At the beginning of the season, the Brewers maintained a minor league farm system that many scouting databases deemed one of the worst Major League Baseball. Despite utilizing four first-round draft picks in each of the last two first-year player drafts, the organization entered 2013 without any of its prospects considered to be future stars at the next level. As of Wednesday evening, no Brewers farmhands were featured in Jonathan Mayo‘s top 100 rankings over at MLB.com.
Yet the first month of the minor league season proved Milwaukee’s farm system may not be as shallow as previously thought. Several pitchers and position players with relatively low stocks heading into the season have caught the eyes of scouts early on, and could be well on their way to promotions in the near future. Conversely, some prospects have witnessed their stocks decline after a month’s worth of play.
Who’s Hot: Cameron Garfield, C, class-A advanced Brevard County Manatees
2013 stats: .265/.294/.510, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 12 R, .358 wOBA (102 PA)
Quite possibly no prospect in the system got off to a hotter start at the plate with respect to power numbers this season than Garfield, who with five home runs in 24 games is already approaching the 12 home runs over 66 games he mashed last season with low-A Appleton. Behind the dish, Garfield improved immensely in April, committing just three errors and allowing three passed balls in 20 games, boasting an improved 8.00 range factor that’s on par with the likes of Buster Posey.
Who’s Not: Clint Coulter, C, class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
2013 stats: .186/.275/.356, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 R, .291 wOBA (69 PA)
Coulter, last summer’s 27th overall selection in the first-year player draft, certainly gave fans enough reason for optimism after posting a slash line of .302/.439/.444 and a .419 wOBA over 49 games in rookie ball last season, and his decent play behind the plate only added to that. His first month of 2013, however, was far from that. In his first stint in low-A ball, Coulter’s strikeout rate (23.2%) increased, walk rate (10.1%) decreased and has yet to produce a multi-hit game. His fielding efficiency (.953 Fld%) and range (7.36 RF) behind home plate regressed, too.
Who’s Hot: Mitch Haniger, RF, class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
2013 stats: .289/.367/.474, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 8 R, .380 wOBA (90 PA)
Haniger’s 2012 campaign in low-A was cut short by a PCL injury in his right leg, but after a strong spring training showing in Arizona and scalding return to the Timber Rattlers, the injury doesn’t seem to be affecting his performance. While his batting average and slugging percentage remain close to where they were last season, April revealed a much more selective approach from Haniger. He cut his strikeout rate (11.1%) by a handsome 12 points from where it was last season and his range in the outfield has improved a notch.
Who’s Hot: Scooter Gennett, 2B, triple-A Nashville Sounds
2013 stats: .403/.425/.468, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 12 R, 4 SB, .406 wOBA (81 PA)
With each passing day, it seems the debate over whether or not the Brewers should give Gennett an opportunity to contribute gains considerably more steam — and his hot start at the plate in April is a big reason why. Though his strikeout rate (13.6%) is up and walk rate (2.5%) are down from last season, he found plenty of holes in defenses, producing a .470 BABIP with triple-A Nashville. Gennett’s lack of power may be the only thing holding him back from a big league promotion.
Who’s Not: Taylor Jungmann, RHP, double-A Huntsville Stars
2013 stats: 1-4 (5 GS), 7.89 ERA (5.42 FIP), 16 K/14 BB, 1.57 WHIP, .250 BAA
When the Brewers took Jungmann at No. 12 overall in the 2011 draft, they were told they were drafting a pitcher with great command, tremendous strikeout capabilities and a guy who would more often than not go deep in to each start. But in his first month in the double-A Southern League, he looked far from that. In five starts, Jungmann put nearly as many men on base via walk (14) as he did strike out (16), and he lasted on average only 4.2 innings in those starts. Granted, he held batters to a .250 average and .290 BABIP, but the fact that his previously touted command has been nearly non-existent this season is reason for concern.
Who’s Not: Drew Gagnon, RHP, class-A advanced Brevard County Manatees
2013 stats: 1-2 (5 GS), 7.36 ERA (4.02 FIP), 22 K/11 BB, 1.82 WHIP, .319 BAA
Gagnon’s April began underwhelmingly, allowing 18 earned runs to cross home over his first four starts of the season, which totaled just 16.2 innings. However, he would rebound in his final start of the month in which he pitched 5.1 innings and allowed just four baserunners. Hopefully the end of the month is sign of good things to come because, as a whole, Gagnon’s command regressed tremendously. His WHIP of 1.82 in April was a far cry from the impressive 1.10 WHIP he posted last season in high-A ball.
Who’s Hot: Jimmy Nelson, RHP, double-A Huntsville Stars
2013 stats: 3-0 (5 GS), 1.30 ERA (1.65 FIP), 32 K/5 BB, 0.83 WHIP, .177 BAA
Though the Alabama product made huge strides during his stay at high-A and double-A ball last season, Nelson told me in Janurary that the biggest concern for him was being consistent from start to start . And that’s exactly what he did in April. In none of his five starts did he last through less than five innings and in none of those did he allow more than five hits. His swing-and-miss capabilities have revealed themselves on a regular basis and his command has been superb. Shouldn’t be too much longer before Nelson gets the call to triple-A.
Who’s Not: Ariel Pena, RHP, double-A Huntsville Stars
2013 stats: 1-2 (5 GS), 4.84 ERA (6.87 FIP), 12 K/18 BB, 1.52 WHIP, .208 BAA
Acquired in the Zack Greinke trade last season, many scouts believed Pena had the potential to be a back-of-the-rotation arm. Not even a year later, and there are concerns that he may not be a serviceable reliever. In five starts with double-A Huntsville this April, Pena’s swing-and-miss stuff vanished and his command only worsened, in turn leading to an obscene 7.25 BB/9 rate and disheartening 4.84 K/9 rate. No starter in the organization had a more rough opening month than Pena.
Who to keep an eye on
Michael Reed, OF, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (.323/.384/.446, .382 wOBA) –Accumulated four doubles, two triples and 29 total bases in April, finishing out the month with a nice seven-game hit streak.
Nick Ramirez, 1B, Brevard County Manatees (.245/.312/.439, .320 wOBA) – Strikeouts are still a problem, but raised his walk rate by over three percentage points from last season en route to 45 total bases.
Jacob Barnes, RHP, Brevard County Manatees (2-0, 1.08 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 12 K/5 BB, 16.2 IP) – Held batters to a palty .177 average and posted a 0.96 WHIP in three starts and one relief appearance.
Damien Magnifico, RHP, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (2-0, 4.00 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 19 K/7 BB, 18 IP) – Walks are down and strikeouts have increased, and has strutted his triple-digit four-seam fastball on a regular basis. Tremendous potential as a late-inning reliever if these all continue.
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to see Milwaukee Brewers OF prospect Victor Roache in action in one of his first few low-A Midwest League games. Roache, the 28th overall selection from last summer’s first-year player draft, went 1-for-4 with a double and drew a walk against South Bend Silver Hawks pitching. After last night’s game, the 22-year-old boasted a season slash line of .273/.359/.424 with total of three extra-base hits.
Below is the scouting video I put together on his night. Expect a full scouting report later in the season to be posted. Enjoy!
It was an ugly sight.
In the bottom of the third inning with the bases loaded and no outs in a tightly-contested contest with the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun stepped into the batter’s box with every intention of giving his club the lead with at the very least a base knock — something the 28-year-old former National League Most Valuable Player has accomplished a time or two during his tenure with the club.
Problem was, that didn’t happen. Something else did.
After battling deep into the count in his third-inning at-bat against the crafty Barry Zito, Braun came up empty on a high-and-outside (emphasis on the ‘high’ and the ‘outside’) fastball from Zito, ending whatever hope was left for that base knock I mentioned earlier. (Rickie Weeks followed Braun’s strikeout with a clutch double that plated two runners, but I digress.)
Swinging-and-missing is not something Braun has become known for during his career with Milwaukee, but that was exactly what happened Tuesday night. In total, Giants pitching induced eight swings-and-misses from Braun, his highest single-game total of the young season.
But it was that bases-loaded, at-bat ending swing at a pitch nearly eye-level that was most disheartening for Braun in the series opener. I myself questioned its validity.
Whatever the case may be, that swing was, as I said earlier, an ugly sight. Unfortunately, this has become somewhat of a norm for Braun this season.
While it is probably too early yet to conclusively say whether or not Braun is witnessing a regression with respect to his plate discipline this season, the numbers are certainly there to support it.
At first glance, it seems Braun is yet again off to a hot regular-season start — boasting a handsome yet not overwhelming .286/.375/.543 slash line with two home runs, eight runs batted in and a stolen base. He seems to be driving the ball to all fields and getting on base in ways he only knows how. That’s where the positives end and the negatives begin, however.
With respect to the plate discipline I alluded to earlier, things have taken a wrong turn south this season for Braun.
After Tuesday night’s contest — in which he went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts — the face of the franchise is has now struck out (15) in 37.5% of his plate appearances (40) this season compared to drawing just five walks, two of which were intentional. This is alarmingly high, notwithstanding the fact that he has played in just nine games this season. And it all starts with the fact that Braun is unprotected in Ron Roenicke’s current lineup.
Since Aramis Ramirez was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 6, Braun has struggled at the plate considerably. In the six games since the injury, he has gone 6-for-27 (.222) with just three extra base hits. More important is the fact that Braun has struck out 12 times and walked just twice.
In Ramirez’s absence, Rickie Weeks simply hasn’t provided Braun sufficient protection. In turn, Braun seems to be pressing to swing the bat at pitches he otherwise would not, despite the fact that he has actually seen less pitches in the strikezone this season compared to last. According to FanGraphs, Braun has seen just 42.7 percent his pitches be called for strikes, a career low, and down from 45.6 percent last season.
These two facts do not bode well for Milwaukee, as sources have indicated that Ramirez will by no means be rushed back off the disabled list. It could be a decent amount of time before he returns to Roenicke’s roster at full health.
Delving a bit deeper into the statistics, we find there is more reason for concern for Braun. FanGraphs’ pitch F/X data says that Braun has struggled to contact pitches outside and inside the strikezone.
The table above illustrates Braun’s early struggles. As you can see, Braun’s overall contact rate has dropped by over 10 points from last season — by far and away a career-low.
His O-Contact rate (the percentage of times a batter makes contact with a pitch thrown outside the strike zone) has also dipped from where it was last season and his Z-Contact rate (contact on pitches in the strike zone) has also dropped, despite the fact that his overall swing rate remains where it was at last season. If Braun’s swing rate this season was considerably higher than last season, there would be an explanation for the lack of contact; more swings generally equals higher chance of contact or lack thereof. But since it remains the same as it was last season, there should be cause for concern.
From a pitch-by-pitch standpoint, we get a more specific look at where Braun has most struggled. His whiff rate on sliders this season is exactly 43.8 percent, up from just 16.3 percent last season. He’s put less four-seam fastballs in play (13.9%) this season than last (15.8%), despite the fact that they’ve been thrown for strikes at nearly the same rate (there’s only a 0.1% difference in strike frequency) and almost half (49%) of the pitches thrown against him have been fastballs, a pitch he customarily tees off on over the course of his career.
Whatever the case may be, whatever the statistics tell us at this early juncture of the season, something is up with Braun. Going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in one game is not player Brewers fans have come to know over the years. Yes, it was just one game and there will be plenty of opportunities to make up for it, but we can only judge what we see; and what we see is not good.
A lack of contact in and out of the zone may be a product of Aramis Ramirez’s absence in the batting order, it may not be. We really have no solid way of knowing. What’s important is that this does not become the new norm for Braun. The fate of the Brewers’ 2013 season and subsequent seasons depend on it.
Statistics provided by texasleaguers.com and FanGraphs.com
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – In front of a crowd of 3,036 packed into the newly-renovated version of Fox Cities Stadium, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers’ 2013 home opener was spoiled Monday, Apr. 8 by the Cedar Rapids Kernels by a score of 10-2.
The loss dropped the defending Midwest League champions to a 2-3 record through five regular-season contests.
Rattlers’ starting pitcher Preston Gainey struggled from the opening pitch, walking the first two batters of the ballgame before Kernels first-baseman Dalton Hicks plated both runners with a double down the right field line. Right-fielder Adam Brett Walker followed suit by doubling down the left field line, scoring Hicks. By the end of the first frame, Cedar Rapids led Wisconsin 3-0.
The second inning yielded similar results for Gainey.
After walking catcher Jairo Rodriguez and left fielder J.D. Williams in succession, Gainey proceeded to allow a home run off center fielder Byron Buxton, which extended Cedar Rapids’ lead to 6-0. He would finish out the remainder of the inning unscathed, but after tossing a clean third inning was pulled in favor of reliever Eric Semmelhack.
One of the few bright spots for the Rattlers came in the fourth inning. After a double by right fielder Mitch Haniger, which put a man in scoring position for just the second time in the ballgame, Clint Coulter mashed a belt-high fastball from Kernels starter David Hurlbut off the scoreboard the left center, cutting the lead to 6-2.
Coulter would account for the last Rattlers’ run of the contest, however, and the Kernels would continue to swing the bat with efficiency.
In the very next frame, Cedar Rapids third baseman Travis Harrison belted a solo home run off Semmelhack, putting the Kernels up 7-2 in the top of the fifth inning. Semmelhack finished the fifth without allowing any more runs to cross home, and did the same in the sixth and seventh innings.
But it was the eighth inning that put the game out of reach for the Rattlers.
After putting Williams on base via a walk and watching him steal second base six pitches later, second baseman Candido Williams reached first base on a throwing error from Rattlers’ shortstop Orlando Arica. Williams scored, increasing the lead to 8-2.
Semmelhack pressed on by conceding a double and intentional walk, putting two men on base. Both base-runners scored on a single from Walker, which put Cedar Rapids up 10-2 at the end of eight innings.
A clean inning from reliever Rodolfo Fernandez in the top of the ninth, Rattlers’ second baseman Chris McFarland struck out swinging with two gone in the bottom of the ninth, ending whatever hope remained for a comeback.
Though his offense could not seem to get in a groove at the plate, manager Matt Erickson realized that wasn’t the key to his team’s loss Monday night. Rather, it was his club’s performance on the mound. Gainey, Semmelhack and Fernandez together threw 159 pitches, and just 87 — 54 percent — were strikes.
“In the first three games we had some pretty good starting pitching,” said Erickson. “They attacked the zone and we didn’t allow a lot of free bases. Today, we had way too many walks and they scored three runs in three different innings.”
“In the last two days, we’ve had some starting pitching that struggled early and put us in a hole. We’ve seen both sides here in the early season. If we can use those as examples and show it to them (his players), hopefully they can go out and execute a little bit better.”
Erickson had nothing but high praise for Coulter, however, whose fourth-inning home run was the first of his short-lived stay with the Rattlers. He hit five home runs in 49 games last season with the rookie-level Helena Brewers.
“Every day he steps on the field is going to be a learning experience for him,” Erickson said about Coulter. “He’s been pressing a little bit…so it was good for him to get some success there tonight.”
Even with eight months of professional baseball under his belt, Coulter’s approach at the plate Monday night was simple: “See the ball, hit the ball.”
Coulter and the rest of his teammates will have the opportunity to do exactly that in front of Timber Rattlers fans toward the end of the month. The club will play nine consecutive games at Fox Cities stadium from Apr. 21-30.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported this morning that the Milwaukee Brewers expect to place Aramis Ramirez on the disabled list in the near future, according to his Twitter page. Ramirez exited Friday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks while sliding into second base, spraining his left knee. The 34-year-old third-baseman had gone 5-for-13 with two runs batted in and three doubles prior to the injury.
The Brewers are thin on the bench, and are mulling a move that would bring a player up from the minors, writes MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy.
“We’re going to look at it [Saturday] and make a decision,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “It’s similar to what [Ramirez] did in Spring Training, so tomorrow we’ll have a better answer as to whether it’s a DL or if we think it’s just a few days.”
Second baseman Scooter Gennett is one such possibility and though he is not currently on the team’s 40-man roster, Hunter Morris also remains a possibility.
Placing first-baseman Corey Hart on the 60-day disabled list may be the only option for the club. This would allow players not currently on the 40-man roster to be called up to help with the Brewers’ bench.
UPDATE 4/6, 3:22 p.m.: Reports are indicating that Ramirez is expect to miss two to three weeks with his sprained knee. Utility infielder Josh Prince has been activated to the Brewers’ roster.
Adam Giacalone started from the bottom, and now, he is here.
The bottom, for Giacalone, the Milwaukee Brewers’ 16th-round draft pick in Major League Baseball’s 2012 first-year player draft, came in the first few weeks of his professional career.
Over the course of those initial weeks as a member of the organization’s rookie minor league club in Helena, Mon., the drastic changes that came with the changeover from the college ranks to the minor leagues got the better of Giacalone.
The then 20-year-old first baseman sported a paltry .060 batting average, struck out (12) exactly four times more than he walked (3) and registered just two extra-base hits through his first eight games.
But on June 30, 2012, Giacalone’s fortunes changed for the better.
That day, he registered his first multi-hit game of this career by going 2-for-4 – albeit in a losing effort. His performance that day sparked a subsequent 16-game hitting streak and helped Giacalone gain back his confidence at the plate for the rest of the season.
By the end of his first professional campaign, Giacalone compiled a .317 batting average, the best mark among all Brewers minor league prospects. He also registered an impressive .394 on-base percentage and hoarded 110 total bases in just 69 games, gaining recognition throughout the system as a talent to watch next season.
Giacalone realizes those early-season struggles helped him become the player he is today.
“I think what made me a better player was those struggles in the beginning,” Giacalone said. “You know a lot more about yourself once you go through the struggles. You figure out what you need to work on and you become a better player.”
Struggling isn’t something that Giacalone is all too familiar with, truth be told.
Growing up in Shawnee, Kan., Giacalone attended Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. It was here where he was first recognized on a national scale for his talent on the baseball diamond and originally grabbed the attention of college scouts across the region.
Aside from posting a batting average above .400 during his senior season, Giacalone also made headlines for his pitching, and with good reason. Twice in the span of 15 days, he tossed two perfect games and issued just two walks over his first 38.2 innings pitched.
After graduating, Giacalone attended Nesosho County Community College in Chanute, Kan., and his production both at the plate and on the mound actually improved.
His freshman season yielded a .396 batting average, 18 home runs and 102 runs batted in at the dish. A 10-1 record complemented by a 2.10 ERA on the bump added to his repertoire as a potential minor league talent.
Dubbed one of the top junior college talents in the country, Giacalone was targeted by a handful of Division I schools.
Then, in November 2011, Giacalone signed his letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Tennessee, with the understanding that he would have the opportunity to be a position player as well as a pitcher – an opportunity seldom presented to college-level players.
“As a pitcher, I loved having the game in my hands,” Giacalone said about whether pitching or hitting gave him more satisfaction. “But as a hitter, there’s nothing better than being in the box and just hitting.”
But before Giacalone had the chance to step onto the field with Tennessee, the Brewers came calling with the 515th selection in last summer’s draft and made him an offer he could not refuse: The chance to fulfill his dream of playing on the big-league stage.
“It was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up,” said Giacalone. “Tennessee was also a great offer; it’s just that my dream has always been to play professional baseball. It’s every little kid’s dream. So when an opportunity came, it was something I felt I definitely needed to do.”
Giacalone’s standout first-season with the Brewers’ system earned him a promotion to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the club’s low-A minor league team. He is scheduled to remain with the club’s spring training facilities in Maryvale, Ari., for a few extra weeks and expects to make his first appearance in Appleton around the start of May.
Though he has not thought about it all that much, Giacalone said that playing hard and having fun are two things he most wants to accomplish with the Timber Rattlers in 2013. Moving up the minor-league ladder is extra incentive.
“Playing professional baseball is something you have to enjoy,” Giacalone said. “You have to play hard every chance to you get. This isn’t going to last forever.”
Follow Adam on Twitter: @adamgiacalone
Give Alec a follow, too: @alecdopp
More Brewers news pouring out from official sources on Wednesday after a transaction-filled Tuesday. ‘
MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy tweeted this afternoon that infielder Jeff Bianchi will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. Bianchi, 25, hit .235/.235/.235 (no, that isn’t a typo) over 17 spring training plate appearances. Infielder Donnie Murphy has asked to be released from the club, as well. His release comes a day after Milwaukee’s signing of Yuniesky Betancourt was made official. Murphy, 30, hit .239/.314/.457 over 24 spring training games with the Brewers.
McCalvy also reported via his Twitter page Wednesday that Kyle Lohse’s first start as a member of the rotation could come not in the club’s first series against the Rockies, but the second series against the Diamondbacks.