS ever since.
We had him ranked higher in our preseason rankings last March, but after a pedestrian 2011 campaign with triple-A Nashville (.271 BA, 6 HR, 55 RBI, .689 OPS), Farris will have to prove himself capable once more in 2012.
One of the few classic power-hitters remaining in Milwaukee’s system, Gindl has yet to disappoint in five minor-league seasons.
His inaugural rookie season with the Brewers’ rookie club in Helena, the then 19-year-old outfielder batted .372 with 5 HR and 42 RBI, including a 1.000 OPS in 55 total games (207 AB). His outstanding production was enough for him to be named a Baseball America Rookie All-Star.
Since then, he’s only continued to make strides in the organization. Last season, the now 23-year-old amassed 15 HR, 60 RBI, .307 BA and ranked fourth among all Brewers prospects with a .309 OBP.
The only thing that could hold him back from a big-league promotion is Milwaukee’s lack for talent in the outfield. However, if he continues to generate runs at such a rapid pace, management may have no other choice than to bring him up for an audition.
9. RHP Cody Scarpetta
Blazing his way through rookie ball (2-0, 2.23 ERA, 58 SO) in 2008, Milwaukee’s 11th-round selection back in 2007 seemed intent on making a serious impact in the organization early on.
The very next year, the young Scarpetta worked his way from single-A ball to double-A Hunstville, posting a combined 3.52 ERA while striking out 116 in just 105.0 innings of work. However, the 6’3″, 244-pounder has since gained a reputation of poor command, ultimately leading to punching out just 98 batters in 117.0 innings of work last season in double-A Huntsville.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the youngster, he still has a boatload of potential in the big leauges. A number three spot in Milwaukee’s rotation in 2014 could be in the works if he gets his act together.
8. RHP Mike Fiers
One of the older prospects you’ll ever see — he’s currently 26 years old — Fiers has been an absolute gem in Milwaukee system in each of the past two seasons.
In just his second year in the minors, Fiers attained a 5-9 combined record, 3.53 ERA and 130 SO in 125.0 IP between class-A advanced Brevard County and double-A Huntsville in 2010. This past season, he persevered, going 13-3 with a staggering 1.86 ERA along with striking out 132 in 126.0 innings of work in double-A ball and triple-A Nashville.
He would later be named Milwaukee’s top minor-league pitcher of 2011, and subsequently found himself in a Brewers uniform mid September.
You know your farm system is dry when a player who has yet to make a minor-league start is a top-ten prospect. But that’s exactly the position the Brewers find themselves in.
Bradley, taken with the 15th overall pick in last summer’s 2011 draft, is currently polishing his exceptionally raw game in the MLB Arizona Fall League, where though over three weeks of baseball, has pitched but 2.0 innings.
Nevertheless, his talent and tremendous upside makes him a top-ten prospect by Milwaukee’s standards. Last season with Georgia Tech, the youngster went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, struck out 106 and allowed just one home run in 16 starts. Expect him to be pitching with Milwaukee’s rookie club in Helena next spring.
6. RHP Taylor Jungmann
Whatd’ya know, another first-round draft pick from last June’s draft cracks Milwaukee’s top-ten preseason prospect rankings.
The recipient of the 25th annual Dick Howser Award — an award handed out to college baseball’s player of the year — in July, the 6’6″, 220-pound Jungmann has been a portrait of success at the collegiate level. Chances are he’s well on his way toward stardom with the Brewers, as well. Last season, the lanky right-hander went 13-3 with an insane 1.60 ERA, 126 SO in 141.0 IP. He held opponents to a .165 BA, and an otherworldly 0.214 BABIP.
Jungmann signed a $2.525 Million deal with Milwaukee back in mid August. Like Bradley, he’s likely to be designated to the Brewers’ rookie club in Helena next spring.
One of my personal favorites, Ryan “Scooter” Gennett is, unlike many prospects in the system, on the virtual fast-track to the majors. The Florida State product has been nothing short of a sensation in just two full seasons in the minors.
In 2010, the speedy second-baseman batted .309 with 9 HR, 55 RBI, scored 87 runs and stole 14 bases in 118 games with class-A Wisconsin. The very next year, he progressed to class-A advanced Brevard County, amassing a .300 BA, 9 HR, 51 RBI and 11 SB.
This offseason, he’s lighting up opposing pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where through 13 games, he’s batting .357 wih 2 HR and 8 RBI, with a .946 OPS. Talk around the organization estimates he could push to be the full-time starting second baseman as soon as 2014.
4. CF Logan Schafer
An athletically capable outfielder by nature, the 25-year-old Schafer has been bustling his way through the system since his rookie season in 2008, where he batted .272 with 2 HR and 28 RBI in Helena.
He started his 2009 campaign in class-A advanced ball, and would really burst onto the scene shortly thereafter, batting .308 to go with 6 HR and 58 RBI.
A groin injury in spring training shattered his hopes for a productive 2010 season, but he would recover handsomely, amassing 5 HR, 43 RBI and a .315 BA between class-A advanced, double-A and triple-A this past season. His performance would be enough for a September call-up last season, but was specifically limited to a pinch-hitting/running role.
Depending on how management handles their depth chart in center-field, Schafer could be in a starting role by 2013. He’s presently sharpening his skill-set with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League.
Through just one and a half years in the low minors, the 5’11”, 185-pound Thornburg is already drawing comparisons to Tim Lincecum. Its easy to see why.
Milwaukee’s lone third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Thornburg went 1-0 with a gaudy 1.93 ERA, amassing 38 SO in just 23.1 innings of work while holding opponents to a .179 BA with Helena in 2010. He started his 2011 campaign in single-A ball, going 7-0 with a 1.57 ERA, including 76 SO in just 68.2 innings.
Promoted to class-A advanced Brevard County at mid-season, Thornburg went 3-6, but still managed a 3.57 ERA and a .186 BAA. His stature will raise question marks regarding his durability and stamina, but, for now, he looks the part of a future ace.
2. 3B Taylor Green
Working his way up through the ranks of the unknown for quite some time, Green has manifested his big-league potential in admirable fashion, being named Milwaukee’s top minor-league hitter of 2011.
Last season, Green led all Brewers prospects with a .336 BA, amassed 22 HR, 91 RBI, and an organization-best .412 OBP and .580 SLG in triple-A ball. In brief, 2011 was a suptuous one for the rising star.
A September call-up, Green recorded 10 hits in 37 at-bats in his short stint with Ron Roenicke’s crew. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be the opening-day starter in 2012, but he’s nonetheless made an exceptional impression on the club thus far.
Peralta, who signed on as a non-draft pick in 2005 at the ripe age of 16, is unquestionably Milwaukee’s top talent down on the farm and will be bound for the majors in the very near future.
His first two seasons in rookie ball were forgettable, but the young right-hander would really start materialize into a top prospect in 2009, where he went 4-4, maintained a 3.47 ERA and, most notably, struck out 118 in 103.2 IP in low-A ball.
In 2010, he went a combined 8-6 with a 3.79 ERA between class-A advanced and double-A, but witnessed his prominent K/BB ratio drop from 2.6:1 in 2009 to 1.6:1. He then took his talents to triple-A Nashville toward the end of 2011, where he would go 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA while garnering 40 strikeouts in just 31.0 innings, also holding opponents to a .193 BA.
There were rumblings about the 22-year-old being promoted to the majors last September, but that obviously didn’t happen. You can count on the youngster making his Brewer debut sometime in 2012, and there’s an outside chance he’ll be on the opening-day roster this March.
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