You’d be beating an already lifeless horse if you said that the Milwaukee Brewers have one of the most inept farm systems in all of Major League Baseball. Everyone knows it, and there’s really no other way of putting it.
However, a successful 2011 first-year player draft has officially put the Brewers back on the map in terms of markedly young talent in the minors. The club notched Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann and Georgia Tech LHP Jed Bradley in the first round last June, and both are expected to make leaps and bounds in their first year in the organization.
Outside of Jungmann and Bradley, though, things aren’t particularly saturated in talent. However, there are a number of prospects who may have their sights set on the majors. Let’s rank 10 prospects with the highest MLB ceilings down on the farm.
10. OF 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.
9. CF Logan Schafer
Schafer, 25, was at one point a very promising young star but a heated battle with injuries has derailed his development. Last year between high-A, double-A and triple-A ball, Schafer batted .315 with five home runs and 43 RBI. He also notched 16 stolen bases and scored 66 runs. He was promoted to the big leagues as a September call-up last season but only amassed three plate appearances.
At this point, it’s hard to distinguish what Schafer’s future holds in store. If I had to give it my best guess, I’d say he’s bound to be a utility, off-the-bench type player who probably won’t ever get a legitimate shot at a full-time starting role.
Rivera is one prospect that I would advise even the casual fan to keep up on. He’s a very young talent at just 19 years old and has the potential to be a defensive superstar at the major league level. He has extremely quick feet and has great range in the field.
That said, there are some concerns moving forward. In rookie ball in 2010, Rivera batted .209 with no home runs, 23 RBI and just a .257 slugging percentage. Last year between rookie and low-A ball, he batted .236 with nine home runs and 43 RBI, though he did manage to eclipse the 100-hit plateau. He does struggle with strikeouts, and that will be a stressing point moving forward in his development.
Tom Haudricourt projected on Baseball America last November that he expects Rivera to be Milwaukee’s starting shortstop at the beginning of the 2015 season. If that’s the case, who knows how high his ceiling might be.
7. RHP Jorge Lopez
Seldom do the Brewers take chances on unproven players coming out of high school through the draft, but Lopez was one omission to that tendency.
A third-round draft pick in last June’s draft, Lopez posted a 2.25 ERA in four starts in rookie ball last year. And while he only pitched 12.0 innings, there’s a growing sentiment around the organization that, with at least four years in the minors, he could be a back-end of the rotation type pitcher for Milwaukee. There’s still a lot left to be proved on Lopez’s end as his consistency is still in question, but his plus-average curveball is definitely something worth building off of.
6. RHP Jimmy Nelson
Truth be told, Nelson hasn’t yet put up the overwhelming statistics that come with being a “top prospect”. In 2010, Nelson went 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA and struck out 33 in 26.2 innings in rookie ball. He also garnered a 11.1 K/9 IP and a less-than-impressive 1.61 WHIP. Last year, he went 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA in 25 starts in low-A ball.
One thing that scouts take notice to is his big frame, which looks to translate well at the major league level. He’s able to go deep into games thanks to a average-power arm with a fastball topping out in the mid-90s. What separates him from the pack, though, is his plus-slider and improving changeup. Nelson has a ton of potential and at 22 years old, he’s already a seasoned pitcher down on the farm who will challenge to break through to the bullpen by late 2013. He projects to end up as a middle of the rotation starter.
Fans have anxiously awaited the day that Peralta, 22, makes the jump to the big leagues for quite some time now. The Brewers signed him to a minor league contract at the ripe age of 17, and, needless to say, he’s as ready as he’ll ever be.
Last year, the 6’2″, 240-pound right-hander went for 150.2 innings between double-A and triple-A, posting a 3.17 ERA and 9.4 K/9. He’s become notorious for his strikeout abilities but also for his lack of consistency, which will be a stressing point at spring training in February.
His fastball tops out in the low to mid 90s and has a plus slider that has serious potential. He’ll likely start 2012 in the bullpen and will eventually end up as an end-of-the rotation type pitcher in the coming years.
4. 2B Scooter Gennett
In a farm system largely dominated by pitching talent, Gennett has staked his claim as Milwaukee’s top infielding prospect.
At just 21 years old, Gennett already has two professional seasons to his credit. He skipped rookie ball and went straight to low-A ball where he batted .309 with nine home runs, 55 RBI and 87 runs scored. He also notched 14 stolen bases. Last year at Brevard County, he batted an even .300 with nine home runs, 51 RBI and 74 runs scored.
He’s slightly undersized which will clearly limit his power potential at the major league level, but his great work ethic and likability all work in his favor moving forward. His ceiling is limited, though, with Rickie Weeks holding down the fort at second-base. I do expect him to push for a starting role by 2014, nevertheless.
There are many differing opinions about what the future holds in store for Thornburg. Some say he has the stuff to be a No. 2-3 starter in the big leagues, others say his stature (5’11”, 185 pounds) could keep him from being a starter altogether.
The one thing I think we can all agree on, though, is that he’s been impressive thus far.
After posting a 1.93 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 23.1 innings in rookie ball, Thornburg made his way through low-A and high-A ball in 2010. He went 10-6 with a 2.57 ERA and struck out a remarkable 160 batters in just 136.2 innings of work in that time-frame.
Some have made comparisons of his unorthodox windup to that of Tim Lincecum’s in that it generates a considerable amount of torque on his arm. Whether or not that effects his development moving forward remains to be seen, but Thornburg has clearly made himself known throughout the minors. His ceiling is definitely high.
2. LHP Jed Bradley
Bradley may play second-fiddle to Taylor Jungmann once next season gets under way, but you’d be kidding yourself if you think there’s any substantial disparity in how successful their futures might be.
In his senior season at Georgia Tech, Bradley went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, struck out 106 in 98.0 innings (9.73 K/9 IP) and allowed just one home run. He held batters to a .239 BA and maintained a 1.22 WHIP.
His left-handed arm was a splendid addition in last June’s draft, and will be a key asset for the organization moving forward. He made his professional debut last fall in the Arizona Fall League, be struggled. Bradley is likely to start his 2012 campaign at the low-A level.
The overwhelming sentiment shared by scouts is that Taylor Jungmann has the potential to be a future star at the major league level for years to come. Please keep in mind he has yet to throw a professional pitch.
Last year at Texas, the tall, lanky right-hander went 13-3 with a remarkable 1.60 ERA. He also struck out 126 in 146.0 innings (8.04 K/9 IP), held opponents to a .165 BA and allowed just four home runs in 18 starts.
Most of his success at the collegiate level can be accredited to his power fastball that tops out at in the mid-90s. Scouts say there’s room for improvement with his secondary pitches, however his location is second-to-none. Jungmann has all the ingredients to be a legitimate No. 2 starter at the major league level, and there’s no doubting he has the highest ceiling of any current Brewer prospect.
For the better part of the last decade, the Milwaukee Brewers have prided themselves in their outstanding scouting, drafting, and development of young players from minor-league amateurs to MLB talent. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and, yes, even Prince Fielder (to name a few) are quintessential examples of that efficiency.
Last winter, however, GM Doug Melvin dealt a number of top-tier minor league prospects to furnish deals that would send Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee. Though largely successful, the transactions would recede the level of talent in Milwaukee’s minor league system, sparing a handful of pertinent players down on the farm.
Which remaining youngsters have the best opportunity for success in the near future? Let’s take an early look at Milwaukee’s top 15 prospects heading into 2012.
Honorable Mention: RHP Santo Manzanillo
Manzanillo signed with the Brewers as a non-draft pick back in 2005, but has only begun to find his stride down in the minors.
The young power-righthander put together a nice 2011 campaign between high class-A Brevard County and double-A Huntsville. He worked 61.2 innings and posted a combined 1.75 ERA, distinctly in a reliever/closer role. He also punched out 62 in that same time-frame.
He’s been able to find the most success with his upper-90s fastball thus far. If he’s able to stay within himself as far as his command goes, he’ll only continue to work his way through the system.
Dishonorable Mention: RHP Mark Rogers
No matter how disappointing or enigmatic his short-lived career has been up to this point, it would be an outrage not to mention the 25-year-old former prodigy.
Drafted fresh out of high school as the fifth-overall pick in 2004, Rogers was expected to be the next best thing since sliced bread for the Brewers, but quickly found out his arm wasn’t quite ready for prime-time. Suffering a shoulder injury in 2006, Rogers injured his right shoulder and underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum.
He would not pitch until three years later, where in 2009 he would go 1-3 with a 1.67 ERA, 67 SO in 64.2 IP. His 2010, arguably his best, Rogers went 6-8 with a 3.71 ERA while garnering 111 SO in 111.2 IP, prompting a mid-season call-up, where the youngster made his first start as a Brewer.
Then, last March, the right-hander was suspended for 25 games for testing positive for a stimulant. He probably still has a future with the organization, but this certainly isn’t the way we all foresaw it transpiring.
Selected by Milwaukee at 49th overall back in 2009, the lanky right-hander made a solid impression on the organization back in 2010, going a combined 10-6 with a 2.98 ERA between single-A and class-A advanced ball.
Coming off his stellar showing, Baseball America ranked Heckathorn as Milwaukee’s ninth-best overall prospect heading into 2011. He wouldn’t live up to expectations, however, going a lackluster 5-10 with a 4.97 ERA while punching out just 89 in 22 starts.
While there’s no questioning his skill-set, the 23-year-old has yet to strut his best stuff with consistency. The youngster will have that opportunity next spring with double-A Huntsville.
15. RHP Jimmy Nelson
Coming into 2011, the 6’6″, 235-pound power right-hander was ranked as Milwaukee’s eighth overall prospect by Baseball America — and for good reason.
In his first minor league go-around with, Nelson went 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA while punching out 33 in just 26.2 innings of work as a member of the Brewers’ rookie club in Helena. As a starter, the University of Alabama product would go 8-9 with a 4.38 ERA, 120 SO and 146.0 IP in 25 starts with single-A Wisconsin.
He features a four-seam fastball that tops out in the mid-90s with a sinker, along with a slider and developing changeup. Look for him to start with class-A advanced Brevard County in 2012.
14. RHP Austin Ross
Another productive pitcher taken by the Brewers back in 2010, Ross has gone relatively unknown around Milwaukee. That may be about to change.
In five starts with Milwaukee’s rookie club in Helena, the 23-year-old went 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA, 52 SO and walked just six in 46.2 innings of work. He also held the opposition to a .246 BA and allowed just one home run during those starts. Yet, like so many other young pitchers, Ross’ production tapered a bit as he moved up, posting a combined 5.28 ERA and striking out 114 in 133.0 IP between class-A Wisconsin and class-A advanced Brevard County.
By no means is Ross a power pitcher that will strike out a lofty number of batters. However, he’s able to limit mistakes — he conceded just a 1.13 HR/9 in 13 class-A advanced starts last season — making him a near lock to be promoted to Milwaukee within the next few seasons.
There’s no doubting the 24-year-old righty is on the cusp of being a call-up for Milwaukee in the very near future, but his poor execution has led to him dropping out of our top 10.
Signed by the Brewers back in 2005, Rivas has put together a number of splendid minor-league campaigns, most notably in 2010, going 11-6 with a 3.37 ERA and 114 SO in 141.2 IP with double-A Huntsville.
Invited to spring training prior to last season, the youngster had his sights set on another noble effort with triple-A Nashville in 2011. That was not the case, going 7-12 with a less-than-impressive 4.72 ERA in 28 starts. He has the stuff to be a potential No.4 starter for Milwaukee, but he’ll need to put together a complete minor league season before that becomes a reality.
12. LHP Dan Meadows
“Unheralded” doesn’t even begin to describe this 24-year-old southpaw.
A 49th-round selection out of Temple Texas College in 2008, Meadows’ 6’6″, 223-pound frame initially classified him as a future starter in the big-leagues.
Going 13-6 with a 4.07 ERA and 108 SO in his second minor league season in class-A ball, Meadows established himself as a real workhorse in the making. The very next year, his label would change drastically.
Promoted to class-A advanced Brevard County, Meadows registered 2.86 ERA, 92 SO and a .221 BAA in 91.1 IP (42 games) in 2010, strictly in a relief role. He would be called-up to double-A Huntsville to start his 2011 campaign, where he would go 6-2 with a gaudy 1.51 ERA while holding batters to a .185 BAA, evoking yet another promotion to triple-A Nashville later that year.
11. 2B Eric Farris
Calling the 25-year-old Farris “fleet-of-foot” would be a bit of an understatement.
In just five seasons in Milwaukee’s system, the former fourth-round selection out of Loyola Marymount has ripened into a true barn-burner on the basepaths, stockpiling a Brewers record 70 stolen bases in 2009, a year he also batted .298 with 7 HR and 49 RBI.
Like so many other speedsters before him, though, Farris truly lacks power at the plate. The youngster maintained a .792 OPS during his lone year in rookie ball in 2007, but has seen a gradual decrease in OPS ever since.
We had him ranked higher in our preseason rankings last March, but after a pedestrian 2011 campaign with triple-A Nashville (.271 BA, 6 HR, 55 RBI, .689 OPS), Farris will have to prove himself capable once more in 2012.
One of the few classic power-hitters remaining in Milwaukee’s system, Gindl has yet to disappoint in five minor-league seasons.
His inaugural rookie season with the Brewers’ rookie club in Helena, the then 19-year-old outfielder batted .372 with 5 HR and 42 RBI, including a 1.000 OPS in 55 total games (207 AB). His outstanding production was enough for him to be named a Baseball America Rookie All-Star.
Since then, he’s only continued to make strides in the organization. Last season, the now 23-year-old amassed 15 HR, 60 RBI, .307 BA and ranked fourth among all Brewers prospects with a .309 OBP.
The only thing that could hold him back from a big-league promotion is Milwaukee’s lack for talent in the outfield. However, if he continues to generate runs at such a rapid pace, management may have no other choice than to bring him up for an audition.
9. RHP Cody Scarpetta
Blazing his way through rookie ball (2-0, 2.23 ERA, 58 SO) in 2008, Milwaukee’s 11th-round selection back in 2007 seemed intent on making a serious impact in the organization early on.
The very next year, the young Scarpetta worked his way from single-A ball to double-A Hunstville, posting a combined 3.52 ERA while striking out 116 in just 105.0 innings of work. However, the 6’3″, 244-pounder has since gained a reputation of poor command, ultimately leading to punching out just 98 batters in 117.0 innings of work last season in double-A Huntsville.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the youngster, he still has a boatload of potential in the big leauges. A number three spot in Milwaukee’s rotation in 2014 could be in the works if he gets his act together.
8. RHP Mike Fiers
One of the older prospects you’ll ever see — he’s currently 26 years old — Fiers has been an absolute gem in Milwaukee system in each of the past two seasons.
In just his second year in the minors, Fiers attained a 5-9 combined record, 3.53 ERA and 130 SO in 125.0 IP between class-A advanced Brevard County and double-A Huntsville in 2010. This past season, he persevered, going 13-3 with a staggering 1.86 ERA along with striking out 132 in 126.0 innings of work in double-A ball and triple-A Nashville.
He would later be named Milwaukee’s top minor-league pitcher of 2011, and subsequently found himself in a Brewers uniform mid September.
You know your farm system is dry when a player who has yet to make a minor-league start is a top-ten prospect. But that’s exactly the position the Brewers find themselves in.
Bradley, taken with the 15th overall pick in last summer’s 2011 draft, is currently polishing his exceptionally raw game in the MLB Arizona Fall League, where though over three weeks of baseball, has pitched but 2.0 innings.
Nevertheless, his talent and tremendous upside makes him a top-ten prospect by Milwaukee’s standards. Last season with Georgia Tech, the youngster went 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA, struck out 106 and allowed just one home run in 16 starts. Expect him to be pitching with Milwaukee’s rookie club in Helena next spring.
6. RHP Taylor Jungmann
Whatd’ya know, another first-round draft pick from last June’s draft cracks Milwaukee’s top-ten preseason prospect rankings.
The recipient of the 25th annual Dick Howser Award — an award handed out to college baseball’s player of the year — in July, the 6’6″, 220-pound Jungmann has been a portrait of success at the collegiate level. Chances are he’s well on his way toward stardom with the Brewers, as well. Last season, the lanky right-hander went 13-3 with an insane 1.60 ERA, 126 SO in 141.0 IP. He held opponents to a .165 BA, and an otherworldly 0.214 BABIP.
Jungmann signed a $2.525 Million deal with Milwaukee back in mid August. Like Bradley, he’s likely to be designated to the Brewers’ rookie club in Helena next spring.
One of my personal favorites, Ryan “Scooter” Gennett is, unlike many prospects in the system, on the virtual fast-track to the majors. The Florida State product has been nothing short of a sensation in just two full seasons in the minors.
In 2010, the speedy second-baseman batted .309 with 9 HR, 55 RBI, scored 87 runs and stole 14 bases in 118 games with class-A Wisconsin. The very next year, he progressed to class-A advanced Brevard County, amassing a .300 BA, 9 HR, 51 RBI and 11 SB.
This offseason, he’s lighting up opposing pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where through 13 games, he’s batting .357 wih 2 HR and 8 RBI, with a .946 OPS. Talk around the organization estimates he could push to be the full-time starting second baseman as soon as 2014.
4. CF Logan Schafer
An athletically capable outfielder by nature, the 25-year-old Schafer has been bustling his way through the system since his rookie season in 2008, where he batted .272 with 2 HR and 28 RBI in Helena.
He started his 2009 campaign in class-A advanced ball, and would really burst onto the scene shortly thereafter, batting .308 to go with 6 HR and 58 RBI.
A groin injury in spring training shattered his hopes for a productive 2010 season, but he would recover handsomely, amassing 5 HR, 43 RBI and a .315 BA between class-A advanced, double-A and triple-A this past season. His performance would be enough for a September call-up last season, but was specifically limited to a pinch-hitting/running role.
Depending on how management handles their depth chart in center-field, Schafer could be in a starting role by 2013. He’s presently sharpening his skill-set with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League.
Through just one and a half years in the low minors, the 5’11”, 185-pound Thornburg is already drawing comparisons to Tim Lincecum. Its easy to see why.
Milwaukee’s lone third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Thornburg went 1-0 with a gaudy 1.93 ERA, amassing 38 SO in just 23.1 innings of work while holding opponents to a .179 BA with Helena in 2010. He started his 2011 campaign in single-A ball, going 7-0 with a 1.57 ERA, including 76 SO in just 68.2 innings.
Promoted to class-A advanced Brevard County at mid-season, Thornburg went 3-6, but still managed a 3.57 ERA and a .186 BAA. His stature will raise question marks regarding his durability and stamina, but, for now, he looks the part of a future ace.
2. 3B Taylor Green
Working his way up through the ranks of the unknown for quite some time, Green has manifested his big-league potential in admirable fashion, being named Milwaukee’s top minor-league hitter of 2011.
Last season, Green led all Brewers prospects with a .336 BA, amassed 22 HR, 91 RBI, and an organization-best .412 OBP and .580 SLG in triple-A ball. In brief, 2011 was a suptuous one for the rising star.
A September call-up, Green recorded 10 hits in 37 at-bats in his short stint with Ron Roenicke’s crew. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be the opening-day starter in 2012, but he’s nonetheless made an exceptional impression on the club thus far.
Peralta, who signed on as a non-draft pick in 2005 at the ripe age of 16, is unquestionably Milwaukee’s top talent down on the farm and will be bound for the majors in the very near future.
His first two seasons in rookie ball were forgettable, but the young right-hander would really start materialize into a top prospect in 2009, where he went 4-4, maintained a 3.47 ERA and, most notably, struck out 118 in 103.2 IP in low-A ball.
In 2010, he went a combined 8-6 with a 3.79 ERA between class-A advanced and double-A, but witnessed his prominent K/BB ratio drop from 2.6:1 in 2009 to 1.6:1. He then took his talents to triple-A Nashville toward the end of 2011, where he would go 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA while garnering 40 strikeouts in just 31.0 innings, also holding opponents to a .193 BA.
There were rumblings about the 22-year-old being promoted to the majors last September, but that obviously didn’t happen. You can count on the youngster making his Brewer debut sometime in 2012, and there’s an outside chance he’ll be on the opening-day roster this March.
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