The dawn of a new season is almost upon us, and for as much attention as the Brewers will get as opening day draws nearer, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for minor leauge baseball’s 2012 season. Let’s break down Milwaukee’s top 25 prospects heading into this season with a bold prediction for each player.
25. RHP David Goforth
Relatively unknown throughout the system, David Goforth is a sleeper prospect who could scoot through the system. Selected in the seventh round of last summer’s draft, scouts have taken notice to his concise two-pitch repertoire composed of a high-90s fastball and plus-average cutter. He found limited success as a starter in college, but his stuff suggests he should develop into an effective late-inning reliever. Last season in rookie ball, Goforth appeared in 19 games and posted a 4.43 ERA, struck out 42 in 40.1 innings of work and walked just 10. If there’s one knock on his game, it’s his command, but that should be cleared up as he moves his way through the system.
Prediction: I like what Goforth has to offer and see him developing into a solid reliever at the big league level. In regards to this season, though, I think he spends all of 2012 in low-A ball.
24. SS Yadiel Rivera
The Brewers thought they had their shortstop of the future in Alcides Escobar, but since he now resides in Kansas City, there’s suddenly a window of opportunity for 19-year-old Yadiel Rivera. A ninth-round selection out of Manuela Toro High School in Puerto Rico, Rivera has a tremendous amount of athleticism on the diamond. Through two professional seasons, the youngster carries an unimpressive .939 fielding percentage but made up for his inconsistencies with a 4.59 range factor. His bat remains in question after posting a combined .236 BA and .372 slugging percentage between rookie and low-A ball last season. He’ll also need to cut down on his strikeouts and discipline at the plate moving forward.
Prediction: Clearly, Rivera has a special gift when it comes to playing defense. His range is ridiculous given his time in the league but his inconsistencies are a question mark also. I look for him to start 2012 in low-A ball and get promoted to high-A ball by season’s end.
23. UTIL Zelous Wheeler
There’s always a high demand for players who can play multiple positions as the big league level, and Zelous Wheeler fits the bill as being a genuine utility-man for years to come. Since his rookie season in 2007, Wheeler has bounced his way around the diamond, getting playing time at shortstop, second-base and third base, carrying a .944 fielding percentage and 3.09 range. He’s been modest with the bat, as well, holding true to a career .271 BA and .408 slugging percentage. Wheeler’s game and journey to the majors is comparable to former Brewer utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. He’s got a great passion for the game and has the intangibles managers love.
Prediction: Having spent a considerable amount of time in double-A over the past two years, Wheeler could use some time in triple-A to refine his game, though he’s just about ready to contribute as an off-the-bench type player for the Brewers. I look for him to start 2012 in triple-A and earn a September call-up this fall.
At 26 years old, Brock Kjeldgaard barely qualifies as being a legitimate prospect. Taken by Milwaukee in the 34th round of the 2005 draft, Kjeldgaard has spent five professional seasons in the system, garnering a reputation for being a true slugger every step of the way. His career .464 slugging percentage .801 OPS stacks up nicely against the competition. Last season, Kjeldgaard blasted 24 home runs and 76 RBI to go with a .495 slugging percentage that ranked third best among all prospects in Milwaukee’s system.
Prediction: Though he may have power, I wouldn’t read too much into his future with the organization. Sure, the Brewers added him to their 40-man roster to start spring training, but I ultimately look for him to spend 2012 in triple-A.
21. RHP Mike Fiers
Another late-bloomer, 26-year-old Mike Fiers has spent just two seasons in the system. What he’s done in his time in the minors, though, has been truly impressive. In 290-plus career innings (37 GS), Fiers boasts a 2.50 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, striking out 321 while walking just 73 (4.40 K/BB). Last year, he went 13-3 with a 1.86 ERA and was named Milwaukee’s minor league pitcher of the year for his efforts. If he was a couple years younger, we might be talking about a top-caliber prospect.
Prediction: Fiers will come into spring training fully expecting to make the opening day roster, and I think he will do just that. I look for him to be a key contributor out of the ‘pen for the Brewers all season long.
20. RHP Nick Bucci
An 18th-round draft pick by the Brewers in 2008, Nick Bucci’s career up to this point has been anything but extraordinary. But after a solid 2011 season in high-A Brevard County where he went 8-11 with a 3.84 ERA, things could be looking up for the youngster. After struggling with command issues that led to an abysmal 5.07 BB/9 IP in 2010, Bucci recovered in 2011, lowering his his BB/9 IP to a wholesome 3.06. While his ERA will need to be lowered a tad in the coming season, there’s no doubt Bucci has quality stuff. His fastball tops out anywhere from 89-93 MPH and often flashes a plus-average curveball that could present itself as a real weapon in the coming years.
Prediction: The way I and many scouts see it, Bucci has the makings of a quality relief pitcher at the major league level, though that could still be a ways off at this point. He has the ideal frame to be a solid arm out of the bullpen and has a slightly plus-average fastball that should serve him well. I predict Bucci to come out the gates strong to start this season and eventually find his way to triple-A.
The Brewers are markedly devoid of talented left-handed pitching down on the farm, but Dan Meadows has a decent chance to break through to the majors sometime in the near future. At 24 years old, Meadows has four seasons of professional ball under his belt and has performed well in each. In 2009, he started 11 games for low-A Wisconsin and went 13-6 with a 4.01 ERA, showing the ability to be an innings-eater as a starter though he really shined in his role as a middle-innings reliever. Last season in triple-A, Meadows pitched 35.2 innings, striking out 35 while holding batters to a .248 BA. He’s flashed solid control throughout his career and is able to make up for his lack of velocity with a lethal slider, his go-to pitch in tough jams.
Prediction: It’s already a given that Meadows will start in triple-A, though what he does in his time there will determine how fast he reaches the majors. I look for him to spend all of 2012 down in Nashville to prime himself for a promotion in 2013.
18. RHP Santo Manzanillo
Santo Manzanillo found his way into the system as a non-draft pick free agent in 2006, but has only recently tapped into his capabilities as a premium reliever. Last season, the 6’0″, 190-pounder made his way through high-A Brevard County as well as double-A Huntsville, garnering a combined 1.75 ERA with 62 strikeouts (9.0 K/9 IP), 1.14 WHIP and .194 BAA. Manzanillo has a plus-fastball that has allowed him to materialize into one of the Brewers’ top strikeouts prospects, topping out at 99 and regularly sitting in the 94-97 range. If he’s able to limit batters in the fashion he’s shown thus far, he could be placed on the fast-track to reach the majors sometime in 2013.
Prediction: After separating his right shoulder in a car accident last December, the Brewers will obviously err on the side of caution with Manzanillo moving forward. With that in mind, I think he spends his entire 2012 campaign in double-A.
Once upon a time, Kyle Heckathorn was arguably Milwaukee’s top evolving starter and looked to push for the big leagues by 2013. In 2010, the big right-hander was awarded as the Brewers’ top pitching prospect in the entire system, going 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA and walking just 33 batters in 124 innings between low-A and high-A ball. His success curtailed in 2011, though, posting an unsightly 7.18 ERA in seven starts in double-A. While there’s certainly some cause for concern after such an abhorrent preview to double-A ball, we must not forget what Heckathorn brings to the table. At 6’6″, 225 pounds, Heckathorn has the physical makings of a mid-rotation innings-eater at the big league level. His fastball ranges anywhere from 97-93 MPH and he also features a hard slider and changeup that has, at times, garnered a considerable amount of attention from scouts.
Prediction: I tend to be a bit more optimistic about Heckathorn than many scouts. His physical makeup screams future starter at the big league level. I expect him to re-dedicate himself and eventually move his way up to triple-A before the end of next season.
16. CF, RF Kentrail Davis
Admittedly, watching Kentrail Davis play is a bit aggravating. While has the speed, plate discipline, and physical makeup that would allow him to be an excellent leadoff hitter at the major league level, he has yet to develop and tap-into his power potential at the plate, one of the prevailing reasons why he has yet to break through to the upper minors. Last season at high-A Brevard County, Davis batted .245 with eight home runs, 46 RBI, 76 runs scored while also notching 33 stolen bases. He only managed a .317 on-base percentage and .361 slugging percentage, though, making it rather apparent that he still has a while to develop.
Prediction: This will be a defining year for Davis in his quest for the majors. He’s now spent two seasons in high-A ball and is still looking for a promotion double-A. After a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League, I think he starts 2012 in high-A and merits an early promotion, spending the remainder of his season in double-A Huntsville.
15. RHP Austin Ross
One of the key elements from the Brewers’ exceptionally successful 2010 draft, Austin Ross has the makings of a solid back-of-the-rotation starter at the major league level. After a solid rookie campaign in Helena, Ross worked his way through the lower-portion of the system in 2011. Going 10-7 with a 5.28 ERA in 25 starts between low-A and high-A ball, he’s shown to be ready to break through to double-A in the very near future, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s promoted early on in 2012. Unlike most of the pitchers featured on this list, Ross’ game is predicated on working his way around batters with above-average control as well as his ability to limit his mistakes. I like what he has to offer and find his game comparable to Jeff Suppan.
Prediction: The fact that Ross is already on the cusp of breaking through to double-A ball after just two professional seasons speaks volumes to his game. I look for him to start 2012 in high-A ball but quickly get promoted to double-A.
At this stage of his once very promising career, Amaury Rivas barely qualifies as a prospect. He’s now 26 years old and has just stumbled his way through the system thus far. Signing as a non-draft pick back in 2005, Rivas’ game was a pedestrian as you can imagine. However, after a promotion to high-A ball in 2009, his production took off, going 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA, 123 strikeouts (8.3 K/9 IP) and .218 BAA. Last season in triple-A ball, Rivas went 7-12 with a repulsive 4.72 ERA. However, that was the least of his worries, as he managed to strike out just 16 percent of his batters, which was at one point one of the staples to his game. He should probably be higher on this list, but such an ugly 2011 campaign has reignited my doubts about his future.
Prediction: In my mind, 2012 will prove to be either Rivas’ breakout year to the majors or the year he puts himself in the same category as Mark Rogers as being an utter disappointment. Unfortunately, I just don’t see him getting out of triple-A this year; possibly a September call-up with minimal opportunities at best.
13. 2B Eric Farris
Just two years ago, Eric Farris was the toast of the entire Brewers organization. Hoarding an unprecedented 70 stolen bases in just 124 games at high-A Brevard County, he was seemingly on the cusp of breaking through to the majors after just his third minor league season. However, knee injury early in 2010 derailed his momentum, setting him back a few years as management continues to err on the side of caution. Last year at triple-A, Farris got back into the swing of things and managed a .271 BA with six home runs, 55 RBI, 70 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. He’ll turn 26 in March, and his time in the minors would be well past him if not for Rickie Weeks holding things down at second base.
Prediction: In almost any other farm system, Farris would be considered a top prospect — and deservedly so. His speed is overwhelming and, as I see it, will manifest itself in the form of a September call-up next fall.
12. RHP Cody Scarpetta
There have been few prospects that have come through Milwaukee’s system with as much upside as Cody Scarpetta. An 11th round draft pick in 2007, he’s posted some truly impressive numbers thus far in his professional career. In high-A ball in 2010, Scarpetta went the distance by administering 128 innings with a 3.87 ERA, striking out 142 (10 K/9 IP) while holding batters to a .241 BA. Thanks to a fastball that ranges from 90-94 MPH with what many scouts deem the system’s best curveball, Scarpetta has tremendous strikeout abilities. His command is in question, though, as his SO/BB ratio fell to an abysmal 1.61 last year in double-A.
Prediction: Scarpetta’s prowess on the mound was supposed to make him a top-tier prospect a few years back. His production has diminished, clearly, but I still see a ton of potential. I look for him to start 2012 in double-A and ultimately reach triple-A sometime in mid-summer.
With Prince Fielder gone, there’s never been a better time to be a first-base prospect in the Brewers’ system. Consequently, things could (and will) be looking up for Hunter Morris. In just two professional seasons, Morris has managed to tear his way through the system thanks in large part to his undeniable amount of power. The Auburn product lit up opposing pitching in high-A ball early on in 2011 to the tune of 20 home runs, 69 RBI and a .461 slugging percentage, prompting a late-season promotion to double-A ball. It should be interesting to see how Morris’ game translates to the upper levels of the minors, as pitching will become much more polished.
Prediction: If Mat Gamel struggles to replace Fielder this season, I think management will push Morris up to triple-A by the end of 2012. Regardless, I look for him to end up in triple-A at season’s end.
10. RF 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.
Prediction: Gindl will come into spring training with a legitimate chance at making the opening-day 25-man roster. And though nothing is for certain even in early February, I expect him to start his 2012 campaign in triple-A and wind up as a September call-up.
9. RHP Jorge Lopez
The Brewers were hell-bent on stockpiling young arms in last summer’s draft, and they managed to nab Jorge Lopez in the second-round. He was the top rated prospect coming out of Puerto Rico and Milwaukee certainly liked what the youngster has to offer. At 6’4″, 165 pounds, the 18-year-old right-hander has the size to be a durable mid-rotation starter at the big league level, though there’s no doubting he’ll need to pack on some strength as he moves his way through the organization. His fastball tops out at the mid to low 90s and has a curveball that may develop into a plus-pitch. Lopez does have command issues but that should be clear up in a timely fashion. Last year in rookie ball he started four games and garnered a 2.25 ERA, striking out 10 and walking three in 12 innings.
Prediction: From what I’ve gathered, scouts are surprisingly high on Lopez and I anticipate him moving through the system swiftly. I’ve had limited opportunities to watch highlights of his game, but when I’ve been able to break down his stuff, I think he’s got a tremendous amount of potential. That said, I think he winds up in low-A ball for the entirety of 2012.
Ever wondered what scouts mean by the “ideal frame” when talking about young pitchers? One look at Jimmy Nelson will explain everything. One of the cornerstone’s to Milwaukee’s 2010 draft, Nelson weighs in at 6’6″, 245 pounds and uses every ounce of his prototypical frame to his advantage. He features a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a slider that’s arguably the best in the system, as well as a solid changeup that’s improved leaps and bounds over the past year. Nelson spent his entire 2011 campaign in low-A ball, going 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA, 120 strikeouts in 146 innings. He stumbled with walks, managing a 1.85 SO/BB ratio, however he held batters to a .260 BA.
Prediction: It remains to be seen where he’ll start 2012, but my gut feeling tells me he’ll stay put. Having said that, though, I have great confidence in Nelson to move his way up to double-A ball by the end of 2012, as he’s simply one of the most surefire pitching prospects the Brewers have seen in a while.
7. CF Logan Schafer
At 25 years old, Logan Scafer has been knocking on door to the majors for a while now. And with Milwaukee’s current outfield situation, now will be his time to make an impression on the organization. Drafted by the Brewers back in 2008, Schafer has proved to be the closest there is to a five-tool player in the system. Last season, he batted .315 with five home runs, 43 RBI, 66 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. He’s been a defensive wiz in the outfield, garnering a career .988 fielding percentage while commiting just seven errors. Schafer’s capabilities merited a September call-up last fall, though he remained solely an off-the-bench player and was only allowed three plate appearances.
Prediction: Ryan Braun’s absence presents a perfect situation for Schafer to strut his stuff early on this season. If he can impress Ron Roenicke during spring training, I think he could get a considerable amount of playing time.
Smaller players will always be subject to great amounts of skepticism, but Scooter Gennett has been able to prove his doubters wrong up to this point in his career. In his first two professional seasons, the 21-year-old Florida State product has averaged a .304 BA, nine home runs, 53 RBI, 13 stolen bases and 81 runs scored per season through low-A and high-A ball. And while his stature would lead you to believe otherwise, he does have gap power, managing 59 total doubles and a .433 slugging percentage. Originally drafted as a shortstop, Gennett now resides at second base, where he does have work to do, garnering a career .964 fielding percentage.
Prediction: Coming off a stellar Arizona Fall League showcase, Gennett’s stock is currently soaring. Nevertheless, I still expect him to start 2012 in high-A ball and make the hardest jump to double-A ball sometime in June.
5. 3B Taylor Green
Taylor Green was one of the best hitters in the minors leagues last season, and there’s really not much more you need to know than that. In 120 games at the triple-A level, Green dominated the Pacific Coast league to the tune of a .336 BA, 22 home runs and 88 RBI. He led the organization in BA, on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.580), and was named the Brewers’ top positional prospect for 2011. Thanks to Casey McGehee’s struggles, Green earned a September call-up last fall and found his way onto the field, amassing 10 hits in 37 at-bats during his time with the Brewers.
Prediction: The signing of Aramis Ramirez doesn’t bode well for Green, who was hoping for a shot at the starting position coming into the offseason. I look for him to become an off-the-bench type player in his first full season with Milwaukee.
In a farm system devoid of top-tier pitching talent, Tyler Thornburg has transformed into the complete pitcher the Brewers recognized when they took him 96th overall in the 2010 draft. In his first two professional seasons, Thornburg has been a strikeout machine, punching out 198 batters in 160 innings, enough for a rather impressive 11.1 K/9 ratio. He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and has a curveball that has developed into his strikeout pitch. Last season at high-A Brevard County, he went 3-6 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. However, what’s most impressive is how he held batters to a remarkable .186 BA and .256 BABIP.
Prediction: In my eyes, Thornburg is in for a huge year. He’s already proven to be competent at just about every facet of his craft, and he’s now ready to sprint through the system. If he can cut down his walks — as I expect him to — I see him pushing for triple-A by season’s end.
3. LHP Jed Bradley
Jed Bradley was high on many teams’ draft boards last June, and needless to say, the Brewers were ecstatic that the exemplary left-hander fell to them at 15th overall. In his junior season at Georgia Tech, Bradley went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out 106 batters in just 98 innings. He also held batters to a feeble .239 BA and, believe it or not, conceded just one home run to the opposition all season. The 21-year-old southpaw has three credible pitches at his disposal and uses each to his liking. He touched 94 MPH with his fastball, 83-84 MPH with his changeup at the Arizona Fall League last fall and also worked on polishing his low 80s slider. He’s got a fluid throwing motion that needs little to no refinement,
Prediction: Rumor has it that Bradley will start 2012 at high-A Brevard County as he looks to speed through the system in the coming year(s). I used parentheses because there’s some speculation that says he could see playing time in triple-A this season, though that doesn’t seem likely. I look for him to strut his stuff at high-A ball and take his talents to double-A late next season.
2. RHP Taylor Jungmann
College baseball’s top player from a season ago will come into spring training with a surplus of hype, and deservedly so. In his last season at Texas, Taylor Jungmann dominated the Big 12 and the rest of the country to the tune of a 13-3 record, minuscule 1.60 ERA, .165 BAA while striking out 126 batters in 141 innings of work. He also posted a 0.83 WHIP and allowed just four home runs all season. When the Brewers took him 12th overall in last June’s draft, it’s safe to say they found they’re ace of the future behind Yovani Gallardo. Jungmann’s MLB ceiling is incredibly high and as we visited last month, I believe he has the most potential among all Brewers prospects. His thin yet sustainable body has enabled his fastball to reach the 95-97 MPH range with great command.
Prediction: Word on the street says Jungmann will start 2012 in high-A ball, and all signs are pointing to him racing through the system. If that’s the case, I think we could see him in double-A by season’s end.
Wily Peralta’s journey through Milwaukee’s system has been well-documented, signing at the ripe age of 16. Now at 22 years old and six professional seasons under his belt, he’s ready to contribute at the major league level. Last season between double-A and triple-A ball, the 6’2″, 240-pound right-hander went a combined 11-7 with a solid 3.17 ERA. He also struck out 157 in 150.2 innings, holding batters to a .233 BA in the meantime thanks to his mid-90s fastball and plus-average slider and changeup. Brewers fans have awaited Peralta’s big-league debut for a while now, and all indications are that he’ll be on the opening day roster, most likely contributing out of the bullpen.
Prediction: While Peralta’s minor league days may be behind him, I don’t think we should expect him be a big contributor right out of the gates. Nevertheless, I look for him to make at least one start for the Brewers by the end of 2012.