Catching up with Brewers Prospect Jimmy Nelson: A Pre-Spring Training Interview
For a minor league ballplayer, the journey to the promised land — breaking through to and remaining at the major-league level — is one filled with highs and lows, celebration and criticism, buildup and recession, and the like.
To be sure, it is an unique process very few are able to participate in.
Yet for as truly unique as the journey undoubtedly is, the values learned and virtues acquired along the way often parallel those in mainstream society: Hard work, determination and consistency eventually lead to success.
These are just some of the values that Jimmy Nelson holds dear to him both on and off the mound.
Embarking on his fourth season as a valued pitching prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system, Nelson, 23, has become a standout prospect in the Brewers minor league organization since being drafted by the club in 2010.
He made his way to double-A ball midway through last season, going 2-4 with a 3.91 ERA and 1.54 WHIP while striking out nearly a batter per inning. Before that, he spent time with the organization’s rookie club in Helena, Mon., low-A team in Appleton, Wis., and high-A squad in Brevard, Fla.
Nelson this fall also participated in Major League Baseball’s Arizona Fall League, where he learned from new coaches and gained valuable experience against a handful of baseball’s top minor league prospects.
This year, the 6’6″, 240-pound Niceville, Fla., native is setting his expectations high, aiming to impress the coaching staff at spring training en route to hopefully making his debut with the Brewers by season’s end. And wouldn’t you know, he carries with him those same aforementioned virtues everyday, both on and off the mound.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Nelson earlier this week. Here is the full transcript of our conversation.
AD: How’s your offseason been, Jimmy?
JN: It’s been going very well. I’ve been working out at a place near Houston since November, and just getting ready for spring training.
AD: What’s a typical workout day for you?
JN: We get up and stretch around 10:00 A.M. and do our warm-up stuff and stretch out our shoulders. Then, we throw and lift, do our run, swim, do yoga. After that, you get to do whatever you want.
AD: Last year you got a call-up to double-A ball around mid-season. What was the transition like? Anything noticeable?
JN: Oh, man. That was definitely the biggest jump in my opinion. Going from rookie ball to low-A, and then low-A to high-A, things are relatively the same as far as competition.
Going to double-A, it’s like night and day. Hitters are much more patient, they know the strike-zone very well and the [strike] zone is a lot tighter. You’ve got guys that are older and know the game better, and just a lot of good players and prospects. You definitely need to step up your game and learn how to get guys out in different ways.
AD: Could you explain what you mean by “getting guys out in different ways” a bit more?
JN: Pitch sequences, learning the hitters better, adjusting to the hitter by what they’re giving you and what their swing. It’s all stuff that you and your catcher work on. At that level, catchers can tell by a hitter’s stance or swing what pitch you need to throw in certain situations.
AD: You went on the disabled list for a while last year. What exactly happened?
JN: When I was with Huntsville, I had three or four starts and then went on the disabled list for a month, and then I had three or four starts after that. But when I went on the DL I had shoulder fatigue and inflammation, so that needed some time so I could get where I wasn’t pitching through pain.
AD: What was the reason for the fatigue?
JN: It’s just one of those things. After throwing a lot of pitches and a lot of innings over the course of not just that season, but over previous seasons. That’s just something you try to prevent by getting in good shape and doing all of your shoulder exercises. Even if something does happen, it’s out of your control. Sometimes that stuff just happens.
AD: Did you notice any difference from the way you pitched before you went on the DL to after? Or even from high-A to double-A ball?
JN: Not really. As a pitcher, you want to pitch to your strengths. It’s not like I’m trying to trick guys out there. My game plan from high-A to double-A was pretty much the same. You can’t try to pitch to a hitter’s weaknesses, you have to pitch to your strengths. That’s one thing that the pitching coaches taught me. You just try to attack guys; getting that first-pitch strike, and getting ahead in the count. The counts are much more important at the higher levels.
AD: So there is a big difference in the umpires’ strike zone, then?
JN: Definitely. You can tell it’s tighter once you get to double-A. But, it’s going to be tight in the big leagues, so you’ve got to learn somewhere.
AD: I understand you contributed to a combined no-hitter on August 2. What was that experience like?
JN: Yeah, it was one of my first starts off the DL. That was pretty cool. Truthfully, I didn’t even realize it was a no-hitter because I had walked a few guys, so I was a bit disappointed in myself. I didn’t even know it until I had come back from the dugout. I looked up at the scoreboard in the seventh or eight inning and there were no hits.
AD: Any odd plays that you remember from that game?
JN: I guy hit a hard ground-ball back at me and I did this jump-kick thing, trying to stop it. The ball went up in the air and landed on the first-base line and our catcher [Anderson] De La Rosa bare-handed it and threw it side-arm to get the guy out. It was pretty incredible.
AD: Any double-A players you pitched against that stood out to you?
JN: There’s so many. Stefen Romero, for some reason, I feel like it’s the hardest thing in the world to get that kid out. The lineups are pretty solid all the way through, though. There aren’t really any holes.
AD: How’s the hitting been for you?
JN: I mean, we don’t do it very often, but in spring training we’ll work on bunting and situational stuff like that. But I’m pretty confident in doing what I need to do in certain situations. I’m not going to hit the ball all over the field, though. I haven’t done that since I was 15.
AD: Looking ahead to 2013, what is one thing you might need to improve on?
JN: I can give you two words for that: strikes and consistency. I showed in high-A Brevard [County] that I can say in the strike zone for a whole game and do that for several outings. But then I also showed in double-A that I wasn’t as consistent as I was in high-A. I know my stuff is there, I just have to be consistent in the zone, attack it and get ahead of hitters. Once I can do that from start-to-start, then I think that’s when I’ll take that next step.
AD: How has the changeup worked for you?
JN: It’s gotten a lot better, especially in double-A. I didn’t have as much of my fastball as I did the first half of the season, and in double-A guys will lay off the high fastball. My changeup has definitely come to strides, though. I consider it a serious weapon.
AD: Are sinker and slider still your biggest strengths?
JN: Yeah, definitely. But I want to get where I can see all four pitches as my strengths, and have as much confidence in any one of them to get a hitter out.
AD: You took part in the Arizona Fall League his past fall. What was that experience like for you?
JN: That was a really cool experience. I got to meet a bunch of players from different organizations, some from the [double-A] Southern League, and then I got to meet some of the best players in the minors. Throwing against that type of quality players was a great experience.
Coming into it, all the coaches from all the different organizations already know what you need to work on, and that’s part of being a professional as far as knowing what you need to work on. It was a bit of a laid-back atmosphere, especially at the end of a long season.
AD: You got to play with other Brewers prospects such as Johnny Hellweg during your stay. What’s the scouting report on him?
JN: He’s a tall guy. Almost like the Brewers putting together a basketball team — we’ve got a lot of big guys. He’s got kind of a three-quarters arm slot, very easy and smooth delivery, can sit up in the mid-90s easily, definitely got some good movement on his fastball and a good breaking ball. I’m excited to see how he does.
AD: I know you had a chance to play with Jean Segura in double-A ball after he came over from the [Zack] Greinke trade. What’s he like in the clubhouse?
JN: He’s a good guy. Full of energy. From day one it seemed like he’d been one of the guys for a long time. Very laid-back guy. Brought a lot of energy to the clubhouse. It was fun to have him around.
AD: What’s your status for spring training?
JN: I’m not sure yet. I don’t know the exact date I’m supposed to report. They just told me that I’m coming early, so I’m just assuming I’ll report the second week in February. Whether I go to the big-league camp yet I’m not sure.
AD: What are some of your goals for 2013?
JN: Making it to the big leagues and help win at that level. Other than that, just keep improving my pitches and command. Getting ahead of guys, and getting guys out with three pitches or less. I learned a lot last year, so I’m just looking to improve on that, really. Staying consistent, too. I stayed consistent for half the year last year, so now I’m trying to do that for the whole year this year.
AD: You’re now two years removed from your stay in low-A Appleton. Do you have any advice for players in the lower levels of the minors?
JN: I mean, at those levels, it’s a big transition phase. You’re learning about professional life and new work habits that you have to develop as far as getting your work in and getting to the field early. You have to learn your own routine and stick to it. It’s really just a big chess game for pitchers and hitters.
AD: Baseball America just released their top 10 Brewers farmhand rankings for 2013, and you placed No. 5. Does that affect you at all?
JN: No, not at all. It has no say in how I act or what I think. I mean, it’s very nice to be recognized, and I appreciate it greatly. But as far as it comes to us getting our work in and doing what he have to do, it’s not going to change anything. You have to take that stuff with a grain of salt. Baseball is a crazy game. You can be rated high one year and low the next, so you have to learn how to deal with it. Of course, you’d much rather deal with the highs, but either way you still have to stick to your process and keep your mind on things you can control.
AD: Do you think that might actually get the better of some players?
JN: I don’t think so. Not at the professional level, because everybody realizes the ultimate goal of contributing at the big-league level, whether that’s at single-A or triple-A ball. I think however you get there, whether you’re a prospect or not a prospect, it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen plenty of guys who weren’t ranked a prospect play out of their minds, and I’ve seen guys ranked a prospect struggle. It’s a two-way street, really.
AD: I appreciate the time, Jimmy. Good luck with spring training. Hope to talk with you again soon.
JN: No problem. I appreciate it.
Opening day for the Milwaukee Brewers is finally here. Fittingly enough, the defending National League Central division champions open the season where their last one ended: At Miller Park against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
I’ve been dedicated to bringing fans everything there is to know about the Brewers all offseason long here at B/R, and with the season just getting under way, that isn’t about to change. On the contrary, it’s only just the beginning!
As the season kicks off, our coverage of Brewers baseball kicks off along with it. For those looking for an in-depth play-by-play blog with live Twitter feed reaction of opening day festivities, I would strongly encourage you to head on over to my Bleacher Report page. To access said page, CLICK HERE.
With only 42 years of existence, the Milwaukee Brewers are still very much one of the younger franchises in Major League Baseball. However, by no means has that limited the amount of success that many of it’s most elite players have obtained.
From a statistical standpoint, the Brewers have had many exceptionally successful individual seasons from a bevy of likely — and unlikely — players. These are the guys that performed at an elite level for an entire season’s worth of baseball.
Who are these elite players and in what year were they able to so thoroughly dominate the competition? Let’s find out.
First, a Note
A few notes on how this list was constructed:
- This list strictly includes players from the Milwaukee Brewers organization (i.e. not including Seattle Pilots, Milwaukee Braves)
- To avoid repetition and promote fair acknowledgement, no player is featured more than twice
- Postseason accomplishments/statistics not included
- Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards are generally gauged higher than raw statistics alone
- WAR ratings are weighted heavily
25. Richie Sexson, 2001: .271/.342/.547, 45 HR, 125 RBI, 94 R, 2 SB (2.4 WAR)
Milwaukee’s offensive catalyst during the inaugural season of Miller Park, Sexson was one of the NL’s most impressive sluggers all season long.
24. Trevor Hoffman, 2009: 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 37 SV, 48 SO, 54 IP (2.5 WAR)
Was dominant all season long; finished in the top 10 of all MLB closers in saves on a team that concluded it’s season under the .500 mark. Impressive stuff from the surefire Hall-of-Famer.
23. Gorman Thomas, 1982: .245/.343/.506, 39 HR, 112 RBI, 96 R, 3 SB (5.5 WAR)
The backbone of Harvey Kuenn’s lineup, Thomas led the American League in home runs and ranked fifth in RBI. He also notably struck out a team-high 143 times, conversely.
22. Francisco Cordero, 2007: 2.98 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 44 SV, 86 SO, 63.1 IP (2.0 WAR)
“Strikeout machine” would be a bit of an understatement. Set the franchise record for saves in a regular season and garnered a 12.2 K/9 ratio along the way. Unfortunate that he couldn’t strut his stuff on the postseason stage.
21. Richie Sexson, 2003: .272/.379/.548, 45 HR, 124 RBI, 97 R, 2 SB (2.9 WAR)
Carried Milwaukee’s offense throughout the 2003 regular season and earned MVP consideration at the end of it all. His 45 home runs finished second in the National League and his 124 RBI ranked fourth.
The Line: .263/.339/.499, 38 HR, 125 RBI, 92 R, 7 SB (3.3 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished 19th in National League MVP voting
Easily the best player on some of the most abominable teams in franchise history, Jeromy Burnitz receives little recognition for what he accomplished during his 1998 season with the Brewers.
From an offensive standpoint, Burnitz was magnificent. His 38 home runs ranked as the sixth-most in the National League and his 125 RBI ranked fifth-most. How he wasn’t elected to the All-Star game based on his batting alone is stunning.
Of course, his productivity wouldn’t end there. Burnitz played sound defense in the outfield throughout the 1998 season and consequently garnered a career-best 1.0 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) rating.
19. John Axford, 2011
The Line: 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 46 SV, 86 SO, 73.2 IP (2.7 WAR)
John Axford came into last season with hardly any big-league experience under his belt, but from the way he performed, you probably wouldn’t have realized it.
Last season, Milwaukee’s Canadian-born fire-baller tied for the National League lead with 46 saves (a new franchise record) and garnered the league’s best ERA among closers. His upper-90 MPH fastball guided him to an impressive 10.51 K/9 and his exceptional command led to a feeble walk ratio of 8.2 percent.
Axford was outstanding all season long and consequently gathered much Cy Young-praise. Granted, he ended up with just two percent of the vote, but he still finished ahead of fellow closer Craig Kimbrel and slightly behind Matt Cain.
18. CC Sabathia, 2008
The Line: 11-2, 1.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 128 SO, 130.2 IP (4.8 WAR)
Technically, this shouldn’t even count. But I think we can all make an exception just this once, right?
Traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Brewers on July 8, 2008, CC Sabathia played just over a half of a season with Milwaukee, but was absolutely and unequivocally dominant throughout. In his 17 starts with the club, Sabathia posted a feeble 1.65 ERA and garnered a K/BB ratio of 5.12, often times on just three days of rest.
Sabathia was without question Milwaukee’s most valuable player down the stretch and it’s fairly easy to assume that without his services, the Brewers don’t make the postseason. Consequently, Sabathia nearly vaulted his way to the top of NL Cy Young and MVP voting, which is by and large unheard of from only a half-season’s worth of production.
The Line: .244/.356/.539, 45 HR, 123 RBI, 97 R, SB (4.3 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished seventh in American League MVP voting
They don’t call him “Stormin’ Gorman” for nothing.
Perhaps the most recognizable player on many Brewers’ clubs from the late 1970s to 1980s, Gorman Thomas knew how to do one thing exceptionally well: hit the long ball.
During what will go down as one of the greatest individual offensive seasons in franchise history, the scrappy power-hitter with mediocre batting prowess led the American League with 45 home runs and finished with the league’s third-most RBI. His .539 slugging percentage ranked seventh-best among all hitters, additionally.
16. Teddy Higuera, 1988
The Line: 16-9, 2.45 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 192 SO, 227.1 IP (6.4 WAR)
Awards Received: None
Teddy Higuera was downright dominant during the 1988 regular season.
As the undisputed No. 1 starter of a below-average starting rotation, the 30-year-old Mexico native posted some truly impressive numbers. His 0.99 WHIP was tops among all American League starters and he finished in the top-10 of all AL starters in wins, strikeouts, ERA and BAA (.207). He rarely gave up the long ball, garnering a 0.59 HR/9 ratio over 31 starts, additionally.
Unfortunately, though, Milwaukee failed to reach the postseason in a power-packed AL East division that season. Fans can only imagine what Higuera would have been able to do if given the chance to pitch on the postseason stage.
The Line: .320/.386/.551, 32 HR, 114 RBI, 113 R, 20 SB (5.9 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished 11th in National League MVP voting
After two scintillating seasons with the Brewers, Ryan Braun came into his 2009 season facing exceedingly high expectations with respect to his offensive production. Needless to say, he lived up to those expectations.
That season, Braun made a strong case for his first MVP award by leading the National League with 203 hits and ranking in the top-10 in runs scored, doubles, batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. What’s more, Braun added to his resume by logging 20 stolen bases on his way to an impressive stolen base percentage of 77 percent. More to come from Braun in a bit…
14. Robin Yount, 1989
The Line: .318/.384/.511, 21 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R, 19 SB (5.7 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; American League MVP (eight first-place votes)
Robin Yount was one of baseball’s most productive hitters throughout the 1980s and was seemingly in the hunt to take home MVP honors every year from 1980-1989. So, naturally, it should come as no surprise that Yount won the prestigious award twice during that time-span.
His second installment came in 1989, where Yount was nothing short of sensational at the plate. Ranking in the top-10 of all American League hitters in runs scored, hits, batting average, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, and triples, Yount’s efforts were rewarded with a Silver Slugger award and a 65 percent share of the AL MVP vote, staving off Ruben Sierra and Cal Ripken, Jr. by the slimmest of margins.
The Line: .304/.362/.563, 41 HR, 118 RBI, 94 R, 11 SB (6.4 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished 13th in American League MVP voting
If Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were the heart and soul of the Brewers’ 1980 lineup, then Ben Oglivie was the bicep.
During what I consider to be one of the most neglected offensive seasons in franchise history, Oglivie did a good portion of the heavy-lifting for Milwaukee’s offense, blasting an American League-high 41 home runs while finishing with the league’s second-most RBI (118).
Ogilvie took home a Silver Slugger-award honors for his efforts — the only time he was able to accomplish such a feat during his journeyman career — and ended up sharing seven percent of the American League MVP vote behind fellow teammate Cecil Cooper.
12. Paul Molitor, 1987
The Line: .353/.438/.566, 16 HR, 75 RBI, 114 R, 45 SB (6.2 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished fifth in American League MVP voting
Paul “The Ignitor” Molitor was arguably the best pure-hitter in all of baseball throughout the 1980s, and his hitting prowess was on full display during the 1987 regular season.
That year, Milwaukee’s lead-off man and starting third-baseman batted .353, which was enough to rank second-best among all American League hitters along with his .438 on-base percentage and his 1.003 OPS. He led the league with 41 doubles, additionally. However, his production would reach far beyond just the batter’s box. He nabbed a franchise-record 45 stolen bases and scored a league-high 114 runs, which was a testament to his base-running dexterity and ability to wreak havoc on the diamond.
The Line: .299/.412/.602, 46 HR, 141 RBI, 103 R, 2 SB (6.1 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished fourth in National League MVP voting
Prince Fielder was without a shred of doubt one of the most successful big-league sluggers in all of baseball during his seven seasons in a Brewer uniform, and his 2009 regular season certified exactly why.
In a year where Milwaukee finished two games under .500 (80-82), Fielder led the National League in RBI, and finished second overall in home runs, slugging percentage, and OPS. He also ended with the league’s fourth-best on-base percentage and fourth-most walks (110). Unfortunately, Fielder’s efforts would be all for naught from a historical context, as he would take fourth-place in National League MVP voting behind the likes of Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez.
10. Pete Vukovich, 1982
The Line: 18-6, 3.34 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 105 SO, 223.2 IP (2.7 WAR)
Awards Received: American League Cy Young (14 first-place votes)
In all honesty, Pete Vuckovich didn’t do anything exceptionally well. He knew how to eat innings and get batters out, however, he struggled with walks and was hardly known for his strikeout abilities. Still, there’s no denying what Milwaukee’s favorite starting pitcher accomplished during a historic 1982 season.
That year, manager Harvey Kuenn’s No. 2 starter took home American League Cy Young honors with relative ease. He led the league in win-loss percentage (.750), his 3.34 ERA ranked sixth-best and he rarely gave up the long-ball, garnering the league’s seventh-best HR/9 ratio (0.563).
9. Prince Fielder, 2007
The Line: .288/.395/.618, 50 HR, 119 RBI, 109 R, 2 SB (4.9 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver Slugger; finished third in National League MVP voting
Prince Fielder became synonymous with “home run” during his unprecedented seven-year run with the Milwaukee Brewers and he certainly lived up to that distinction during the 2007 regular season.
As a beefy 23-year-old on a base-salary of $415,000, Fielder blasted 50 home runs in 681 plate appearances and became the youngest player in MLB history to reach the 50-home run plateau, comfortably beating the previous record set by Willie Mays in 1955. His successes wouldn’t end there, as he led the National League in slugging percentage and he also finished with the league’s third-most RBI and second-best OPS. And, not surprisingly, Fielder hoarded 90 walks which was enough to rank ninth overall.
The Line: .352/.387/.539, 25 HR, 122 RBI, 96 R, 17 SB (6.7 WAR)
Awards Received: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger; finished fifth in American League MVP voting
Cecil Cooper was one of the driving offensive forces behind a slew of successful 1980s Brewers ballclubs, but his greatest single season without question came in 1980.
That season, Milwaukee’s beloved first-baseman won Silver Slugger honors for the first time in leading the American League in RBI, finishing second in hits (219) and batting average, while ending with the league’s fourth-best slugging percentage. He also nabbed 17 stolen bases and posted the league’s third-best OPS. But as impressive as his offensive yield was, his defensive prowess was as equally as evident. He committed just five errors over 142 games on his way to a .997 fielding percentage and 0.8 dWAR rating.
7. Teddy Higuera, 1986
The Line: 20-11, 2.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 207 SO, 248.1 IP (8.4 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished second in American League Cy Young Voting
Teddy Higuera had an undeniably sporadic and unconventional major-league career, however, that didn’t stop him from having one of the most successful single-season pitching performances in franchise history back in 1986.
In a season where Milwaukee finished well under the .500 mark at 77-84, Higuera staked his claim as one of MLB’s brightest young arms. Higuera’s 2.79 ERA finished second among AL pitchers and his 20 wins also ranked second overall. He also amassed 15 complete games and compiled four shutouts on his way to finishing second behind Roger Clemens in AL Cy Young Award voting.
The Line: 22-9, 2.36 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 131 SO, 293.1 IP (7.5 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished second in American League Cy Young voting
Mike Caldwell was never known for his strikeout abilities or for having above-average command, but he knew the importance of eating innings and finishing what he started—literally.
Headlining Milwaukee’s sumptuous 1978 starting rotation, the seasoned 29-year-old veteran finished third in innings pitched among all American League starters and notched an absurd 23 complete games. His 22 wins ranked second, additionally, and his six shutouts also finished second. If not for Ron Guidry’s impeccable season with the New York Yankees, Caldwell would have almost certainly taken home Cy Young honors in the American League.
5. Paul Molitor, 1982
The Line: .302/.366/.450, 19 HR, 71 RBI, 136 R, 41 SB (7.0 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished 12th in American League MVP voting
Paul Molitor was the quintessential “five-tool” player during what would become a historic 15-year career with the Brewers. He posted scintillating numbers across the board year in and year out and that was never more evident than in the club’s distinguished 1982 American League championship season.
As Milwaukee’s primary third-baseman and lead-off man offensively, Molitor led the American League in runs scored. His 201 hits finished third, his 41 stolen bases ranked fourth overall, additionally.
All things considered, Molitor was an absolute gamer in every sense of the word. He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent out of the batters-box and on the bases and his efforts during the 1982 season will never be forgotten.
The Line: 12-14, 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 264 SO, 237 IP (6.3 WAR)
Awards Received: None; finished eighth in Cy Young Award voting
Ben Sheets was a source of many memorable individual performances throughout his career with the Brewers, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he managed to put it all together for one extraordinary season.
That year, Milwaukee’s often inconsistent right-hander was nothing short of spectacular. He finished second in the National League in strikeouts, WHIP and complete games (5), and ranked third in ERA. He also notably finished fourth in K/9 (10.03) thanks to an unfathomable strikeout rate of 28.2 percent.
Unfortunately for Sheets, though, he would only finish eighth in Cy Young Award voting behind the likes of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Roy Oswalt. Nevertheless, his indelible 2004 campaign will go down as the greatest season for a starting pitcher in franchise history.
3. Rollie Fingers, 1981
The Line: 1.04 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 28 SV, 61 SO, 78 IP (4.1 WAR)
Awards Received: American League MVP (15 first-place votes, American League Cy Young (22 first-place votes)
Rollie Fingers was a man of many talents, but it was his pitching prowess late in crucial games that was on full display throughout an unprecedented 1981 campaign.
As a 34-year-old seasoned veteran in his first season as Milwaukee’s closer, Fingers led the American League with 28 saves and posted a miniscule 1.04 ERA. He also notably held the opposition to a career-best .194 BA (.237 BABIP) and maintained a walk rate of just 4.4 percent. Amazingly enough, this was all made possible despite an aging arm that, unlike many of today’s closers, didn’t live and die off his strikeout abilities. Fingers’ exceptional command and ability to work around batters made his 1981 season even more impressive than previously thought.
Oh, and did I forget to mention he took home MVP and Cy Young award honors?
The Line: .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 109 R, 33 SB (7.7 WAR)
Awards Received: Silver slugger, National League MVP (20 first-place votes)
Each of Ryan Braun’s first five big-league seasons have been outstanding, but none of them have been as successful from a historical standpoint than his most recent campaign.
Taking home the club’s first MVP award since Robin Yount did it back in 1989, Milwaukee’s exonerated hero produced unprecedented numbers during the 2011 regular season. He led the National League in slugging percentage and OPS, while his 187 hits ranked fifth and 111 RBI finished fourth overall.
Braun also nabbed 33 stolen bases and logged a career-best 0.6 dWAR rating (defensive wins above replacement), which is fairly impressive when you consider the fact he’s still relatively new to playing the outfield.
1. Robin Yount, 1982
The Line: .311/.379/.578, 29 HR, 114 RBI, 129 R, 14 SB (11.5 WAR)
Awards Received: Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, American League MVP (27 first-place votes)
Robin Yount had many historical seasons in his heyday with the Milwaukee Brewers, but none came close to matching what he accomplished during the 1982 regular season.
During what can only be described as the single greatest statistical season in franchise history, Yount’s bat produced at a near fictitious clip. He led the American League in hits (210), doubles (46), triples (10) slugging percentage and OPS, and his .311 BA finished second. Yount also logged 14 stolen bases and held his own in the field in posting an impressive 1.9 defensive WAR rating.
It’s only fitting that the greatest individual season in franchise history came in the club’s lone trip to the World Series. Long live the ‘stache.
Though their farm system is still without question one of baseball’s most shallow, the Milwaukee Brewers have drawn a substantial amount of excitement over the past few months with respect to the young talent residing their minor league affiliates. One of the few youngsters that have made this all possible is right-handed pitching prospect Taylor Jungmann.
At last June’s Major League Baseball’s annual first-year player draft, general manager Doug Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and director of amateur scouting Bruce Seid selected the 6’6″, 220 fireballing right-hander out of the University of Texas with the 12th overall selection, the first of two first-round picks the club maintained (the other being 15th overall).
Jungmann, coming off one heck of a junior season with the Longhorns where he thoroughly dominated the Big 12 Conference, was one of the most highly touted and most coveted pitching prospects featured in last summer’s draft. Scouts salivated over his physical attributes, durability, multiple plus-pitch repertoire and knowledge of the game coming into the draft. Needless to say, the Brewers were ecstatic when the lanky right-hander was still available when they went on the clock toward the middle of the first round.
Fast forward through roughly nine months of speculation and anticipation, and Brewers fans are finally getting a glimpse at their prized first-round selection. Jungmann began his inaugural campaign with the organization as a non-roster invitee in spring training this past Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox, tossing two innings of impressive ball in which he struck out one, walked a pair and allowed one unearned run to cross home.
After an impressive first outing against major league hitting, it’s safe to say Brewers fans are hooked on “Jungmann Mania” (as if they weren’t already). Now, the knee-jerk reaction of many fans is to try and learn more about Jungmann’s game. Fortunately, I’m here to provide some insight. Let’s take an in-depth look at Jungmann’s game with a fully-fledged scouting report on Milwaukee’s new number one prospect.
Here‘s a brief statistical history of what Jungmann was able to accomplish during his three seasons at the University of Texas.
|College Totals (3 years)||32||9||1.85||45||356.0||356||0.97||5.92||9.01|
Jungmann was one of the most highly touted young talents coming out of Georgetown High School prior to his 2009 freshman season with the Longhorns and its easy to see why. He came into the Longhorns’ program and was able to contribute right from the get-go and at a remarkable clip. His impressive production throughout the 2009 season was enough for him to be named to Baseball America’s Freshman All-America First Team.
His final two seasons at Texas were nothing short of spectacular, as well. Jungmann struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings pitched in his sophomore season while allowing under seven hits. Unlike his freshman season, though, all of his appearances would come as a starter and that could carry over into his unprecedented 2011 junior campaign where he took home the 2011 Dick Howser Award for being named college baseball’s top player last season.
Physical Makeup and Delivery
Weight: 220 pounds
Jungmann’s tall, lanky build was a great asset for him throughout his college career and that will continue to bode well for him as he progresses through the Brewers’ system. He doesn’t have to put too much stress on his arm to get velocity on his fastball and that in turn has allowed him to go deep into his starts on a consistent basis.
Jungmann works out of a 3/4 arm slot and that consequently enables his curveball to have more “sweeping” action rather than simply a curveball that drops off as it approaches the hitter. He does have good movement on his fastball but I’d say that’s more a product of his grip (more on that to come in the coming months) rather than his arm slot.
Here’s a great video clip of Jungmann pitching against Rice around this time last year at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Jungmann’s delivery is fast-paced and fluid from both the windup and stretch. He throws his body weight into every pitch and that adds more velocity to his pitches. As you can see in the snapshot on the right, Jungmann has great tilt and scouts love to see that out of an already promising young pitcher.
It’s clear that the pitching coaches at the University of Texas have made Jungmann conscious of his mechanics. Jungmann does all the subtle pre-pitch things correctly and that is one of the biggest reasons why he should dart through Milwaukee’s system in a timely fashion.
Jungmann’s fastball is one of the biggest overarching assets to his game. He consistently sits in the mid-90s with instances of upper-90s stuff and has proven that he’s capable of sustaining his plus-average velocity deep into each start. However, his ability to work both sides of the plate is what really separates him from many other young fire-ballers. Scouts have raved over his command, particularly in regard to his fastball, since he first walked onto campus in the Fall of 2009 and it’s only gotten better since.
Aside from his fastball, Jungmann offers two plus-average off-speed pitches, the first being his curveball. As I’ve already alluded to, Jungmann’s 3/4 arm slot allows his curveball to have more “sweeping” action rather than simply a “fall-off-the-table” type breaking pitch. He gets a lot of swings-and-misses with this pitch and it is definitely plus-average.
His second off-speed offering his his changeup, which also not surprisingly grades out as plus-average. He throws it with great efficiency and induces a fair amount of swings-and-misses. Since Jungmann’s delivery is exceptionally repeatable, he is able to fool batters consistently when he throws his changeup.
You don’t have to be an accomplished scout to know how that Jungmann has an extremely high MLB ceiling and that he’s presumably destined to be a back-of-the rotation starter in Milwaukee. Between his physical makeup, durability, three plus-average pitches and collegiate success, Jungmann is the kind of young pitcher who can really make a difference in any MLB starting rotation.
I see him spending the entire 2012 season in the minors, eventually moving his way up to double-A Huntsville by year’s end. The jury is out from that point on; the Brewers could certainly ponder utilizing his services out of the bullpen by the mid-point of the 2013 season and he could very well challenge for the No.4 spot by the end of that season as well.
23-year-old Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect Tyler Thornburg made his highly-anticipated spring training debut on Tuesday, conceding two runs on two hits while striking out one over two-thirds of an inning. The youngster strutted his fastball and change-up and looked smooth on the mound, though his statistical line didn’t exactly reflect that. It wasn’t the most invigorating debut for the young right-hander, but that’s to be expected from a young pitcher facing big-league caliber hitting with less than two complete professional seasons under his belt.
After watching Thornburg get his feet wet in spring training, Brewers fans are now itching for more. They now find themselves asking what he brings to the table talent-wise and what he projects to be in the long-term for the franchise. Luckily for Brewers fans, I’m going to go in-depth and try to shed some light on what this gifted youngster has to offer.
In less than two professional seasons since being drafted by the Brewers in the third round of the 2010 Draft, Thornburg has produced arguably better than any other Milwaukee farmhand (Wily Peralta excluded). He dominated rookie ball out in Helena in nine appearances (six of which were starts) shortly after being drafted. His velocity, which made him one of the most coveted small-school prospects of the entire 2010 draft, manifested itself early on and that led to an impressive K/9 ratio of 14.7, though that should be taken with a grain of salt since he only amassed 23.1 total innings. He walked a fair number of batters that season but made up for it in striking out just south of 40 percent of the batters he faced (which also should be taken with a grain of salt…).
Thornburg took to low-A ball at the beginning of last season still as a relative unknown through the system, but that would quickly change. The Charleston Southern product rattled off seven victories (and no defeats) in 12 starts and was named a Mid-West League All-Star. His performance warranted an appearance in the MLB Futures game in Arizona last July and also a promotion to high-A Brevard County, where he moreover pitched decently against the starkly improved hitting of the Florida State League. He posted a rather impressive ERA of 3.57 and perpetuated his strikeout success to the tune of a K/9 ratio of 11.1.
Here is a statistical breakdown of Thornburg’s minor-league proficiency, courtesy of Baseball Reference.
|2011||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A-A+||MIL||10||6||.625||2.57||24||24||0||2||1||0||136.2||94||44||39||8||58||0||160||8||3||9||556||1.112||6.2||0.5||3.8||10.5||2.76|
Physical Makeup and Delivery
Weight: 185 pounds
Thornburg weighs in at a smallish 5’11”, 185 pounds and uses every inch of his frame to its fullest potential. His physical makeup is noticeably similar to two-time Cy Young award winner and current San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum’s 5’11”, 165-pound shell.
Since he doesn’t have the luxury of a big frame, Thornburg compensates by not only throwing his entire body into his pitches, but also by putting a considerable amount of torque on his arm; this could be a concern down the road. His lack of size and natural body mass portend that Thornburg could be destined for a bullpen role rather than a spot in a starting lineup. He’s averaged just under 5 2/3 innings per start over his short-lived professional career. If he has any intention of breaking through to and staying in a Major League starting rotation, his durability will need to at the very least show signs of improvement.
That said, Thornburg’s over-the-top delivery is sound and exceptionally repeatable. He hides the ball well and that helps to give him average to slightly above-average deception. Thornburg looks great out of the stretch in this clip and is able to pound the outside of the plate (as intended) against this batter, leading to a subsequent ground-out.
As you can tell by the three shots below, Thornburg has a knack for repeating his delivery. The picture on the far left shows the release point of his fastball, the middle shows his changeup, and the right another fastball. His over-the-top armslot repeats itself consistently, and his lower body movement and fluidity are near perfect by definition.
Thornburg’s velocity has been his biggest asset on the mound throughout his professional career. His fastball consistently sits in the mid-90s with flashes of upper-90 potential early in games. There isn’t a lot of movement on his fastball to speak of, though there have been flashes of some average movement last season. He can be somewhat sporadic when he overcompensates to add velocity to his fastball, and that leads to some inconsistencies with respect to his command. Thornburg’s success as a pitcher will live and die off his fastball and he’ll need to show some subtle improvements on that in double-A this season.
Thornburg has two respectable off-speed pitches that are able to compliment his above-average velocity well. He features what many scouts deem to be a “power” curveball to induce a lot of swings-and-misses, but doesn’t throw it for strikes regularly enough to classify it as a plus-average pitch. The other off-speed offering he throws is a plus-changeup that has the makings of a real go-to pitch should he pitch exclusively out of the bullpen at the big league level.
There are still scouts out there who believe Thornburg has what it takes to be a No.4 or No.5 starter in a big league rotation, however, there are plenty of scouts, or in my case “budding scouts”, who believe Thornburg’s abilities would be best served to pitch out of the bullpen, possibly as a set-up type arm. His durability issues in the lower minors suggest he simply doesn’t have the stamina to survive in the big leagues. I do believe, though, that he would thrive out of a bullpen role.
A lot has transpired over the past few months for the Milwaukee Brewers. But with spring training in full swing and opening day just around the corner, players and coaches are finally beginning to focus on getting ready for the regular season.
Of course, the question fans are now beginning to ask themselves is how each player will be able to produce relative to their 2011 numbers. Will each player improve upon his statistical output or witness a subtle or possibly even an excessive relapse in production?
If you currently find yourself asking any one of those enticing questions, you’re in luck. Let’s go in-depth to try and predict each top 25 player’s statistical output this season.
2011 Stats: N/A (injured)
162-game average: 5.13 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 154 SO, 168 IP
2012 Projection: 4.55 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24 SO, 4 HLD, 25 IP
Breakdown: Manny Parra sat out all of last season with a back injury and will attempt to come back and revert back to his productive ways of old on a one-year, $1.2 Million contract. The 29-year-old former top prospect is arbitration eligible following this season and will be pitching for a new contract next winter. If he impresses, the Brewers could offer him a short-term deal. If he disappoints, he might have trouble finding work with any other MLB team. He currently ranks as Milwaukee’s sixth-best reliever in our preseason rankings. His left-handed arm could be extremely valuable later in the season, but fans shouldn’t expect to see him much prior to the All-Star break. Most of his appearances will come when the Brewers are either down-and-out or when they’re extremely short on arms. Consequently, his ERA doesn’t look to be too attractive.
24. Cesar Izturis
2011 Stats: .200/.250/.200, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 0 SB
162-game average: .255/.295/.322, 2 HR, 40 RBI, 58 R, 15 SB
2012 Projection: .224/.271/.310, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 12 R, 1 SB
Breakdown: In an effort to re-gain depth and defensive prowess off the bench, GM Doug Melvin went out and signed veteran utility infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract in mid-January. His contract isn’t guaranteed, but all signs point to him being in a Brewers uniform on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals. Izturis has never been known for his bat, as he is a career .255 batter and holds true to just a .295 on-base percentage. But that’s okay, though, because the Brewers won’t need his bat — his glove will need to do the talking this season.
2011 Stats (AAA): .336/.413/.583, 22 HR, 88 RBI, 74 R, SB
162-game average: N/A
2012 Projection: .279/.329/.439, 10 HR, 38 RBI, 39 R, 3 SB
Breakdown: After a scintillating 2011 campaign in the Pacific Coast League where he was named as Milwaukee’s top positional prospect, Taylor Green was probably looking forward to holding the full-time starting job at third base to start 2012. However, those aspirations were all for naught when GM Doug Melvin inked Aramis Ramirez to a lucrative three-year deal. Instead of a full-time role, Green will be asked to provide youth and defensive readiness when needed. Since he can play the field at the hot corner, second base and as first base with relative ease, he’ll be able to log a few at-bats this season though probably not more than 150 at-bats. A good portion of his plate appearances should come during inter-league play.
22. Frankie De La Cruz
2011 Stats: 2.77 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9 SO, 0 HLD, 13 IP
162-game average: 8.16 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 50 SO, 81 IP
2012 Projection: 4.12 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 30 SO, 3 HLD, 40 IP
Breakdown: 27-year-old Frankie De La Cruz has spent nearly all of his journeyman career in the minor leagues, and at one point ventured over to Japan and made nine appearances with the Yakult Swallows. In his first season in Milwaukee’s system, De La Cruz tossed 137 innings of solid ball, striking out 130 though walking 63 in the Pacific Coast League. However, De La Cruz’s minor league days are all but behind him. With the exit of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito, the Dominican native will have a number of relief opportunities this season. He currently ranks as Milwaukee’s number five reliever in our preseason rankings. And while history shows that the statistics of back-end relievers aren’t exactly picture-perfect, he should log a respectable amount of innings this season and strike out a few batters.
2011 Stats: 11-8, 4.45 ERA, 126 SO, 1.39 WHIP, 161.2 IP
162-game average: 11-8, 4.62 ERA, 142 SO, 1.37 WHIP, 170 IP
2012 Projection: 12-7, 4.39 ERA, 155 SO, 1.29 WHIP, 187 IP
Breakdown: In his second straight season capping off Milwaukee’s rotation, Chris Narveson was by all accounts one of the better number five starters in all of baseball, but saw a regression in productivity compared to his 2010 campaign. His walk rate (8.2% in 2010, 9.3% in 2011) magnified slightly and his K/BB ratio (2.32 in 2010, 1.94 in 2011) took a considerable hit.
If he can show signs of improvement this season, a new contract could be in order this winter. Narveson lost a few starts due to a freak injury in 2011, but he still tallied a fair number of innings. A healthy Narveson throughout 2012 should get around 180-190 innings. I also see him improving his numbers slightly this season, mostly in a reduction of walks, so his WHIP would improve as a consequence.
20. Norichika Aoki
2011 Stats (Japan): .292/.358/.360, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 73 R, 8 SB
162-game average: N/A
2012 Projection: .277/.350/.396, HR, 12 RBI, 24 R, 13 SB
Breakdown: The Brewers sought to find outfield depth with Ryan Braun’s future in doubt and they got that depth when the signed three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki to a two-year contract. The Japanese left-hander has unquestioned hitting abilities, can play the field effectively and has serviceable abilities on the base-paths. But can he translate those successes over to the major league game? The answer to that question likely won’t be answered for a while. Fortunately for the Brewers, they won’t need him to be the stud hitter he was during his tenure in Japan. Ryan Braun’s return means Aoki simply needs to provide depth for manager Ron Roenicke off the bench throughout this season, and his statistical output should reflect that.
2011 Stats: 4.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 88 SO, 4 HLD, 92.2 IP
162-game average: 5.08 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 110 SO, 114 IP
2012 Projection: 3.95 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 54 SO, 59 IP, 6 HLD
Breakdown: After minimal opportunities with the Washington Nationals from 2008 to 2009, the Brewers claimed Marco Estrada off waivers prior to the 2010 season. He only made seven appearances that same year, however, he proved to be a real workhorse out of the bullpen last season. Strictly as a reliever, Estrada posted a 4.38 ERA in 51.1 innings and garnered a surprising 9.6 K/9 ratio. He also filled in for Chris Narveson as Milwaukee’s number five starter and performed well.
In all honesty, Estrada should probably be higher on this list, at least in relation to his ranking amongst the rest of the relievers. He has a solid, repeatable delivery and knows his capabilities. I see him returning to a similar role from last season as a middle-innings reliever and improving his statistical yield all-around.
18. Jose Veras
2011 Stats: 3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 79 SO, 27 HLD, 71 IP
162-game average: 4.11 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 66 SO, 66 IP
2012 Projection: 3.77 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 77 SO, 17 HLD, 69 IP
Breakdown: Sent to Milwaukee from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for third baseman Casey McGehee, 31-year-old veteran reliever Jose Veras will remain a relative mystery for fans until the regular season gets under way. Allow me to shed some light onto what he brings to the table: Strikeouts, and a lot of them. In each of the past two seasons, Veras has amassed a K/9 ratio over 10 and has on average maintained an impressive strikeout rate of over 26 percent. He fastball reaches the mid to upper 90s with consistency and has an good slider to compliment it. Veras does walk a fair number of batters, though, so fans can expect a few walks here and there. Overall, he should be a above-average number four option out of the bullpen for manager Ron Roenicke this season.
17. Kameron Loe
2011 Stats: 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 61 SO, 16 HLD, 72 IP
162-game average: 4.33 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 70 SO, 116 IP
2012 Projection: 3.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 67 SO, 18 HLD, 75 IP
Breakdown: Kameron Loe has done an excellent job out of Milwaukee’s bullpen during each of his first two seasons with the club. He’s maintained a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, has struck out over seven batters per nine innings pitched and rarely if ever makes mistakes, holding true to a 3.45 SO/BB and 0.5 HR/9 ratio. For that reason, Loe will be held to a higher standard in 2012. With LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito gone, the Brewers will count on the California native to be their steady number three option out of the bullpen. I have no doubt he’ll do just that throughout this season and therefore see a solid statistical yield from the 30-year-old righty.
2011 Stats: .252/.311/.459, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB
162-game average: .223/.306/.411, 15 HR, 53 RBI, 54 R, 2 SB
2012 Projection: .247/.327/.421, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB
Breakdown: George Kottaras may be the best backup catcher in all of baseball. He’s capitalized on his limited opportunities in the league and drew a lot of interest from teams in need of catching depth around the trade deadline last summer. In all honesty, his deceiving offensive prowess and dependability behind the plate suggest he should probably get more playing time.
Nevertheless, Kottaras likely isn’t guaranteed more than 100 at-bats this season. He logged 111 at-bats last season even with Jonathan Lucroy starting 83 percent of Milwaukee’s regular season games.
15. Mat Gamel
2011 Stats (AAA): .304/.376/.498, 28 HR, 96 RBI, 90 R, 2 SB
162-game average: N/A
2012 Projection: .264/.345/.429, 22 HR, 70 RBI, 64 R, 2 SB
Breakdown: Mat Gamel is by far and away the hardest player to project as far as statistical output goes. He’s crushed the cover off the ball in the minors for each of the past three seasons but has struggled during his limited time at the big league level. As we visited this past winter, Gamel would fit best in the number six hole in the Brewers’ lineup. His left-handed bat and power potential are best served to be in the middle to lower portion of Ron Roenicke’s batting order. If that’s the case, then I think he could potentially reach the 80 RBI plateau, though 70 RBI seems more realistic at this juncture.
2-game average: 13-11, 4.09 ERA, 164 SO, 1.32 WHIP, 209 IP
2012 Projection: 13-10, 3.85 ERA, 139 SO, 1.30 WHIP, 203 IP
Breakdown: 35-year-old Randy Wolf anchored and stabilized Milwaukee’s rotation last season as the No. 4 starter and performed well above expectations. He led all Brewers starters in innings pitched and eclipsed the 210-inning mark for the second straight season in a Milwaukee uniform. Can fans expect a similar statistical output from the tried vet in 2012?
The answer to that question at this juncture is uncertain at best. Wolf has seen a steady decline in his strikeout rate but at the same time has witnessed his walk rate improve considerably. This could end up as a contract year for Wolf, though, if the Brewers opt not to pick up his $10 Million 2013 option at season’s end. With that being said, fans should expect another productive yield from Wolf with a slight lapse in production across the board.
13. Carlos Gomez
2011 Stats: .225/.276/.403, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 37 R, 16 SB
162-game average: .243/.291/.357, 8 HR, 44 RBI, 66 R, 28 SB
2012 Projection: .237/.284/.391, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 32 R, 21 SB
Breakdown: Carlos Gomez has been given more than enough opportunities to take the full time starting job in center field over the past two seasons, but injuries and inconsistencies have taken their toll on a once promising young career. Ergo, it’s difficult to picture Gomez logging more than 75 games this season with the addition of Norichika Aoki. Nevertheless, Gomez will still have a tremendous impact on the bases despite a likely drop in at-bats. Manager Ron Roenicke has vowed to play his brand of baseball this season with Prince Fielder gone, and stealing bases will be a key component to Milwaukee’s divison title defense. If he can stay healthy, there’s no doubt Gomez has the capacity to swipe 30 bases this season.
12. Alex Gonzalez
2011 Stats: .241/.270/.372, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 59 R, 2 SB
162-game average: .247/.291/.399, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 68 R, 3 SB
2012 Projection: .245/.268/.371, 16 HR, 61 RBI, 57 R, 2 SB
Breakdown: While there’s no doubting veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez will be an unambiguous upgrade from Yuniesky Betancourt defensively, there are questions about his bat and whether or not it can sustain itself as retirement inches closer. For one, Gonzalez doesn’t seem to have much power left. His career-best .197 ISO from 2010 dropped all the way down to .131 last season. Secondly, he’s never been known for his plate discipline. He garnered a walk ratio of just 3.7 percent last season and consequently watched his strikeout rate skyrocket to a career-high 21.1 percent. Gonzalez should be at the very least serviceable at the plate in 2012, but if he’s unable to stay within the strike-zone then things could get ugly in a hurry. I look for a decline in several offensive categories for Sea Bass this season.
2011 Combined Stats: 2.64 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 79 SO, 23 SV, 17 HLD, 71.2 IP
162-game average: 2.51 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 91 SO, 33 SV, 73 IP
2012 Projection: 2.81 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 69 SO, 2 SV, 35 HLD, 61 IP
Breakdown: The Brewers will be shelling out $8 Million to 30-year-old setup man Francisco Rodriguez this season, and while they probably didn’t want to forfeit that much dough to anyone out of the bullpen other than John Axford, they should get a nice return-on-investment for their compensation.
Rodriguez has proved to be one of the best strikeout artists in all of MLB since his 2000 rookie season, posting gaudy punchout ratios consistently year in and year out. He amassed 33 strikeouts in 29 inning with Milwaukee last season and proved to be the perfect setup man for Axford. K-Rod will get a ton of opportunities as there isn’t a truly dependable reliever after him and Axford. His ERA could rise as a consequence, but it shouldn’t be anything worth stressing over.
10. Jonathan Lucroy
2011 Stats: .265/.313/.391, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 45 R, 2 SB
162-game average: .260/.307/.366, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 53 R, 5 SB
2012 Projection: .271/.317/.398, 15 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 3 SB
Breakdown: I’d be lying to you if I said Jonathan Lucroy is anything more than an average offensive catcher. His numbers aren’t great but you can’t expect much from the guy who bats in the No. 8 spot in an MLB lineup. This season will be Lucroy’s third big-league season after breaking onto the scene in 2010. He struggled with strikeouts last season, hoarding a strikeout ratio of 21.1 percent. Lucroy doesn’t draw a lot of walks either and that greatly affected his on-base percentage. Fans shouldn’t expect too much offense out of Lucroy this season, but there should be a number of subtle improvements to his game. Look for him to cut down on his strikeouts and become a more disciplined hitter in the box in 2012.
2011 Stats: .304/.357/.421, 4 HR, 37 RBI, 61 R, 13 SB
162-game average: .288/.347/.374, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 83 R, 37 SB
2012 Projection: .280/.345/.380, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 49 R, 15 SB
Breakdown: Nyjer Morgan played like a man on a mission last season and it will be extremely difficult for him to live up to the expectations he’s garnered for himself heading into spring training. Many fans would love to see him post similar numbers in 2012, but in reality that’s not likely to happen with Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki vying for at-bats. That said, Ron Roenicke is cognizant of Morgan’s “clutch” gene. In late and close games last season, Morgan batted .333 with a BABIP of .455. Can those impressive numbers carry over to and throughout this season? Odds are that they won’t, so a decline in production is likely on the horizon.
8. Shaun Marcum
2011 Stats: 13-7, 3.54 ERA, 158 SO, 1.16 WHIP, 200.2 IP
162-game average: 12-8, 3.77 ERA, 154 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 192 IP
2012 Projection: 15-10, 3.69 ERA, 163 SO, 1.18 WHIP, 203 IP
Breakdown: Shaun Marcum was exactly what the Brewers needed him to be last season: A dependable, steadfast starter who eats innings and limits mistakes. He set career-highs in starts (33) and innings pitched (200.1) in his first season with Milwaukee. But for as sturdy as Marcum was during the regular season, his postseason struggles were equally as concerning and ought not to be ignored. He allowed 16 runs to cross home plate in his first three playoff starts, totaling just 9.2 total innings of work. It should be interesting to see how (and if) he rebounds from such an uncharacteristic breakdown. Marcum could be pitching for a new contract at season’s end if the Brewers choose not to extend him during the season. With a lot to prove and some self-respect to regain, Marcum’s 2012 output should look comparable to his 2011 campaign.
2011 Stats: .269/.350/.468, 20 HR, 49 RBI, 77 R, 9 SB
162-game average: .255/.345/.435, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 111 R, 21 SB
2012 Projection: .272/.355/.469, 25 HR, 88 RBI, 80 R, 10 SB
Breakdown: Rickie Weeks has become the poster child for how injuries can derail a player’s career. Only in 2010 did Milwaukee’s second baseman register enough games (160) to be considered a full season’s worth of play over the course of his eight-year career.
Nevertheless, Weeks comes into spring training in good condition after injuring his ankle last July, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. If that’s the case, then fans can only look forward to a promising 2012 campaign for the Brewers’ 29-year-old second baseman. Weeks’ production this season will largely hinge on where he is placed in Milwaukee’s lineup. If he resumes his prior role as leadoff man, then fans should expect him to log a fair number of runs. But if he plays protector for Aramis Ramirez, then his run count will be considerably lower and he will have the opportunity to reach the 90 RBI plateau.
6. Aramis Ramirez
2011 Stats: .306/.361/.510, 26 HR, 93 RBI, 80 R
162-game average: .284/.342/.500, 30 HR, 108 RBI, 84 R
2012 Projection: .295/.360/.515, 29 HR, 107 RBI, 87 R
Breakdown: Aramis Ramirez’s better days are probably behind him as far as productivity goes, but playing on a new lucrative contract in a much more potent offense portends that he could be in for a big year offensively in his first season in Milwaukee. Prince Fielder thrived out of the cleanup spot in the Brewers’ lineup and Ramirez should do the same, though admittedly not to the extend that Fielder did once upon a time, of course. Ramirez has proved he can still hit for average and power even at 33 years old and that is a huge plus for the Brewers as opening day creeps closer. I do see his average dropping slightly but nothing to be overly concerned about. His home run tally should be anywhere from 27-35, additionally.
5. Corey Hart
2011 Stats: .285/.356/.510, 26 HR, 63 RBI, 80 R, 7 SB
162-game average: .277/.334/.487, 25 HR, 86 RBI, 89 R, 16 SB
2012 Projection: .283/.349/.519, 32 HR, 80 RBI, 95 R, 12 SB
Breakdown: There are a lot of differing opinions out there about where Corey Hart should be placed in Milwaukee’s lineup to start 2012.
After once again flashing his power to the tune of 26 home runs, many believe Hart would be best served to protect Aramis Ramirez in lieu of batting at the top of Milwaukee’s lineup. But after carving a niche as Ron Roenicke’s lead-off man in August, many (this writer included) believe the 6’6″, 225 pound outfielder with deceptive speed would better help the team in that role. Either way, fans can count on a career-best season from Hart. He will be one of the biggest beneficiaries to Prince Fielder’s exodus and his statistical output should reflect that.
Update: Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that Corey Hart must undergo surgery to repair a meniscus tear and will likely be out three to four weeks.
2011 Stats: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 201 SO, 1.20 WHIP, 171.2 IP
162-game average: 12-11, 3.82 ERA, 177 SO, 1.26 WHIP, 200 IP
2012 Projection: 20-7, 3.40 ERA, 220 SO, 1.10 WHIP, 205 IP
Breakdown: GM Doug Melvin conceded three top prospects in return for Zack Greinke last winter and that gamble payed off in the form of a NL Central division title. Without his veteran arm, it’s hard to imagine the Brewers making the postseason much less taking the division crown.
After a disheartening first-half of the regular season, Greinke would return to Cy Young form after the All-Star break. In 15 starts, the longtime strikeout artist went 9-3 with a 2.59 ERA while striking out over nine batters per nine innings pitched and logging a .234 BAA. He went on to finish with an MLB-best 10.54 K/9 ratio, additionally. This season is a contract year for the agent-less Greinke and there’s no doubt he’ll look to continue his momentum from the end of 2011 into and throughout 2012.
3. John Axford
2011 Stats: 46 SV, 1.95 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 86 SO, 73.2 IP
162-game average: 37 SV, 2.26 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 89 SO, 72 IP
2012 Projection: 41 SV, 2.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 85 SO, 70 IP
Breakdown: The Brewers’ bullpen was without question one of MLB’s best last season and John Axford was the cornerstone to their successes as a unit. In his first full season as Milwaukee’s closer, Axford re-wrote the record books by notching a club-record 46 saves in 48 opportunities which was enough to tie for the league-lead in that category. He also garnered the league’s best ERA (1.95) and struck out an impressive 11 batters per nine innings pitched. After such a productive inaugural campaign, Axford will be held to lofty expectations in 2011 and it should be interesting to see how he handles the pressures that come with being a top MLB closer. Granted, he likely won’t have as many save opportunities with a weakened Milwaukee offense, but he can still control his strikeout rate and how many batters he puts on base.
2011 Stats: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 207 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 207.1 IP
162-game average: 15-10, 3.63 ERA, 214 SO, 1.29 WHIP, 208 IP
2012 Projection: 18-9, 3.30 ERA, 210 SO, 1.25 WHIP, 210 IP
Breakdown: Statistically speaking, 2011 was the most impressive of Yovani Gallardo’s young career. Not only did he set career-highs in wins (17), innings pitched (207.1), strikeouts (207), ERA (3.52) and quality starts (23), he also led all Brewers starters in each of those categories.
However, what’s most impressive are the subtle improvements Gallardo has made to further improve his game. He lowered his BABIP from .324 in 2010 to .291 in 2011 and witnessed his walk rate drop from 9.3% to 6.8%, not to mention an pronounced betterment in WHIP (1.37 in 2010, 1.25 in 2011). This will be Gallardo’s sixth season in the league despite turning 26 years old last week. He’s seen his numbers improve steadily since his rookie year in 2007, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe he won’t take his game to the next level in 2012.
1. Ryan Braun
2011 Stats: .332/.397/.597, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 109 R, 33 SB
162-game average: .312/.371/.563, 36 HR, 118 RBI, 112 R, 21 SB
2012 Projection: .320/.385/.595, 34 HR, 115 RBI, 107 R, 30 SB
Breakdown: After becoming the first player in MLB history to successfully appeal a drug-related suspension, Ryan Braun comes into spring training with a tremendous chip on his shoulder as he looks to clear his name that’s been dragged through the mud over the past three or so months. But will that affect his productivity this season? As much as I’d like to believe it will, I can’t in good conscience see that happening. The loss of Prince Fielder will play a key role in Braun’s stat line this season. Whether or not Aramis Ramirez is able to provide sufficient protection for the reigning NL MVP this season will go a long way toward how much Braun is able to produce. And since Ramirez is no Fielder, it’s only inevitable that Braun will witness a subtle decline in production in 2011. Still, a .320/.385/.595 line is nothing to slouch at — that could be enough to take home MVP honors for a second consecutive season.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a minor league pitching prospect without his fair share of strengths and weaknesses. The fact is, every young pitcher is able to excel some area of his game and struggles at another end.
That same philosophy can be applied to the pitching prospects that reside in the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching-heavy minor league affiliates. Each top prospect has certain strengths and weaknesses that are able to either facilitate or handicap his respective game. How each young pitcher is able to balance the two will go a long way in determining his future at the major league level.
What is the single greatest strength and weakness of each top 10 Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect?
After four pedestrian seasons in Milwaukee’s system, Santo Manzanillo broke onto the scene in 2011 and staked his claim as a real late-inning fire-baller. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s for a while now but he found that he’s capable of running his fastball up to triple-digits. Manzanillo utilized his potency on the mound last season throughout his 2011 campaign. In 61.2 innings between high-A and double-A ball, the Dominican native struck out 62 batters and conceded just 44 hits. If he can stay within himself and maintain his superb velocity in the season’s to come, a big-league promotion could be on the way in the near future.
Like many young, blossoming closers that have come before him, Manzanillo has shown struggles with walks and that was never more evident than after being promoted to double-A ball midway through last season. While he did post an impressive 2.21 ERA in 20 appearances at the double-A level, he garnered a 5.3 BB/9 and 1.58 SO/BB ratio. If he has any intention of breaking through to the Pacific Coast league by the end of this season, he’ll need to redeem himself after a disappointing stint in double-A Huntsville.
Strength: Limiting walks
At 6’6″, 225 pounds, you’d expect Kyle Heckathorn to be a real workhorse on the mound with tremendous velocity and above-average command. Surprisingly, the latter best defines Heckathorn’s game. He’s been able to limit his walks at an impressive clip thus far in his pro career. Between low-A and high-A ball in 2010, the Kennesaw State product walked just 33 batters over 124 innings for a 2.4 BB/9 IP ratio and walk percentage of just 6.2. Those gaudy numbers largely contributed to him being named Milwaukee’s top minor league pitcher of 2010.
Weakness: Strikeout abilities
Heckathorn has the frame, velocity and solid secondary pitches necessary to become a real strikeout-predicated pitcher at the minor league level. Though for whatever reason, he simply struggles to get swings-and-misses, and consequently his strikeout numbers are less-than-impressive. In his breakout season of 2010, Heckathorn punched out just 90 batters and followed that up with a 89-strikeout season in 2011.
Strength: Eating innings
Amaury Rivas is your typical minor-league pitcher. He won’t blow you away with any pitch and he doesn’t particularly excel in one specific area of his game.
However, he does know the importance of working both sides of the plate and eating as many innings as possible. Since 2008, Rivas has averaged 136.1 innings, 108 strikeouts and 56 walks per season. In triple-A ball last season, the Dominican native amassed a career-high 150.2 innings that ranked as the 14th-most innings by any pitcher in the Pacific Coast League.
Rivas has fallen victim to hits throughout his professional career, but last season was easily the most disheartening. He allowed nine hits per nine innings pitched and saw his WHIP escalate from 1.30 in 2010 to a concerning 1.54 in 2011.
Strength: Strikeout abilities
Cody Scarpetta success as a minor league pitcher has without question come from his strikeout abilities. In 2009, the youngster punched out over nine batter per nine innings pitched and logged an impressive 10 K/9 IP ratio in advanced-A ball in 2010. His low-90s fastball has been a dull pitch for him but he’s gone to his outstanding curveball in the clutch. Scarpetta’s breaking pitch has been his signature offering since he broke onto the scene in 2008 and has in turn allowed him to strike out plenty of batters.
While Scarpetta has real upside with his strikeout capabilities, his control has remained unsettled throughout his four professional seasons. The 23 year old’s command is still a work in progress and that will likely halt his promotion timetable. As he’s progressed through the system, his walk ratios have increased dramatically. After a stellar 2008 rookie campaign where he managed a 3.63 K/BB ratio, he collected an abhorrent 1.61 K/BB last season in double-A ball.
6. Jorge Lopez
Strength: Growth potential
The Brewers took Jorge Lopez at 70th overall in last June’s draft and by no means was it an inadvertent selection. The 6’4″, 165-pound high-school right-hander was rated as Puerto Rico’s top talent of the 2011 draft and boasts a solid mid-90s fastball and tight-curveball combination. What’s most scary about Lopez’s game, though, is that he still has a ways to go in reaching his full potential. He’s extremely athletic and if he can add a few more pounds on, he could develop into a real workhorse at the next level.
Weakness: Extremely raw
While Lopez’s growth potential is considerable, scouts have acknowledged that he’ll need to hone his pitches and grow into his body in the coming years. A multi-sport athlete in his younger years, Lopez will be a project at the minor-league level for likely the first two years of his professional career as he get acclimated with the pace and feel to the minors. Once that’s accomplished, the sky could very well be the limit.
Milwaukee’s second-round pick from the 2010 pitcher-friendly draft, Jimmy Nelson has easily the most projectable big-league frame of any pitcher in the Brewers’ system. Weighing in at a healthy 6’6″, 245 pounds, the Alabama product exemplifies the value of having a durable, power-packed physique. Nelson’s big-boned frame has enabled him to touch the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball with consistency. He also has arguably the best slider in Milwaukee’s system to boot.
There’s a lot to like about Nelson’s game but there’s also a lot to dislike about it. He leaves the ball over the plate frequently and that in turn has generated some truly unsightly numbers. In 25 starts last season at the low-A level, Nelson tossed 146 total innings over 25 starts and conceded exactly 146 hits. Couple that with 65 walks and 13 wild pitches, and there’s definitely some cause for concern with respect to his command.
Strength: Off-speed pitch
Many would say that Tyler Thornburg’s success as a minor-league pitcher has been a product of his velocity, but I would argue that it’s his off-speed material that has transformed him into a top-caliber pitching prospect. The former third-round pick out of Charleston Southern can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and has an average curveball to complement it. His changeup, though, is easily his best pitch and projects to be a real weapon at the big league level. It has great fade and draws a lot of swings-and-misses.
While it’s true that Thornburg’s game has a lot to offer, his meager frame presents a number of problems. His 5’11”, 185-pound frame hasn’t allowed him to go deep into games and that could be a chief reason why he’s destined for a bullpen role rather than a spot in a starting rotation. Last season, Thornburg made 24 starts (12 in low-A ball and 12 in advanced-A ball), yielding 136.2 total innings for an average of under six innings per start. His clear lack of stamina is a real concern moving forward.
Milwaukee’s second first-round pick from the most recent draft, 21-year-old former Georgia Tech ace Jed Bradley pitches well beyond his years. He isn’t overly phenomenal at any one specific area and contrary to popular belief, that actually works (and will work) to his benefit as he progresses through the system.
He has the ideal 6’4″, 225-pound build necessary to be a 200-inning starter at the big league level and his three-pitch approach comprised of a low-90s fastball, solid change-up and plus-slider impressed scouts during his college days, where he rarely made costly mistakes.
Weakness: Subtle Mechanics
Many believe Bradley’s smooth 3/4 delivery may be his biggest strength — I couldn’t agree more. He throws with relative ease and is able to hide the ball with great effectiveness, which adds a considerable amount of deception to his pitches.
That said, Bradley maintains his own fair share of weaknesses that will need to be addressed as he progresses through the system. Most of his deficiencies are hardly noticeable and shouldn’t take too much time to correct.
The picture above shows one of Bradley’s flaws. In the picture on the right, Bradley’s hips aren’t able to fully open like the picture on the left. When this happens, he tends to leave the ball up and away, and in turn weakens his control and leads to more walks. This isn’t an overwhelming concern and should be fixed quickly, but it nonetheless remains his most significant deficiency.
The University of Texas’ junior ace from last season, Taylor Jungmann does everything exceptionally well and it was grueling task just narrowing down his game into one overarching strength.
Aside from his plus-fastball, curveball and changeup, it’s obvious that Jungmann’s greatest strength is his ability to go deep into games. Last season, he compiled 141 innings over 18 starts for the Longhorns, averaging out to nearly eight innings of work per each start. His impressive stamina should bode well in his first pro season and into the prospective future.
Weakness: Honing his pitches
Truth be told, there’s really no definitive knock to Jungmann’s game. His 2011 season at Texas was near impeccable and he showed to be above-average in nearly every facet imaginable.
Right now, though, Jungmann’s temporary weakness may be to hone his pitches as he gets set to skip both rookie and low-A ball to head straight to high-A ball. His impressive fastball-curve-changeup combination was superb at the collegiate level but it will need some time to get settled in professional ball.
Strength: Strikeout abilities
As the Brewers’ top pitching prospect, 22-year-old Wily Peralta does many things well. He can turn up the heat and touch the mid-90s with his fastball that has nice tailing action and also induces a lot of swing-and-misses with his plus-slider and solid changeup.
As a consequence to his credible three-pitch repertoire, Peralta’s unequivocal strength thus far is his ability to strike batters out. In 26 starts last season, the Dominican native punched out a combined 157 batters in 150.2 total innings and garnered a strikeout percentage of 32.8 in his brief stay in the Pacific Coast League.
If there’s been one area of concern for Peralta up to this point it’s been his command, thought it showed massive signs of improvements last season. Between high-A and double-A ball in 2010, Peralta walked essentially four batters per nine innings pitched, enough for an underwhelming 1.63 SO/BB ratio. He came back and posted a much-improved 2.66 SO/BB ratio last season between double-A and triple-A ball.