Results tagged ‘ Brewers Rumors ’

Brewers to Sign Tom Gorzelanny

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

The Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly come to terms with free agent left-handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny on a two-year, $6 Million contract, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The deal will go through once Gorzelanny passes a physical examination set for Friday.

Gorzelanny, 30, spent the last two years with the Washington Nationals. In 2012, he made 45 relief appearances with the club. Logging exactly 68.1 innings in that role, he posted a 2.90 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, struck out 57 and walked 28, and held opponents to a .240/.318/.390 slash line.

Stuff-wise, the veteran southpaw employs a three-pitch mix that includes a sinker (89-92 MPH), four-seam fastball (90-92 MPH) and changeup (84-86 MPH), though he also tries to work in a slider (81-83 MPH), curveball (79-82 MPH) and cutter (87-89 MPH).

His best pitch is his slider, which opponents garnered just a .125 batting average and .188 slugging percentage against last season. The pitch is a true swing-and-miss offering, amassing a swing-and-miss rate of 43 percent. It was noticeably effective against left-handers, collecting a swing-and-miss rate of 46 percent.

Here’s a batter’s-eye-view of his arsenal.

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Stay here for the latest developments.


Brewers Reportedly in on Mike Adams, Sources Say

Mike Adams | Photo courtesy of

Mike Adams | Photo courtesy of

If one thing has become clear this off-season, it’s that the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t willing to take a chance  on risky free-agent talent.

Missing out on outfielder Josh Hamilton and right-handed starter Ryan Dempster (both inked free-agent contracts Thursday), general manager Doug Melvin seems to be sticking to his guns this winter.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all is lost.

Still needing to find replacements for departing relievers such as Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Manny Parra and Kameron Loe, Melvin could be looking to find big-name bullpen help for next season. One such name that has been brought up in discussion is 34-year-old right-hander Mike Adams.

Fittingly enough, recent reports indicate that Adams may in the next few days decide where he will play in 2013, and beyond.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported Thursday that the Brewers are linked to the veteran right-hander.

Last season, Adams posted a 3.27 ERA (3.52 FIP, 3.95 xFIP), 1.39 WHIP, .327 BABIP and 7.8% HR/FB% over 52.1 innings as a member of the Texas Rangers’ bullpen, which was a far cry from his outstanding 2011 campaign where he hoarded a 1.47 ERA and walk rate of 5.1 percent.

Adams broke onto the big-league scene with Milwaukee in 2004 as a 25-year-old and stayed with the club through the 2006 season.

Contract in the Works for Hart, Brewers?

Corey Hart / Courtesy of

Corey Hart wants to remain in Milwaukee for the entirety of his career — that much is certain.

“I’m comfortable here, my family is comfortable here. We don’t want to go anywhere else,” Hart told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel late last August. “I wanted to make sure they knew I wanted to stay. I’d like to play my whole career in Milwaukee.”

But do the Brewers want Hart? The answer to that question is becoming more certain with each passing day.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Brewers are discussing a new deal with their 30-year-old first baseman. Still under contract through the end of the 2013 season, Hart is reportedly pursuing a three-year contract extension with the club. If the Brewers had it their way, they’d most likely opt for a two-year deal while increasing the $10 Million salary he is set to earn next season.

Transitioning from right field to first base, Hart committed just four errors in 103 games at first-base and a 8.45 range factor in 103 games.

Hart is the longest tenured player on Milwaukee’s roster heading into the 2013. He hit .270/.334/.507 with 30 home runs and a .358 wOBA, 125 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs.

No Contract Extension Talks Between Brewers, Greinke

Despite tossing eight complete innings of two-hit baseball with 11 strikeouts against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday afternoon at Miller Park, it doesn’t seem as though Zack Greinke and Brewers GM Doug Melvin are making any headway in their quest of a long-term contract extension.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, there have “been no recent contract negotiations involving Greinke” and the Brewers at this juncture of the season. From Heyman’s Twitter page early Wednesday morning:

Wednesday was easily Greinke’s best outing of the season, setting season-bests with 11 punchouts, two hits allowed, eight innings, no walks while moreover conceding no runs. His dominance of Reds hitters yesterday now gives Milwaukee’s 28-year-old free-agent-to-be a 3.35 ERA (2.17 FIP), 1.14 WHIP with a whopping 46 strikeouts to just 10 walks so far this season. Outside of his second outing of the season against the Chicago Cubs — where he conceded eight runs on nine hits over 3.2 innings — Greinke has pitched lights-out thus far into his 2012 campaign.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Brewers, Lucroy Agree to 5-Year Contract Extension

According to’s Ken Rosenthal, the Milwaukee Brewers and catcher Jonathan Lucroy have agreed to a five-year, $11 Million contract extension.  An official announcement regarding the deal is said to take place on Tuesday, March 27, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Per Rosenthal’s twitter page that first reported the story Monday afternoon:

Last season, the 25-year-old Lucroy batted .265 with 12 home runs , 59 RBI and 45 runs scored in 136 games in his first full season as Milwaukee’s starting catcher.  He was a brick wall behind the plate, garnering a .993 fielding percentage and 8.96 range factor while allowing just one passed ball despite being dealt a league-high 62 wild pitches from Brewers pitchers.

The Brewers have been searching for any type of solidarity from behind home plate for an extremely long time and if these reports prove true, it will prove to be a huge commitment for a club looking to ink as many of it’s current players as possible after Prince Fielder signed on with the Detroit Tigers last January.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Identifying the Biggest Strength/Weakness of Each Top 10 Milwaukee Brewers Pitching Prospect

**Read this article on Bleacher Report**

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?

10. Santo Manzanillo

Strength: Velocity

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.

Weakness: Walks

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.

9. Kyle Heckathorn

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.

8. Amaury Rivas

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.

Weakness: Hits

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.

7. Cody Scarpetta

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.

Weakness: Command/control

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.

5. Jimmy Nelson

Strength: Frame

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.

Weakness: Command

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.

4. Tyler Thornburg

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.

Weakness: Endurance

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.

3. Jed Bradley

Strength: Maturity

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.

2. Taylor Jungmann

Strength: Stamina/durability

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.

1. Wily Peralta

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.

Weakness: Walks

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.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Top 20 Prospects in NL Central for 2012: Where do Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley Rank?

**Read this article on Bleacher Report**

One of the chief reasons the NL Central has garnered a reputation for being one of Major League Baseball’s most competitive, talent-oriented divisions is in large part to player development in the minors.

Each team in the division has, to some extent, predicated their success through the MLB Draft and an overwhelming percentage of each club’s rosters have come from home-grown talent.  This year looks to be no different than from past seasons.

With spring training almost here, many teams’ top prospects will look to leave a lasting impression on their respective organizations.  But which players should be placed in the “upper-echelon” category of prospects?  Let’s break down the top 20 prospects in the NL Central for 2012.

20. Oscar Taveras

Oscar Taveras has three professional seasons to his credit and has impressed scouts in every step of his development.  The 19-year-old Dominican Republic native is a budding start with legitimate five-tool capabilities.  In 2010, Taveras batted .303 with eight home runs, 45 RBI and a .526 slugging percentage between two rookie levels.  His performance warranted a promotion to start 2011, and he wouldn’t disappoint.

The left-handed-hitting outfielder batted an amazing .386 with eight home runs, 62 RBI and posted a remarkable 1.028 OPS in the Midwest League.  The scary part about Taveras’ game is that he’s still growing into his body, which could push him through the Cardinals’ system if he continues his dominance through the upper minors.

19. Jonathan Villar

Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as a non-draft pick free agent in 2008, Jonathan Villar made his way to the Astros’ system in 2010 and has quickly become one of the preeminent base-stealing prospects in the entire minors.

In 2010, the Dominican native nabbed a combined 45 stolen bases between low and high-A ball, batting .260 with five home runs, 55 RBI and 79 runs scored in the meantime.  Last season, he logged 34 stolen bases and amassed 14 home runs, 52 RBI and scored 78 times.  Villar has exceptional fluidity and range at shortstop and projects to be a perennial Gold Glove winner for years to come.  The only knock to his game at this point is his inconsistencies at the plate.  Once he shores that up, he’ll look to be Houston’s shortstop of the future.

18. Tyler Thornburg

The Brewers are top-heavy in pitching talent on the farm and Tyler Thornburg is one of the preeminent talents featured.  He’s been one of the most impressive youngsters in the entire minors over the past two seasons.

In his rookie campaign in 2010, Thornburg tossed 23.1 innings of solid ball, posting a 1.97 ERA and 14.7 K/9 IP ratio in the meantime.  His eye-opening performance elevated him through low-A and high-A ball in 2011 where he garnered a combined 2.57 ERA and struck out 160 batters in just 136.2 innings of work.  Thornburg’s stock is soaring at the moment and if he’s able to prolong his success through next season, there’s a legitimate chance he could break through to the majors late in 2013.   The only question at this juncture is whether or not his 5’11”, 185-pound frame will hold up as the competition elevates.

17. Jed Bradley

Jed Bradley was high on many teams’ draft boards last June and, needless to say, the Brewers were ecstatic that the exemplary left-hander fell to them at 15th overall.

In his junior season at Georgia Tech, Bradley went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out 106 batters in just 98 innings.  He also held batters to a feeble .239 BA and, believe it or not, conceded just one home run to the opposition all season.  The 21-year-old southpaw has three credible pitches at his disposal and uses each to his liking.  He touched 94 MPH with his fastball, 83-84 MPH with his changeup at the Arizona Fall League last fall and also worked on polishing his low-80s slider.  He’s got a fluid throwing motion that needs little-to-no refinement.

16. Trey McNutt

Trey McNutt wasn’t considered a top-tier prospect coming out of Shelton State Community College in 2009, but after a few years in the minors, he’s quietly developed into one of the Cubs’ top young pitching talents.

After a solid rookie year in 2009, McNutt made his way through three levels of the minors in 2010.  Between low-A, high-A and double-A ball, the 6’4″, 220-pound righty went a combined 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA, striking out 132 in just 116.1 innings of work.  He spent his entire 2011 campaign in double-A and struggled mightily, going 5-6 with a rather unsightly 4.55 ERA.  Despite his mishaps last season, there’s no questioning what he brings to the table.  He can run his fastball up to 95 with great command and also has an interesting curveball/slider combination.  Word on the street says the Cubs will want him in the majors in the very near future.

15. Taylor Jungmann

Taylor Jungmann torched the competition in his final season at Texas, and when the Brewers took him at 15th overall at last summer’s draft, it’s safe to say they found their future No. 2 starter.  Last season, Texas’ ace went 13-3 with a 1.60 ERA and struck out 126 batters in 141 innings.  He also held opponents to a remarkable .165 BA and garnered a sumptuous 0.86 WHIP.  He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s with solid command and his curveball is also a plus-pitch.

In a Brewers farm system largely devoid of top-tier pitching, Jungmann will have the opportunity to absolutely sprint through the system.  He’s expected to start his inaugural season in high-A ball and work his way up from there, though it’s clear Milwaukee intends on pushing him up to the majors by 2013.

14. George Springer

George Springer was one of the most highly-touted prospects featured in last summer’s draft and it’s easy to see why.  He is a complete ballplayer in every sense and has legitimate five-tool makeup.

In his last season at Connecticut, Houston’s first-round pickup posted a .343 BA and slugged his way to 12 home runs, 77 RBI and 23 doubles.  He also managed a .450 on-base percentage and .608 slugging percentage while also logging 31 stolen bases.  Given his baseball prowess and time spent in college ball, Springer won’t need much time in the minors for the Astros to promote him to the majors.   Simply put, he’s one of the most refined young players to come out of last June’s draft and will look to become a superstar-caliber talent for years to come.

13. Javier Baez

The Cubs took a gamble on 18-year-old shortstop Javier Baez at last June’s draft, but their investment will go a long way toward shoring up their infield for the prospective future.

Still relatively unknown by Chicago fans, Baez has enough athletic ability to play second and third-base at the major league level, though is still extremely raw for his age and will need at least two seasons in the minors to refine his game.  However, there’s no denying his defensive aptitude and overall upside.  In his rookie campaign last season, Baez had just 18 total plate appearances but the Cubs quickly promoted him to low-A ball.  He’s expected to start his 2012 campaign at low-A Boise and work his way up from there.

12. Jarred Cosart

Jarred Cosart was one of the Phillies’ top pitching prospects before being dealt to Houston via trade last summer.  He now looks to break through to the majors for the Astros in the very near future.

Drafted fresh out of high school in the 38th round of the 2008 draft, Cosart has three years of pro experience to his credit and has showed signs of being a workhorse at the big-league level.   In 2010, he went 7-3 with a 3.79 ERA and struck out 77 in 71.1 innings at low-A ball.  Last year he scooted his way up to double-A ball, where he struggled in his seven starts, posting an ERA of 4.71 and an underwhelming 1.69 K/BB ratio.  The Astros have a bevy of top pitching prospects in their system and Cosart may have the highest ceiling of all.  His fastball can touch the mid-’90s and his hammer-action curveball is easily the best in Houston’s system.   Look for him to start 2012 in double-A and break through to triple-A by season’s end.

11. Wily Peralta

Signing as a non-draft pick in 2005 at 16 years old, Wily Peralta has spent five solid seasons in the Brewers’ system and is almost ready to contribute at the major-league level.

In 2010, the bulky right-hander and Dominican Republic native went the distance by going 8-6 with a 3.79 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 147.1 innings of work.  However, he struggled with command issues and conceded 64 walks, leading to an abhorrent 1.41 WHIP.   He bounced back in 2011 by going a combined 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 150.2 innings, striking out 157 and walking just 59.  Peralta can touch the low to mid-’90s with his fastball and has a plus-slider and changeup that will serve him well at the next level.  He’s clearly Milwaukee’s top prospect heading into this season and has a shot at breaking camp with the big-league team out of the bullpen to start his 2012 campaign.

10. Jonathan Singleton

Another prospect sent to Houston from the Phillies’ system, Jonathan Singleton is widely considered to be the Astros’ top youngster heading into this season.

The 6’2″, 215-pound first baseman is athletic as they come and uses his prowess to his advantage in the batter’s box.  In 2010, Singleton batted .290 with 14 home runs and 77 RBI in 104 games in low-A ball and followed that up last year by batting .298 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI in high-A ball.  Singleton is also a capable defender, as well.  He carries a career .989 fielding percentage and 8.73 range factor, and his wing span makes him an ideal target at first base.  At just 20 years old, Singleton is already a seasoned minor league talent and shouldn’t need any more than two seasons down on the farm before he’s ready to contribute for the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

9. Starling Marte

The Pirates have a number of extremely talented arms in their system, but not a whole lot of positional stars to speak of.  Starling Marte is probably one of Pittsburgh’s best positional prospects.

A 23-year-old center-fielder with a considerable amount of defensive range, Marte is an above-average athlete who may be on his way to the big leagues by the end of 2012.  Last season in double-A, the Dominican native posted a .332 BA with 12 home runs, 50 RBI, 91 runs scored and logged 24 stolen bases.   Adding more power to his swing would make him a legitimate five-tool prospect.  Marte is currently on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster to start spring training.  If he impresses, there’s a chance he will get called up mid-season after some time in triple-A to refine his game a bit more.

8. Anthony Rizzo

Few prospects on this list are as MLB-ready as 23-year-old Anthony Rizzo.  With four scintillating pro seasons under his belt, he’s as ready as he’ll ever be to contribute at the big-league level.

At the triple-A level last season, Rizzo was nothing short of sensational, batting .331 with 26 home runs and 101 RBI.  He managed a .404 on-base percentage and registered a remarkable .652 slugging percentage in the meantime.  The Chicago Cubs and new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein loved what they saw in Rizzo and traded for him in early January.  In their endeavors to go young, rebuild and start from scratch, Rizzo figures to be the Cubs’ first-baseman of the future.   It remains to be seen if he’ll start his 2012 campaign in the minors or if he’ll break camp with the big league team.

7. Billy Hamilton

Base-stealing is an art form that few players, much less minor-leaguers, have been able to perfect.  However, Billy Hamilton seems to have it down pat.

A second-round draft pick from the 2009 draft, Hamilton has provided more than enough reasons to believe he’s the Cincinnati Reds’ shortstop of the future.   Last season at low-A ball, the 21-year-old notched 103 stolen bases in 135 games.  He batted .278 with three home runs, 50 RBI and 99 runs scored as a switch hitter, additionally.  Scouts everywhere agree that Hamilton has legitimate lead-off material at the big-league level, but that he’ll need to shore up and develop his power slightly more.  He’s average in the field and may have to find his way to second base or possibly even the outfield in the future.   Baseball America ranks Hamilton as the Reds’ No. 2 overall prospect heading into this season.

6. Brett Jackson

In a Chicago Cubs’ farm system without any sensational positional prospects, 21-year-old outfielder Brett Jackson really stands out as a future star in the making.

Between high-A and double-A ball in 2010, the California product batted a combined .297 with 12 home runs, 66 RBI, 103 runs scored and also notched 30 stolen bases.  Last season between double and triple-A, Jackson batted .274 with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, 84 runs scored with 21 stolen bases.  Jackson has impressed scouts with his five-tool makeup.  He’s got a strong arm, can play defense in the outfield, can run, can hit for average and has flashed instances of being able to hit for power at the next level.  If he can continue to rake at his impressive pace, there’s no question he’ll break onto the major-league scene early on this season.

5. Carlos Martinez

Signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a non-draft pick free agent in 2010, 20-year-old right-hander Carlos Martinez has all the ingredients necessary to become a future ace at the major league level.

In the Dominican Summer League in 2010, Martinez made 12 starts, going 3-2 with a exceptional 0.76 ERA.  He also struck out 78 batters, held the opposition to a .144 BA and logged a 0.71 WHIP.  Last year between low-A and high-A ball, he went a combined 6-5 and saw his ERA rise to 3.93.  However, his strikeout abilities continued, amassing 93 punch-outs in 84.2 innings of work.  Skeptics will point to Martinez’s size (6′, 165 pounds) as cause for concern, but so far he’s been a sensation on the mound.  Baseball America ranks him as the Cardinals’ No. 2 overall prospect heading into this season.

4. Devin Mesoraco

It’s often difficult to find a catcher prospect who has a solid glove and can also hit for power, but Devin Mesoraco is one youngster who fulfills both requirements.

A former first-round pick from the 2007 draft, Mesoraco has only recently burst onto the scene as a top minor-league prospect.   After three underwhelming seasons, his bat exploded in 2010, batting a combined .302 with 26 home runs and 75 RBI between high-A, double-A and triple-A ball.  He spent his entire 2011 campaign in the International League and batted .289 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI.  The Reds have a pressing need at catcher this season, and barring some unforeseen regression in spring training, Mesoraco will look to take over the starting role in Cincinnati on opening day.

3. Gerrit Cole

When the Pirates took Gerrit Cole No. 1 overall at last June’s draft, it’s safe to say they corralled one of the most seasoned young arms in all of college baseball who has a tremendously high MLB ceiling.

In his final season at UCLA, the budding star went 6-8 and posted a 3.31 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and held batters to a .242 BA.  He also punched out 119 batters in 115 innings and snagged a 1.89 BB/9 IP ratio.   His prototypical 6’4″, 220-pound frame enabled him to consistently run his fastball up to the high 90s and his plus-average slider looks to be his strikeout pitch.  After making his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League where he went 2-0 with an even 3.00 ERA, striking out 16 in 15 total innings, Cole should start his 2012 campaign in high-A ball.   Word on the street says he won’t need much time in the minors and could break through to Pittsburgh’s rotation possibly as soon as 2013.

2. Jameson Taillon

Undoubtedly the Pittsburgh Pirates’ top overall prospect heading into this season, it’s easy to forget Jameson Taillon is only 20 years old with one pro season under his belt.  His physique and makeup suggest he could already be a major-league talent.

Taken second overall (after Bryce Harper) in the 2010 draft, Taillon’s 6’6″, 225-pound shell has had scouts raving since his high-school days.   Consequently, the lanky right-hander can run his fastball up to 99 MPH and also has a plus fastball and slider.  Couple that with solid command, and Taillon is a can’t-miss prospect on the mound.  In his first pro season, Taillon made 23 starts in low-A ball and went 2-3, garnering a 3.98 ERA, 97 strikeouts and a 1.19 WHIP in 92.2 innings.  He’s expected to move through the system quickly despite the fact he was drafted straight out of high school, and will challenge Gerrit Cole to be Pittsburgh’s ace of the future.

1. Shelby Miller

The St. Louis Cardinals struck gold when they took high school phenom Shelby Miller 19th overall at the 2009 draft and may very well have found their future No. 2 starter in the process.

Weighing in at a prototypical 6’3″, 195 pounds, Miller has all the physical tools to become a successful top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.   The 21-year-old was clocked throwing in the upper 90s prior to the draft and that will only get better with time.  He also features a plus-average 12-6 curveball that complements his velocity well.  Miller’s physique and makeup endowed him with unquestioned strikeout abilities.  In 2010, he punched out 140 in just 104.1 innings and last season sat down 170 in 139.2 for a career K/9 IP ratio of 11.4.   If he can further that success into spring training, he will have the chance at starting his 2012 campaign out of St. Louis’ bullpen.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

MLB Trade Rumors: 5 Contenders Who Could Target Zack Greinke This Season

Milwaukee Brewers right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke has been one of the most accomplished starters in all of baseball over the past few seasons.  After winning the 2009 AL Cy Young award in historic fashion, he’s put together two respectable seasons that many pitching-needy teams would give an arm or leg for.  The good news for those teams is that Greinke could be on the trading block this season.  If the Prince Fielder-less Brewers slump early in the regular season that could make way for GM Doug Melvin to open up trade-talks for the veteran right-hander.

Needless to say, teams with postseason aspirations can’t get enough pitching, particularly starting pitching.  But which contending teams will be hard-pressed to pursue Greinke this season?

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees were in desperate need of starting pitching this winter and they were able to mitigate their woes on the mound by trading for 23-year-old Michael Pineda.  While the addition of the 6’7″, 260-pound right-hander will no doubt provide young stability to their rotation, there still remains the question of A.J. Burnett and whether or not they plan to retain him.  As recent indications prove, though, they are very willing to deal Burnett and that could make way for adding Greinke into the fold later in the season.  Greinke has proven that he’s worth his weight in gold (he led MLB with a 10.54 K/9 IP last season) and there’s no reason to believe Brian Cashman wouldn’t be willing to take on around half of Greinke’s $13.5 Million salary next season.

Philadelphia Phillies

As sad and unethical as it may seem, the Philadelphia Phillies could still be in the market for more starting pitching.  The departure of Roy Oswalt suggest the Phils could be looking to bolster the No. 4 slot in their rotation.  Yes, Joe Blanton and Vance Worley are each more than capable of being at the very least serviceable at the end of Philadelphia’s rotation.  But if the impossible happens and the Phils start to slip early on, they may take to the trade market, possibly dealing Blanton, for a rental of Greinke’s caliber.  The Phillies are near stacked with young minor league talent that the Brewers would be more than intrigued in acquiring through a trade.  The only question is whether or not Philly can take on Greinke’s contract, though I doubt they’d turn away from a deal that takes them a step closer to a World Championship simply because of financial constrictions.

Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals managed to significantly upgrade their starting rotation this past winter by selling the farm for Gio Gonzalez and signing Edwin Jackson, but in a stacked NL East division, the Nats are going to need a whole lot more pitching talent if they expect to contend.  A five-man rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jackson, Jordan Zimmerman and John Lannan is respectable but not quite postseason worthy.  The addition of a Cy Young-caliber right-hander would certainly put the young Nationals up with the Phillies and Braves of the baseball world.  The Brewers are desperate to restock their devoid farm system and Washington has a number of prospects Milwaukee would be interested in. And seen as how GM Mike Rizzo was near ready to sign Prince Fielder, one can only assume the Nats have the capital to take on Greinke’s weighty contract.

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians were a team on the fringe of making the playoffs last season with much hope heading into 2012.  But with the Detroit Tigers’ addition of Prince Fielder, the only way the Tribe can expect to compete in this season is through their starting rotation.  Trading for Ubaldo Jimenez at the deadline last year will help bolster their staff comprised of Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Kevin Slowey.  Going out and trading for Derek Lowe in October will also prove to be a crafty move.  But can the Indians honestly expect to compete for the division title with just these pieces?  Going out and getting Greinke as a rental-type addition would significantly help Cleveland’s chances at either the AL Central title or the AL Wild Card spot.  Moreover, the Indians compass a bevy of prospects such as Dillon Howard or Zach Putnam that would appeal to the Brewers.

Colorado Rockies

Dealing away Ubaldo Jimenez last summer may have replenished the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, but it also left their starting rotation in shambles.   Currently, 24-year-old Jhoulys Chacin and trade pickup Jeremy Guthrie top off Jim Tracy’s underwhelming rotation.  If that remains, the postseason will be but a pipe-dream for the Rockies.  Post All-Star break last season, Colorado garnered the NL’s worst team ERA (4.82) despite having the league’s best run-support average (0.27). With the addition of a power-type arm of Greinke’s caliber, the Rockies’ chances of taking the relatively wide-open NL West division would skyrocket.  The offensive pieces are already in place and if the Rockies find themselves relatively close to the division lead come the trade deadline on July 31, there’s no question they would be willing to ship off a few top prospects in return for Greinke’s services.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Milwaukee Brewers: Power Ranking Top 25 Players Heading into Spring Training

The Milwaukee Brewers have endured massive roster transformations over the past few months.  Consequently, many of the club’s top players have changed dramatically.

With Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee all leaving through either free-agency or trade and potentially (but not officially) Ryan Braun missing the first 50 games of the regular season due to suspension, a number of the players that led the Brewers to an NL Central division title last season have come and gone.

Now under two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, how does each player on the Brewers’ roster stack up against one another?  Let’s go ahead and rank Milwaukee’s top 25 players heading into preseason action.

*These preseason rankings will also incorporate a stock report, with which we plan to update bi-weekly.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks to see how each player’s performance impacts their placement on our top-25 rankings*

25. Manny Parra

Manny Parra’s 2011 season was all for naught after suffering a back injury late in spring training. Yet, the Brewers felt the need to bring him back to the bullpen by signing him to a one-year, $1.2 Million deal for this next season. While he’ll be shelved in the ‘pen to start 2012, the 29-year-old lefty still has some valuable traits to his game that could prove valuable.  As a reliever, Parra maintains a career 3.19 ERA, 9.7 K/9 IP ratio, .257 BAA and 3.05 SO/BB.  Nothing to write home about, obviously, but if he can come out of the gates strong, his stock could rise into the top 15 by the time June comes around.

Current Stock Analysis: Right now, Parra’s stock is rising because, quite frankly, there’s nowhere else for it to go.  I would advise fans to track his progress this spring.

24. Cesar Izturis

In light of their failure to re-sign utility-man Jerry Hairston Jr., the Brewers signed veteran infielder Cesar Izturis to a minor league contract.  And while he isn’t yet guaranteed a spot on the opening-day roster, I think it’s safe to say he will be. For his career, Izturis boasts a career .980 fielding percentage, committing just 93 errors in 1168 games played.  He also carries a career 4.07 range factor as a shortstop, comparatively better than many utility infielders in the game today.  His bat is second-rate, to say the least, but his glove makes him a valuable piece to Milwaukee’s puzzle heading into this season.

Current Stock Analysis: Since there’s really no reason to believe his stock could be going down at this point, I think his value remains steady, if not slightly on the rise.  The importance of having a quality backup of Izturis’ caliber is invaluable to a major league roster.

23. Taylor Green

Taylor Green slugged his way toward being named Milwaukee’s top positional prospect last year, and he got a limited shot at the big leagues toward the end of last season.  The 25-year-old corner infielder played in 20 games and amassed 37 at-bast, registering 10 hits.  He was on the Brewers’ postseason roster but wasn’t able to get a plate appearance in the playoffs.  While the Brewers were able to sign Aramis Ramirez to play the hot-corner, Green will continue to play an important role for Ron Roenicke.  Speculation around the club says he could eventually find a platoon role with Mat Gamel at first base by season’s end.

Current Stock Analysis: Right now, Green’s stock is at a steady rate.  However, it’s only inevitable that his stock will rise as his value to the team has nowhere to go but up.

22. Frankie De La Cruz

Longtime prospect and journeyman Frankie De La Cruz has the makings of a solid power-type arm out of the bullpen.  He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and continues to make progress on his command.  Last season, De La Cruz made 23 starts in triple-A ball, flashing his durability and strikeout abilities to the tune of 126 strikeouts in 137 innings, enough for a 8.3 K/9 IP ratio. He also held batters to a .249 BA and .297 BABIP.  He struggles with walks and hits, but he’s got potential — and Ron Roenicke is aware of that. The Brewers will need his talents throughout next season.

Current Stock Analysis: De La Cruz could emerge as a star out of Milwaukee’s bullpen this season.  And since his stock is comparatively lower than the rest of the relievers, I think he’s on the rise as we speak.

21. Chris Narveson

Say what you will about Chris Narveson’s raw statistics, but there’s no doubting he’s one of the best end-of-the-rotation starters in all of baseball.  Last season, he went 11-8 and posted a 4.45 ERA with a respectable 7.0 K/9 IP ratio.  Narveson’s spot in Milwaukee’s rotation is all but sealed up at this juncture, though it remains to be seen how well he performs in spring training.  If he struggles, that could open the door for Marco Estrada, but that doesn’t seem likely as the Brewers will need to utilize his lefty arm throughout next season.

Current Stock Analysis: Expectations for Narveson are extremely low, so he’ll have a chance to shoot up our boards early on.  For now, though, his stock is unwavering.

20. Norichika Aoki

Depth and player personnel is of the highest importance in MLB, and the addition of three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki will give the Brewers the support they need.  The two sides agreed to a two-year, $2.5 Million contract last month and, needless to say, Aoki will have big shoes to fill in left field with Ryan Braun likely to serve his 50-game suspension.  Aoki has a sound, contact-oriented bat and drives the ball to all corners of the field.  He also has speed on the basepaths and could emerge as Ron Roenicke’s lead-off hitter if he produces enough in spring training.

Current Stock Analysis: Aoki has already had a spring training, of sorts.  Both Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin scouted Aoki at a private workout prior to their announced signing, so it’s safe to say they know how high his ceiling might be.  That said, his stock is on the rise, regardless.

19. Marco Estrada

Often overlooked, Marco Estrada was a serviceable arm out of the bullpen last season.  He posted a 4.38 ERA and struck out 55 in 51.1 innings of work, hoarding an impressive 9.6 K/9 IP ratio and 2.89 K/BB.  Where Estrada separates himself from the rest of the relievers, though, is that he can also contribute as a starter.  Filling in for Chris Narveson, Estrada went 3-2 with a 3.70 ERA and 1.087 WHIP in seven starts last season.  He has good command and limits his walks, something that Ron Roenicke will embrace throughout 2012.

Current Stock Analysis: The Brewers will return their entire bullpen from last season, and unlike 2011, 2012 will prove to be a season where Estrada is used on a regular basis.  His stock is definitely going up.

18. José Veras

In an effort to clear room for incoming third-basman Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers dealt Casey McGehee to Pittsburgh in return for 31-year-old reliever Jose Veras.  A seasoned relief arm with much experience, Veras looks to bring depth and talent to Milwaukee’s bullpen.  Last season with the Pirates, Veras appeared in 79 games and posted a 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and struck out 79 in 71 innings, enough for a 10 K/9 IP ratio.  He can struggle with walks and command at times but brings a solid repertoire with a history of having above-average strikeout abilities.

Current Stock Analysis: Veras will be called upon to augment Milwaukee’s success out of the bullpen all through next season.  He should get a ton of opportunities to get settled this spring, and for that reason alone, his stock is on the rise.

17. Kameron Loe

Save for John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe will be undoubtedly Milwaukee’s most steadfast and dependable reliever in 2012.  Last season, the 6’8″, 220 pound right-hander utilized his upper-90s fastball and impressive command religiously.  He posted a 3.50 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, struck out 61 while only walking 16 batters in 72 innings, good enough for a sumptuous 3.81 K/BB ratio.

Current Stock Analysis: With LaTroy Hawkins gone, Loe’s value and relevance out of the bullpen will skyrocket.  Consequently, his stock is on the rise as we draw nearer to spring training.

16. George Kottaras

If catcher is the most important position to a major-league ballclub, then back-up catcher is the second most important.  Luckily for the Brewers, George Kottaras is arguably one of the most productive backup catchers in all of baseball.  Playing second-fiddle to Jonathan Lucroy last season, Kottaras posted a .252 BA, five home runs, 17 RBI and a .459 slugging percentage in just 111 at-bats.  The highlight to his season came back in early September where he hit for the cycle against the Astros, marking just the seventh time in franchise history a player has accomplished such a feat.  His left-handed bat makes him extremely valuable in tight situations and has the capabilities to fill-in for Lucroy should he hit a rough patch and need a few days off.

Current Stock Analysis: The Brewers came to terms with Kottaras in early December, avoiding arbitration.  Needless to say, the deal was absolutely necessary given his aptitude both at the plate and in the field.  As far as I’m concerned, his stock is always on the rise.

15. Mat Gamel

After years of waiting and a few false starts, 26-year-old first-baseman Mat Gamel will finally get his shot to be in the everyday starting lineup.  He’ll have big shoes to fill, obviously, but the Brewers seem confident in his capabilities.  Last season in triple-A, Gamel torched the Pacific Coast to the tune of a .310 BA, 28 home runs and 96 RBI.  He finished second among Brewers prospects with a .540 slugging percentage and also posted an impressive .912 OPS.  Gamel has had limited chances at the majors and 2012 will go a long way in determining his future with the organization.  If he produces up to his standards, he could get a contract extension.  If he falters, his future with the club will be in serious question.  He will be on a short leash with Milwaukee this season.

Current Stock Analysis: Gamel figures to come into spring training with an enormous chip on his shoulder.  His doubters have said he won’t effectively replace Prince Fielder and that he won’t be able to be a consistent contributor at the big league level.  I look for him to come out of the gates strong and improve his stock considerably.

14. Randy Wolf

Randy Wolf is the epitome of an “innings-eater”, averaging 209 innings of work per season through is 13 years in the big leagues.  And contrary to popular belief, he’s actually gotten better with age.  In 2010, his first season with Milwaukee, Wolf amassed a career-high 215.2 innings and posted a 4.17 ERA.  Last season, he nearly surpassed that, hoarding 212.1 innings with a 3.69 ERA.  He finished first in innings pitched and second in quality starts (21) among all Brewers starters last season.  While the front-end of Milwaukee’s rotation will garner most of the attention, it’s Wolf who provides the steadfast mentality and play needed to compete in such a competitive division.  Few pitchers in the game are able to do what he does on a start-to-start basis.

Current Stock Analysis: Strictly based of expectations, Wolf was filthy last season and performed well-above expectations.  If he is able to perpetuate his execution, Milwaukee will have no choice but to pick up his $10 Million 2013 option next winter.  His stock is on the rise.

13. Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez was nothing short of sensational last spring.  In 13 games, he batted .390 with 13 runs scored, two home runs, seven RBI and finished second among all Brewers with 30 total bases.  For whatever reason, though, he wasn’t able to translate his spring training successes over to the regular season.  He batted just .225 with six home runs, 31 runs scored and garnered just a .273 on-base percentage prior to the All-Star break before suffering a broken collarbone in late July.  There’s no doubting Gomez’s defensive and base-stealing prowess.  He’s one of the biggest speed-threats in the game today.  However, his bat remains an enigma, or sorts.  He’ll need to prove he’s worth bringing back next season with a solid 2012 campaign from the batter’s box.

Current Stock Analysis: Gomez thrives in spring training.  He’s proven to be one of the best preseason players in all of baseball over the past few seasons.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t count for much.  Right now, his stock is declining ever so slightly.

12. Alex Gonzalez

The Brewers had an acute need for a defensive upgrade this past winter, particularly at shortstop.  After declining Yuniesky Betancourt’s 2012 club option, GM Doug Melvin turned to Alex Gonzalez early on in December.  Gonzalez, 34, brings a seasoned veteran glove to a Milwaukee infield that ranked as one of MLB’s worst last season.  He maintains a career .972 fielding percentage and has tremendous range, even for his age, garnering a 5.938 zone rating last season in Atlanta.  His production at the plate has waned a bit and while he may not have as much raw power as Betancourt, he certainly knows how to put the ball in play and remain a contact-oriented hitter.

Current Stock Analysis: Gonzalez’s stock throughout this season will hinge largely on his serviceability in the field.  He’s had an above-average glove for his entire career and with Milwaukee’s strong lineup, all he’ll need to do is remain steadfast at shortstop.  His stock is a constant one at the moment.

11. Francisco Rodriguez

Acquired shortly after the All-Star break last season, Francisco Rodriguez took on an instrumental role in Milwaukee’s regular and postseason successes.  In 29 regular season innings, the 30-year-old proved he still has what it takes to be an effective late-inning reliever, posting a 1.86 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while striking out 33 and walking just 10.  In the playoffs, he pitched just five innings but struck out eight and gave up only one earned run.  The Brewers avoided arbitration with Rodriguez, signing him to a one-year, $8 Million deal last month.  A lofty monetary figure of that caliber for a pitcher his age wasn’t exactly ideal for Milwaukee, but if they have any hopes of returning to the postseason they’ll need his veteran arm the whole way.

Current Stock Analysis: K-Rod has a lot to prove this season as he’ll be a free-agent at season’s end, and you can count on him jumping up our boards as the year progresses.  He’s currently treading water in our rankings.

10. Jonathan Lucroy

Everyone has their fair share of doubters to some extent, but it seems Jonathan Lucroy has been subject to an awful lot of slander in his two big-league seasons — why?  In his first season as Milwaukee’s full-time backstop in 2011, Lucroy posted a .265 BA with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and a .317 BABIP batting in front of the pitcher for nearly the entire season.  The 25-year-old is as sturdy as the come from the batter’s box and considering he’s still relatively new to the big-league pace, I’d say he’s performed well.  Defensively, though, Lucroy really excels.  He garnered a .992 fielding percentage and allowed just one passed ball last season despite Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches.

Current Stock Analysis: Lucroy is truly one of the most steady players on the team, and I honestly don’t think his stock will rise or fall much at all this season.  Likewise, his stock is also firmly in place.

9. Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan, Tony Plush or Tony Gumbo (whatever you want to call him) Nyjer Morgan was simply remarkable in his first season with the Brewers.  As a late-spring training pickup last season, Morgan resurrected his previously washed-up career as Ron Roenicke’s primary center fielder.  In 119 games, T-Plush batted .304 with four home runs, 61 runs scored and 37 RBI.  He also provided speed on the bases, nabbing 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts.  As with Rodriguez, the Brewers eluded arbitration by inking Morgan to a one-year, $2.35 Million deal, making him arbitration eligible each of the next two seasons.  If he can prolong his services through this season, there’s no questioning he’ll be back with the club in 2013.

Current Stock Analysis: Morgan’s ceiling on our rankings is limited, as he’ll have to split time with a healthy Carlos Gomez in center field.  It’ll also be hard to surpass his own number from a season ago as they’re simply astounding all-around.  Nevertheless, his stock is at a steady pace.

8. Shaun Marcum

Shaun Marcum was brought in last winter to help bring stability and durability to Milwaukee’s needy rotation.  Needless to say, he managed to do just that, having his best season to-date all the while.  Last season, the 30-year-old former Blue Jay set career-bests in innings pitched (200.2), games started (33), opponent’s OBP (.284) and slugging percentage (.372).  He also tied his career-high for wins by going 13-7 with a 7.09 K/IP and 2.77 K/BB.  Milwaukee agreed to terms with Marcum on a one-year, $7.725 Million deal to avoid arbitration last week and it remains to be seen whether or not the Brewers will try to re-sign him at season’s end.  Regardless, he’s worth every penny GM Doug Melvin hands over to him.

Current Stock Analysis: Many surmised that Marcum’s postseason mishaps and struggles could transfer over to spring training.  We’re now under two weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting and it doesn’t look like that will happen.  He’s a veteran who knows the ropes and for that reason, his stock is currently unwavering.

7. Rickie Weeks

Injuries aside, Rickie Weeks is one of the best all-around second basemen in the game today.  He can hit for power and average, run, play the field and utilize his strong arm when needed.  Last season, Milwaukee’s 29-year-old infielder was well on his way toward a career-best year prior to spraining his ankle in late July.  He batted .278 with 17 home runs, 39 RBI and 67 runs scored before the All-Star break and was consequently elected to start at second-base for the NL in the mid-summer classic.  Weeks will be looking to complete just his second injury-free season of his career (2009) this year.  He tends to catch fire early on and watch his production wane slightly from then on out, but he seems poised to put together a complete season in 2012.

Current Stock Analysis: Weeks struggled in the postseason, garnering just a .146 BA with two home runs and four runs batted in.  He’ll need to vindicate those mishaps early on this season if he is to move up our boards.  His stock is declining slightly.

6. Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez is 33 years old and surely has his better days behind him, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Brewers will need his big bat to shoulder the offensive load for at least the first third of the season.  Last season, Ramirez batted .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI in a destitute Chicago lineup.  The Brewers are hoping that he can add to those numbers with a far better supporting cast.  While no one player can possibly replace Prince Fielder’s offensive productivity, Ramirez will still be held accountable to being a viable power threat out of the clean-up spot in the lineup.  He’s proved that he can still do it, but it remains to be seen how he performs early on.

Current Stock Analysis: Ramirez’s stock will remain a relative mystery until spring training rolls around.  However, given his resume as a big-league hitter, he’s clearly deserving of a high ranking prior to preseason competition.

5. Corey Hart

Corey Hart was sensational in 2010 and if not for injury, it’s conceivable that 2011 would have been his best season to-date.  After sitting out the first month of the regular season with an abdominal strain, Hart returned to Milwaukee’s lineup and returned to his ways of old.  In 130 games last season, the Brewers’ lanky outfielder batted .285 with 26 home runs and 63 RBI.  He also logged eight stolen bases and scored 80 times.  Though it remains to be seen where he’ll be stationed in Ron Roenicke’s lineup, there’s no doubting that he’ll produce regardless of where he’s placed in the batting order.

Current Stock Analysis: Hart’s postseason efforts were pedestrian but his August and September endeavors were scintillating.  Prince Fielder’s departure puts Hart in a unique position to produce at a career-best clip and for that reason his stock is on the rise.

4. Zack Greinke

The first half of Zack Greinke’s 2011 campaign with the Brewers was nothing to write home about and had many fans questioning whether or not he was worth Milwaukee’s three top-tier prospects. That scrutiny was quickly put to bed.   Following the All-Star break, Milwaukee’s preeminent off-season addition went 9-3 and boasted a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts. He held batters to a .234 BA and finished with MLB’s best strikeout per nine innings ratio (10.54), additionally, going 11-0 in 15 home starts.  Reports suggest Greinke has a vested interest in returning to Milwaukee after this season. He is set to make $13.5 Million this year and will command a ton of interest from other teams next winter.

Current Stock Analysis: After a marvelous finish to his 2011 season, Greinke’s stock is on the up-and-up and if he’s anywhere close to where he was at the end of last year, he could elevate to No. 1 on our boards.

3. John Axford

John Axford was filthy good in his first full season as Milwaukee’s go-to ninth inning man, exceeding expectations in a fashion no one had previously thought was possible.  The 6’5″, 195-pound Canadian-born righty led all National League closer in with a remarkable 1.95 ERA in 73.2 innings of work, striking out 74 and holding batters to a feeble .211 BA in the meantime.  Axford tied for the league-lead with 46 saves, enough to set the franchise benchmark for saves in a single season.  It will be a formidable task for him to outperform his 2011 campaign this season as he probably wont’ get as many save opportunities with Milwaukee’s weakened lineup.  Still, I wouldn’t put it past him to have another historic season out of the bullpen.

Current Stock Analysis: Coming off arguably the greatest season a closer has ever had in a Brewer uniform, Axford’s stock is soaring.  Look for him to get his reps in at spring training and to come out of the gates strong in 2012.

2. Yovani Gallardo

Given his success and time in the league, it’s easy to forget Yovani Gallardo is only 25 years old and still has his best day ahead of him.  Last season was without question his greatest, though, setting a career-high in wins by going 17-10 with a career-best 3.52 ERA in 207.1 innings.  He finished fifth in the NL with 207 strikeouts and ninth in K/BB (3.51) and led all Brewers starters in almost every meaningful statistical category.  If Gallardo can continue to lower his ERA while still maintaining his impressive strikeout abilities, he’ll stack up against the competition nicely and will have a shot at taking home NL Cy Young Award next season.

Current Stock Analysis: Gallado’s stock has been on the rise since his rookie season of 2007, and that doesn’t look to fluctuate much as spring training draws nearer.  However, since he comes in second on our board, his stock remains steady as there isn’t much more ground to gain on the rest of the team.

1. Ryan Braun

It’s been an indelibly disappointing off-season for Ryan Braun and his collective legacy as a Brewer, but how can you deliberately rank anyone higher than the 2011 NL MVP heading into spring training?  Simply put, you can’t.  Braun facilitated Milwaukee’s lineup to the tune of a .332 BA, 33 home runs and 111 RBI.  He led the league with a .597 slugging percentage, .994 OPS and his .397 on-base percentage ranked fifth.  He’s still in the appeal process to overturn his 50-game suspension and word on the street says we should know what his future holds in store shortly.  Suspension or not, he’s No. 1 on our list heading into spring training.

Current Stock Analysis: Braun’s stock can’t get any higher even if it wanted to, and if his suspension is upheld, the only realistic direction it can go is down.  Right now, though, his stock is even-keel.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bold Predictions for Brewers’ Top 25 Prospects in 2012

The dawn of a new season is almost upon us, and for as much attention as the Brewers will get as opening day draws nearer, there are plenty of reasons to be excited for minor leauge baseball’s 2012 season.  Let’s break down Milwaukee’s top 25 prospects heading into this season with a bold prediction for each player.

25. RHP David Goforth

Relatively unknown throughout the system, David Goforth is a sleeper prospect who could scoot through the system.  Selected in the seventh round of last summer’s draft, scouts have taken notice to his concise two-pitch repertoire composed of a high-90s fastball and plus-average cutter.  He found limited success as a starter in college, but his stuff suggests he should develop into an effective late-inning reliever.  Last season in rookie ball, Goforth appeared in 19 games and posted a 4.43 ERA, struck out 42 in 40.1 innings of work and walked just 10.  If there’s one knock on his game, it’s his command, but that should be cleared up as he moves his way through the system.

Prediction: I like what Goforth has to offer and see him developing into a solid reliever at the big league level.  In regards to this season, though, I think he spends all of 2012 in low-A ball.

24. SS Yadiel Rivera

The Brewers thought they had their shortstop of the future in Alcides Escobar, but since he now resides in Kansas City, there’s suddenly a window of opportunity for 19-year-old Yadiel Rivera.  A ninth-round selection out of Manuela Toro High School in Puerto Rico, Rivera has a tremendous amount of athleticism on the diamond.  Through two professional seasons, the youngster carries an unimpressive .939 fielding percentage but made up for his inconsistencies with a 4.59 range factor.  His bat remains in question after posting a combined .236 BA and .372 slugging percentage between rookie and low-A ball last season.  He’ll also need to cut down on his strikeouts and discipline at the plate moving forward.

Prediction: Clearly, Rivera has a special gift when it comes to playing defense.  His range is ridiculous given his time in the league but his inconsistencies are a question mark also.  I look for him to start 2012 in low-A ball and get promoted to high-A ball by season’s end.

23. UTIL Zelous Wheeler

There’s always a high demand for players who can play multiple positions as the big league level, and Zelous Wheeler fits the bill as being a genuine utility-man for years to come.  Since his rookie season in 2007, Wheeler has bounced his way around the diamond, getting playing time at shortstop, second-base and third base, carrying a .944 fielding percentage and 3.09 range.  He’s been modest with the bat, as well, holding true to a career .271 BA and .408 slugging percentage.  Wheeler’s game and journey to the majors is comparable to former Brewer utility man Jerry Hairston Jr.  He’s got a great passion for the game and has the intangibles managers love.

Prediction: Having spent a considerable amount of time in double-A over the past two years, Wheeler could use some time in triple-A to refine his game, though he’s just about ready to contribute as an off-the-bench type player for the Brewers.  I look for him to start 2012 in triple-A and earn a September call-up this fall.

22. 1B Brock Kjeldgaard

At 26 years old, Brock Kjeldgaard barely qualifies as being a legitimate prospect.  Taken by Milwaukee in the 34th round of the 2005 draft, Kjeldgaard has spent five professional seasons in the system, garnering a reputation for being a true slugger every step of the way.  His career .464 slugging percentage .801 OPS stacks up nicely against the competition.  Last season, Kjeldgaard blasted 24 home runs and 76 RBI to go with a .495 slugging percentage that ranked third best among all prospects in Milwaukee’s system.

Prediction: Though he may have power, I wouldn’t read too much into his future with the organization.  Sure, the Brewers added him to their 40-man roster to start spring training, but I ultimately look for him to spend 2012 in triple-A.

21. RHP Mike Fiers

Another late-bloomer, 26-year-old Mike Fiers has spent just two seasons in the system.  What he’s done in his time in the minors, though, has been truly impressive.  In 290-plus career innings (37 GS), Fiers boasts a 2.50 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, striking out 321 while walking just 73 (4.40 K/BB).  Last year, he went 13-3 with a 1.86 ERA and was named Milwaukee’s minor league pitcher of the year for his efforts.  If he was a couple years younger, we might be talking about a top-caliber prospect.

Prediction: Fiers will come into spring training fully expecting to make the opening day roster, and I think he will do just that.  I look for him to be a key contributor out of the ‘pen for the Brewers all season long.

20. RHP Nick Bucci

An 18th-round draft pick by the Brewers in 2008, Nick Bucci’s career up to this point has been anything but extraordinary.  But after a solid 2011 season in high-A Brevard County where he went 8-11 with a 3.84 ERA, things could be looking up for the youngster.  After struggling with command issues that led to an abysmal 5.07 BB/9 IP in 2010, Bucci recovered in 2011, lowering his his BB/9 IP to a wholesome 3.06.  While his ERA will need to be lowered a tad in the coming season, there’s no doubt Bucci has quality stuff.  His fastball tops out anywhere from 89-93 MPH and often flashes a plus-average curveball that could present itself as a real weapon in the coming years.

Prediction: The way I and many scouts see it, Bucci has the makings of a quality relief pitcher at the major league level, though that could still be a ways off at this point.  He has the ideal frame to be a solid arm out of the bullpen and has a slightly plus-average fastball that should serve him well.  I predict Bucci to come out the gates strong to start this season and eventually find his way to triple-A.

19. LHP Dan Meadows

The Brewers are markedly devoid of talented left-handed pitching down on the farm, but Dan Meadows has a decent chance to break through to the majors sometime in the near future.  At 24 years old, Meadows has four seasons of professional ball under his belt and has performed well in each.  In 2009, he started 11 games for low-A Wisconsin and went 13-6 with a 4.01 ERA, showing the ability to be an innings-eater as a starter though he really shined in his role as a middle-innings reliever.  Last season in triple-A, Meadows pitched 35.2 innings, striking out 35 while holding batters to a .248 BA.  He’s flashed solid control throughout his career and is able to make up for his lack of velocity with a lethal slider, his go-to pitch in tough jams.

Prediction: It’s already a given that Meadows will start in triple-A, though what he does in his time there will determine how fast he reaches the majors.  I look for him to spend all of 2012 down in Nashville to prime himself for a promotion in 2013.

18. RHP Santo Manzanillo

Santo Manzanillo found his way into the system as a non-draft pick free agent in 2006, but has only recently tapped into his capabilities as a premium reliever.  Last season, the 6’0″, 190-pounder made his way through high-A Brevard County as well as double-A Huntsville, garnering a combined 1.75 ERA with 62 strikeouts (9.0 K/9 IP), 1.14 WHIP and .194 BAA.  Manzanillo has a plus-fastball that has allowed him to materialize into one of the Brewers’ top strikeouts prospects, topping out at 99 and regularly sitting in the 94-97 range.  If he’s able to limit batters in the fashion he’s shown thus far, he could be placed on the fast-track to reach the majors sometime in 2013.

Prediction: After separating his right shoulder in a car accident last December, the Brewers will obviously err on the side of caution with Manzanillo moving forward.  With that in mind, I think he spends his entire 2012 campaign in double-A.

17. RHP Kyle Heckathorn

Once upon a time, Kyle Heckathorn was arguably Milwaukee’s top evolving starter and looked to push for the big leagues by 2013.  In 2010, the big right-hander was awarded as the Brewers’ top pitching prospect in the entire system, going 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA and walking just 33 batters in 124 innings between low-A and high-A ball.  His success curtailed in 2011, though, posting an unsightly 7.18 ERA in seven starts in double-A.  While there’s certainly some cause for concern after such an abhorrent preview to double-A ball, we must not forget what Heckathorn brings to the table.  At 6’6″, 225 pounds, Heckathorn has the physical makings of a mid-rotation innings-eater at the big league level.  His fastball ranges anywhere from 97-93 MPH and he also features a hard slider and changeup that has, at times, garnered a considerable amount of attention from scouts.

Prediction: I tend to be a bit more optimistic about Heckathorn than many scouts.  His physical makeup screams future starter at the big league level.  I expect him to re-dedicate himself and eventually move his way up to triple-A before the end of next season.

16. CF, RF Kentrail Davis

Admittedly, watching Kentrail Davis play is a bit aggravating.  While has the speed, plate discipline, and physical makeup that would allow him to be an excellent leadoff hitter at the major league level, he has yet to develop and tap-into his power potential at the plate, one of the prevailing reasons why he has yet to break through to the upper minors.  Last season at high-A Brevard County, Davis batted .245 with eight home runs, 46 RBI, 76 runs scored while also notching 33 stolen bases.  He only managed a .317 on-base percentage and .361 slugging percentage, though, making it rather apparent that he still has a while to develop.

Prediction: This will be a defining year for Davis in his quest for the majors.  He’s now spent two seasons in high-A ball and is still looking for a promotion double-A.  After a solid showing at the Arizona Fall League, I think he starts 2012 in high-A and merits an early promotion, spending the remainder of his season in double-A Huntsville.

15. RHP Austin Ross

One of the key elements from the Brewers’ exceptionally successful 2010 draft, Austin Ross has the makings of a solid back-of-the-rotation starter at the major league level.  After a solid rookie campaign in Helena, Ross worked his way through the lower-portion of the system in 2011.  Going 10-7 with a 5.28 ERA in 25 starts between low-A and high-A ball, he’s shown to be ready to break through to double-A in the very near future, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s promoted early on in 2012.  Unlike most of the pitchers featured on this list, Ross’ game is predicated on working his way around batters with above-average control as well as his ability to limit his mistakes.  I like what he has to offer and find his game comparable to Jeff Suppan.

Prediction: The fact that Ross is already on the cusp of breaking through to double-A ball after just two professional seasons speaks volumes to his game.  I look for him to start 2012 in high-A ball but quickly get promoted to double-A.

14. RHP Amaury Rivas

At this stage of his once very promising career, Amaury Rivas barely qualifies as a prospect.  He’s now 26 years old and has just stumbled his way through the system thus far.  Signing as a non-draft pick back in 2005, Rivas’ game was a pedestrian as you can imagine.  However, after a promotion to high-A ball in 2009, his production took off, going 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA, 123 strikeouts (8.3 K/9 IP) and .218 BAA.  Last season in triple-A ball, Rivas went 7-12 with a repulsive 4.72 ERA.  However, that was the least of his worries, as he managed to strike out just 16 percent of his batters, which was at one point one of the staples to his game.  He should probably be higher on this list, but such an ugly 2011 campaign has reignited my doubts about his future.

Prediction: In my mind, 2012 will prove to be either Rivas’ breakout year to the majors or the year he puts himself in the same category as Mark Rogers as being an utter disappointment.  Unfortunately, I just don’t see him getting out of triple-A this year; possibly a September call-up with minimal opportunities at best.

13. 2B Eric Farris

Just two years ago, Eric Farris was the toast of the entire Brewers organization.  Hoarding an unprecedented 70 stolen bases in just 124 games at high-A Brevard County, he was seemingly on the cusp of breaking through to the majors after just his third minor league season.  However, knee injury early in 2010 derailed his momentum, setting him back a few years as management continues to err on the side of caution.  Last year at triple-A, Farris got back into the swing of things and managed a .271 BA with six home runs, 55 RBI, 70 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.  He’ll turn 26 in March, and his time in the minors would be well past him if not for Rickie Weeks holding things down at second base.

Prediction: In almost any other farm system, Farris would be considered a top prospect — and deservedly so.  His speed is overwhelming and, as I see it, will manifest itself in the form of a September call-up next fall.

12. RHP Cody Scarpetta

There have been few prospects that have come through Milwaukee’s system with as much upside as Cody Scarpetta.  An 11th round draft pick in 2007, he’s posted some truly impressive numbers thus far in his professional career.  In high-A ball in 2010, Scarpetta went the distance by administering 128 innings with a 3.87 ERA, striking out 142 (10 K/9 IP) while holding batters to a .241 BA.  Thanks to a fastball that ranges from 90-94 MPH with what many scouts deem the system’s best curveball, Scarpetta has tremendous strikeout abilities.  His command is in question, though, as his SO/BB ratio fell to an abysmal 1.61 last year in double-A.

Prediction: Scarpetta’s prowess on the mound was supposed to make him a top-tier prospect a few years back.  His production has diminished, clearly, but I still see a ton of potential.  I look for him to start 2012 in double-A and ultimately reach triple-A sometime in mid-summer.

11. 1B Hunter Morris

With Prince Fielder gone, there’s never been a better time to be a first-base prospect in the Brewers’ system.  Consequently, things could (and will) be looking up for Hunter Morris.  In just two professional seasons, Morris has managed to tear his way through the system thanks in large part to his undeniable amount of power.  The Auburn product lit up opposing pitching in high-A ball early on in 2011 to the tune of 20 home runs, 69 RBI and a .461 slugging percentage, prompting a late-season promotion to double-A ball.  It should be interesting to see how Morris’ game translates to the upper levels of the minors, as pitching will become much more polished.

Prediction: If Mat Gamel struggles to replace Fielder this season, I think management will push Morris up to triple-A by the end of 2012.  Regardless, I look for him to end up in triple-A at season’s end.

10. RF Caleb Gindl

There aren’t many true power hitters within the Brewers organization, and none of them look to have a very high ceiling at that. Gindl, though, might be an exception to that fact.  At 23 years old and four solid professional seasons under his belt, Gindl is as prepared as he’ll ever be to break through to the majors in 2012, even if it means simply being an off-the-bench type player. He’s amassed at least 13 home runs and 60 RBI in three seasons down in the minors. Not terribly impressive, but it was enough for Milwaukee to add him to their 40-man roster.  Last season in triple-A, he maintained a .307/.390/.472 line with 15 home runs and 60 RBI.  Couple his slightly above-average power with a competent glove, and he could get a chance to platoon with a number of other players in Ryan Braun’s spot in left field.

Prediction: Gindl will come into spring training with a legitimate chance at making the opening-day 25-man roster.  And though nothing is for certain even in early February, I expect him to start his 2012 campaign in triple-A and wind up as a September call-up.

9. RHP Jorge Lopez

The Brewers were hell-bent on stockpiling young arms in last summer’s draft, and they managed to nab Jorge Lopez in the second-round.  He was the top rated prospect coming out of Puerto Rico and Milwaukee certainly liked what the youngster has to offer.  At 6’4″, 165 pounds, the 18-year-old right-hander has the size to be a durable mid-rotation starter at the big league level, though there’s no doubting he’ll need to pack on some strength as he moves his way through the organization.  His fastball tops out at the mid to low 90s and has a curveball that may develop into a plus-pitch.  Lopez does have command issues but that should be clear up in a timely fashion.  Last year in rookie ball he started four games and garnered a 2.25 ERA, striking out 10 and walking three in 12 innings.

Prediction: From what I’ve gathered, scouts are surprisingly high on Lopez and I anticipate him moving through the system swiftly.  I’ve had limited opportunities to watch highlights of his game, but when I’ve been able to break down his stuff, I think he’s got a tremendous amount of potential.  That said, I think he winds up in low-A ball for the entirety of 2012.

8. RHP Jimmy Nelson

Ever wondered what scouts mean by the “ideal frame” when talking about young pitchers?  One look at Jimmy Nelson will explain everything.  One of the cornerstone’s to Milwaukee’s 2010 draft, Nelson weighs in at 6’6″, 245 pounds and uses every ounce of his prototypical frame to his advantage.  He features a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a slider that’s arguably the best in the system, as well as a solid changeup that’s improved leaps and bounds over the past year.  Nelson spent his entire 2011 campaign in low-A ball, going 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA, 120 strikeouts in 146 innings.  He stumbled with walks, managing a 1.85 SO/BB ratio, however he held batters to a .260 BA.

Prediction:   It remains to be seen where he’ll start 2012, but my gut feeling tells me he’ll stay put.  Having said that, though, I have great confidence in Nelson to move his way up to double-A ball by the end of 2012, as he’s simply one of the most surefire pitching prospects the Brewers have seen in a while.

7. CF Logan Schafer

At 25 years old, Logan Scafer has been knocking on door to the majors for a while now.  And with Milwaukee’s current outfield situation, now will be his time to make an impression on the organization.  Drafted by the Brewers back in 2008, Schafer has proved to be the closest there is to a five-tool player in the system.  Last season, he batted .315 with five home runs, 43 RBI, 66 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.  He’s been a defensive wiz in the outfield, garnering a career .988 fielding percentage while commiting just seven errors.  Schafer’s capabilities merited a September call-up last fall, though he remained solely an off-the-bench player and was only allowed three plate appearances.

Prediction: Ryan Braun’s absence presents a perfect situation for Schafer to strut his stuff early on this season.  If he can impress Ron Roenicke during spring training, I think he could get a considerable amount of playing time.

6. 2B Scooter Gennett

Smaller players will always be subject to great amounts of skepticism, but Scooter Gennett has been able to prove his doubters wrong up to this point in his career.  In his first two professional seasons, the 21-year-old Florida State product has averaged a .304 BA, nine home runs, 53 RBI, 13 stolen bases and 81 runs scored per season through low-A and high-A ball. And while his stature would lead you to believe otherwise, he does have gap power, managing 59 total doubles and a .433 slugging percentage.  Originally drafted as a shortstop, Gennett now resides at second base, where he does have work to do, garnering a career .964 fielding percentage.

Prediction: Coming off a stellar Arizona Fall League showcase, Gennett’s stock is currently soaring.  Nevertheless, I still expect him to start 2012 in high-A ball and make the hardest jump to double-A ball sometime in June.

5. 3B Taylor Green

Taylor Green was one of the best hitters in the minors leagues last season, and there’s really not much more you need to know than that.  In 120 games at the triple-A level, Green dominated the Pacific Coast league to the tune of a .336 BA, 22 home runs and 88 RBI.  He led the organization in BA, on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.580), and was named the Brewers’ top positional prospect for 2011.  Thanks to Casey McGehee’s struggles, Green earned a September call-up last fall and found his way onto the field, amassing 10 hits in 37 at-bats during his time with the Brewers.

Prediction: The signing of Aramis Ramirez doesn’t bode well for Green, who was hoping for a shot at the starting position coming into the offseason.  I look for him to become an off-the-bench type player in his first full season with Milwaukee.

4. RHP Tyler Thornburg

In a farm system devoid of top-tier pitching talent, Tyler Thornburg has transformed into the complete pitcher the Brewers recognized when they took him 96th overall in the 2010 draft.  In his first two professional seasons, Thornburg has been a strikeout machine, punching out 198 batters in 160 innings, enough for a rather impressive 11.1 K/9 ratio.  He can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and has a curveball that has developed into his strikeout pitch.  Last season at high-A Brevard County, he went 3-6 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.  However, what’s most impressive is how he held batters to a remarkable .186 BA and .256 BABIP.

Prediction: In my eyes, Thornburg is in for a huge year.  He’s already proven to be competent at just about every facet of his craft, and he’s now ready to sprint through the system.  If he can cut down his walks — as I expect him to — I see him pushing for triple-A by season’s end.

3. LHP Jed Bradley

Jed Bradley was high on many teams’ draft boards last June, and needless to say, the Brewers were ecstatic that the exemplary left-hander fell to them at 15th overall.  In his junior season at Georgia Tech, Bradley went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out 106 batters in just 98 innings.  He also held batters to a feeble .239 BA and, believe it or not, conceded just one home run to the opposition all season.  The 21-year-old southpaw has three credible pitches at his disposal and uses each to his liking.  He touched 94 MPH with his fastball, 83-84 MPH with his changeup at the Arizona Fall League last fall and also worked on polishing his low 80s slider.  He’s got a fluid throwing motion that needs little to no refinement,

Prediction: Rumor has it that Bradley will start 2012 at high-A Brevard County as he looks to speed through the system in the coming year(s).  I used parentheses because there’s some speculation that says he could see playing time in triple-A this season, though that doesn’t seem likely.  I look for him to strut his stuff at high-A ball and take his talents to double-A late next season.

2. RHP Taylor Jungmann

College baseball’s top player from a season ago will come into spring training with a surplus of hype, and deservedly so.  In his last season at Texas, Taylor Jungmann dominated the Big 12 and the rest of the country to the tune of a 13-3 record, minuscule 1.60 ERA, .165 BAA while striking out 126 batters in 141 innings of work.  He also posted a 0.83 WHIP and allowed just four home runs all season.  When the Brewers took him 12th overall in last June’s draft, it’s safe to say they found they’re ace of the future behind Yovani Gallardo.  Jungmann’s MLB ceiling is incredibly high and as we visited last month, I believe he has the most potential among all Brewers prospects.  His thin yet sustainable body has enabled his fastball to reach the 95-97 MPH range with great command.

Prediction: Word on the street says Jungmann will start 2012 in high-A ball, and all signs are pointing to him racing through the system.  If that’s the case, I think we could see him in double-A by season’s end.

1. RHP Wily Peralta

Wily Peralta’s journey through Milwaukee’s system has been well-documented, signing at the ripe age of 16.  Now at 22 years old and six professional seasons under his belt, he’s ready to contribute at the major league level.  Last season between double-A and triple-A ball, the 6’2″, 240-pound right-hander went a combined 11-7 with a solid 3.17 ERA.  He also struck out 157 in 150.2 innings, holding batters to a .233 BA in the meantime thanks to his mid-90s fastball and plus-average slider and changeup.  Brewers fans have awaited Peralta’s big-league debut for a while now, and all indications are that he’ll be on the opening day roster, most likely contributing out of the bullpen.

Prediction: While Peralta’s minor league days may be behind him, I don’t think we should expect him be a big contributor right out of the gates.  Nevertheless, I look for him to make at least one start for the Brewers by the end of 2012.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.