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.
It was undoubtedly a year worth looking back on with exuberance for the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system.
Coming into the season, you would have been hard-pressed to find the Brewers’ collective system placed above of the bottom-five overall in many organizational rankings among big-league ball clubs. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus followed that trend, with BA ranking Milwaukee at No. 26 overall prior to the season and BP placing Milwaukee at an even worse No. 28 overall.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone with a fundamental knowledge of the Brewers’ minor-league talent, of course. The Zack Greinke trade of two winters ago left the talent-pool excessively thin, consequently leaving 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Wily Peralta with the proverbial “top prospect” moniker prior to the season after a tremendous 2011 campaign. First-round picks from 2011 Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley were also seen as guys who could take home top-prospect honors after the season, as well as right-hander Tyler Thornburg. After that, there weren’t many youngsters who looked to be of any relevance anytime soon at the big-league level.
However, after a fruitful 2012 draft class and the trade that made Greinke a Halo, subsequently giving Milwaukee three intriguing prospects to add to the system, things are looking up and fans can now expect a steady influx of talent to the big-league roster as early as the start of next season.
So with the season essentially over, it seems fitting for me to update my end-of-season top-25 prospect rankings.
1. Wily Peralta, RHP — Walks have been up due to control regressions and will need to show more refined control of his heavy fastball. However, pure swing-and-miss ability is certainly there; his slider has great diving action and will be a definite asset down the road. Have no doubt he’ll show signs of potential out of the ‘pen this month and with a good spring training should be the No. 5 starter come April.
2. Taylor Jungmann, RHP — Has been anything but the strikeout hoarder he was in college but has absolutely looked the part of a top prospect in every other aspect. Is always around the plate and hits his spots consistently; knows how to set-up hitters with his secondary offerings and hardly ever gives up the long-ball. A good looking prospect in my book.
3. Tyler Thornburg, RHP — Milwaukee’s prospect darling has been outstanding by all accounts in 2012; the raw statistics are there to support his case to be in the rotation come next April. Still, I have concerns; namely with his pure stuff. His fastball gets crushed when over the plate, is way to reliant on the pitch and furthermore doesn’t induce a lot of ground-balls. His curveball — though having nice movement — is much too inconsistent control-wise. Add on that he still hasn’t developed a good feel for his changeup and his lack of stamina, and, yes, I have my doubts. Will be a reliever when all said and done.
4. Jimmy Nelson, RHP — Got off to a scorching start in high-A but ran into troubles — and shoulder fatigue — upon being promoted to double-A midway through the season. One of my favorite prospects in the system; massive yet prototype 6’6″, 245 build makes him highly durable. Good three-pitch mix with a promising sinker and plus-average slider that’s already MLB ready. The ability to control his fastball will be the key moving forward. Could push for a spot start by the end of next season.
5. Logan Schafer, OF — Knocking on the major-league door for a while now, Schafer should get at least minimal playing time in September. Impress, and he will certainly challenge Carlos Gomez for the starting job in center field next season. Disappoint, and who knows what happens.
6. Hunter Morris, 1B — The lack of a quality approach at the plate dampened his otherwise impressive power numbers from 2010 to 2011, nearly to the point where scouts questioned his ability to grow into a serviceable bat in the bigs. But while his strikeout rate remains somewhat high, he is drawing more walks and is developing a more refined approach. Further improvement in that area could mean he is starts for Milwaukee at first base in 2014.
7. Clint Coulter, C/DH — Milwaukee’s 2012 first-round pick has struggled behind the plate but has thrived at it. With 22 passed balls in just 25 games, catching may not be where he best projects at the next level; maybe a first base or third base. However, his impressive eye at the plate — as evidenced by his .429 OBP — is a great sign for the organization.
8. Jed Bradley, LHP — It was a season filled with disappointment and injury for the 22-year-old southpaw. Missed a stretch of time due to a groin strain and has not pitched since August 8 due to arm soreness. Still believe the stuff is there to be a future No. 3, but will need to refine his command before he becomes what scouts project him to be.
9. Johnny Hellweg, RHP — Second piece received in the Greinke deal, Hellweg stands in at a healthy 6’9″, 205 pounds. Has very good raw stuff including a mid-90s fastball that induces ground balls. Doesn’t have much control over his secondary offerings and has walked nearly as many as he’s struck out in his short stint in the system. I believe he would be an excellent late-inning reliever down the road.
10. Khris Davis, OF — Scouts aren’t high on his toolset but his statistics are tough to ignore. Slugged his way to a .383/.484/.641 line in 44 double-A games and got the call to Nashville, where he ran into troubles but is still boasting a nice 119 wRC+ through roughly 30 games. Not entirely sure he has a position to play on the big-league roster; may ultimately wind up as trade bait.
11. Ariel Pena, RHP — The final piece in the Greinke trade, Pena also has the stuff to suggest he could be a backline starter in the bigs. His devastating changeup gets hitters off his fastball, but lacks a quality breaking pitch. Doesn’t induce a lot of ground-balls and control issues are troubling. A strong spring training could put him on an early call-up list next season.
12. Scooter Gennett, 2B — Has thrived off his ability to hit for singles and pound the outfield gaps with well below-average power. Pushing to hit over .300 for his third consecutive season. Sees the ball well and has good knowledge of the strikezone, still developing as a defensive second-baseman. His diminutive 5’9″, 185 pound frame still concerns scouts.
13. Victor Roache, OF — Selected with their second first-round pick this past June, Roache’s broken right wrist suffered during his final year at Georgia Southern has kept him from playing time this summer, as he’s rehabbed in Arizona in preparation for fall and winter instructional leagues. Athletic build with a ton of pop in his bat, could end up as a corner outfielder.
14. Hiram Burgos, RHP — Started in high-A and moved all the way up to triple-A, where his stuff has stacked up well against the competition. Won’t blow batters away but shows a good feel for each of his pitches. Much more of a fly-ball pitcher than a ground-out pitcher. Will have the chance to be on the opening day roster with a strong 2013 preseason.
15. Caleb Gindl, OF — The stocky 5’9″ outfielder has been waiting to burst onto the big league scene for two seasons now and should get the call this September as a depth-adding corner arm. Got off to an abysmally slow start but has since found his stroke; put up a .319/.370/.527 line in July and furthermore managed to raise his slugging percentage up to a respectable .429. Unfortunately, there doesn’t look to be anywhere on the roster for him to play next season.
16. Kentrail Davis, OF — I’ve always loved Davis’ tools; is extremely athletic with plus-speed on the bases and in the outfield. His bat has been in question for his entire playing career, but has shown great signs of improvement this season. Displaying good discipline at the plate and improved power during his stay in double-A this season.
17. Drew Gagnon, RHP — The Brewers’ fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft has produced well above what many had anticipated to this juncture of his career. Posted a very nice 2.83 ERA over six starts with low-A Appleton and got the call to Brevard County this summer. While he’s struggled to produce ground outs consistently, his credible fastball-curve-changeup repertoire has worked splendidly against the competition. Could turn out to be a future No. 5 in a best-case scenario.
18. Jorge Lopez, RHP — A youngster who still has a ways before he fills out physically, Lopez has racked up the strikeouts during his second season in the system but at the same has struggled to control his fastball-curve-changeup mix. Scouts love his overall upside and its tough to disagree. Could become a mid-rotation arm in at his very best — a middle-inning reliever at his very worst.
19. Mitch Haniger, OF — Found immediate success in low-A Appleton after becoming the Brewers’ third and final first-round pick in last June’s draft, however an untimely PCL tear ended his rookie stint. Has a very well-rounded game without any noticeable weakness. Has gap power to all fields; solid defender with plus-arm, good work ethic and makeup. Really like his game. Will be interesting to see how his bounces back from injury next season.
20. Yadiel Rivera, SS — A defensive whiz at shortstop, no one will argue that his glove doesn’t project to be plus-average at the next level — his bat, however, is an entirely different story. Still learning to repeat his mechanics and overall plate discipline, Rivera’s hit tool still remains in question. The good part is that time is on his side; at just 20 years old, he should finish next season in high-A and with improvements there could skyrocket to the upper minors. Definitely a name worth watching next season.
21. Tyrone Taylor, OF — Exceeded expectations in rookie ball after being taken in the second round of last June’s draft, especially with his bat; posted a .387/.434/.667 line in 83 trips to the plate this season before injury sidelined him on July 22. His bat will need some mechanical tune-ups as he continues to move up the ladder. Could be a lethal base-stealer down the road.
22. David Goforth, RHP — The Mississippi State product blew past hitters in rookie ball last season out of the bullpen, striking out over a batter per inning. This season, that has been anything but the same in low-A ball — strictly as a starter, Goforth punched out a very average 5.7 batters per nine innings over 27 starts. I’m not too high on his overall arsenal of pitches but his slider certainly looks the part of a big-league swing-and-miss pitch.
23. Jose Pena, OF — After two full seasons in the Dominican Summer League, the raw 19-year-old earned a promotion to Helena after putting up a scintillating .877 OPS in the rookie Arizona League. He now boasts a .309/.316/.582 line in 57 plate appearances and looks like a very intriguing youngster in the system.
24. Eric Farris, 2B — The once highly-touted second baseman began his 2012 campaign ridiculously slow at the plate but he’s recovered to boast a very nice .286/.328/.378 line. His haste on the bases has been far from what it was during his early days in the organization but still nabbed 33 bases in 129 games. Nevertheless, would be a nice depth-providing roster addition this September.
25. Nick Ramirez, 1B — A defensively cumbersome first-baseman with plus raw power at the dish, Ramirez has witnessed massive declines in his offensive production this season juxtaposed to his rookie 2011 campaign, most notably with respect to his plate discipline. A great fastball hitter, the Cal State Fullerton product just can’t seem to stay on breaking offerings and that has in turn led to a strikeout rate of 34 percent this season. His capacity to become a more disciplined hitter will determine his big-league ceiling.
Player Not Mentioned Worth Watching in 2013: Chris McFarland, 2B
Taken in the 18th round of the 2011 draft out of Lufkin (TX.) High School as a groomed middle-infield defender, McFarland made a permanent transition to second base this season — his rookie season — and has flourished. His above-average athleticism enabled him to post a range factor of 4.36 and turn 37 double plays in just 59 games with the rookie club in Helena, though he certainly won’t be limited to that position moving forward. He showed scouts during his high school days that he is a very capable outfielder with a strong arm and quick release to stick at nearly any position on the diamond.
Offensively, McFarland has also impressed. A quick bat that produces natural gap-power to all fields has allowed him to post a .299/.355/.420 line over 292 plate appearances this season to go with a .398 BABIP and .354 wOBA. Like many raw youngsters, though, McFarland struggles somewhat to repeat his mechanics and remained disciplined on off-speed and breaking offerings, as evidenced by a concerning 0.28 BB/K ratio.
Given his impressive showing this season in rookie ball, I would be shocked to see him remain there next season. It looks like he’s ready to move up to low-A Appleton.
The month of July is a very important one for many top minor league prospects. More or less the midway juncture of the regular season, prospects who wowed early in the season and perpetuated their success into June are now enjoying the fruits of their labor in the form of a promotion to the next level of the minors. For comparison’s sake, July is essentially the baseball equivalent of Saturdays on the PGA Tour: Moving days.
For many of the Milwaukee Brewers’ top prospects, July 2012 was one we’ll never forget. Following a month where we witnessed a few noteworthy promotions and a colossal and unexpected one in Tyler Thornburg, the July dog-days also produced a number of headlines and superb performances. More specifically, a number of players within the system found an acute amount of success during July, putting up gaudy numbers at a prolific rate and moreover raising their respective stocks within the organization.
The following 10 prospects depict those aforementioned players.
Hunter Morris, 1B (stats)
July Line: 106 AB, .340/.393/.736, 20 XBH (10 HR), 24 K/10 BB (28 G)
There are few players in the system who’s power rivals that of Morris, and that was never more evident than in his stellar July showing. This month, he managed to raise his 2012 isolated power (ISO) rating to a career-best .255. His approach will still need refinement before he challenges for the starting first-base job, though is yield at the plate this month is still nonetheless impressive.
Caleb Gindl, OF (stats)
July Line: 91 AB, .319/.370/.527, 11 XBH (4 HR), 18 K/8 BB (25 G)
Gindl’s otherwise impressive power was nowhere to be found early on in 2012, though he turned things around in a big way in July. The 23-year-old hoarded four round-trippers to go with seven two-baggers this past month, raising his slugging percentage back above the .400 mark for the first time this season. A solid finish to his season could put him in prime position to battle for a roster spot this September.
Wily Peralta, RHP (stats)
July Line: 6 GS, 2.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 42 K/8 BB, .275 BAA (35.2 IP)
Peralta got off to a miserably slow start to his season, struggling to command his pitches and keep batters at bay through 2012’s first two months, so anything better than that would have been viewed as a successful July. However, he turned things around in the big way this past month; he effectively commanded his breaking pitches, striking out well over a batter per inning with a mere eight base-on-balls over six starts. This month could be a big reason he’s called up to the 40-man September roster in a few weeks.
Jose Pena, OF (stats)
July Line: 90 AB, .333/.413/.511, 8 XBH (5 3B), 22 K/13 BB (22 G)
Pena, a non-draft pick free agent who signed in 2010, finds himself with the rookie club in Arizona for the third straight; the only difference between 2012 and the two years previous have been his power at the plate, and that was extremely noticeable this month. With plus-speed at 6’2″, 195 pounds, the Dominican native collected three triples on his way to eight total extra-base hits, raising his wOBA to .422, his ISO to .242 through 30 games this season. Still very raw, this could be a major sign of maturity from Pena and may just cause management to scoot him along through the system.
Nick Ramirez, 1B (stats)
July line: 104 AB, .287/.306/.611, 18 XBH (8 HR), 41 K/2 BB (25 G)
Nearly a consensus top-25 prospect at the beginning of the season, Ramirez performed well below expectations in the season’s first two months, struggling with strikeouts and a power shortage at the plate.
While the former was still of clear concern in July, posting a strikeout rate of 37 percent in 25 games, the latter seems to have improved drastically. Belting eight home runs and 11 doubles this past month, Ramirez raised his season wOBA to .344 and his ISO to .224. While both of those numbers are still well below what management had expected entering the season (his power is his only big-league projectable tool at this juncture), such a profound improvement at the plate this past month should offer up some optimism heading into the season’s final stretch.