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
When evaluating a minor league prospect, it’s essential for scouts to ask themselves whether or not a player can become an impact player for their team sometime in the near or distant future.
Just what is an “impact player”, you ask? In a nutshell, these are the guys who — more often than not — contribute to a team’s success on a regular basis. Ideally, these players are everyday starters for their respective teams, however that isn’t always the case. Players who have taken on a platoon-type role on their team’s roster can also make an impact despite not being the everyday guy.
Which top Brewers prospects have the best shot at becoming an impact player at the big league level? Lucky for you, we’re here to answer that very question today.
*All statistics through April 3, 2012
15. UTIL Eric Farris
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): .229/.289/.253, 3 RBI, 9 R, 6 SB, .025 ISO, 56 wRC+ (91 PA)
At one point Milwaukee’s most polished infielding prospect, Eric Farris’ path to the big leagues was derailed due to injury in 2010. However, don’t be mistaken — there’s a lot to like about what he brings to the table.
First and foremost, Farris is an unmitigated thief on the basepaths. In 2009, the former 2007 fourth-round pick stole 70 bases in just 124 games in high-A ball. Injury has taken it’s toll, though there’s no doubt that Farris has what it takes to be a base-stealer at the big league level.
The problem is, his bat, particularly the power portion, has been non-existent. In 594 plate appearances in triple-A last season, Farris amassed just a .100 ISO and .309 wOBA. That facet of his game has been the most pressing issue in his development as a prospect.
Now 26 years old, Farris has limited time to shore up that portion of his game. If he’s able to find his power stroke once more, he could turn out to be an impact player for any number of big league organizations.
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): .333/.447/.444, HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 2 SB, .111 ISO, 169 wRC+ (76 PA)
One of the most overlooked positional prospects in Milwaukee’s system, no one has gotten off to a hotter start to 2012 than 24-year-old outfielder Khris Davis.
A late bloomer, Davis tapped into his slugging capabilities in low-A ball in 2010, mashing 22 home runs and 72 RBI on his way to a very solid .224 ISO and .423 wOBA in 128 plate appearances. He followed that up with an 84 RBI 2011 campaign last season between high-A and double-A ball, quickly grabbing attention from scouts through his slugging ways.
This season, Davis is absolutely destroying the ball, so far garnering a career-best .427 wOBA and .465 BABIP in 76 plate appearances against double-A Southern League pitching. It remains to be seen if he’s capable of keeping those number up, however.
At 24, there’s still time for Davis to grow improve and refine his game in preparation for the big leagues. Needless to say, if he continues to rake at this level, he’ll have no trouble finding a spot on a big league roster.
13. RHP Kyle Heckathorn
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): 1-0, 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 27 K/5 BB, .239 BAA (5 GS)
Widely considered a steal at 47th overall at the 2009 draft, Kyle Heckathorn has hardly performed up to his billing as one of the top collegiate arms of the 2009 class thus far in his pro career. Having said that, there are a lot of things to like about Heckathorn’s game.
For one, his 6’6″, 225-pound build is extremely projectable to the next level. His lanky framework allows him to work on a downward plane and have good command, which is one of the foremost strengths to his game. Unfortunately, his biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. He tends to leave the ball over the plate at a far too concerning rate and hitters have as a consequence lit him up on a consistent basis since he lacks the velocity necessary to blow by hitters.
Improvements to his game have been palpable this season, particularly in lowering his walk rate (4.4%) and elevating his strikeout rate (23.5%). Heckathorn is still a bit of a project, however, he could definitely grow into an impact back of the rotation starter at the next level.
12. SS Yadiel Rivera
Young shortstops who can play exceptional defense are always in high demand at the big league level, and with the Brewers’ shortstop situation where it’s at, Yadiel Rivera has a great shot to grow into a real impact player at the big league level. There’s a real potential for him to be Milwaukee’s shortstop of the future.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 draft as an extremely raw 18 year old, Rivera has always been known for his near elite defensive range at shortstop. In just over two full professional seasons, Rivera boasts a 4.56 range factor comparable to the likes of former Brewers shortstops J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar.
Of course, there’s really no getting around his struggles at the plate. Rivera has averaged a .223/.260/.325 line with a .102 ISO and .264 wOBA per season so far in his professional career. He’s a project in that area, but if he can develop that facet of his game, there’s no doubt he can tremendous upside as an all-around ballplayer.
11. RHP Michael Fiers
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): 0-2, 3.99 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 26 K/11 BB, .268 BAA (6 GS)
Hardly a prospect at this stage of his career, 26-year-old Michael Fiers (he’ll turn 27 in June) was extremely productive both as a starter and relief man at the double-A and triple-A levels last season. In 126 total innings, he punched out 132 batters and walked just 36 for a solid 3.67 K/BB ratio. His performance warranted a promotion, where he made a couple relief appearances for the Brewers in September.
Fiers doesn’t have much velocity to speak of (his fastball typically sits in the high 80s to low 90s), however he does know how to fool batters with a plus-average changeup. He also throws in an occasional get-me-over curveball and below-average slider that doesn’t have much projection.
The Brewers are experimenting with him as a starter at the triple-A level right now, however, it doesn’t look llike he has any plans to become a starter in the bigs. His very good fastball-changeup combo portends he could thrive out of a relief role in a major league bullpen.
2012 Line (single-A Wisconsin): 3-0, 1.02 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 28 K/6 BB, .185 BAA (6 GS)
Overshadowed by Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley at last summer’s draft, Drew Gagnon, Milwaukee’s third round selection, has been equally if not more impressive than any Brewers pitching prospect early this season. He leads all Brewers prospects with a 0.64 ERA and ranks in the top five in WHIP and BAA.
Gagnon was a very productive starter on the collegiate scene thanks to a solid three-pitch repertoire — a mid to low-90s fastball, curve and changeup — allowing roughly seven hits per nine innings pitched during his junior season at Long Beach State. His command was in question though he’s seen dramatic improvements to that facet of his game, conceding under two walks per nine innings on the young season so far.
If Gagnon keeps this up, it won’t be too long until he finds himself pitching at the triple-A level and battling for a spot in Milwaukee’s bullpen.
9. RF, LF Caleb Gindl
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): .189/.232/.356, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 8 R, .161 ISO, 44 wRC+ (95 PA)
A fifth-round draft pick in 2007, Caleb Gindl wasted no time adapting to pitching in the minor league level. The stocky 5’9″, 205 pound outfielder posted a .580 slugging percentage and .208 ISO in 231 plate appearances against Pioneer League pitching during his rookie season. Since then, he’s only continued to impress with his bat.
In his first season in triple-A ball last season, Gindl drove in 60 runs, socked 15 home runs and scored 84 times towards the top of Nashville’s batting order. His power witnessed a decline from his first two seasons, though, posting a .165 ISO and .380 wOBA in 538 plate appearances in 2011. He’s struggled out of the gates to start his 2012 campaign, mostly with respect to his plate discipline.
Still, in a Brewers farm system devoid of any legitimate power threat — save for Hunter Morris — Gindl has staked his claim as arguably Milwaukee’s most MLB-ready positional player with respectable power.
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): .324/.353/.505, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 14 R, .178 ISO, 135 wRC+ (116 PA)
One of the premier offensive talents featured in the 2010 draft, Hunter Morris flew relatively under the radar in his first professional season, though after socking 20 home runs between high-A and double-A ball last season, it seems he’s finally getting the notoriety he’s deserved.
There a lot to like about what the 6’4″, 205 pound Auburn product has to offer from an offensive standpoint. He has a compact, powerful swing that’s allowed him to become a formidable run-producer and legitimate slugger at the plate. Morris’ .505 slugging percentage currently ranks second-best among all Brewers prospects and his .324 batting average comes in at third overall.
Not only that, but he can also hold down the fort at first base with great efficiency. Morris holds true to a career .983 fielding percentage and 8.48 range factor at first base.
With the future of Mat Gamel clearly in question, there’s a very good chance Morris will have his shot at first-base for the Brewers soon if he keeps up his production.
7. CF Logan Schafer
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): .255/.307/.387, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 16 R, 3 SB, .137 ISO, 85 wRC+ (117 PA)
Ever since his scintillating 2008 rookie campaign in the low minors, the Brewers have had Logan Schafer on their radar. Unfortunately, both injury and Milwaukee’s overloaded outfield depth chart have limited his opportunities severely.
Still, the 25-year-old Cal Poly product has proven he can do it all: Hit for minimal power and a high average, play unparalleled defense in center field, flash a strong arm when needed and be a threat on the bases when needed.
If his power were to ever develop into its full potential, he’d be a legitimate five-tool prospect and would be without a shred of doubt Milwaukee’s everyday starting centerfielder. Now 25, those aspirations aren’t completely out of reach, though his situation isn’t exactly ideal. Nevertheless, teams are always on the lookout for outfielders with exceptional range. He could turn out to be an impact player in that regard.
6. 2B Scooter Gennett
The Brewers don’t have a whole lot of infielding talent to speak of on the farm, but Ryan “Scooter” Gennett has clearly separated himself from the pack as Milwaukee’s top infielding prospect — and for a multitude of reasons.
The first and most obvious reason can be attributed to his exceptional hitting efficiency. Despite his somewhat meager 5’9″, 170-pound frame, Gennett has proven he’s can slug, garnering a career .134 ISO and .459 slugging percentage up to this juncture. He’s fairly dependent on singles, though he’s still produced a solid career .371 wOBA.
On top of his surprisingly impressive hitting capacity, Gennett is moreover a respectable base-stealer. The 22-year-old has nabbed 30 stolen bases through roughly two and a half professional seasons for a career 5.4 SPD rating, according to Fan Graphs.
Gennett still maintains a fair amount of skeptics who believe his stature will ultimately become his downfall against tougher competition. Based on the way he continues to produce, though, it looks like he has a real shot to be an impact player at the next level.
5. RHP Tyler Thornburg
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): 3-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 40 K/7 BB, .172 BAA (6 GS)
Weighing in at a smallish 6’0″, 190 pounds, Tyler Thornburg defied the odds that came with being one of the smaller starters in the minors in his first two professional seasons, and so far this season, he’s doing it again. He’s allowed just seven earned runs in 35 total innings against double-A Southern League hitters.
Just what makes Thornburg so effective? Despite his lack of size, Thornburg has tremendous velocity, able to run his four-seam fastball up to 95 MPH on a consistent basis and has a devastating changeup and solid curveball to go along with it. Those three pitches have bestowed him with a tremendous strikeout capacity, striking out exactly 11 batters per nine innings pitched thus far in his career.
Durability has probably been the biggest shortcoming to Thornburg’s game, averaging just under five and a half innings per start thus far in his career, though he’s greatly improved that facet of his game this season, averaging over 5.8 innings per start in double-A ball.
4. RHP Jimmy Nelson
2012 Line (A+ Brevard County): 2-1, 1.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 39 K/13 BB, .192 BAA (6 GS)
One of the most overlooked prospects in Milwaukee’s system, Jimmy Nelson wasn’t exceptionally productive in his first two professional seasons. However, after working to develop his changeup and command this past offseason, he’s finally enjoying the fruits of his labor. Consequently, Nelson is finally developing to the polished starter the Brewers saw when they took him in the second round of the 2010 draft.
At 6’6″, 245 pounds, Nelson just looks the part of a big league starter from a physicality standpoint. He’s proven that he can go deep into many starts and that his command issues are well behind him. Add in the fact that Nelson has three very solid pitches — mid 90s fastball with good sinking action, much improved changeup and a plus-average slider with exceptional movement — and Nelson has the makings of an impact middle to back of the rotation starter at the big league level.
2012 Line (A+ Brevard County): 2-3, 2.72 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 25 K/10 BB, .234 BAA (6 GS)
Winner of the 2011 Dick Howsler Award as college baseball’s top player last season, Taylor Jungmann obviously knows what it takes to succeed as a collegiate pitcher. And for the that reason alone, many scouts see him growing into an impact player at the big league level.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why the statuesque right-hander projects to be an effective starter at the next level. He bears three plus pitches — a mid-90s fastball with good tailing action, a mid-80s “sweeping” curveball and a mid to low-80s changeup — that he throws with great efficiency and command. Jungmann’s lanky yet durable 6’6″, 220 pound frame allows him to go deep into a majority of his starts, additionally.
Jungmann’s first pro season got off to a bit of a shaky start, however, he’s rebounded nicely, allowing just five six runs (five earned) to cross home in 18.2 innings over his last three starts in the Florida State League. The Brewers are hoping he can fly through the system to be their No. 4 starter by the start of 2014.
2. RHP Wily Peralta
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): 1-2, 3.72 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 26 K/12 BB, .180 BAA (5 GS)
After signing on as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic at just 16 years of age, Wily Peralta has swiftly developed into a one of the most MLB-ready pitchers in all of minor league baseball. His size, durability, solid three-pitch repertoire and impressive strikeout capacity are all things to like about his game.
At 6’2″, 240 pounds, Peralta has the build necessary to become an adequate big-league starter. His frame has granted him the durability needed to go deep into a majority of his starts, averaging 5.8 IP over 26 starts between double-A and triple-A ball in 2011.
While his above-average stamina is one of his foremost strengths, his strikeout abilities are probably the most impressive facet to his game. Thanks to a mid-90s fastball with good movement and a hard-breaking slider that many scouts believe to be one of the minors’ best, Peralta has fanned well over nine batters per nine innings pitched in each of his last four seasons. Once he finishes polishing his command a bit more, there’s no doubting Peralta could be an annual 30-plus start hurler at the big league level.
2012 Line (A+ Brevard County): 3-2, 3.34 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 32 K/8 BB, .231 BAA
There were plenty of reasons why Jed Bradley was one of the most coveted arms of last summer’s draft. The Georgie Tech product has three projectable pitches to his repertoire and prototypical frame, was highly successful during his junior season with the Yellow Jackets and is moreover a very personable guy with tremendous baseball IQ.
Bradley’s fastball-curve-changeup combination each grade out as a plus-pitch at the next level. His fastball sits in the low 90s with good but not great movement, his curveball sits in the mid to low 80s with good curve/sliding action and his changeup consistently sits in the mid 80s and produces a low of swings-and-misses. His prototypical frame allows him to hide the ball well and also go deep into ballgames, additionally.
Throw that all together and you’ve got what looks to be a very good middle of the rotation starter who can log at least 200-plus innings and 30-plus starts at the big league level for many years to come. Bradley easily takes the cake over other Brewers prospects with respect to MLB potential.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.