Minors : : General
Friday, March 02, 2012

Top Prospects: Milwaukee Brewers

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Mike Strasinger / Nashville Sounds

General Manager: Doug Melvin
Minor League Director: Reid Nichols
Scouting Director: Bruce Seid

AAA: Nashville Sounds (Pacific Coast League) 71-73
AA: Huntsville Stars (Southern League) 64-73
Hi A: Brevard County Manatees (Florida State League) 62-76
Low A: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Midwest League) 67-72
Rookie Adv.: Helena Brewers (Pioneer League) 30-46
Rookie: AZL Brewers (Arizona Summer League) 17-39
Dominican: DSL Brewers (Dominican Summer League) 44-27

System Overview

The Brewers were applauded for going all-in on the 2011 season, trading away many of their top prospects to acquire starting pitchers Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum from the Royals and Blue Jays, in order to take advantage of 1B Prince Fielder’s anticipated final season with the club. The risk paid off in the short term as Greinke and Marcum went a combined 29-13, Fielder had a near MVP season (.299-38-120/.981) before heading off to Detroit as a free agent and the Brewers went 96-66 and lost in the NLCS to the eventual World Champion Cardinals.

Coming off of 77 and 80 win seasons in 2010 and 2009, respectively, the question becomes what will the Brewers be able to do in 2012. The answer, on paper, seems to be to expect something pretty much along the same lines even without Fielder.

The Brewers replaced Fielder’s bat in the middle of the line up with 3B Aramis Ramirez, who won’t approach Fielder’s production, intimidation or charisma factor, but he will be a tremendous upgrade on 2011 third baseman Casey McGehee. If Fielder’s replacement at first base, Mat Gamel, can put up respectable numbers in the .280-20-85 range, Milwaukee’s offense shouldn’t suffer too much as a whole.

The real key to the Brewers 2011 season wasn’t Fielder or MVP Ryan Braun, though. It was the incredible consistency and durability of the Brewers starting rotation of Greinke, Marcum, RHP Yovani Gallardo, LHP Randy Wolf and LHP Chris Narveson. None had a career year but they combined to start 155 of the Brewers 162 games and posted a combined 70-41 record. In fact, only six pitchers started games for Milwaukee all season, with RHP Marco Estrada starting the other seven contests.

Throw in the eighth and ninth inning duo of set-up man Francisco Rodriguez and closer John Axford and the Brewers had the most stable pitching staff in baseball. All those pitchers return for the 2012 season.

For the long term, though, the Brewers look like they will be walking a tight rope. The Greinke and Marcum trades took a lot of talent, notably RHP Jake Odorizzi and 3B Brett Lawrie, from a system that was already lacking in depth. Milwaukee has had a few sub-par drafts in recent years, especially the 2009 effort, and despite an increased presence in Latin America, the club has made few inroads in the past few years to procure such talent.

And while it isn’t an accurate indicator of talent, all seven of the Brewers eight affiliates finished with losing records in 2011.

Despite the fact that the system needs improvement, it is important to note that the Brewers have succeeded in recent years largely thanks to a rededication to scouting and player development that began in 2000 when Jack Zruriencik, now the GM of the Mariners, took over as the team's scouting boss.  Current Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who has held his post since late in 2002, has continued to support those internal player procurement efforts, while owner Mark Attanasio, who purchased the organization from the Selig family in 2004, has supported a dramatic increase in payroll which is projected to exceed $100 million in 2012.  Mainstays such as Braun, Gallardo, Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart are homegrown products, as was Fielder.

2011 Draft

The Brewers were unable to sign their first round pick in 2010, California high school right hander Dylan Covey, when Covey was diagnosed with diabetes after the draft and decided to attend San Diego while learning to deal with his disease. As compensation, Milwaukee received the 15
th overall pick in the much deeper 2012 draft.

Along with their own pick at No. 12, that gave the Brewers a chance to make a strong impact on their system and restock some of the talent they had traded away. The did it in the most obvious and time tested way possible, drafting two very talented college pitchers from major schools with established track records in Texas RHP Taylor Jungmann and Georgia Tech LHP Jed Bradley. Both should move quickly through the system and immediately rejuvenate the Brewers talent base.

After the first round their focus remained on pitching, as Milwaukee selected the top Puerto Rican pitcher, RHP Jorge Lopez, projectable Southern California prep RHP Danny Keller and another polished college talent in Long Beach State RHP Drew Gagnon, in the second, sixth and third rounds, respectively. Another college pitcher, Mississippi RHP David Goforth (seventh round), could move quickly through the system with his mid-to-upper 90s fastball if he adjusts to working out of the bullpen quickly.

The Brewers top position pick, 1B Nick Ramirez from Cal State Fullerton (fourth round) had a strong debut in pro ball, signing immediately and hitting .301-11-53/.801 OPS between Helena and Wisconsin, although he will need to learn to improve his plate discipline.

Other potential promising bats include toolsy prep OF Michael Reed, who the Brewers signed away from Ole Miss as a fifth round pick, and Canadian prep C/3B Dustin Houle.

The pick that the Brewers scouting staff might be shaking their heads about for years to come was 16
th rounder LHP Carlos Rodon. Rodon had a strong commitment to North Carolina State but the Brewers reportedly made a very strong run at him before the signing deadline. Rodon has since emerged as a potential top pick in the 2014 draft, with a fastball that is regularly hitting the 94-97 mph range as a freshman.

The Brewers, who usually stick pretty close to slot numbers in the draft and shouldn’t be impacted too much by the new draft rules, also aggressively signed Texas high school IF Chris McFarland away from a Rice scholarship in the 18
th round with a $315,000 bonus.

Similar to 2011, the Brewers will be able to continue to infuse talent into their system through the draft thanks to additional, early picks. The consolation prize for losing Fielder to the Tigers will garner the Brewers a late first round and early supplemental first round pick.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Wily Peralta
Baseball-reference player profile

Peralta is a big and physical right hander in the Carlos Zambrano mold, capable of holding a heavy low-to-mid 90s fastball over the course of a game and mixing in a solid slider and changeup. He still walks too many hitters, but keeps the ball in the park exceptionally well and has posted very good strikeout numbers.

Peralta missed the 2007 season with Tommy John surgery but hasn’t missed a start in the last two years and moved quickly in short steps through the system. He’ll start the season at 22-years old and with 34 very successful innings (2-0, 2.03, 40 Ks) of Triple A experience already under his belt. The Brewers starting rotation is set for the beginning of the year, baring Spring Training injuries, but Peralta should be at the head of the line for an opportunity should one arise during the season.

2. RHP Taylor JungmannBaseball-reference player profile

Only some late season tiredness after throwing 140 innings likely caused Jungmann to slip to the 12
th spot and the Brewers last June. It has always seemed, though, as if scouts have been laying in wait for some sign of weakness from the former PG/Aflac All-American due to his delivery, which is somewhat upright and cross body. They can’t argue that he’s an injury risk, as he has never been hurt. He threw 355 innings at UT while going 32-9 over three years. They can’t say his delivery affects his ability to throw strikes, as his pinpoint command (36 walks in 141 IP in 2011) is one of his strengths on the mound. And they can’t say there is any concern about Jungmann’s stuff, as he pitches in the 92-94 mph range with very good life and a big breaking low 80s slider.

Another very encouraging thing for Jungmann’s future is the adjustments that he made last year after the introduction of the new bats in college baseball. He began pitching to contact more aggressively instead of going after strikeouts, an adjustment that often takes pitchers years in the minors to fully make.

3. LHP Jed BradleyBaseball-reference player profile

Like Jungman, Bradley spent part of last spring amidst speculation that he could go among the top 10 picks in the draft and maybe even break into the top five. But a series of mediocre performances in the second half of the Georgia Tech season, keyed by his slider that went from being a plus present pitch to a below average pitch, slid him to the Brewers pick at No. 15. If Bradley quickly regains his slider and overall early season form, he could move just as fast through the Brewers system.

Bradley is a classic example of why scouts use the word projection so much. He was a skinny left hander at an Alabama high school topping out at 87 mph when he committed to Georgia Tech and went undrafted in 2008. Now he’s a 6-4/225 man topping out in the mid 90s.

4. 2B Scooter GennettBaseball-reference player profile

Gennett has received plenty of attention since the end of the 2011 season after hitting .411-2-14 in 90 at bats in the Arizona Fall League, but the fact is that Gennett (his given first name is Ryan) has flat-out been able to hit since early in his teen years, and his AFL performance is just a continuation of what he has always done. He also hit .300-9-51 in the notoriously difficult to hit in Florida State League in 2011, which is an even bigger accomplishment.

The rest of Gennett’s tool package is very good as well. He ran a 6.57 and threw 91 mph from the infield in high school while being named a PG/Aflac All-American. Maybe his most memorable experience at Perfect Game events, though, might have been at the 2008 National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minnesota where he nearly beat big Jonathan Singleton (now the Astros top prospect) in the home run hitting contest. The 5-10/160 Gennett probably hit more balls out than Singleton, but they kept curving just foul. Distance wasn’t a problem.

Rickie Weeks is signed through 2014 (with a club option for 2015) but expect Gennett to be knocking hard on the door before then.

5. RHP Tyler ThornburgBaseball-reference player profile

Thornburg is a slender, sub 6-foot right hander, probably scout’s least favorite demographic on the whole field, but he has nasty mid 90s stuff now and dominated in minor league ball last year (10-6, 2.57, 160 Ks and only 96 hits in 136 innings). That success is a continuation of his domination at Charleston Southern in college, and did the same pitching for the East Cobb Shamrocks in WWBA events. Thornburg’s best secondary pitch is a very deceptive changeup and he also throws a big breaking curveball. His delivery adds to his deception, as it is both unconventional and high energy, but Thornburg works through it consistently and has never had a serious arm injury.

There is always speculation that 5-11 power right handers will end up in the bullpen, but Thornburg has been a starter his entire life and has the endurance and selection of pitches to stay in the role, especially if he gets more consistent with his command of the strike zone.

6. OF Logan SchaferBaseball-reference player profile

At 25-years old, Schafer is a bit old for a prospect who started 2011 in AA and may begin 2012 in AAA, but he missed almost the entire 2010 season and the beginning of the 2011 season with an incredible string of ill-timed injuries. In between he led the Florida State League in hitting in 2009 at .313-6-58/.813 and bettered that in 2011 between AA and AAA at .315-5-43/.824.

The Brewers third round pick in 2008, Shafer is an excellent defensive centerfielder with above average range and a strong throwing arm. He projects to be a much better big league hitter, especially for average with the ability to reach base, than Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez has proven to be over the past three years. The Brewers signing of 30-year old Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki complicates Schafer’s ability to make the Brewers opening day roster, however.

7. 3B Taylor GreenBaseball-reference player profile

Green had put himself in a position to challenge for the Brewers third base job in 2012 before the team signed Aramis Ramirez to play the hot corner and replace Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup. Green hit .336-21-92/.993 OPS between AA and AAA last year and was solid in Milwaukee in September. He is finally healthy after years of nagging injuries held him back, and will play all year in 2012 at 25-years old.

Here is the report on Green after he came to the 2004 Perfect Game Pre-Draft Showcase as a unheralded teenage shortstop from British Columbia. This pretty much nailed it:

Green’s a left handed hitting middle infielder from Canada with a strong left handed bat. He’ll probably end up at second base or third base at the next level but his bat is going to produce enough to carry him there. Green’s stroke is short and quick to the ball and he has good present strength in his hands and hips to generate raw bat speed. His first two at bats were against Matt Walker and Eric Cordier, the two top prospects at the Showcase, and he hit the ball hard both times.

8. RHP Michael FiersBaseball-reference player profile

Fiers is the unlikeliest of prospects, a 22
nd round pick out of NAIA Nova Southeastern in Florida (where one of his teammates was Astros OF J.D. Martinez) who signed just before his 24th birthday. That the Brewers would sign a player that old is highly unusual in the world of scouting, but Fiers had just gone 10-3 with 145 Ks in 108 innings.

All he has done since is get to the big leagues with little or no resistance from minor league hitters. He went 13-3, 1.86 with 132 Ks in 126 innings between AA and AAA in 2011 before getting his September call-up.

Fiers raw stuff is just average on the big league scale, but he throws all the pitches and has plus command and pitchability. You can’t argue with success, and Fiers has had plenty more of it than all the highly regarded top round picks the Brewers have made in the past few years.

9. RHP Santo ManzanilloBaseball-reference player profile

It took Manzanillo four years to get out of rookie ball, and he missed the entire 2009 season after Tommy John surgery, but the Dominican native has quickly made up for lost time. He has the best velocity in the Brewers system, capable of hitting the upper 90s with some consistency while touching 100 mph. He’s overcome his early career control problems (102 walks in 76 innings in the three rookie ball seasons) and dominated in 2011 between Hi A and AA (1-1, 1.75, 17 saves).

Manzanillo almost lost all of that due to an offseason car accident in the Dominican when he rolled his car and was ejected, but only suffered a separated shoulder and other more minor injuries. He has recently begun throwing again at the Brewers spring training camp and is expected to make a full recovery.

10. RHP Brooks HallBaseball-reference player profile

Hall is curiously missing from the discussion about Brewers top prospects among many analysts and it’s hard to understand why, knowing his background and what he’s done thus far in pro ball after being the team’s fourth round pick in 2010.

Hall first came to PG events as a 5-11/140 rising high school freshman, a primary shortstop who threw 75 mph off the mound. He grew to his current 6-5/200 but was still a primary shortstop until his senior year, when everyone realized that Hall, then throwing 90-92, with reports of his touching 95 mph and spinning a tight slider, was a better pitching prospect.

Hall is now 21-years old, has a fresh, healthy arm, throws strikes (25 walks in 100 innings in 2011), is a top level athlete and has enough innings under his belt to understand pitching now. Expect a huge breakout year in 2012.

Others in the Conversation: RHP Nick Bucci, OF Caleb Gindl, RHP Kyle Heckathorn, RHP Jorge Lopez, LHP Dan Meadows, RHP Jimmy Nelson, 1B Nick Ramirez, RHP Cody Scarpetta

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