At the beginning of the season, the Brewers maintained a minor league farm system that many scouting databases deemed one of the worst Major League Baseball. Despite utilizing four first-round draft picks in each of the last two first-year player drafts, the organization entered 2013 without any of its prospects considered to be future stars at the next level. As of Wednesday evening, no Brewers farmhands were featured in Jonathan Mayo‘s top 100 rankings over at MLB.com.
Yet the first month of the minor league season proved Milwaukee’s farm system may not be as shallow as previously thought. Several pitchers and position players with relatively low stocks heading into the season have caught the eyes of scouts early on, and could be well on their way to promotions in the near future. Conversely, some prospects have witnessed their stocks decline after a month’s worth of play.
Who’s Hot: Cameron Garfield, C, class-A advanced Brevard County Manatees
2013 stats: .265/.294/.510, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 12 R, .358 wOBA (102 PA)
Quite possibly no prospect in the system got off to a hotter start at the plate with respect to power numbers this season than Garfield, who with five home runs in 24 games is already approaching the 12 home runs over 66 games he mashed last season with low-A Appleton. Behind the dish, Garfield improved immensely in April, committing just three errors and allowing three passed balls in 20 games, boasting an improved 8.00 range factor that’s on par with the likes of Buster Posey.
Who’s Not: Clint Coulter, C, class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
2013 stats: .186/.275/.356, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 R, .291 wOBA (69 PA)
Coulter, last summer’s 27th overall selection in the first-year player draft, certainly gave fans enough reason for optimism after posting a slash line of .302/.439/.444 and a .419 wOBA over 49 games in rookie ball last season, and his decent play behind the plate only added to that. His first month of 2013, however, was far from that. In his first stint in low-A ball, Coulter’s strikeout rate (23.2%) increased, walk rate (10.1%) decreased and has yet to produce a multi-hit game. His fielding efficiency (.953 Fld%) and range (7.36 RF) behind home plate regressed, too.
Who’s Hot: Mitch Haniger, RF, class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
2013 stats: .289/.367/.474, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 8 R, .380 wOBA (90 PA)
Haniger’s 2012 campaign in low-A was cut short by a PCL injury in his right leg, but after a strong spring training showing in Arizona and scalding return to the Timber Rattlers, the injury doesn’t seem to be affecting his performance. While his batting average and slugging percentage remain close to where they were last season, April revealed a much more selective approach from Haniger. He cut his strikeout rate (11.1%) by a handsome 12 points from where it was last season and his range in the outfield has improved a notch.
Who’s Hot: Scooter Gennett, 2B, triple-A Nashville Sounds
2013 stats: .403/.425/.468, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 12 R, 4 SB, .406 wOBA (81 PA)
With each passing day, it seems the debate over whether or not the Brewers should give Gennett an opportunity to contribute gains considerably more steam — and his hot start at the plate in April is a big reason why. Though his strikeout rate (13.6%) is up and walk rate (2.5%) are down from last season, he found plenty of holes in defenses, producing a .470 BABIP with triple-A Nashville. Gennett’s lack of power may be the only thing holding him back from a big league promotion.
Who’s Not: Taylor Jungmann, RHP, double-A Huntsville Stars
2013 stats: 1-4 (5 GS), 7.89 ERA (5.42 FIP), 16 K/14 BB, 1.57 WHIP, .250 BAA
When the Brewers took Jungmann at No. 12 overall in the 2011 draft, they were told they were drafting a pitcher with great command, tremendous strikeout capabilities and a guy who would more often than not go deep in to each start. But in his first month in the double-A Southern League, he looked far from that. In five starts, Jungmann put nearly as many men on base via walk (14) as he did strike out (16), and he lasted on average only 4.2 innings in those starts. Granted, he held batters to a .250 average and .290 BABIP, but the fact that his previously touted command has been nearly non-existent this season is reason for concern.
Who’s Not: Drew Gagnon, RHP, class-A advanced Brevard County Manatees
2013 stats: 1-2 (5 GS), 7.36 ERA (4.02 FIP), 22 K/11 BB, 1.82 WHIP, .319 BAA
Gagnon’s April began underwhelmingly, allowing 18 earned runs to cross home over his first four starts of the season, which totaled just 16.2 innings. However, he would rebound in his final start of the month in which he pitched 5.1 innings and allowed just four baserunners. Hopefully the end of the month is sign of good things to come because, as a whole, Gagnon’s command regressed tremendously. His WHIP of 1.82 in April was a far cry from the impressive 1.10 WHIP he posted last season in high-A ball.
Who’s Hot: Jimmy Nelson, RHP, double-A Huntsville Stars
2013 stats: 3-0 (5 GS), 1.30 ERA (1.65 FIP), 32 K/5 BB, 0.83 WHIP, .177 BAA
Though the Alabama product made huge strides during his stay at high-A and double-A ball last season, Nelson told me in Janurary that the biggest concern for him was being consistent from start to start . And that’s exactly what he did in April. In none of his five starts did he last through less than five innings and in none of those did he allow more than five hits. His swing-and-miss capabilities have revealed themselves on a regular basis and his command has been superb. Shouldn’t be too much longer before Nelson gets the call to triple-A.
Who’s Not: Ariel Pena, RHP, double-A Huntsville Stars
2013 stats: 1-2 (5 GS), 4.84 ERA (6.87 FIP), 12 K/18 BB, 1.52 WHIP, .208 BAA
Acquired in the Zack Greinke trade last season, many scouts believed Pena had the potential to be a back-of-the-rotation arm. Not even a year later, and there are concerns that he may not be a serviceable reliever. In five starts with double-A Huntsville this April, Pena’s swing-and-miss stuff vanished and his command only worsened, in turn leading to an obscene 7.25 BB/9 rate and disheartening 4.84 K/9 rate. No starter in the organization had a more rough opening month than Pena.
Who to keep an eye on
Michael Reed, OF, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (.323/.384/.446, .382 wOBA) –Accumulated four doubles, two triples and 29 total bases in April, finishing out the month with a nice seven-game hit streak.
Nick Ramirez, 1B, Brevard County Manatees (.245/.312/.439, .320 wOBA) – Strikeouts are still a problem, but raised his walk rate by over three percentage points from last season en route to 45 total bases.
Jacob Barnes, RHP, Brevard County Manatees (2-0, 1.08 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 12 K/5 BB, 16.2 IP) – Held batters to a palty .177 average and posted a 0.96 WHIP in three starts and one relief appearance.
Damien Magnifico, RHP, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (2-0, 4.00 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 19 K/7 BB, 18 IP) – Walks are down and strikeouts have increased, and has strutted his triple-digit four-seam fastball on a regular basis. Tremendous potential as a late-inning reliever if these all continue.
A lot has transpired since I took a look at Milwaukee’s top lower-level minor league prospects last December.
First and foremost, a number of the players I discussed have moved their respective ways up the minor-league ladder and are no longer considered lower-level prospects. Kentrail Davis, Jimmy Nelson and Tyler Thornburg would fall under this category, with Davis having been promoted to double-A at season’s onset, Nelson also making his way to Huntsville midway through the season, and Thornburg staring in double-A, dominating thoroughly, and promptly making his Major League debut back on June 19.
The same, however, cannot be said about Jorge Lopez, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley and Yadiel Rivera. Lopez still resides with the rookie club in the Dominican Summer League, while Jungmann and Bradley have produced adequately in high-A Brevard County, though not to the extent of which many expected, and Rivera is still very entrenched in the class-A Midwest League.
After a solid 2012 draft class harboring many prospects that are presently in the lower-levels of the minors, I thought it fitting to update and evaluate/re-evaluate Milwaukee’s top youngsters with August already here. Let’s get to it.
*All statistics through July 28, 2012
1.) Taylor Jungmann, RHP (stats)
Expectations were enormous for the 6’6″, 225 pound right-hander coming into the season, having been a bonafide strikeout machine his junior season in college, where he rung up roughly a batter per inning. This season, his K/9 ratio is down to an astonishing 5.27. Time for concern? Possibly; however he’s proven to be able to pound the strikezone and induce a whole lot of groundballs, as depicted by an impressive 2.02 groundout-to-airout ratio this season.
Stuff-wise, we all know the story on Jungmann. His mid-90s four-seam fastball, sweeping curve and deadly changeup all grade out as plus-average offerings, with which he can pound the strikezone to his liking whenever needed. Jungmann has toyed with a slider, additionally, and that too could develop into an above-average pitch.
The key for Jungmann on his journey toward the big-leagues will be in shoring up the amount of hits he concedes to opposing hitters. Scouts viewed his impeccable command as both a strength and weakness coming out of Texas University — the latter being because of his propensity to leave the ball over the plate far too often. Once he gets that cleared up, he’ll be ready for Milwaukee’s rotation.
2.) Jed Bradley, LHP (stats)
Viewed as a prototypical southpaw with a whole lot of helium at the 2011 draft, Bradley performed adequately in high-A ball to begin the season, though it seems a nagging groin injury suffered in late May could the cause for his concerning numbers. In 18 starts, Bradley has a 4.93 ERA (4.12 FIP) with a strikeout rate of just 13 percent, allowing hitters to bat .287 and a .324 BABIP against him.
Of course, scouts don’t put too much stock into a player’s big-league potential simply based off numbers alone, much less a slightly banged-up one like Bradley, because the fact is that his has all the ingredients you look for in a future front-line starter. His low 90s four seam fastball can straighten out a bit but his heavy-sinking two-seamer generates a ton of grounders. Furthermore, his big-bending curveball, slider and changeup each grade out as plus-average.
Alluding to my earlier point, the biggest concern for Bradley right now seems to be his tendency to leave the ball over the plate. This was always a strength for him in college; he was able to spot his fastball and use his breaking pitches well enough to generate lots of swings-and-misses, thus allowing less hits to opposing batters. Now, it seems that ability may have diminished; he’s allowed an amazing 10.8 hits per nine innings pitched this season.
3.) Victor Roache, OF (stats)
Suffering a broken right wrist early this season with Georgia Southern University, Roache has been rehabbing in Arizona for a while now, and as he told me Thursday, he’s aiming to participate in a few offseason instructional leagues (possibly the Arizona Fall League) in preparation for 2013. So while technically Roache isn’t officially a lower-level prospect, I’m operating under the assumption that he will be once next season comes around.
A physical specimen at 6’2″, 215 pounds, Roache has some tools that will serve him well in the big leagues. An outfielder through his college years, he showed to have enough athleticism to man center-field with efficiency and a solid-average arm to complement it. His power at the plate is easily his most projectable asset right now; his violently quick swing allows him to pound the outfield gaps with consistency and put them over the wall, too.
The Brewers took a calculated risk in drafting Roache, however they seem to believe his wrist injury won’t hold him back from becoming the star talent scouts originally tagged him as prior to injury.
4.) Clint Coulter, C (stats)
The first high-school catcher taken by Milwaukee through the draft since the well-known (not really) annexation of Nick Hernandez in 1978, Coulter could very well turn out to be the first position player of the Brewers’ 2012 crop to reach the majors. A terribly slow start this summer with the rookie club in Arizona put at least some doubt in the minds of many scouts, but Coulter has managed to salvage his rookie campaign, now boasting a superb .370 on-base percentage through 22 games despite owning a batting average that’s slightly below the Mendoza line.
Still, Coulter has a very nice approach at the plate, drawing a good number of walks and going deep into counts. He has a quick and noticeably level swing that produces line-drive power to all fields. His “hit” tool grades out as solid-average right now but has a chance to be plus-average quickly given his keen, disciplined eye. His power is also a solid-average and will likely produce far more doubles than home runs down the road.
Though catching is his natural position and he could definitely stay there, scouts seem to believe he has some versatility, possibly along the lines of switching to first-base or maybe even a right-field given his strong arm. Regardless, Coulter is a very nice overall talent; it should be interesting to see how fast he moves through the system.
5.) Jorge Lopez, RHP (stats)
Deemed the top Puerto Rican pitching talent at the 2011 draft, the Brewers considered Lopez a steal when they took him with their second-round pick, and despite a somewhat rocky start to his professional career, they still do.
A multi-sport standout during his high school days, the lanky 6’4″, 165-pound right-hander has three intriguing pitches at his disposal. The first is a low-90s four-seam fastball that he’s proven to throw to both sides of the plate; the second being a curveball that is big-bending and hard-breaking and grades out as plus-average right now; the third being a changeup that is developing right now but scouts believe Lopez’s athleticism will lead to it becoming a lethal offering.
Still just 19 years old, Lopez is in the midst of his second season in the Rookie Dominican Summer League but has just a 4.31 FIP over 25 innings to show for it. Even so, its easy to see he has tremendous potential; how much he fills out his lanky frame and how well his secondary offerings improve will ultimately determine what kind of big-leaguer he will become.
6.) Tyrone Taylor, OF (stats)
Overshadowed by the likes of fellow prep outfielders Byron Buxton, Albert Almora and Lewis Brinson at last summer’s draft, Taylor was viewed by scouts as a guy with a whole lot of potential but also one who’s extremely raw. Having been a football star for his local high school, Taylor only recently became dedicated to the game of baseball, beginning when the Brewers took him with their second-round pick.
A toolsy outfielder with a whole lot of athleticism, Taylor’s best asset right now is clearly his speed. He covers a good chunk of real-estate from center field, a position where he most likely profiles best down the road thanks to a solid-average arm both in terms of accuracy and strength. His agility also plays well into his base-running; he gets good jumps and has enough stride in him to steal bases at a pretty impressive rate.
However, there are a few drawbacks to his game, first and foremost beginning at the plate. Mechanically speaking, there is work to be done; his pre-swing load is very elongated and his hands (which start out in good position) tend to drift away from his body, making his swing much longer than it should. This could lead to problems with off-speed offerings in the future, but it’s nothing worth losing sleep over right now.
But for as much as scouts may anguish over the projection of his bat, his performance thus far should warrant some credibility. Through 18 professional games, he’s batting .387/.434/.667 with 14 extra-base hits and six stolen bases; a small sample size but nonetheless impressive.
7.) Drew Gagnon, RHP (stats)
A guy who struggled to find consistency during his college years, Gagnon blew past the rookie ranks late in 2011 after being taken with Milwaukee’s third-round pick that summer and scouts immediately began taking notice to his game. Then in 14 starts with the low-A club in Appleton to start his 2012 campaign, the Long Beach State product posted a 2.83 ERA, striking out over seven batters per nine frames and warranted yet another promotion, and currently finds himself in the Florida State league, where he’s also been solid, yielding a 3.68 FIP through five starts.
Just what makes Gagnon so efficient? While he doesn’t have any one offering that grades out as plus-average right now, he does have three solid pitches that he loves to pressure hitters with. He can effectively spot his four-seam fastball that sits in the 90-93 MPH range to both sides of the plate and can dial it up to 95 when needed. His curveball has shown great improvements of recent, inducing more swings-and-misses than earlier in his career and his fringy changeup also has improved.
Speculation says that with an improvement of his secondary offerings, Gagnon has the stuff to be a late-rotation starter in a best-case scenario. At the rate he’s already progressed through the system, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if he makes his big-league debut by the end of 2014.
8.) Mitch Haniger, OF (stats)
Milwaukee’s 2012 supplemental first-round pick, Haniger skipped rookie ball and after signing his bonus headed straight to Appleton, where over 14 games he hit .286/.379/.429 with 13 strikeouts to seven walks. Then, tragedy hit when it was announced he would head to the disabled list after tearing the PCL in his left knee, ending what would have otherwise been a very solid rookie season.
I won’t elaborate too much on his game, as I profiled him late last month, so here’s a condensed scouting report: Solid average outfielder with decent range and an exceptional arm, most likely projects to be a right-fielder down the road. Vastly improved approach at the plate; quick hands and good mechanics. His hit-tool looks average right now; his power may be his biggest asset.
9.) Yadiel Rivera, SS (stats)
A ninth-round pickup in 2010, very few minor league infielders are as polished defensively as Rivera. Though his speed grades out as average, his range at shortstop is exceptional; long limbs, good instincts and a strong arm all play into his favor and make him a very intriguing prospect for the Brewers.
The same, however, cannot be said about his offensive tools. An aggressive hitter who loves to pull the ball, Rivera walks rarely, strikes out a lot and furthermore posts diminutive power numbers. His offensive struggles warranted a demotion from low-A to rookie ball last season, and while he’s managed to stay and somewhat improve with the Appleton club for all of 2012, his bat still lags behind. Unless he is able to cut down on his strikeouts and develop a more disciplined eye at the plate, his big-league prospects won’t look all too promising.
10.) Damien Magnifico, RHP (stats)
One of the more intriguing selections from Milwaukee’s 2012 class, very few (if any) pitchers in this summer’s draft were or are capable of lighting up radar guns with as much ease as Magnifico. Not necessarily having a power-pitcher’s frame at just 6’1″, 195 pounds, the Oklahoma product regularly touched triple-digits with his four-seam fastball — a trait that could undoubtedly serve him well as a late-inning reliever in the big leagues.
The problem is, Magnifico’s secondary offerings are noticeably sub-par. Though he’s toyed with a two-seam fastball that shows good dive at times, he struggles to command it; the same goes for his cutter. Moreover, he has trouble throwing his changeup for strikes and consequently doesn’t throw hitters off-balance at the rate it should, especially given the amount of time he spent honing his pitches in college ball.
The fact that Magnifico’s pitches are so far behind is a bit troubling. However, seldom to scouts find a guy who can throw an “easy” 100 MPH, so by that reality alone, he could have a pretty high ceiling as a big-leaguer.
— Alec Dopp