It was undoubtedly a year worth looking back on with exuberance for the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system.
Coming into the season, you would have been hard-pressed to find the Brewers’ collective system placed above of the bottom-five overall in many organizational rankings among big-league ball clubs. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus followed that trend, with BA ranking Milwaukee at No. 26 overall prior to the season and BP placing Milwaukee at an even worse No. 28 overall.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone with a fundamental knowledge of the Brewers’ minor-league talent, of course. The Zack Greinke trade of two winters ago left the talent-pool excessively thin, consequently leaving 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Wily Peralta with the proverbial “top prospect” moniker prior to the season after a tremendous 2011 campaign. First-round picks from 2011 Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley were also seen as guys who could take home top-prospect honors after the season, as well as right-hander Tyler Thornburg. After that, there weren’t many youngsters who looked to be of any relevance anytime soon at the big-league level.
However, after a fruitful 2012 draft class and the trade that made Greinke a Halo, subsequently giving Milwaukee three intriguing prospects to add to the system, things are looking up and fans can now expect a steady influx of talent to the big-league roster as early as the start of next season.
So with the season essentially over, it seems fitting for me to update my end-of-season top-25 prospect rankings.
1. Wily Peralta, RHP — Walks have been up due to control regressions and will need to show more refined control of his heavy fastball. However, pure swing-and-miss ability is certainly there; his slider has great diving action and will be a definite asset down the road. Have no doubt he’ll show signs of potential out of the ‘pen this month and with a good spring training should be the No. 5 starter come April.
2. Taylor Jungmann, RHP — Has been anything but the strikeout hoarder he was in college but has absolutely looked the part of a top prospect in every other aspect. Is always around the plate and hits his spots consistently; knows how to set-up hitters with his secondary offerings and hardly ever gives up the long-ball. A good looking prospect in my book.
3. Tyler Thornburg, RHP — Milwaukee’s prospect darling has been outstanding by all accounts in 2012; the raw statistics are there to support his case to be in the rotation come next April. Still, I have concerns; namely with his pure stuff. His fastball gets crushed when over the plate, is way to reliant on the pitch and furthermore doesn’t induce a lot of ground-balls. His curveball — though having nice movement — is much too inconsistent control-wise. Add on that he still hasn’t developed a good feel for his changeup and his lack of stamina, and, yes, I have my doubts. Will be a reliever when all said and done.
4. Jimmy Nelson, RHP — Got off to a scorching start in high-A but ran into troubles — and shoulder fatigue — upon being promoted to double-A midway through the season. One of my favorite prospects in the system; massive yet prototype 6’6″, 245 build makes him highly durable. Good three-pitch mix with a promising sinker and plus-average slider that’s already MLB ready. The ability to control his fastball will be the key moving forward. Could push for a spot start by the end of next season.
5. Logan Schafer, OF — Knocking on the major-league door for a while now, Schafer should get at least minimal playing time in September. Impress, and he will certainly challenge Carlos Gomez for the starting job in center field next season. Disappoint, and who knows what happens.
6. Hunter Morris, 1B — The lack of a quality approach at the plate dampened his otherwise impressive power numbers from 2010 to 2011, nearly to the point where scouts questioned his ability to grow into a serviceable bat in the bigs. But while his strikeout rate remains somewhat high, he is drawing more walks and is developing a more refined approach. Further improvement in that area could mean he is starts for Milwaukee at first base in 2014.
7. Clint Coulter, C/DH — Milwaukee’s 2012 first-round pick has struggled behind the plate but has thrived at it. With 22 passed balls in just 25 games, catching may not be where he best projects at the next level; maybe a first base or third base. However, his impressive eye at the plate — as evidenced by his .429 OBP — is a great sign for the organization.
8. Jed Bradley, LHP — It was a season filled with disappointment and injury for the 22-year-old southpaw. Missed a stretch of time due to a groin strain and has not pitched since August 8 due to arm soreness. Still believe the stuff is there to be a future No. 3, but will need to refine his command before he becomes what scouts project him to be.
9. Johnny Hellweg, RHP — Second piece received in the Greinke deal, Hellweg stands in at a healthy 6’9″, 205 pounds. Has very good raw stuff including a mid-90s fastball that induces ground balls. Doesn’t have much control over his secondary offerings and has walked nearly as many as he’s struck out in his short stint in the system. I believe he would be an excellent late-inning reliever down the road.
10. Khris Davis, OF — Scouts aren’t high on his toolset but his statistics are tough to ignore. Slugged his way to a .383/.484/.641 line in 44 double-A games and got the call to Nashville, where he ran into troubles but is still boasting a nice 119 wRC+ through roughly 30 games. Not entirely sure he has a position to play on the big-league roster; may ultimately wind up as trade bait.
11. Ariel Pena, RHP — The final piece in the Greinke trade, Pena also has the stuff to suggest he could be a backline starter in the bigs. His devastating changeup gets hitters off his fastball, but lacks a quality breaking pitch. Doesn’t induce a lot of ground-balls and control issues are troubling. A strong spring training could put him on an early call-up list next season.
12. Scooter Gennett, 2B — Has thrived off his ability to hit for singles and pound the outfield gaps with well below-average power. Pushing to hit over .300 for his third consecutive season. Sees the ball well and has good knowledge of the strikezone, still developing as a defensive second-baseman. His diminutive 5’9″, 185 pound frame still concerns scouts.
13. Victor Roache, OF — Selected with their second first-round pick this past June, Roache’s broken right wrist suffered during his final year at Georgia Southern has kept him from playing time this summer, as he’s rehabbed in Arizona in preparation for fall and winter instructional leagues. Athletic build with a ton of pop in his bat, could end up as a corner outfielder.
14. Hiram Burgos, RHP — Started in high-A and moved all the way up to triple-A, where his stuff has stacked up well against the competition. Won’t blow batters away but shows a good feel for each of his pitches. Much more of a fly-ball pitcher than a ground-out pitcher. Will have the chance to be on the opening day roster with a strong 2013 preseason.
15. Caleb Gindl, OF — The stocky 5’9″ outfielder has been waiting to burst onto the big league scene for two seasons now and should get the call this September as a depth-adding corner arm. Got off to an abysmally slow start but has since found his stroke; put up a .319/.370/.527 line in July and furthermore managed to raise his slugging percentage up to a respectable .429. Unfortunately, there doesn’t look to be anywhere on the roster for him to play next season.
16. Kentrail Davis, OF — I’ve always loved Davis’ tools; is extremely athletic with plus-speed on the bases and in the outfield. His bat has been in question for his entire playing career, but has shown great signs of improvement this season. Displaying good discipline at the plate and improved power during his stay in double-A this season.
17. Drew Gagnon, RHP — The Brewers’ fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft has produced well above what many had anticipated to this juncture of his career. Posted a very nice 2.83 ERA over six starts with low-A Appleton and got the call to Brevard County this summer. While he’s struggled to produce ground outs consistently, his credible fastball-curve-changeup repertoire has worked splendidly against the competition. Could turn out to be a future No. 5 in a best-case scenario.
18. Jorge Lopez, RHP — A youngster who still has a ways before he fills out physically, Lopez has racked up the strikeouts during his second season in the system but at the same has struggled to control his fastball-curve-changeup mix. Scouts love his overall upside and its tough to disagree. Could become a mid-rotation arm in at his very best — a middle-inning reliever at his very worst.
19. Mitch Haniger, OF — Found immediate success in low-A Appleton after becoming the Brewers’ third and final first-round pick in last June’s draft, however an untimely PCL tear ended his rookie stint. Has a very well-rounded game without any noticeable weakness. Has gap power to all fields; solid defender with plus-arm, good work ethic and makeup. Really like his game. Will be interesting to see how his bounces back from injury next season.
20. Yadiel Rivera, SS — A defensive whiz at shortstop, no one will argue that his glove doesn’t project to be plus-average at the next level — his bat, however, is an entirely different story. Still learning to repeat his mechanics and overall plate discipline, Rivera’s hit tool still remains in question. The good part is that time is on his side; at just 20 years old, he should finish next season in high-A and with improvements there could skyrocket to the upper minors. Definitely a name worth watching next season.
21. Tyrone Taylor, OF — Exceeded expectations in rookie ball after being taken in the second round of last June’s draft, especially with his bat; posted a .387/.434/.667 line in 83 trips to the plate this season before injury sidelined him on July 22. His bat will need some mechanical tune-ups as he continues to move up the ladder. Could be a lethal base-stealer down the road.
22. David Goforth, RHP — The Mississippi State product blew past hitters in rookie ball last season out of the bullpen, striking out over a batter per inning. This season, that has been anything but the same in low-A ball — strictly as a starter, Goforth punched out a very average 5.7 batters per nine innings over 27 starts. I’m not too high on his overall arsenal of pitches but his slider certainly looks the part of a big-league swing-and-miss pitch.
23. Jose Pena, OF — After two full seasons in the Dominican Summer League, the raw 19-year-old earned a promotion to Helena after putting up a scintillating .877 OPS in the rookie Arizona League. He now boasts a .309/.316/.582 line in 57 plate appearances and looks like a very intriguing youngster in the system.
24. Eric Farris, 2B — The once highly-touted second baseman began his 2012 campaign ridiculously slow at the plate but he’s recovered to boast a very nice .286/.328/.378 line. His haste on the bases has been far from what it was during his early days in the organization but still nabbed 33 bases in 129 games. Nevertheless, would be a nice depth-providing roster addition this September.
25. Nick Ramirez, 1B — A defensively cumbersome first-baseman with plus raw power at the dish, Ramirez has witnessed massive declines in his offensive production this season juxtaposed to his rookie 2011 campaign, most notably with respect to his plate discipline. A great fastball hitter, the Cal State Fullerton product just can’t seem to stay on breaking offerings and that has in turn led to a strikeout rate of 34 percent this season. His capacity to become a more disciplined hitter will determine his big-league ceiling.
Player Not Mentioned Worth Watching in 2013: Chris McFarland, 2B
Taken in the 18th round of the 2011 draft out of Lufkin (TX.) High School as a groomed middle-infield defender, McFarland made a permanent transition to second base this season — his rookie season — and has flourished. His above-average athleticism enabled him to post a range factor of 4.36 and turn 37 double plays in just 59 games with the rookie club in Helena, though he certainly won’t be limited to that position moving forward. He showed scouts during his high school days that he is a very capable outfielder with a strong arm and quick release to stick at nearly any position on the diamond.
Offensively, McFarland has also impressed. A quick bat that produces natural gap-power to all fields has allowed him to post a .299/.355/.420 line over 292 plate appearances this season to go with a .398 BABIP and .354 wOBA. Like many raw youngsters, though, McFarland struggles somewhat to repeat his mechanics and remained disciplined on off-speed and breaking offerings, as evidenced by a concerning 0.28 BB/K ratio.
Given his impressive showing this season in rookie ball, I would be shocked to see him remain there next season. It looks like he’s ready to move up to low-A Appleton.