You’d be beating an already lifeless horse if you said that the Milwaukee Brewers have one of the most inept farm systems in all of Major League Baseball. Everyone knows it, and there’s really no other way of putting it.
However, a successful 2011 first-year player draft has officially put the Brewers back on the map in terms of markedly young talent in the minors. The club notched Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann and Georgia Tech LHP Jed Bradley in the first round last June, and both are expected to make leaps and bounds in their first year in the organization.
Outside of Jungmann and Bradley, though, things aren’t particularly saturated in talent. However, there are a number of prospects who may have their sights set on the majors. Let’s rank 10 prospects with the highest MLB ceilings down on the farm.
10. OF Caleb Gindl
There aren’t many true power hitters within the Brewers’ organization, and none of them look to have a very high ceiling at that. Gindl, though, might be an exception to that fact.
At 23 years old and four solid professional seasons under his belt, Gindl is as prepared as he’ll ever be to break through to the majors in 2012, even if it means simply being an off-the-bench type player. He’s amassed at least 13 home runs and 60 RBI in three seasons down in the minors. Not terribly impressive, but it was enough for Milwaukee to add him to their 40-man roster. Last season in triple-A, he maintained a .307/.390/.472 line with 15 home runs and 60 RBI. Couple his slightly above-average power with a competent glove, and he could get a chance to platoon with a number of other players in Ryan Braun’s spot in left field.
9. CF Logan Schafer
Schafer, 25, was at one point a very promising young star but a heated battle with injuries has derailed his development. Last year between high-A, double-A and triple-A ball, Schafer batted .315 with five home runs and 43 RBI. He also notched 16 stolen bases and scored 66 runs. He was promoted to the big leagues as a September call-up last season but only amassed three plate appearances.
At this point, it’s hard to distinguish what Schafer’s future holds in store. If I had to give it my best guess, I’d say he’s bound to be a utility, off-the-bench type player who probably won’t ever get a legitimate shot at a full-time starting role.
Rivera is one prospect that I would advise even the casual fan to keep up on. He’s a very young talent at just 19 years old and has the potential to be a defensive superstar at the major league level. He has extremely quick feet and has great range in the field.
That said, there are some concerns moving forward. In rookie ball in 2010, Rivera batted .209 with no home runs, 23 RBI and just a .257 slugging percentage. Last year between rookie and low-A ball, he batted .236 with nine home runs and 43 RBI, though he did manage to eclipse the 100-hit plateau. He does struggle with strikeouts, and that will be a stressing point moving forward in his development.
Tom Haudricourt projected on Baseball America last November that he expects Rivera to be Milwaukee’s starting shortstop at the beginning of the 2015 season. If that’s the case, who knows how high his ceiling might be.
7. RHP Jorge Lopez
Seldom do the Brewers take chances on unproven players coming out of high school through the draft, but Lopez was one omission to that tendency.
A third-round draft pick in last June’s draft, Lopez posted a 2.25 ERA in four starts in rookie ball last year. And while he only pitched 12.0 innings, there’s a growing sentiment around the organization that, with at least four years in the minors, he could be a back-end of the rotation type pitcher for Milwaukee. There’s still a lot left to be proved on Lopez’s end as his consistency is still in question, but his plus-average curveball is definitely something worth building off of.
6. RHP Jimmy Nelson
Truth be told, Nelson hasn’t yet put up the overwhelming statistics that come with being a “top prospect”. In 2010, Nelson went 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA and struck out 33 in 26.2 innings in rookie ball. He also garnered a 11.1 K/9 IP and a less-than-impressive 1.61 WHIP. Last year, he went 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA in 25 starts in low-A ball.
One thing that scouts take notice to is his big frame, which looks to translate well at the major league level. He’s able to go deep into games thanks to a average-power arm with a fastball topping out in the mid-90s. What separates him from the pack, though, is his plus-slider and improving changeup. Nelson has a ton of potential and at 22 years old, he’s already a seasoned pitcher down on the farm who will challenge to break through to the bullpen by late 2013. He projects to end up as a middle of the rotation starter.
Fans have anxiously awaited the day that Peralta, 22, makes the jump to the big leagues for quite some time now. The Brewers signed him to a minor league contract at the ripe age of 17, and, needless to say, he’s as ready as he’ll ever be.
Last year, the 6’2″, 240-pound right-hander went for 150.2 innings between double-A and triple-A, posting a 3.17 ERA and 9.4 K/9. He’s become notorious for his strikeout abilities but also for his lack of consistency, which will be a stressing point at spring training in February.
His fastball tops out in the low to mid 90s and has a plus slider that has serious potential. He’ll likely start 2012 in the bullpen and will eventually end up as an end-of-the rotation type pitcher in the coming years.
4. 2B Scooter Gennett
In a farm system largely dominated by pitching talent, Gennett has staked his claim as Milwaukee’s top infielding prospect.
At just 21 years old, Gennett already has two professional seasons to his credit. He skipped rookie ball and went straight to low-A ball where he batted .309 with nine home runs, 55 RBI and 87 runs scored. He also notched 14 stolen bases. Last year at Brevard County, he batted an even .300 with nine home runs, 51 RBI and 74 runs scored.
He’s slightly undersized which will clearly limit his power potential at the major league level, but his great work ethic and likability all work in his favor moving forward. His ceiling is limited, though, with Rickie Weeks holding down the fort at second-base. I do expect him to push for a starting role by 2014, nevertheless.
There are many differing opinions about what the future holds in store for Thornburg. Some say he has the stuff to be a No. 2-3 starter in the big leagues, others say his stature (5’11”, 185 pounds) could keep him from being a starter altogether.
The one thing I think we can all agree on, though, is that he’s been impressive thus far.
After posting a 1.93 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 23.1 innings in rookie ball, Thornburg made his way through low-A and high-A ball in 2010. He went 10-6 with a 2.57 ERA and struck out a remarkable 160 batters in just 136.2 innings of work in that time-frame.
Some have made comparisons of his unorthodox windup to that of Tim Lincecum’s in that it generates a considerable amount of torque on his arm. Whether or not that effects his development moving forward remains to be seen, but Thornburg has clearly made himself known throughout the minors. His ceiling is definitely high.
2. LHP Jed Bradley
Bradley may play second-fiddle to Taylor Jungmann once next season gets under way, but you’d be kidding yourself if you think there’s any substantial disparity in how successful their futures might be.
In his senior season at Georgia Tech, Bradley went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, struck out 106 in 98.0 innings (9.73 K/9 IP) and allowed just one home run. He held batters to a .239 BA and maintained a 1.22 WHIP.
His left-handed arm was a splendid addition in last June’s draft, and will be a key asset for the organization moving forward. He made his professional debut last fall in the Arizona Fall League, be struggled. Bradley is likely to start his 2012 campaign at the low-A level.
The overwhelming sentiment shared by scouts is that Taylor Jungmann has the potential to be a future star at the major league level for years to come. Please keep in mind he has yet to throw a professional pitch.
Last year at Texas, the tall, lanky right-hander went 13-3 with a remarkable 1.60 ERA. He also struck out 126 in 146.0 innings (8.04 K/9 IP), held opponents to a .165 BA and allowed just four home runs in 18 starts.
Most of his success at the collegiate level can be accredited to his power fastball that tops out at in the mid-90s. Scouts say there’s room for improvement with his secondary pitches, however his location is second-to-none. Jungmann has all the ingredients to be a legitimate No. 2 starter at the major league level, and there’s no doubting he has the highest ceiling of any current Brewer prospect.