2011 Milwaukee Brewers Top 20 Prospects

11/16/2011
Between the Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum deals last off-season, there are a few prospects that Brewers fans might like to have back, but the 2011 Draft certainly helped to ease their pain. The system’s strength is pitching, as two right-handers took big steps forward this year (Peralta, Thornburg), while the draft brought in a number of high-upside arms (Bradley, Jungmann, Lopez, and more). It’s true that there is not a lot of big offensive upside in the organization, but there are certainly some bats that could be valuable regulars in the next two years. 

  1. Wily Peralta, RHP (AA, AAA): With an improved fastball, better command, and sharper secondary stuff, the 22 year old Dominican has taken a good step forward in his development. His ceiling may not quite be top-of-the-rotation good, but he could definitely settle in to being a well above-average 2 or 3 starter. Peralta’s 2010 effort was taken over by poor command, leading to lower strikeout numbers, more walks, and just being generally more hittable. In 2011, improved command really made him a more efficient and dominant arm. If the command doesn’t stick though, he can still be a good value out of the bullpen with plus velocity and at least one quality breaking pitch.
  2. Tyler Thornburg, RHP (Low A, High A): Above-average velocity and a plus change-up are two very nice weapons to have for a pitcher in his first full professional season. In Thornburg’s case, not only did he put his quality stuff on display; he managed to get results with it, too. Through 136 impressive innings evenly split between High (3.32 FIP) and Low A (2.82 FIP), he struck out 160 and walked 58, allowing 94 hits, mainly showing fly-ball tendencies. I think a portion of the now-23 year old’s high K total is due to the impatience of inexperienced Class A hitters, but his strikeout potential at the upper levels is legitimate nonetheless.
  3. Jed Bradley, LHP (Yet to Debut): One could, and probably should rank Jungmann higher, as he could very well have a higher floor, but I simply think Bradley has the potential to be better. The lefty’s fastball and excellent change-up are arguably more valuable that Jungmann’s top two offerings, even if in some ways it’s splitting hairs. If he can recover his quality slider from early spring (mainly just be more consistent with it), Bradley will dominate the lower levels of the minors. On top of that, more consistent fastball velocity from the big lefty (another issue he had in his junior year) should make him the dominant pitcher that he can be.
  4. Taylor Jungmann, RHP (Yet to Debut): After his great sophomore season at Texas ended and the 2011 Draft approached, many ignored the consistency of his college career, instead opting to focus on how limited he might be as a pro. Even though the tall (6’6”) righty has a wide array of pitches, the frame you want in a starter, and a long track record of success, many look at the limited ceiling he has. Instead, it might be wiser to look at how high of a floor he has, his ability to generate ground balls, and his excellent command. It should definitely be said that his mechanics look quirky, that he has not posted the elite K/9 IP totals one expects from a first-rounder, and that some U of Texas arms flame out, but he deserves to be closely watched nonetheless in his pro debut.
  5. Jorge Lopez, RHP (Rookie League): Somewhat lost in the mix of prep arms this past draft, I don’t think enough people gave the Brewers credit when they got Lopez in the second round. Even though he looks to be more of a projection arm than anything at 6’5″, 175 lbs., his fastball velocity is already legitimate (in the low 90s) while his breaking ball is more advanced than most high school products. If the Brewers can bring him along slowly and make sure his command develops like it should, he has the stuff to dominate lower-level hitting. The Brewers system hasn’t exactly churned out pitching in the past, so we’ll see what approach they take with the Puerto Rican righty.
  6. Taylor Green, 3rd (AA, AAA): When you consider the struggles of Casey McGehee and how weak the third base position has become league-wide, the Brewers’ front office has to be happy to see Green playing well in the upper levels of the minors. He isn’t a sure bet going forward considering he’s old for just earning legit prospect status (entering age 25 season), but the power and approach is encouraging. Even though he didn’t show much power or patience before 2011, the Brewers have to look no further than McGehee to see a late-blossoming bat and understand that Green’s adjustments could be legit. His ISO took a jump up to .248 with 22 HRs and 36 doubles (in the hitter-friendly PCL), while he’s maintained a quality bb/K ratio throughout his MiLB career (11% against 14% in 2011). As long as the glove holds up, he should be a quality regular.
  7. Scooter Gennett, 2nd (High A): Drafted out of his Florida high school in 2009, the now-21 year old has shown a consistent ability to put bat to ball. The fact that he’s not a huge power guy or someone who gets on base much may eventually push him to a utility role, but he can certainly hit and maintain a respectable K to bb ratio. Beyond that, Rickie Weeks may block him from playing 2nd in the future unless he’s forced to the outfield before reaching the majors. If his play in the Arizona Fall League (.419/.482/.541) is any indication of his future performance, Gennett may continue his steady ascent to the majors. I like him as a solid major league regular, even though his ceiling is rather limited.
  8. Orlando Arcia, SS (Rookie League): Probably an unnecessarily aggressive ranking, the 17 year old showed himself to be one of the best hitters while also being one of the youngest. The talent in the Dominican Summer League is understandably raw, so the numbers from it should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, his patience (30 bb to 20 K), power (23 XBH, 6 HRs), and speed (13 steals) through 64 games put him on the prospect map. Time will certainly tell if he can stick at SS full-time or if the patience holds up at higher levels, but so far he looks to be one of the better offensive prospects in the system.
  9. Cody Scarpetta, RHP (AA): The Illinois high school product became a pro after the 2007 Draft, and has progressed nicely through the Brewers’ system until his recent hiccup in Double-A. With 61 walks and 100 hits against 98 Ks through 117 innings, his command was never quite there in his age 22 season. It’s nice to see him already reach AA, but you would like to see improved command and a higher K rate considering his quality velocity and fantastic breaking ball. Aside from Peralta and the recent 2011 college arms, he represents the highest upside arm in the system if he can iron out his command issues.
  10. Michael Fiers, RHP (AA, AAA): With your standard pitcher’s frame (6’3″, 200 lbs.), an excellent K rate, and a low walk total throughout his minor league career, one might think he’d have more than 2 major league innings. At the moment, he looks like organizational filler for the Brewers, regardless of the sub-3.50 FIP numbers he’s posted going back to his 2009 debut. His fastball is less than stellar, so he gets by with quality secondary stuff, something that has baffled hitters from low A all the way to AAA ball. His ground-ball totals aren’t incredibly high, but he avoids fly-balls enough to possibly be good in Miller Park.  If anything, his minor league track record has earned him a spot start or two to prove himself as a back-of-the rotation starter.
  11. Logan Schafer, OF (Low A, AA, AAA): While he doesn’t blow you away with one big tool, his overall skillset is what will make Schafer a value in the future. He has a knack for making quality contact, runs quite well, plays above-average to plus defense, and even shows a little pop. It remains to be seen if he could be a full-time regular (would like to see how he handles 120-140 games at the ML level), but the tools are there for him to be a solid complimentary player on a number of rosters. If anything needs to be improved, it’s his base stealing. The 25 year old is capable of swiping a bag, but his rate of success is too low for it to be a value. Regardless, the physical talent is there for it to be a strong part of his game.
  12. Caleb Gindl, RF (AAA): In a system that isn’t deep on bats, this 23 year old ends up standing out a little more than he probably should. Gindl does plenty of things well- he can draw a good amount of walks, show a healthy amount of power, and play well enough in one of the outfield corners. A .307/.390/.472 is pretty good for a 22 year old at the Triple-A level. His bat speed looks good enough to hit quality fastballs; it’s just a matter of how well his swing/approach translates to the majors. He could end up being more of a bench bat/fourth outfielder in the long run.
  13. Nick Bucci, RHP (High A): He’ll need to throw more strikes at AA next year, as Bucci doesn’t look like he will ever rack up strikeouts, but he was effective nonetheless in 2011. His 3.87 FIP through 150 innings as a 21 year old is plenty good, regardless of the 3.06 bb/9 and middling strikeout rate (7.14%). I’m skeptical that he will have the same level of success next year against tougher Double-A hitters since he was already so hittable/walk prone this season. As it stands now, he’s making positive steps forward and bringing his walks down, while still having room to grow physically (6’2″, 180 lbs).
  14. Yadiel Rivera, SS (Rookie League, Low A): If Rivera ever iron some of the kinks out of his swing and even shows some tiny bit of patience at the plate, he could be quite a prospect. The 19 year old wrapped up a .236/.271/.372 line (18 bb to 125 K) between Rookie and Low A ball) through his first full season of at-bats. Rivera’s lack of contact and patience won’t do much for him in a full year of Midwest league action next year, so some adjustments must be made. Fortunately for him, his calling card is plus defense, so he won’t have to tear the cover off the ball to be relevant. Regardless, he’s shown some pop and good base-running in ’11, things that will be more obvious next year if he can become more disciplined offensively.
  15. Santo Manzanillo, RHP (High A, AA): The Dominican righty has surprising velocity for a guy who is only 6 feet tall. With that velocity and recently improved command he showed himself to be a quality bullpen piece. In the past he has struggled with keeping his walk totals down, and has yet to really sharpen up a good secondary pitch. This year he saw his walk totals go down (until a Double-A promotion), and showed how effective his fastball can be if he just throws it in the zone. I’d like to think he could be a high-leverage arm if Manzanillo can shore up a quality secondary offering.
  16. Kentrail Davis, OF (High A): Yet to live up to his 2009 draft day potential, the former Tennessee Vols outfielder has shown some positives this year. Some actual use of his speed and athleticism has been seen this year, with 33 steals (8 caught) and 8 triples in 132 games. While in years previous, he’s shown very good K to bb totals, his K rate spiked this year as his walk rate stayed stagnant. Davis will need to make more quality contact to be effective (.245/.317/.361), as he does have some power potential still. If he does not, I don’t see him making it anywhere past Double-A.
  17. Hunter Morris, 1st (High A, AA): Power is certainly his strong suit. While Morris was by no means a very patient bat at Auburn (26 bb to 50 K his last year), I don’t think most expected this low of a walk rate from him as a pro (3.4% in 2011). His rate of contact has been acceptable as a big power/limited to first base bat, striking out in 16% of his plate appearances. I think the only way he can come close to hitting AA pitching (and beyond) is if he gets more patient at the plate, getting him on base more and bringing him better pitches that his power can punish.
  18. Zelous Wheeler, 3rd/INF (AA, AAA): Once upon a time the 19th round pick played a good bit of shortstop. As of 2011, you can mainly consider him a utility infielder, as he’s had a good bit of time at second, third, and short throughout his minor league career. On top of this, he’s shown some pop, but not quite enough to justify a corner position. Wheeler is most likely a tweener, not quite showing enough to play SS full-time, while not profiling all that well anywhere with the bat. He’s shown a fair amount of pop and can get on base at a good clip, so I think he can fill in well as a utility/bench bat in the near future if given the chance.
  19. Khris Davis, OF (High A, AA): The big issue with Davis seems to be that he’s always been old for whatever league he’s been in at that time. Accordingly, he’s looked like a patient, powerful bat, but in reality usually is playing above his tools. He very well could be a useful bench bat/4th outfielder as he does certainly have some pop. It remains to be seen if he can be an effective bat at high level as evidenced by his short stint in Double-A, even if it is a small sample. If he can show that he can make adjustments, it is possible he can translate to possibly being an average regular.
  20. Dustin Houle, 3rd/C (Yet to Debut): One of the youngest, and arguably most talented players taken out of Canada in the 2011 draft, he could turn out to be a very intriguing catcher in the long run. I very much like the fact that he’s one of the youngest guys drafted this year, and that his bat profiles so well behind the dish.