Feature Photo: Josh Hader, LHP, Brewers
Ed. Note: Click here to listen to Defreitas and Faleris discuss a solid group of talent assembled in Milwaukee on Episode 7 of Defensive Indifference, the official Podcast of 2080 Baseball! You can also follow along as we publish reviews of all 30 teams this offseason by clicking here. And as always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook!
By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J.Faleris
Contributor: Max Kraust
The organization is re-tooling for the long haul, loading up on young talent via trade and amateur acquisition in the hopes of forming a new core that can compete long term within a challenging N.L. Central division. With a solid group of young talent knocking on the door in Milwaukee, as well as an influx of high upside players in the lower levels, David Stearns and the rest of the Milwaukee front office appear to have the organization heading in the right direction.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Josh Hader, LHP, Triple-A Colorado Springs | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/55
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 8m
The Tools: 65 fastball; 60 slider; 55 changeup – Hader’s fastball has climbed over ten miles per hour over the past four seasons, now sitting comfortably in the middle 90s, and touching higher, with significant arm-side life out of a low slot. The slider is a wipeout offering with impressive depth that appears even more significant because of the wide release and angle. He is still looking for consistency with the changeup, but there is enough feel on display to project the pitch to at least average with continued reps, and he’ll flash a borderline plus version of the pitch from time to time, with good fade. The significant angle on his offerings can limit the entry points on the strike zone, particularly with the slider, allowing projections of merely average control and command.
The Profile: A mid- to upper-80s arm out of Old Mill High School in Maryland, Hader was the 19th-round selection of the Orioles in the 2012 MLB Draft, signing for just $40,000. Between the tail end of his high school season and the last of his pro work later that year, Hader saw his velocity increase along with his maturing body, reaching as high as 94 mph. Over the course of the next three season, the lanky lefty continued to add mass to his broad and projectable frame while watching his arsenal grow into a true power repertoire, highlighted by a mid- to upper-90s fastball with nasty arm-side action, and a plus wipeout slider that can reach the upper 80s.
While the production was uneven at Triple-A Colorado Spring over the second half of the 2016 season, the quality of the stuff still there, with the southpaw averaging 11.5 SO/9 over his 69 innings of work. In late August, in perhaps his most impressive start of the season, Hader went six innings on the road against Round Rock (Rangers) allowing just two hits while striking out 12 and walking one. The biggest obstacle right now for Hader is the jump in innings that will be required to transition into a big league rotation spot. By the end of the season the lefty was routinely completing six innings with a pitch count ranging from the middle 80s to upper 90s. He’ll need to repeat that workload over the course of a full big league season, despite last year’s 126 innings of work, which was a career high.
The smart money is on Hader returning to Colorado Springs to begin the 2017 season, with the Brewers monitoring and managing his work load to set him up for 150-to-160 innings of work between Triple-A and Milwaukee before stepping into the rotation full time in 2018. There are still detractors who feel the fringy command and mechanics will push him to the pen – in the unlikely event that happens he has the stuff to be a multi-inning shutdown arm in the mold of Andrew Miller (LHP, Indians). It would be unfair to put a Chris Sale (LHP, Red Sox) projection on him, but that’s the arm Hader most resembles (with Sale getting the nod in command, and Hader arguably showing more explosiveness). The profile is that of a potential high end number three or quality number two starter with big swing-and-miss ability.
The Tools: 55 hit; 60 power; 60 run; 55 field; 50 throw – A true five-tool talent, Ray boasts excellent bat speed and impressive strength, helping him to plus raw power that should play to at least above average in-game. He has a solid approach and sees the ball well in the box, and while the swing comes with some holes against same-side arms, he’s done well to limit those holes and could have an above-average hit tool with some on-base utility in his skillset to boot. A high-level athlete, Ray has plus speed that plays well in the outfield, leading the Brewers to shift him to center field upon signing, where he’s acquitted himself well.
The Profile: The fifth overall selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, Ray has the makings of an impact up-the-middle talent, with a chance to hit for both average and power, draw some walks, and provide value in the outfield and on the bases. A projectable talent out of Simeon High School in Chicago, Ray showed incredible growth over his three years at Louisville, maturing into a physical specimen with huge strength in his trunk and core and athletic actions that translate to the field.
Ray’s combination of bat speed and strength help him to easy raw power, with the lefty showing natural loft in his swing and good carry. While the pop showed better to the pull side in his pro debut, Ray had no trouble driving the opposite field throughout his junior spring with Louisville, and as he continues to get comfortable in pro ball he should see those hits emerge. While he has tightened up his approach against same-side arms, there are still some swing-and-miss tendencies – particularly against quality spin – which could limit the ceiling on his hit tool as well as the playable power. His plus speed and aggressive approach to the game should help drive up his extra base totals, and he could settle in as a 200-ISO guy who swipes 20 bags a year.
After tearing his meniscus during fall instructs, the former Louisville standout is currently on the mend (see Emily Walden’s profile of Ray above), and the Brewers are hopeful that he’ll be back on the field as early as this spring. There is all-star potential in the profile thanks to the lofty tools with which Ray is working, and it isn’t unthinkable to project a quick assent to Milwaukee given his feel for the game and highly lauded work ethic. He could emerge as a Ray Lankford (OF, MLB 1990-2004) type talent at maturity, though the presence of Lewis Brinson’s glove in center may ultimately force a shift to left field for Ray.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Triple-A Colorado Springs | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016) 22y 7m
The Tools: 55 power; 50 hit; 60 field; 60 run; 55 arm – Brinson will show big time raw power with an ability to reach it in-game, particularly to the pull side. He has good natural feel for the barrel and bat speed to spare, though his aggressiveness at the plate is likely to limit the ceiling on his hit tool. A plus runner, he relies on long strides on the grass to cover large swaths of real estate, and he has the athleticism to make the flashy play at the margins of his range. There’s plenty of arm strength, though the accuracy is below average and negatively impacting the tool’s utility.
The Profile: The centerpiece of the trade that sent Jonathan Lucroy (C, Rangers) to Texas, Brinson may have the loudest pure collection of tools in the system. A high-waisted, projectable teen when acquired by Texas at the tail end of the first round in the 2012 MLB Draft, Brinson has matured into a sturdy and athletic force at the pro ranks, capable of plus raw power displays and the type of long-stride speed that plays up underway, and gets fans to their feet when he’s looking to stretch an extra base.
It wasn’t a loud year at the plate for the former first-rounder, as Brinson finished the season slashing .268/.305/.468 over his 434 plate appearances (though he did light up the Pacific Coast League in his month of action in August, slashing .382/.387/.618 over his final 93 plate appearances). Brinson should continue to add strength, and he has the bat speed and physicality to produce plus-or-better raw power at maturity, but his aggressive approach and willingness to expand the zone have limited his ability to tap into that power against more advanced arms who are less prone to making mistakes in the zone than the pitchers he raked against during his offensive breakout in 2015. Brinson likes to let it rip, showing a high level of aggressiveness in the box and limiting the projection on his on-base profile at maturity. Additionally, his speed plays better underway than it does out of the box or off the jump, making him more likely to add value by stretching for the extra base more so than compiling gaudy stolen base totals.
It’s easy to get excited about the upside Brinson brings to the table, even after a solid-but-unspectacular 2016. Despite missing solid chunks of time over the past two seasons (including almost a month in 2016 with a shoulder issue), Brinson isn’t what you would consider being injury prone, and should be able to withstand the rigors of the lengthy major league seasons as he continues to mature physically. The talented outfielder is likely to return to Colorado Springs to start the 2017 season, and he should make his way to Milwaukee at some point later this year. An upside comp for the profile is Adam Jones (OF, Orioles).
The Tools: 50 hit; 55 power; 50 field; 50 arm – Diaz generates good bat speed through a quick-twitch core, resulting in impressive barrel acceleration through contact and above-average playable power. He has an advanced approach at the plate and natural feel for contact, allowing him to drive the ball to all fields and helping to project to at least an average hit tool. The hands work well in the field and he’ll show a quick release that plays particularly well around the bag turning two. His range is limited and that could push him to second base long term, where the glove and arm could play up and the overall defensive production could increase. A fringe-average runner at present, he’s likely to settle in at a notch below average.
The Profile: A breakout player of sorts in 2016, Diaz’s 20 home run outburst in the Midwest League served as an impressive follow up to his loud showing with Rookie Missoula in 2015. Even as a cold weather prep bat out of Massachusetts, Diaz had little trouble swinging it with the best of them on the high school showcase circuit, and as the middle infielder has begun to add strength to his maturing frame, the frequency of loud contact continues to increase. With impressive core strength, quick wrists, and increased leverage in his cuts, Diaz looks the part of a physical second baseman who will hit for average and draw some walks while compiling extra bases along the way. Already showing above-average power potential, there is even a chance Diaz pushes his output to true plus pop when all is said and done, provided he continues to develop his approach and can find the right pitches to drive.
A capable defender at shortstop, his range is stretched there and both his frame and the way his lower half works point to an additional half-step loss in range and speed once his body has completely filled in. A shift to second would suit Diaz well, with the former second-rounder possessing enough arm to make the play behind the bag, and the hands and release to turn it over with aplomb at the keystone.
A part of the return package that came back from Arizona in exchange for Jean Segura (SS, Mariners) and Tyler Wagner (RHP, Diamondbacks), Diaz could prove a steal for Milwaukee, with a chance to grow into an impact bat up the middle. Though he’s unlikely to match the stolen base totals when all is said and done, Diaz profiles similarly to Jason Kipnis (2B, Indians), with a chance to hit for average and pop from the left side while providing on-base value and a solid glove at second base. The Brewer’s 2016 Minor League Player of the Year will make the jump to High A Carolina in 2017 and could be on the fast track to Milwaukee with another strong season under his belt.
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Double-A Biloxi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/230 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 2m
The Tools: 60 fastball; 60 slider; 50 changeup – Ortiz generates easy velocity out of a quick arm and burly frame, consistently working in the 93-to-97 mph velocity band while showing good in-zone command. His slider is a solid above-average offering that plays up because of his advanced feel for the pitch, and it could be a second plus offering at maturity. He shows good feel for the changeup and continues to work it into his sequences with more regularity. Everything works well in the motion, and Ortiz projects to above-average to plus control and command.
The Profile: Trade-mates with Lewis Brinson in the Jonathan Lucroy deal last July, Ortiz reached Double-A as a 20-year-old, holding his own over 14 starts and 63 innings split between the Texas and Southern Leagues. The big-bodied righty showed well with his high-octane fastball and quality slider, demonstrating an ability to work each offering to both sides of the plate, while also mixing in a rapidly developing changeup to good effect. Ortiz got a little too loose in the zone towards the close of the season, and at times can work too much in the zone, giving advanced bats better looks than he should given his ability to place his pitches.
While the quality of the stuff is there for a mid-rotation arm to emerge, there are several hurdles Ortiz will have to overcome before the Brewers can count on slotting him in every fifth day in Milwaukee. First and foremost, the young righty needs to continue to build up stamina and innings. He’ll need to at least double his 2016 innings totals (90 2/3) at maturity in order to provide value out of the rotation for Milwaukee, which means staying on top of his conditioning and staying healthy and on the field. Additionally, Ortiz will need to learn to work more deliberately out of the zone, as Double-A hitters were too often given good pitches to work with, both early and late in the count, making Ortiz more hittable than his stuff and command would suggest. He can too often challenge hitters up in the zone without properly setting up the pitch, leading to undesirable fly ball rates.
Because durability remains a question, and while the advanced command profile still needs refinement in its implementation, there is more risk in the profile than one might expect while ticking off the tools and noting the production to date. Given Ortiz’s need to log innings, and the fact he’ll play all of 2017 at the age of 21, it might make sense to ship him back to Biloxi to start the upcoming season, where he can focus on his sequencing and work to miss more bats and allow less hard contact. A jump to Colorado Springs at some point in 2017 seems likely, and it isn’t far fetched to think the Brewers could reward a strong effort with a cup of coffee when rosters expand. There’s number three upside in the profile thanks to his live arm and command, but still work to be done to get there. If he doesn’t prove durable enough to stick in the rotation long term, he’s a candidate to lock down the closer role in short order.
ON THE HORIZON
Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Double-A Biloxi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/55
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/215 B/T: S/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 10m
Quick Hit: Woodruff took a big step forward in 2016, working more aggressively in the zone and with improved command, particularly with his slider and fastball. The former Mississippi State Bulldog has shifted to a more up-tempo delivery with less swing in his leg kick, showing improved balance and repeatability while staying truer to the plate. This has allowed him to hit his release with more consistency and, as a result, improved his ability to more effectively place his fastball and slider within and around the zone.
The heater works in the low-to-middle 90s and will spike a 97-to-98 mph up in the zone, but he’s most effective with the pitch working in-and-out and down in the zone with good boring action in the 92-to-94 mph velocity band. The slider shows good depth and deception, with good plane overlap on the fastball. His offspeed works as a change-of-pace look with some tightening up still required, but the feel is there for it to refine into a consistently average offering in short order.
While not surgical in the zone, this past season Woodruff greatly improved his ability to throw in and out with purpose. Because his fastball and slider often show similar looks out of the hand, he can work aggressively pounding middle-inside fastballs to righties to set up the down-and-out slider, while burying and back-dooring sliders to lefties to set up the fastball running away. It isn’t a high-ceiling profile, but the sturdily-built right hander looks the part of good number four who, at a minimum, could throw high-leverage innings out of the pen. He’s ready for Triple-A, though logging just 20 starts in Biloxi last summer gives the Brewers some coverage if they want to send him back to the Southern League and then jump him straight to Milwaukee in order to keep him away from the brutal pitching environs of Colorado Springs.
Ryan Cordell, OF, Double-A Frisco (Rangers) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 8m
Player Stats |
Quick Hit: Cordell found his way to the Brewers organization last summer as part of the package that sent All-Star backstop Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers. Boasting above-average bat speed and good leverage in his swing, Cordell shows average power at the plate with over-the-fence pop to the pull side and an ability to drive the oppo gap with authority. The barrel can take some time to make its way to the ball, allowing advanced arms to prod for coverage gaps in the zone, but the strikeouts and empty swings are an acceptable payoff so long as the power production is there. He’ll draw some walks, but leans aggressive in his approach, which is fine for a profile driven by hard contact and speed.
A plus runner with a solid-average arm, Cordell looks the part of a high-end fourth outfielder who even has some experience on the dirt at shortstop and could slot into third base in a pinch. There’s a chance he can maintain a high enough contact rate to compete for an everyday job in Milwaukee, slotting in as a six-hole-type stick, though his competition will be stiff with Lewis Brinson and Corey Ray both providing higher upside. He’ll likely tackle Triple-A Colorado in 2017 with a likely debut in Milwaukee towards the end of the summer.
Brett Phillips, RF, Double-A Biloxi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 2016): 22y 7m
Player Stats | 2080 Report 1 | 2080 Report 2 | 2080 Spotlight | 2080 Video
Quick Hit: A key piece coming back to Milwaukee in the 2015 Carlos Gomez (CF, Rangers) deal, the high-energy Phillips has above-average bat speed, but can be limited by his overly-aggressive approach at times. He has some feel for the strike zone and will see pitches, which should lead to some on-base ability, however he hits far too many balls in the air for his skillset, and he was consistently late getting the front foot down versus the more advanced Double-A pitching he saw in 2016.
He does have some pop and should show some over-the-fence juice to the pull field, but his game needs to be gap-to-gap, and when he gets away from that he ends up swinging at pitches that he can’t do much with. He is athletic enough and has enough feel for the game that he should be able to adjust in 2017, however the struggle to do much damage versus lefties coupled with the swing and miss (15.6%, 19.9%, and 29.8% the last three years respectively) may ultimately force him into a platoon role. He has the tools to handle center field and be average there, but the jumps he gets aren’t great, and he may be better suited for right field long term, where he has less ground to cover and the plus arm plays better. He should be a disruptive force on the bases, with his aggressiveness putting consistent pressure on the defense, and could profile similarly to the later years of Shane Victorino (MLB 2003-2015, multiple teams) at maturity.
Quick Hit: Nottingham was acquired by Milwaukee last off-season from Oakland in exchange for outfielder Khris Davis – a deal that saw then-new general manager David Stearns “reacquiring” a piece he had traded away to the Athletics the prior summer as part of the Houston Astros’ front office. Coming off of a breakout season split between the Midwest and California Leagues in which Nottingham slashed .316/.372/.505 over 511 plate appearances, the former California prep product fit the bill as an upside play for a Brewers organization in need of young, impactful players.
His first full season with Milwaukee did not go as hoped, however, with the burly backstop scuffling with Double-A Biloxi, slashing just .234/.295/.347 with 138 strikeouts over 456 Southern League plate appearances. His struggles continued in the Arizona Fall League, with 24 strikeouts in just 76 plate appearances. Nottingham hasn’t regressed so much as the competition has caught up to him, with upper-level arms able to take advantage of his pull-centric, aggressive approach by expanding the zone with offspeed and breaking stuff and drawing late swings on elevated fastballs ahead in the count. Nottingham keeps a steep uphill path with the barrel spending little time in the hit zone, creating contact issues and limited carry.
Nottingham isn’t advanced behind the plate, but he does show some feel for the catch-and-throw game with solid footwork, a quick release and some arm strength. He’s a below-average receiver but has strong hands and could grow into a fringe-average defensive profile with continued work, albeit with below-average side-to-side quickness. 2016 dealt a significant blow to Nottingham’s stock, with the bat proving heavily overmatched in the Southern League. Originally thought to be a bat-first prospect with a fallback at first base, Nottingham presently looks like he’ll need to stick behind the plate for the bat to play, limiting his present projection to that of a future back-up receiver. He’ll attempt to hit the reset button in 2017, likely with a return to Biloxi.
Damien Magnifico, RHP, Brewers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 6m
Quick Hit: A fifth-rounder out of the University of Oklahoma in 2012, Magnifico has been lighting up radar guns dating back to his senior year of high school, where he saw his velocity jump to the middle 90s. Through his years at Howard College (TX) and then at Oklahoma, Magnifico’s quick arm continued to see velo bumps, eventually producing triple-digits with regularity. He’s dialed-back a half step over the past two seasons in an attempt to improve his control, working primarily in the mid-to-upper 90s.
Magnifico’s high release helps to create good angles, but complicates the execution of his slider, which at its best comes with short vertical break in the middle 80s. He will flash a changeup on occasion but does not have much use for it. At his best, Magnifico will lean on a heavy two-seamer to produce soft ground ball contact, and deploy his slider as an effective chase pitch from ahead in the count. The big velocity and heavy action with good angles point to late-inning work, but the control profile is fringy and the average slider may have limited utility against more disciplined big league bats. He should compete for a bullpen spot this spring and profiles as a middle-relief arm.
Kyle Wren, OF, Triple-A Colorado Springs | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/40
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/175 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 7m
Quick Hit: The former Yellow Jacket has a good command of the strike zone and shows enough feel for the barrel to keep his contact rates up and put pressure on the defense with his speed. There’s no power or potential for significant damage with the bat, so his offensive contributions will be almost completely reliant on his ability to work for walks, slap the ball around the field, and leverage his speed on the bases. He has a chance to offer some value as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement who can spot start across the grass from time to time – not a sexy profile, but one that could have some value for Milwaukee, particularly during their transition years bridging the rebuild to the next competitive club.
Quick Hit: Reed is well put together with a swing geared for contact, but the bat speed is average and his plate coverage is limited, giving more advanced arms plenty of points of attack. He picks up the ball well and has a very good command of the strike zone, allowing him to maintain solid on-base rates. He’s also a heady runner on the bases, showing good jumps and very good reads on balls in play, allowing his above-average speed to play up. He fits best in right field where his plus arm is an asset, but handles center field well enough to provide value as a potential fourth or fifth outfielder with above-average on-base ability and positive contributions on the base paths.
Adrian Houser, RHP, Double-A Biloxi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/235 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 10m
Quick Hit: After a brief look in Milwaukee in 2015 – the promotion capping a whirlwind season that saw the native Oklahoman log innings for two organizations across four levels – Houser reported to Double-A Biloxi for his first full season in the Brewers system. The righty continued to show good success with his heavy low- to mid-90s fastball, sporting good groundball rates and limiting free passes. His season was cut short at the end of June with forearm pain, and the righty underwent Tommy John surgery later in the summer.
When healthy, Houser will show an above-average fastball with good life while mixing in an average curve and fringe-average changeup. He rounds out the arsenal with a solid cutter that serves to miss barrels, giving him a fastball look and a finish that runs opposite of his two-seamer. Without a true swing-and-miss secondary, Houser profiles as a back-end starter or swingman, though there’s a chance he emerges as a capable relief arm if his fastball/cutter combination prove effective at drawing ground ball contact at the big league level, as well. He’s still recovering from surgery and likely won’t return to action until the start of the 2018 season.
Wei-Chung Wang, LHP, Triple-A Colorado Springs | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/185 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 7m
Quick Hit: After spending the majority of the 2014 season with Milwaukee as a Rule 5 pick, Wang is positioning himself for a chance to take the bump again for the Brewers at some point in 2017. The lefty has showed steady progression over the past two seasons, logging just under 140 innings in each season across three levels.
Wang’s fastball and curveball can both flash above average from the left side, with his changeup showing splitter dive at its best. It isn’t a power arsenal, but he manages it relatively well and shows an ability to work around the strike zone. The fastball can get flat at times and there are some fly ball tendencies that could prove problematic against big league bats. He will likely ship back to Colorado Springs to start the season with a chance to make his way back to Milwaukee at some point in the year. The front office would love to see Wang stick in the rotation, but given the traffic he has on the bases when trying to turn over lineups, he is better suited in shorter stints towards the back end of games, where the stuff could play up.
Tyrone Taylor, OF, Double-A Biloxi | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 10m
Quick Hit: Taylor took another run at the Southern League in 2016 with little effect, slashing .232/.303/.327 over 519 plate appearances while playing an adequate-but-unimpactful center field. While he still retains some of the athleticism that originally enticed the Brewers into selecting him in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft, the speed has fallen off to average or a slight tick above, and its no longer an impact tool on the bases or in the field. The swing lacks explosiveness, and while Taylor continues to put together quality at-bats he just doesn’t drive the ball often enough to project to a productive bat at the big league level. He’d shown significant promise in the past, but has gotten away from the middle-of-the-field approach, and it has resulted in a steep decline in his hard contacts to the right side.
He’ll play all of 2017 at the age of 23, so there’s still some time for Taylor to course-correct. The nature of the corrections, however, will likely need to be a reimagining of the overall profile, rather than subtle refinements. If he can get back to seeking the right-center field gap, his athleticism in the outfield would be an asset in an extra-outfielder role. The looks he gives in the spring will likely determine whether he gets the bump to Triple-A Colorado Springs or returns for a third tour with Biloxi. Time is running out.
Lucas Erceg, 3B, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 7m
Quick Hit: Not many in the Brewers’ system have the offensive projection that the tall, wirey Erceg brings to the table. His hands are lighting quick through the zone translating to plus bat speed, and the level plane and barrel exit he gets bode well for him continuing his high contact rates and extra-base damage potential. Erceg has a very quiet set up and tremendous balance, keeping his head very still throughout the swing. When you combine all that with some bat control, it is easy to see the hit becoming an above-average tool.
The approach is already fairly advanced, and while the majority of his power is to the pull side at present, he generally does a solid job of working up the middle, and he should be able to drive the ball out to the big part of the field once the body matures. He didn’t show much home run pop in his post-draft debut, but that will come and should settle at 55-grade game power.
Defensively, he has the tools to be a solid-average defender with the athleticism to make the tough plays and a plus to double-plus arm that works well on the move. He is not a burner on the bases, but he runs well underway and should be able to pressure the defense going first-to-third, and be a threat to score from first on a double. After transferring from Cal to Menlo College (CA) for off-the-field reasons, Erceg could prove a steal for the Brewers in the second round. Expect Milwaukee to push him a bit, potentially with a jump to High A this spring, in anticipation of getting him to Double-A Biloxi in the second half of the season. There’s impact potential in the profile with Matt Carpenter (3B, Cardinals) serving as a quality comparison at the major league level.
Quick Hit: As the Red Sox continue to hemorrhage prospects this offseason, one of the latest beneficiaries has been Milwaukee, who brought in middle infielder Mauricio Dubon in exchange for righty reliever Tyler Thornberg. A plus athlete with plus bat-to-ball skills and the potential for a plus hit tool, Dubon projects to stick in the middle of the field and have the offensive tools to impact the top of a big league lineup. He is still learning how to compete, and can lose focus at times causing him to expand the zone and give away at-bats. However, he has very loose actions and the stroke is compact with very good barrel exit. He is strong through his wrists and forearms, which allows him to really whip the barrel through the zone and create very good carry on his line drives. He doesn’t project to be a big-time home run guy, but will do more than enough damage to the gaps, as evident by the .199 ISO he put up after being promoted to Double-A last summer.
Dubon is also a minimum 70-grade runner, and he should wreak havoc on the bases. He has the defensive tools to handle shortstop, however the athleticism doesn’t seem to translate as directly as you would expect – he tends to get a little stiff on the move and bends at the waist causing his hands to firm up. He has enough arm to stay there, but the footwork is not very good and has resulted in some throwing issues. At age 22, it’s not a stretch to think he can make some adjustments, but his real value might be in his ability to move around the field. He has looked strong in center field where he is able to lengthen out his strides and cover large swaths of turf, and second base is certainly an option given his experience at shortstop.
Marcos Diplan, RHP, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/160 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 3m
Quick Hit: One of the shiny pieces of the bounty coming back to Milwaukee in the Yovani Gallardo (RHP, Mariners) trade two winters past along with Korey Knebel (RHP, Brewers) and shortstop Luis Sardinas (now with Padres), Diplan projects to be a quality rotation piece with his smooth arm action and emerging feel for secondary. He is not a real big kid, but he is physical and has some present strength. He is not max effort and has some feel to throttle up and back, but lacks consistency with the changeup and the breaking ball. However, he gets good angle for his size and should continue to miss bats at an above-average rate. He fell off a bit after being promoted to High A, but having already tossed 70 innings at Class A, it’s a safe bet that fatigue played a role in the struggles there.
Diplan generally maintains very good balance throughout his delivery and the fastball has some heft to it when he extends, but the righty will go through stretches where he rushes, the arm will drag, and he falls off to the first-base side of the mound. He is a good athlete and as he gets stronger consistency should come. Expect the good ground ball rates to return and ultimately he should pitch with a plus fastball and two above-average secondary offerings. Two solid number four starters Ivan Nova (RHP, Pirates) and, ironically, Yovani Gallardo (RHP, Mariners) both come to mind as comparables at the big league level.
Quick Hit: Despite being dealt to the Brewers midseason for Will Smith (LHP, Giants), Bickford didn’t miss a beat, finishing his first full pro season with 120 innings and 10.1 SO/9 and 3.2 BB/9 across two levels. He has a projectable frame with room to add some strength, but the stuff likely is what it is at this point. The fastball has late life in the zone and has some ride up, but more tail than any kind of hard sink. The slider is tight and he has some feel with it – in the low-to-middle 80s it should continue to be a swing-and-miss pitch for him.
The name of the game for him is going to be learning to throttle up and back better to keep hitters off balance and developing feel for the changeup. He gets slightly deliberate in his delivery and the short arm action does have some effort to it. He is capable of getting very good angle, but is loose in the zone and has been far too easy to get into the air, something that will plague him as he starts to face more advanced hitters. He has routinely avoided hard contact through the lower levels, but hitters in Double-A may exploit the hard-hard profile until he can establish the changeup as a real change-of-pace weapon. His splits were not bad, but without something going away from the lefty bats, it will be hard for him to keep them from sitting on the hard stuff. After serving his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a drug of abuse this offseason (his second such positive test) and ramping back up into game shape, expect the hard-throwing righty to log some time in Double-A Biloxi.
Corbin Burnes, RHP, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Quick Hit: Once thought to be a late first-round arm in the 2016 draft, Burnes fell to the fourth round and could end up being a legitimate bargain for the Brewers. There is some effort in his delivery, but the mechanics are compact and his plus athleticism allows him to keep things smooth and repeat well. He stays tall, creates good angle, and has a short arm swing in back that, along with the slight crossfire, works to hide the ball well. The quick arm generates ample late life, however, which when combined with the deception in the delivery can really have the fastball getting on hitters quick.
The fastball is very heavy and can get up to 95 mph, but sits mostly in the 90-to-93 mph range. He‘ll also cut it to the glove side, giving him the makings of a solid two-way pitch to go with the plus slider. The changeup is a work in progress and was used sparingly in college, but he will need to develop it in order to keep hitters off of the hard stuff and turn over lineups on a consistent basis. The command with the fastball and the feel with the breaking ball are both better than what he showed in his 35 2/3 inning pro debut last summer, and he should get to average command before too long.
Expect Burnes to head to High A once the season kicks off – if the changeup develops into a viable third offering he has a shot to eat significant innings as a number four starter who is tough to square up.
Mario Feliciano, C, Rookie AZL Brewers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 1m
Quick Hit: The Brewers’ Competitive Balance B round pick in the 2016 draft may have netted them a pretty good everyday guy behind the dish. While Feliciano doesn’t blow you away with any of his tools, he has smooth actions and some present strength to go with average bat speed. He has a level plane that is conducive to high contact rates and gets good barrel exit, which should help him generate carry to the gaps. He doesn’t have an overly projectable frame, but there is room for him to add good weight and continue to get stronger. Don’t expect a ton of over the fence pop, but he should get to fringe-average game power and do his share of extra base damage to the gaps. He has an idea at the plate and uses the middle of the field well already, however the swing can get long at times, and he will need to show he can cover the inside third of the plate, as he will get challenged there as he advances.
The arm strength is average to a tick above (1.86-to-1.94 second pop times pre-draft), but his footwork is a bit deliberate and he will rush and see throws tail into the runner. He is athletic and moves well enough to get the job done behind the plate, but there is work to be done on his receiving and the consistency of his throws. Because of the athleticism he could likely move out from behind the plate to a corner spot, but taking him off of a premium position would put a lot of pressure on the hit tool. If he can get to average defensively, the bat will obviously play better at the catcher position and prove to be his best shot at everyday playing time.
Quick Hit: After a rough first full pro season that saw a hamstring injury limit him to only 215 at-bats, the 2015 first-rounder still projects to have an above-average hit tool and a chance to stick in center field. While the frame has some present strength to it, he doesn’t project to add a whole lot more size. The stroke is short and compact, but the bat speed is just average, culminating in below-average present pop and not much in the way of future projection.
Clark is a plus runner who should continue to be a threat to run and the footspeed translates well on the grass where he could grow into an above-average or better defender in time. There’s some room for growth and enough upside to make things exciting, but much of the profile will hinge on the plus hit tool materializing and his being able to consistently drive the gaps. While the run and the glove should build in a reasonably high floor as a fourth outfielder-type, there’s plenty of work to be done in order for Clark to reach his impressive potential as an everyday center fielder with a top-of-the-order stick. Check out Ryan Wyllys’s recent profile of Clarke (above).
Nash Walters, RHP, Rookie Helena | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 8m
Quick Hit: Despite the slow, deliberate mechanics, Walters has some arm strength and creates pretty good angle when he is able to get the arm out front on time. The fastball has some life in the zone, with some sink to the arm side and some ride when he climbs the ladder, however it is very inconsistent and tends to flatten out when he doesn’t extend. The breaking ball and changeup are both works in progress – the slider is shallow and has more cutter-like depth with the occasional tight, 3/4s break, while he tends to push the changeup and having it sail to the arm side.
Walters is a good, not great athlete and there is not a ton of quickness to his actions right now. A lot of that has to do with strength and as he grows into his big frame, he has a chance to see things tighten up and could see a spike in the stuff. He sits in the 88-to-92 mph with the FB at present, but it’s not a stretch to think he will get it to be an above-average low- to mid-90’s offering at maturity. The walks and lack of command are obvious issues, but he keeps the ball on the ground and did miss bats at an 11.2-per-nine-innings strikeout rate in 2016. If the strength comes and he is able to refine the secondary stuff, he has a chance to end up in the back of a rotation down the road.
Nathan Kirby, LHP, Rookie AZL Brewers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/200 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 11m
Quick Hit: The athletic lefty out of UVA missed most of 2016 with Tommy John surgery, but barring any setbacks, he should return to the form that made him a late first-round selection in 2015. Kirby sports slightly deliberate mechanics, but repeats very well and stays relatively compact with his actions. The arm speed is average, but the fastball gets some late hop in the zone and gets on hitters pretty quick. He has variations on the breaking ball, with a tight 3/4s slider to go with a small cutter. He also mixes in a knuckle curve and is able to use all of his stuff in the zone and has the feel to expand when ahead in the count.
The fastball doesn’t have a ton of movement, so being able to throttle it up and back and locate to both sides of the plate are keys for Kirby going forward, as he’ll need to work to keep advanced hitters off balance. Often command and feel are the last things to return after TJ, so expect Milwaukee to ease Kirby back into things this March. If healthy and firing on all cylinders, Kirby could find himself making a couple of stops on the way to Double-A Biloxi.
Chad McClanahan, 3B, Rookie AZL Brewers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/200 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 11m
Quick Hit: Slipping to the 11th round in the 2016 draft due to signability concerns, the Brewers lured McClanahan away from his Arizona State commitment with a $1.2 million signing bonus. The Arizona prep product possesses plenty of offensive projectability, including ample room to fill out his 6’5” frame and layer some additional strength en route to above-average or better power. He has a good feel for the barrel and made great strides between his pro debut and the fall, looking like a different hitter by the time instructional league rolled around, and showing a vastly improved approach at the plate.
McClanahan moves well in the infield for his height and has the arm to stick at third base. His lower-half actions will require some work, though there is enough athleticism to shape the overall profile into an adequate defender at the hot corner, long term. Given the strides he’s already made during his short time in pro ball, McClanahan will be a prospect to keep an eye on in 2017 and should reach Class A Wisconsin at some point this year, be it out of the gates or after some additional developmental work in extended spring training. –Max Kraust
Kodi Medeiros, LHP, High A Brevard County | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/180 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 7m
Quick Hit: With a low-3/4s arm slot and a double-plus fastball from the left side, the Hawaiian born Medeiros has the ingredients to be an extremely uncomfortable at-bat for lefties and righties, as well as a solid contributor at the back end of the rotation. Nothing this kid throws is straight and the mid- to upper-90s fastball can be very hard to square up, as evident by the extreme ground ball ratios he has posted as a pro (1.90, 3.14, 1.81 respectively from 2014-2016). He can get on the side of the slider at times causing it to roll and not have much bite, but when he stays on top, it shows late dig and becomes a real weapon. The circle changeup shows some bottom, and the arm speed and low arm slot work to add deception and play it up versus right-handed hitters.
The bugaboo for Medeiros to this point has been the total lack of control and command of the above-average stuff, in addition to struggles maintaining the quality of his offerings as he turns over lineups. He has always been loose in the zone, but has had some margin for error due to the velocity and funky delivery. He had shown improvement with a 3.98 BB/9 mark in 2015 after a rough post-draft debut in 2014, but upon being promoted to High A in 2016 took a massive step backwards and walked as many as he struck out. He is a very athletic kid and despite the funky mechanics is not a max-effort guy, so at age 20 he should be able to make some adjustments to better utilize his high-value arm strength.
Still, some with a lengthy evaluative history with Medeiros lament the lack of development thus far and wonder if it wouldn’t make sense to expedite his move to the pen. More than anything, Medeiros needs to prove he can maintain his stuff deeper into games while also working deeper into games with more consistency. If he can do that while living down in the zone and working ahead in the count, the quality of the stuff will carry the profile and right the ship. Expect him to return to High A to start the season in an effort to exorcise his Florida State demons and prove his bona fides as a potential future rotation piece.
Cody Ponce, RHP, High A Brevard County | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/240 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 8m
Quick Hit: The Brewers made large bet on the big righty and his arm strength making him their second-rounder in the 2015 draft. Ponce sits in the low-to-middle 90s with the fastball, and he should see the breaking ball get to above average and the changeup get to average at maturity. He has a very short arm in back and is quick through the slot. The Cal Poly Pomona product is around the zone and does a good job keeping the ball on the ground, however he tends to be pretty loose in the zone with his fastball and the high contact rates proved to be an issue in his first taste of High A ball in 2016.
While he does get great angle and the arm works well, the fastball gets very straight above the belt and lacks any real hard sink below the knees. He is able to throw the slider for strikes, but the break is inconsistent which keeps it from being a true swing-and-miss-offering. With the changeup being his third pitch and inconsistent in its own right, the hard-hard profile makes him mildly predictable and a more comfortable at-bat that he should be for more advanced hitters. However, he doesn’t walk many, keeps the ball on the ground and doesn’t give up many home runs. If he can develop a legitimate change of pace to keep hitters off the hard stuff, he has a chance to stick in the back of the rotation. If not, he still has value as a two-pitch guy out of the pen, where he could find a touch more velocity and consistency in shorter stints.
Josh Pennington, RHP, Short Season-A Lowell (Red Sox) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 5m
Quick Hit: Pennington found his way to the Milwaukee system as part of the package utilized by the Red Sox to pry away Tyler Thornburg this winter. Pennington turned in a nice 2016 campaign that saw him toss 56 2/3 innings across 13 starts in the NY-Penn League – his latest step working back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. Pennington isn’t a big guy, but he is wirey strong and a good athlete. While his mechanics are a bit deliberate, he generates good arm speed and the ball jumps late in the zone. He extends well and does a good job working down in the zone and locating the 60-grade fastball to both sides of the plate. The above average 12-to6 curveball is his best secondary – he has good feel and he saw some snap return in 2016. He also has a circle changeup that shows hard fade and occasional bottom. It is presently above average and it could get to be a plus pitch as he develops more consistent feel. The changeup has been a serious weapon for him versus lefties to this point as evident by his near even splits. The slider works more like a cutter, but is effective when he can locate it.
While there may be some effort in the delivery, he has some room to get stronger and at age 21, should see things smooth out with another full, healthy season under his belt. He will need to continue to improve his command of his four-pitch mix (4.3 BB/9 in 2016) to have success in the rotation as he advances, but he is tough to square up and the ingredients are there for him to be a contributor. If the command stays below average, or if injuries persist, the stuff should play up in shorter stints giving him value out of the pen.
Quick Hit: A plus athlete with legitimate defensive skills in the outfield, Harrison projects to be an above-average defender in right field with a chance to hit for some power. He has a quiet set up at the plate without a ton of moving parts, but the actions are a bit deliberate and there is some length to the swing. He is maybe a tick-above average as far as bat speed, but the limited feel for the barrel could make it a challenge for his power to play as he advances.
He is a big, strong kid already and has continued to layer additional muscle on the frame this offseason with still more room for the body to fully mature. Given how the body works, Harrison will have to be careful to make sure he is maintaining his flexibility and agility while growing his physique, so as not to further restrict the actions at the plate and take away from the defensive ability on the grass. He generally clocks in around 4.25 seconds from home-to-first, but is a little better underway once his strides lengthen out. The arm strength is double-plus, which makes him an ideal fit for right field and not a guy you have to worry about switching out for defense late in games.
The trouble spot for him is going to be the consistency with which he can make contact and whether or not he will be able to get to the above-average raw power in-game. He does have an idea at the plate and at age 21 still has some time, but he needs to stay healthy and on the field in order to log the reps necessary to push forward developmentally. There is still a chance for an everyday player to emerge, but the clock is ticking and Harrison needs to get moving up the ladder.
Gabriel Garcia, 1B, Rookie AZL Brewers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 11m
Quick Hit: After being taken in the 14th round last June, Garcia played all over the field for the rookie affiliate on the complex, logging time at first base, catcher, third base, and shortstop, with most of that time spent at the infield corners. The bat looks to be what will carry him going forward, with Garcia showing some present strength on his wirey frame and flashing some pop during his AZL debut (18 extra-base hits in only 130 at-bats).
It is tough to envision an athletic 19-year-old being limited to first base so early in his career, and the profile becomes significantly more interesting if he makes a serious run at sticking behind the plate. Even if he steers clear of the tools of ignorance, expect Milwaukee to continue to find ways to get his bat in the lineup to allow for the hit tool to develop while he works to find a defensive home. He could spend time in extended spring training before shipping out to Helena or make the jump right to Class A Wisconsin depending on how the rosters shake out and where Milwaukee would like to work him out defensively.
Payton Henry, C, Rookie AZL Brewers | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 6m
Quick Hit: Already a very big, strong kid, Henry’s raw power is his calling card and will likely be what will get him at-bats as he rolls into his first professional season. Taken in the sixth round of the MLB Draft last June, the Brewers bought Henry out of his commitment to BYU with a $550,000 signing bonus – double the recommended slot value. Henry is already very strong and can drive the ball to the middle of the field, but he still has some baby fat on his frame which suggests that the body could really firm up and add some serious strength as he matures.
His actions overall are plodding and he doesn’t show a great deal of athleticism, but the hands work very well at the plate, translating to above-average bat speed. He stays relatively compact with a level plane through the zone and nice barrel exit. He does have a big stride and has some hip travel, which will be an issue for him as he faces more advanced pitching and stands to eat into some of his pop. But he is pretty quiet at the plate with relatively low maintenance mechanics overall, so it’s not a stretch to think that the 19-year-old will be able to make adjustments.
The defense is a bit of a question mark and he does not throw particularly well, demonstrating average arm strength at best. So if he ultimately moves out from behind the plate, the value of the power plays down a bit since he would only be suited for a corner position, ala former catcher Peter O’Brien (LF, Royals). However, if he can make enough contact to allow the power to play, he will have value as a power bat in a platoon role wherever he ends up on the defensive spectrum.
Gilbert Lara, SS/3B, Rookie Helena | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 2M
Quick Hit: A $3.2 million signing by Milwaukee out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, Lara’s large frame and present strength suggest that there is more power to come than what he has shown to this point, but the .070 ISO in 2016 and 0.84 mark in 2015 leave much to be desired for a bat-first type of player. Lara has a high waist and has plenty of room to fill out, but lacks the true fast-twitch actions that you look for in a middle-of-the diamond player. He has some bat speed, but the effort in the swing does not bode well for him making significant strides in his contact rates (19.2% K rate in 2015 and 24.0% in 2016).
He is an average runner at best and projects to lose a step or two as the body fills out, so if he ultimately moves off of shortstop the hit and power tools will have to carry the profile on the corner. He’s just 19 years of age an athletic kid, so there is a chance that the actions smooth out as he gets stronger and the coordination develops. That said, unless he sticks in the middle of the field or the bat takes a significant step forward, the profile likely falls to a Role 40 corner-utility player in the mold of a Hector Luna (MLB 2004-2012, multiple teams).
Franly Mallen, 2B, Rookie Helena | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’1/160 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 8m
Quick Hit: Signed for $800,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Mallen has a solid first full season stateside in 2016. He’s a rangy kid who has some strength potential and some present quickness in his hands that should translate to playable gap type power once the body matures. While he is a good athlete, the feet are deliberate and he lacks the lower-half agility that you usually look for in a middle-of-the-field player. While he could eventually get to average power, he will need to stick at second base or see the hit tool get to plus and carry the profile for him to hit his ceiling. Mallen is still incredibly raw, but the hands work well at the plate and if the approach develops he could be an offensive asset in that infield-utility role.
Demi Orimoloye, OF, Rookie Helena | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 11m
Quick Hit: With his massive frame and present strength, Orimoloye possesses plus raw power and above-average athleticism for how big of a person he is. He is able to create some leverage with the stroke and gets carry to the big part of the field, but the approach leaves much to be desired, and the grooved swing only shows average bat speed. He has good balance and little pre-pitch movement, however his head tends to move a good bit during the swing, which does not bode well for significant gains in quality contact.
He is an average runner with reads and routes that limit him to a corner-outfield spot and point towards a 45-grade defensive profile long term. Given his limited exposure to advanced pitching as a cold weather Canadian prep product prior to pro ball, there is a lot work ahead of the athletic outfielder in both cleaning up his mechanics and providing the needed in-game reps to develop more advanced feel for the game. With a high likelihood that the hit tool never develops beyond below average, the power will have to carry the profile. He will play all of 2017 at age 20, so there is some time for him to make adjustments – the 23.1% K rate and 9.3% walk rate were both improvements from 2015, and Milwaukee will be looking for more of that type of trend in 2017 as he tackles full season ball.
Trey Supak, RHP, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 7m
Quick Hit: The former Competitive Balance B pick by the Pirates in 2014 found his way to the Brewers in the 2016 trade for Jason Rodgers (OF/1B, Pirates). The big righty is a very good athlete and while he has some herk-and-jerk in the delivery, does well to repeat and utilize the angle his giant frame creates. He doesn’t have tremendous arm speed, but still gets excellent late life and tail on the fastball when he extends out front and will show some cut on occasion, giving him the ingredients for a potential two-way pitch.
Supak works consistently in the lower 90s with an ability to reach 94-to-95 mph up in the zone on occasion. The changeup is average with a chance for more, but it tends to stay on the same plane as the fastball and is used mostly to his arm side. The 12-to-6 breaking ball, while average, lacks consistent snap and feel. He should continue to get stronger and will play most of 2017 at 21 years of age, so there is still some room to project growth in the profile. The fly balls are a mild concern, but he did see a jump in his strikeout rates to 8.12 SO/9 in 2016 from 7.31 SO/9 the year before, and if he can drive down in the zone more consistently and do more to keep the ball on the ground then he will have a chance to turn over lineups at a better rate. Otherwise, he will need to see another spike in his swing-and-miss ability to counter the below-average hit totals. He profiles as a potential back-end arm or middle reliever.
Quintin Torres-Costa, LHP, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/190 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Quick Hit: After Tommy John Surgery his freshman year at the University of Hawaii, Torres-Costa didn’t pop until the 35th round in the 2015 draft. The medium-framed, athletic lefty sits in the lower 90s with his fastball and relies on a short cutter and circle changeup as his primary secondary options. The changeup has a chance to be plus and the deception he gets from his 3/4s arm slot and slight crossfire delivery have helped him to miss bats at a pretty good clip as a pro (11.29 SO/9 in 2016). The walks are not great for a reliever (3.81 BB/9 in 2016) and he does give up some hard contact (55 hits in 59 innings pitched and a .347 BABIP), but he keeps the ball on the ground. With improved fastball command, he has a chance to be a quality lefty specialist down the road.
Jordan Yamamoto, RHP, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 7m?
Quick Hit: While the strong righty doesn’t have an overly projectable build, his broad shoulders and athletic actions suggest that he should be able to continue to get stronger and get the most out of his average four-pitch mix. The fastball gets late sink to the arm side and he will get some comeback tail to the glove side in the lower 90’s, but the offering really flattens out above the belt. He has variations on the breaking ball, with an 11-to-5 curveball and 3/4’s slider that tend to blend together. When up in the count, he can dial up some dig on slider and take hitters out of the zone, but he really has to back off to locate it in the zone. He has had some struggles versus lefties, but the development of his changeup could impact that going forward. He has used it sparingly, but it shows good bottom to the arm side when he really extends.
The arm is quick through the 3/4s slot and adds some deception helping him rack up 154 strikeouts in 134 1/3 innings in 2016, but his bread and butter is going to be the ability to sink the fastball and keep the ball on the ground. He had a 1.20 GO:AO ratio this past season, and he saw his walks trend well in the right direction (3.19 BB/9 in 2015 to 2.08 BB/9 in 2016) while advancing a level. He doesn’t blow you away with plus stuff, but this is a kid who could surprise some people if he continues these positive trends. He threw a lot of innings for a young guy last season, so if he can back that up in 2017 at High A, it is not a stretch to think that he could see a jump in his stock. The upside is that of a back-end rotation option for the Brew Crew, perhaps as early as 2019.
Jake Gatewood, 3B/1B, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/35
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/ 190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 3m
Quick Hit: While a full step or two below fellow third baseman Lucas Erceg, Gatewood boasts ample raw power to go with a fringe-average hit tool. The hands work well, however the bat speed is just average and there is some length to the stroke, both of which are exacerbated by the aggressive, pull-heavy approach. Gatewood has a very real ability to impact the ball and do significant damage, but the swing-and-miss issues that have plagued him dating back to his senior high school season continue to serve as a massive obstacle to his ever being able to tap into the raw power with any regularity.
Defensively he will be limited to a corner position, and quite possibly first base at that, placing even more pressure on the power eventually emerging. At this point he looks the part of an extra corner bat who sees the minority side of a platoon situation. He’ll tackle High A in 2017.
Troy Stokes, OF, Class A Wisconsin | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 5’8”/182 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 10m
Quick Hit: Stokes sports a small frame, but has more strength than you might first imagine in his compact actions. He does not project to have much over the fence type pop, but should have enough to drive the gaps and use his plus run tool to stretch extra bases. The swing is short and quick, but he tends to work uphill a bit and does not keep the ball on the ground enough for a hitter of his ilk.
He is a good outfielder, but not a plus defender and sees most of his time in left field and not center field – so he may fall just on the outside of what is required to be a fit for the OF-5 role at the major league level. That said, if he can get his ISO up around .140-.150, there would be enough damage potential in his bat for him be a potential fit as an extra outfielder with some speed and gap pop off the bench. If he can come out in 2017 and find gains in his line drives/ground balls to better utilize his plus run tool, a more impactful player could emerge and make him a real asset for the Brewers going forward.
Devin Williams, RHP, High A Brevard County | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/30
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/165 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 3m
Quick Hit: The high-waisted Williams gets good angle and has a quick arm to go with his compact, yet max effort delivery. The fastball shows good late life when he is down in the zone with it, but he will drop his elbow and cut himself off at times which causes the pitch flatten out and get very hittable. The circle changeup has solid fade to the arm side, but he lacks consistent feel which may cause it to settle as an average offering. He has struggled to throw strikes with any kind of consistency as well, a trend that isn’t likely to change too much due to the high effort and ultimately may force him into a bullpen role.
He has some swing-and-miss capabilities, however they are not elite and he lacks a true out pitch as it stands right now. He got away from the good ground ball rates after being promoted to High A late in 2016, but he had thrown 72-plus innings at A ball prior so fatigue may have played a role. Ultimately though, he will need to reign in the walks and show more consistent swing and miss to remain on prospect boards. He has already jumped back and forth between the rotation and the pen, so 2017 may see him make the switch to the bullpen full time, which may allow for a small uptick in stuff in the shorter stints.
|1. Josh Hader, LHP, AAA||6. Lucas Erceg, 3B, A||11. Trent Clark, OF, A|
|2. Corey Ray, OF, High A||7. Mauricio Dubon, SS, AA||12. Corbin Burnes, RHP, A|
|3. Lewis Brinson, OF, AAA||8. Brandon Woodruff, RHP, AA||13. Mario Feliciano, C, Rk.|
|4. Isan Diaz, SS/2B, A||9. Marcos Diplan, RHP, A||14. Nash Walters, RHP, Rk.|
|5. Luis Ortiz, RHP, AA||10. Phil Bickford, RHP, High A||15. Chad McClanahan, 3B, Rk.|
Having moved many of their valuable big league pieces for prospect value over the past two seasons (see Jean Segura, Will Smith, Tyler Thornberg, Jason Rogers, Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez), the Brew Crew is now looking to systematically plug in their youngsters at the big league level – a process that began last summer and will continue in earnest over the next two seasons. With Scooter Gennett, Jonathan Villar, Domingo Santana and Orlanda Arcia already in place in Milwaukee, and Isan Diaz, Lewis Brinson, Corey Ray, Lucas Erceg and Mauricio Dubon well on their way, the Brewers have an impressive young core on the rise who should be capable of anchoring the club for years to come. On the pitching side, a solid group of young arms, including Josh Hader, Luis Ortiz, Jorge Lopez, Phil Bickford, and Marcos Diplan will be arriving over the next few seasons to help build around the likes of Zach Davies, Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Corey Knebel, and Taylor Jungmann, giving the Brewers a strong foundation from which to build a competitive club.
While an almost entirely homegrown club would be great, it’s likely that at least a few of the names mentioned above ultimately provide more value as trade assets to help bolster the big club as the front office identifies the appropriate time to formally flip the switch from rebuild to compete. Each of Ray, Brinson and Diaz could serve as significant anchors in a high-level acquisition as early as the 2017 trade deadline, though there is no reason to expect such a move given the Brewers current competitive outlook for the upcoming season. Once Diaz is closer to big league ready, it would seem likely that one of he, Gennett or Villar would be shopped around to help fit another area of need.
There is so much uncertainty in the big league rotation at present, it’s tough to see a scenario where the Brewers would entertain moving any of their higher-end young arms, though Diplan, Bickford and Burnes could all be interesting names outside of the organization should the Brewers looks to package an arm or two with some of their high-upside bats in the lower minors to land a young and inexpensive rotation piece over the next 18 months.
The added depth and improved overall quality of the system sets Milwaukee up well to start plugging long-term holes at the big league level while maintaining a cache of tradable assets in the minors that can be leveraged in a trade when the time is right.
The most talked about question going into the 2017 season will once again be what to do with Ryan Braun, who showed in 2016 that he is still an offensive force when healthy and, accordingly, a potential trade asset in some form (though the $80 million dollars in guaranteed money will likely eat into his trade value). With the club still early into the transition period, and turning an older lineup over into the “new look” Brewers, there are plenty of lumps yet to come before Milwaukee is ready to mix it up in earnest in a highly competitive N.L. Central division. There will undoubtedly be a focus on finding the right opportunities to start integrating the likes of Hader, Brinson, Ray, Ortiz, Brandon Woodruff and Lopez into the major league club – a daunting task considering the varying developmental arcs of the players and a desire to keep a diversified portfolio of arbitration schedules so as to avoid unwieldy year-to-year spikes in payroll in the not-too-distant future.
More broadly speaking, look for the organization to continue to focus on player development and low cost player acquisition. The small market payroll is unlikely to allow the Brew Crew to make significant investments in the free agent market, though the current front office –more dynamic than previous iterations – is as well positioned as any we’ve seen in Milwaukee to seek out opportunities to flex the finances they do have available to go after a player or two who strike the right balance of upside and risk (read: cost) certainty.
All in, the Brewers are in good shape as Spring Training rolls around. They once again will pick towards to top the June draft and they should continue to invest in the international market, all while continuing to develop a strong collection of young talent on the farm, and in some cases transitioning that talent to Milwaukee. If things break right, the Brewers could find themselves putting together a competitive club as early as 2018, but 2019 seems the more likely target.
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