Despite only recently being regarded one of the worst farm systems in the league, the Brewers now have a wealth of talent that can be used to build up the next winner in Milwaukee. They project to have solid pitching and outfield depth for the foreseeable future, while the immediate term will see a sizable influx of quality players hopefully gearing up to fill important roles on the next competitive Brewers team. It may be another year before they can really start expecting to take steps toward the playoffs, but the Brewers have quality depth if not true studs, which can breed a few surprise impact players.
Some of the more bold rankings in this massive system include a few lows and highs. I see Michael Reed as a legitimate starting outfielder whose power is an inevitability, hence he ranks more highly here than anywhere I’ve read. The organization is convinced his power will come around, as well. I also like Josh Hader and Isan Diaz’s chances of reaching the 50-grade threshold. Rymer Liriano makes a surprise appearance in the 45 FV pod. The only thing I can say about it is maybe he won’t pan out, but there’s enough potential there that I don’t know how you essentially cut a guy like that…
Nathan Orf is a hustler who may not seem like much of a pure athlete, but his hit tool carries his value into this list for me. As for some lows, I recognize the potential value Jacob Nottingham and Gilbert Lara possess, but I just don’t have faith in either’s hit tool panning out in the long run. Lara is super young and Nottingham has his raw power, so neither is a lost cause, but I’m looking at it in terms of most likely outcomes.
Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:
|Grade||Tool Is Called||Batting Average||HR||ISO||Baserunning Runs||Fielding Runs|
As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:
|Grade||Hitter||Starting Pitcher||Relief Pitcher||WAR|
|80||Top 1-2||#1 Starter||—-||7|
|55||Above Avg||#3/4||Mid Closer||2.5|
|50||Avg Regular||#4||Low CL/High SU||2|
|40||Bench||Swing/Spot SP||Middle RP||1|
|35||Emergency Call-Up||Emergency Call-Up||Emergency Call-Up||0|
One other difference in the way I’ll be communicating scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels.
In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list. Next up will be the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After a too-slow start to the rebuild process, the Brewers kicked in things into high gear this winter, and in the process, have put their franchise back on the right path. New GM David Stearns and his staff made a series of terrific moves, and not just for the long-term: the 2016 roster is now full of interesting players with potential, some of whom may turn into core pieces on the next good Brewers team. The NL Central is still a behemoth, and this rebuild will take a few years, but Brewers fans should be excited; the foundation for a contender is being laid. If Stearns keeps making moves like he has this winter, it won’t even take that long.
Video courtesy of Baseball America
1. Orlando Arcia, SS
Current Level/Age: AA/21.7, 6’0/165, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2010 out of Venezuela by MIL for $90,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 1
Arcia is an excellent contact hitter with one of the best swings in the minors when he stays on his legs, providing hope that he can tap into more of his power as he adds strength. The problem with that statement is it doesn’t happen very often, since he tends to come off his back leg as he strides before most of his swings. His ability to hit for average is unaffected, but his power is likely to be very streaky, coinciding with times he picks up the ball early and doesn’t feel the need to go out and get it. It’s an unnecessary prerequisite for him to be a great player, with his bat being complemented by all-around skills on the bases and in the field.
He possesses the skills to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the league. A quick first step gives him great range, and his soft hands and quick release extend his range further than expected with his raw speed. He has above-average arm strength, with the ability to throw on the move and at every angle bumping his throwing grade into plus territory. He is aggressive using his above-average speed to steal bases, and with improved reads he could be a plus runner on the big-league scene.
With power being the only area he won’t be an average or better contributor, Arcia has a bright future as a talented defensive force who also features solid potential with the bat. He has a high floor, and yet he may not have reached the pinnacle of his skill development.
Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 65/65/65 Throw: 60/60/60
Video courtesy of ieProSports
2. Brett Phillips, OF
Current Level/Age: AA/21.8, 6’0/180, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 189th overall (6th round) in 2012 out of Florida HS by HOU for $300,000 bonus, traded to MIL in July 2015
Previous Rank: 8 (HOU)
Phillips was acquired in the Carlos Gomez deal with Astros, and has a chance at impact tools across the board. He’s an above-average to plus runner, has a fantastic, accurate arm, good enough range to fit in center, at least an average hit tool in the future and above-average power potential. His hit tool could go a little higher if he can continue limiting his strikeouts, but there is definitely some swing-and-miss to his offensive game.
Power will be a part of his profile, but right now his approach is geared more toward line drives than deep fly balls. With only a couple small adjustments, he could see his power reach the plus level in-game, especially if he can stay balanced and use his lower half consistently. However, he’s good enough overall that it would have to be a conscious choice to create more power, since his chances of making it without average or better pop are pretty good anyway.
Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 40/45/55 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 55/55/55+ Throw: 70/70/70
Video courtesy of Major League Baseball
3. Michael Reed, OF
Current Level/Age: AAA/23.4, 6’0/190, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 161st overall (5th round) in 2011 out of Texas HS by MIL for $500,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 13
He gets bumped down a lot of lists because of his lack of power, but Reed just needs a little more time to tap into it. Between his excellent approach, great contact and line drive swing path, he already projects for a plus hit-tool ceiling. Prior to last year, he relied mostly on his hands to do the work, settling for line drives all around the field. For good reason, too, since he has one of the best hand paths in the minors.
In 2015, he started getting more use out of his lower half, and proceeded to hit for the best power of his professional career. It was masked a bit by going from Double-A to Triple-A and the majors, but it nonetheless marked a clear step forward in his power potential, and not just a high water mark.
Reed just needs to keep doing what he’s doing. He’ll get more Triple-A experience this year, and we will start to see his power-and-speed mix turn from potential into reality. This guy is an all-around great player in the making.
Hit: 55/55/60 Power: 40/45/50 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 60/60/60
Video courtesy of The Prospect Pipeline
4. Trent Clark, OF
Current Level/Age: Rookie/19.4, 6’0/205, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 15th overall (1st round) in 2015 out of Texas HS by MIL for $2.7 million bonus
Previous Rank: NA
Clark had a great professional debut, most impressively showing off the advanced approach and solid contact that got him drafted so high. His polish may mean we have to take some of his success with a grain of salt until he’s facing better competition this year and next, especially since he doesn’t have the prettiest looking swing.
He can look like a non-hitter entirely on some swings. He’s very top hand-dominant, forcing the bat to wrap around the ball and yank his hardest hits to the right side. He makes up for it with a great knack for barreling up the ball and getting into the zone early. We will have to see how his skill set fares against pitchers who have better offspeed weapons. He swings pretty level without much lift, so his power will be in doubles form for the foreseeable future but may still reach the average level.
Clark is an above-average runner, though only an average fielder who is a little light on arm strength. That leaves left field as his most likely fit, though he may continue working in center until he proves he absolutely can’t. The bat should play either way, but he’s obviously more valuable staying in the middle of the diamond if possible.
Hit: 35/55/60 Power: 35/45/45-50 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 45/45/45
Video courtesy of Baseball America
5. Isan Diaz, SS
Current Level/Age: R/19.8, 5’10/185, L/R
Acquired: Drafted 70th overall (Supp 2nd round) in 2014 out of Massachusetts HS by ARZ for $750,000 bonus, traded to MIL in January 2016
Previous Rank: 22 (ARZ)
I covered Diaz for the Diamondbacks list before he was moved in the Jean Segura trade, though here he jumps into the 50+ FV group. My overall grading standards have been altered slightly since then, hence the differences here. I still want to see him face higher-level pitchers, but all the tools and moves are there for him to be have average or better grades with all five tools. His numbers in the Pioneer League last year were truly impressive.
As long as his strikeout rates stay manageable, which seems likely with his low-maintenance swing and strong approach for his age, he will be jumping up everyone’s lists after this year. There has been talk of him moving off short to second base, but his defense has been surprisingly good according to one Brewers source, and is no doubt a shortstop for them for awhile. Despite similar grades, there may be more upside with his hit tool than his power, but this year will help provide more clarity on his future contributions. He will most likely be the starting shortstop for their Midwest League affilliate this spring.
Hit: 30/50/55 Power: 30/50/55 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/55/55+ Throw: 50/50/50
Video courtesy of Cubs Prospect Watch
6. Monte Harrison, OF
Current Level/Age: Single-A/20.6, 6’3/220, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 50th overall (2nd round) in 2014 out of Misouri HS by MIL for $1.8 million bonus
Previous Rank: 5
Harrison is coming off a solid overall season heading into 2016. The Brewers pushed him a bit to Midwest League with the goal of getting him game at-bats and expecting him to struggle. He came back to the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where he started to really find his stride when he broke his ankle. He still isn’t 100% cleared yet, but will be fully ready for game action by the start of the season.
He has a lot of positives going into this year, though he has his work cut out for him to keep the strikeouts down while tapping into his power more. On the plus side, he reportedly really filled out this offseason. At the tail end of his time in Helena before getting hurt, he toned down some of the early length in his swing, keeping his barrel from getting away from his body so much. It still shows up in-game, particularly on pitches low or away, giving him some holes in the zone as well as trouble handling good offspeed offerings at present.
As a multi-sport athlete coming out of high school, he deserves a bit of slack while he tailors his athletic ability for baseball-specific skills. The tools outside of the batter’s box are fantastic. He has plus speed currently, and a possible plus-plus arm that serves him well in a future right-field profile. His defense projects to be at least above-average, with a plus grade not an unattainable accolade. His future hinges on where his bat goes, but all the pieces are there for him to improve. He remains a high-ceiling, low-floor prospect because of how many ways his bat could develop, but I’m betting on him turning out to be a regular, even if it takes awhile to happen.
Hit: 30/45/55 Power: 35/50/55 Run: 60/55/60 Field: 55/55+/60 Throw: 65/65/70
Video courtesy of Eric Longenhagen
7. Josh Hader, LHP
Current Level/Age: AA/22.0, 6’3/160, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 582nd overall (19th round) in 2012 out of Maryland HS by BAL for $40,000 bonus, traded to HOU in July 2013, traded to MIL in July 2015
Previous Rank: 14 (HOU)
Hader was another asset acquired in the Carlos Gomez trade. He has a deceptive turn in his delivery, combined with good sequencing that puts less stress on his arm than most seem to believe. He can get a little long with his arm action that allows his release to get away from him a bit, leading to some possible concern over his elbow long-term, but it’s solid overall. The key for him mechanically is just staying in line with the plate on his stride.
I saw Hader in the Arizona Fall League, where he sat 94 mph with his fastball and touched up to 96. His curveball flashes 60 on a few occasions, though an inconsistent release led to a lot of 40s up in the zone as well. Contacts who have seen him at other times in the past year say he was a little more consistent with it, though without flashing the same top-end effectiveness. His changeup gets better grades from most, but I see slower arm speed that makes it slightly less promising than his curve; it’s still a near-average pitch, if not slightly above.
Hader is still a bit underrated by most in my opinion. His vast improvement over last couple years and athletic ability with physcial upside make me believe he stays in the rotation, but a late-inning reliever gig would not be a bad outcome for him either.
Fastball: 60/60/65 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 45/45/50+ Command: 45/50/55
Video courtesy of Major League Baseball
8. Jorge Lopez, RHP
Current Level/Age: MLB/23.1, 6’3/190, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 70th overall (2nd round) in 2010 out of Dominican Republic by MIL for $690,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 9
Lopez has great actions on the mound, using a slight pause at the top of his leg lift before accelerating toward release to give him some deception. It has the unfortunate side effect of causing command issues when he ramps up the arm speed, but he shows enough athleticism to iron things out a bit. When his delivery is locked in, he shows above-average command of his arsenal, and with some more time improving in Triple-A this year, he has at least number-four-starter upside. He could go even higher if he can master the tempo of his delivery.
His fastball sits in the low to mid-90s, averaging 93.5 in his 10 big-league innings last year. It has enough sink and velocity to be a tough pitch to square up, and should give him a solid ground-ball profile. He can also run it upstairs for swings and misses. He throws a curveball that flashes above-average, but it needs more consistency and better command. He adds a changeup that is only a few miles per hour slower than his fastball, with slight arm-side run and fade. It’s probably a below-average offering at best against big-league hitters.
Fastball: 60/60/65 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/45/50
Taylor has been young for every level so far despite being a true two-sport athlete before signing professionally, and his poor numbers in the Double-A Eastern League were due to it finally catching up with him. Internal sources are still very high on his potential, and it was a tough decision for me to leave him out of the 50+ FV group. He likely ends up back in Double-A in 2016, where his baseball skills will have suitable time to catch up to the competition.
I love Taylor’s swing, and would pay all the money I’ve ever had to have his hand path and bat speed. It’s the kind of swing that only elite hitters have, and if things click for him his power could really take off with his high-line-drive swing path. Once you notice that he’s been able to make a ton of contact, as well, it’s extremely difficult not to get excited about him. His bottom-line production is the only reason for pause in projecting his future abilities, which is probably unfair to Taylor given his age relative to the competition. His presence at the top of the 45+ group is almost entirely because his production hasn’t matched the tools yet, though his ceiling is still very much attainable.
He’s still an above-average to plus runner with enough defensive ability to play center, but not enough to be among the league’s best defenders. Reports of his stellar instincts are what keep me bullish on the likelihood of him staying in center field long-term. Ideally he is a one step faster to comfortably fit in center, or he takes a few more walks; either would go a long way toward the public opinion agreeing he’s a sure starting outfielder. If for some reason his numbers don’t pick up, he has a floor as a dynamic bench player, but I can’t see that being a reality right now. Look for him to take a step forward facing Double-A pitching another time through in 2016.
Hit: 40/50/60 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 55/55/60 Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Davies was acquired in the Gerardo Parra trade with the Orioles, giving them an excellent, versatile hurler to slot into the back of the rotation or possibly the bullpen. Though he’s kind of lost in the shuffle of the Brewers’ pitching depth at the big-league level, he still has the potential to be a strong mid-rotation starter if his command can tick up just a bit. His arsenal is full of weapons to induce whiffs and ground balls, but his lack of premium velocity leaves his margin for error very small. He misses just a couple too many spots a game, enough to lose out on mis-hit and strikeout opportunities, replacing them with walks and base hits.
In his six-start debut with the Brewers parent club, he averaged a shade under 89 mph on his fastball, but he shows the ability to cut, sink and run it at hitters as the situation dictates. By itself, it gives him a pitch to jam hitters, induce ground balls or change eye levels so his curve and changeup can play up. His changeup has great fade thrown with excellent fastball arm speed and good location. It is his best pitch consistency-wise, though his curveball proved itself as a useful option when hitters got keyed in on his primary fastball-changeup combination. The curve could benefit the most from improved command, since it’s the easiest offering to hit when he leaves it in the zone.
I’m excited to see where Davies’ 2016 season takes him. Though he may start in the Triple-A rotation, he has a chance to be the best of the three starter prospects the Brewers have in the upper minors (Hader and Lopez being the others). He’s not as flashy, but he also may have the best pitchability and clearest path to sustained success. If he doesn’t reach that ceiling, the bullpen could greatly benefit from a smart ground-ball pitcher with strikeout potential, whether in a long relief or high-leverage late-inning role.
Fastball: 50/50/55+ Curveball: 50/50/55 Changeup: 55/60/65 Command: 45/45/50
Williams had some balance issues in the past, falling off to his glove side heading into release. They’ve been largely fixed now. As a result, he’s able to keep the ball down in the zone more. He has a very quick arm with smooth arm actions and good sequencing throughout his delivery. His overall command is below-average at present, but the delivery and arm show enough promise to give him a good chance at getting to average.
Williams heater is a low-90s offering that could add sustained tick or two but already gets on the batter pretty quick. He throws a slider that can get a little too slurvy, giving it an average ceiling that depends mostly on command improvements. A changeup he has could be an above-average pitch with good arm speed and sink.
Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 40/45+/50 Changeup: 50/55/55+ Command: 40/45/50
Medeiros has impressive movement on everything he throws. He has to continue refining his fastball command and harnessing his stuff. It may take a few years, but it could be totally worth the wait. He shows little enough feel sometimes that it’s hard to see him really taking the step up to average command, though he may not need that much to be a viable mid-rotation starter.
His fastball grade gets a boost from the excellent sink and deceptive arm angle, while his slider has better than plus potential if he can harness his best version of the pitch. The changeup could be an average offering, but feel is the key for it reaching that ceiling. My overall opinion on Medeiros hasn’t changed much since his draft year. He could be fantastic on the mound as a starter with at times unhittable stuff, or he could be a back-end starter or late-inning relief pitcher with dirty stuff and just OK command. He’s young yet, so we can punt this at least until seeing how his second full-season year goes.
Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 50/55/65 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/45+
Liriano’s DFA and subsequent trade to the Padres caught me by surprise, since he has shown enough promise in recent years to be an interesting prospect. Though the shine has worn off, to me he looks, at worst, like a viable fourth outfielder with enough speed to play all three spots in a pinch. Apart from some hip slide and a little tendency to hook around the ball, I like his swing a lot, too. He can put the ball in the air even when he’s fooled a bit, and has the raw strength to still have potentially above-average to plus power.
His strikeout issues stem partly from poor contact rates, but it looks like he has more work to do on his approach and pitch recognition to keep them in check. His hip slide may play a small part, since he has nowhere to go but around the ball or continue sliding out on his front foot if he’s too early. I do think he has enough pitch-recognition deficiencies that he won’t be a high-average guy, but his swing and physicality should allow it to play up a bit.
It’s not out of the question that he’s a future starting outfielder with even a slight improvement to his game plan and/or discipline, though as we’ve seen sometimes before, teams tend to know their own guys better than anyone. But, sometimes they don’t.
Hit: 40/40-45/45 Power: 50/55/60 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 55/55/55
Kirby slipped a bit in the draft when his command and stuff started to falter heading into the College World Series, and he eventually had Tommy John surgery late last fall. His arm action was not very smooth heading up to that point, though a lot of that could have been compensating for the developing injury. When healthy, he flashes three above-average pitches with the potential for average command. Assuming a healthy return, Kirby will add to the Brewers’ impressive pitching death with a high-floor, medium-ceiling profile. The 2016 season will likely be a year of rehab, and team sources say he’s mentally focused on being ready for 2017.
Fastball: 50/55/55 Curveball: 50/55/55 Changeup: 50/50/55 Command: 40/45/50
Ponce was the Brewers’ second-round pick in last year’s draft, and showed off his college polish in 51 innings thrown mostly for Single-A Wisconsin. He has some upside as a starter, but he has some delivery stuff that may limit how much of his ceiling he can tap into. A stiff back limits how much torque his body can create and the range of motion his arm is able to go through, which results in some shoulder effort, but the arm action itself is solid.
His arsenal all projects to be around average, though his fastball and curveball could end up above-average with better consistency. Despite the lack of huge upside, he throws enough strikes that he should move quickly into the upper minors, where his command will be tested and we can see what he’s made of.
Fastball: 50/55/55+ Curveball: 45/50/55 Cutter: 40/45/50+ Changeup: 45/50/50+ Command: 40/45/45-50
Williams ended up having Tommy John surgery at the end of last year, so he’s likely to miss most or all of the 2016 season. He still holds the same promise with a powerful fastball-slider one-two punch. Up until he went down with his elbow injury, he still throws with a lot of effort and profiles best out of the bullpen. He has fringy command and a changeup that is likely to be dropped when he’s pitching in short outings. We’ll have to see how he comes back, but for now he’s in a holding pattern.
Fastball: 60/60/65 Slider: 50/50/55 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/40/45
A smooth rhythm in the box and a quick but direct lower-half drive give him a strong foundation for his bat, though his hand path is a little too direct to contact to really buy into his power yet. Coulter has enough bat speed to hit for average power regardless, but there’s potential for a lot more with some slight adjustments. The biggest success in the front office’s minds last year was his smooth transition defensively to full-time outfield duty.
His prospect status is relatively unchanged from last offseason, despite the apparent downturn in performance. Internal evaluations still see Coulter as an exciting bat, citing how often their hitting prospects have down years in Brevard County’s spacious confines. His strike-zone judgment improved tremendously over the last year, and may end up being a strength of his when all is said and done. He will get an opportunity to compete in the Double-A Southern League, which should better bring into focus how much we can expect out of his bat.
Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 45/50/55+ Run: 40/40/45 Field: 40/45/50 Throw: 60/60/60
Orf gives managers a player you can put anywhere in the lineup or on the field, and he’ll give you good results. The standard label of “scrappy gamer” gets thrown on him, but he has some upside with the bat that hasn’t been recognized yet. He has a smooth swing with a sweet line-drive path and really works at-bats. It’s not impossible to see him reaching 40 power in the big leagues, either. Coaches and front-office staff love his makeup and versatility, so he will get a shot on that alone. His bat and defensive play will afford him a lot more playing time that most expect.
Hit: 50/55/60 Power: 35/35/40 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 45/45/45
One Brewers source put Woodruff’s status best: his numbers don’t do his talent justice. He still has plenty of potential with a quality delivery and stuff, and has had stretches of real dominance in the past year and a half. He will start in either High-A or Double-A, and the Brewers are hoping this is the year he really puts himself on the map, with his ongoing oblique issue from last year hopefully behind him.
Fastball: 50/55/55 Curveball: 45/50/50+ Changeup: 45/50/50+ Command: 40/45/50
Orimoloye has huge tools with tremendous raw speed and strength, and he had a nice professional debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League. The biggest thing limiting his chances of reaching his high ceiling is a lack of body control that leaks into his offensive production. He hit for a high average with great power and surprising base-running prowess, but he has trouble picking up and tracking spin that will make higher-level minor-league pitching very difficult to hit. I love his ceiling as a multi-threat outfielder, but he’s still a long ways away from cashing in on that promise.
Hit: 25/40/45 Power: 40/55/60 Run: 55/50/55 Field: 45/45+/50 Throw: 55/55/55
Lara has looked like a batting-practice darling who’s going to have trouble translating his tools to games without a ton of work, but the tools are very exciting. He has big time raw power when he’s timed up, but it’s difficult for him to square the ball up with a one-piece rotation and hands, combined with a steep path. He shows some potential for a better path, but is also quick to pull barrel across the ball and yank anything he does square up to dead left field. He hasn’t shown the pitch recognition to make up for it yet, with his contact skills only playing when he takes an abbreviated hands-only swing. That he made a fair amount of contact is promising, but it wasn’t quality contact.
When he signed, many thought he would have to move off shortstop pretty quickly, as he does project to be a decent defender at third base with his plus arm and average footwork. However, the more the Brewers have seen him at short, the more they think it’s much further down the road than anticipated. He’s instinctive and makes all the necessary plays there right now, so there’s a slim chance he sticks at the more premium position long-term.
A Brewers source noted that he put on some muscle this offseason, which should help him keep his strength up during the long professional season. Last year he hit a wall fatigue-wise midway through the year, which may have contributed to his less than stellar showing at the plate. There’s no denying his ceiling, but the fine skills are where Lara needs to make the most improvements.
Hit: 25/40/45+ Power: 30/50/60 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 55/55/60
Gatewood was an exciting prep draftee for his big power and demonstrative swing. He has shown a mixture of promise and disappointment across three levels in the year and a half since he was taken 41st overall in 2014. Strikeouts have reared their ugly head in the early going, leading to questions about how much is too much when it comes to his effort level and mechanics at the plate. He still has excellent power potential and enough talent elsewhere to be a hopeful big-league contributor in some way, but his likely role has seen some muddying due to his slow start.
He appears to have tried to tone down pre-swing hand movement, but it seems to have stiffened up his actions too much. As a fan of his talent and natural swing, I hope he can find a way to keep his athletic movements but learn to sync them up better with opposing pitchers, since a lot of those moves will help him adjust to pitches on which he’s fooled. The reduced movement made his swing a lot more all-or-nothing, and his lack of early pitch recognition, combined with the swing changes, exacerbated his contact issues in my opinion.
The Brewers, for their part, aren’t worried about his lack of immediate production. Instead, one source was happy to see him get his first full season under his belt, it being a big adjustment from high-school baseball physically and mentally. Gatewood will look to tap into his power without the strikeouts increasing with each promotion, but it’s going to take some physical adjustments to get the most out of his innate contact skills. He is slated to start in the Midwest League, where he’ll likely slide over to third base to accommodate the better-fielding Isan Diaz at short. He will still play the six spot on occasion, though it is expected he will size himself of the position eventually anyway.
Hit: 25/40/45 Power: 40/55/65 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/50 Throw: 55/60/60
Diaz lost most of 2015 to an elbow fracture, though he’s 100% healthy coming into this season, which he will likely start in the Midwest League. Team officials are excited about his stuff, as he has a promising fastball and slider that at least give him a chance at a bullpen job in the big leagues. He also has a changeup that requires work, though the biggest developmental needs in front of him are harnessing his command smoothing out his mechanics. His walk rate was much improved in Rookie-ball last year before he got hurt, but the Brewers need to see him take the next step in locating the ball within the zone.
Fastball: 50/55/65 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 40/40/45
Roache has big-time power, especially to right-center field. He continues to gain comfort the further he gets away from his wrist injury in his draft year, but the big question with him is how his contact will shake out. He has enough power that he is probably a future bench bat at least, though he will either need to continue improving his walk rates or start cutting into the swings and misses to project as more than that.
Hit: 35/40/45 Power: 50/55+/60 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/50 Throw: 55/55/55
Nottingham was acquired via the Khris Davis deal with Oakland, and is expected by many to be a solid option behind the plate in a couple years. He has had acceptable strikeout rates with above-average power potential, which sounds great on a young catcher, but I worry how much both will translate to the big-league game. He swings through a lot of pitches in the zone, though in fairness it mostly seems to happen when he swings out of his shoes. Usually that sort of thing works itself out with more experience and maturity.
He does have some swing issues that affect his ability to wait on offspeed pitches. He currently gets too committed to swinging by pushing off his back foot as he strides, leaving him with only his hands to throw at the ball when he’s out in front. There may be some pitch-recognition issues as well, which would relate to the misses on hittable strikes. He also gets a little too hands-first with his swing, possibly limiting his power to pitches up in the zone if it doesn’t shift to a smoother sequence.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen him play defense myself, but reports say he struggles with receiving and blocking, but has enough arm strength to be an average asset with the running game. With some questions about the bat, and defense that hasn’t come along quite yet, Nottingham has work to do to profile as a starting catcher. He does enjoy a high floor as someone who should at least be a solid backup with offensive upside.
Hit: 40/40+/45 Power: 45/50/55 Run: 35/35/40 Field: 40/40/45 Throw: 50/50/50
Wren makes good contact and has plus speed, though team sources say he’ll be an atypical corner outfielder for them going forward. He has some range to make up for his below-average arm, but the biggest factor in him carving out a bench role will be if the contact can make up for the lack of power. He had a great year in 2015 split between Double-A and Triple-A.
Hit: 50/50/55 Power: 30/30/30 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 45/45/45
Derby came over from Oakland as part of the Khris Davis deal. There was talk during the draft of him moving quickly if he transitioned to the bullpen, which is where I think he ultimately ends up. He had a great pro debut as a starter, so the Brewers will probably see what they have in the rotation before moving him off. He has a hard fastball but average or below secondary stuff, and he doesn’t have the easy motion you like to see from a starter.
Fastball: 50/55/60 Slider: 40/40/45 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 40/45/50
Denson will head back to the Midwest League in 2016, where he will look to tap into more of his plus raw power. He has a very patient approach at the plate, which some within the organization think may be too patient, with excellent strike-zone judgment. As a bat-first prospect who plays first base only, his power development will be his ticket.
Hit: 40/45/50 Power: 40/50/55 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 55/55/55
Houser finished his 2015 season strong after being traded for Carlos Gomez, and followed it up with a decent performance in the Arizona Fall League. His full body of work has been inconsistent, owing to stuff and command that comes and goes. He has a stiff, arm-dominant delivery that makes it tough to command the ball to his arm side, and can get a little crossfire with his stride and release at times, leaving balls up in the zone.
In Arizona, I saw him throw 95 with plus movement on his fastball, paired with a changeup that flashed plus with split-finger movement. The problem is they don’t have that kind of effectiveness on a regular basis. His breaking balls were below-average. His fastball command is at least average, but the rest of his arsenal does not have the same level of location.
Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 40/45/45+ Changeup: 50/55/55 Command: 40/45/45
As a fairly recent convert to pitching, Barrios is still a bit of a wild card out of the bullpen. He brings a high-90s fastball and an above-average changeup into the mix for a big-league role this spring. A Brewers source said he altered the grip on his slider at the end of last year and may now have a third average or better pitch. His command is below-average, but the stuff is good enough to see a solid middle-relief arm.
Fastball: 60/60/65 Slider: 35/40/45 Changeup: 55/55/55+ Command: 40/40/45
Diplan has advanced feel for a young guy but not a ton of physical projection. He doesn’t have the loosest arm action, but his easy-going delivery gives him some upside to keep improving his stuff and command. He has a solid breaking ball and a potentially average changeup. His biggest need for work is his command, though being a young pitcher heading into the Single-A Midwest League, he has time to figure things out. More experience will be the best thing for his development, and he could end up shooting up this list with continued growth in 2016.
Fastball: 50/55/55 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/45/45
Ramon Flores, OF, MLB
As Chris Mitchell noted recently in these pages, general manager David Stearns et al. seem to have made it a priority, in their attempt to build the next good Brewers team, to target minor leaguers who possess more in the way of a statistical track record than physical tools.
That’s not to say they’ve failed to acquire intriguing athletes, as well: Keon Broxton and Rymer Liriano, for example, both feature compelling raw athleticism. But there’s also a sizable collection of guys who are like more than the sum of their physical parts. Like Javier Betancourt, for example. And Zachary Davies. And Jacob Nottingham. And Colin Walsh. The result? Basically the best junior-varsity team in all of baseball.
Flores, for his part, is more or less the archetype of The Performer. He possesses power, but not more than an average amount. He plays above-averge corner-outfield defense, but isn’t sufficiently athletic, probably, to cover center. Nor does he offer a carrying tool. What he does do, however, is control the zone — and feature enough power on contact not simply to be thrown strike after strike.
Here’s grainy footage of Flores exhibiting that sufficient power during this past minor-league season:
Upper level hitters: While 2B Javier Betancourt (VIDEO) doesn’t have a lot of upside or flashy tools, he knows how to hit and makes a lot of contact. He just might not be physical enough to have more than a bench player ceiling. OF Ramon Flores (Cistulli’s Guy, VIDEO) came over from the Yankees, bringing his versatility in handling all three outfield positions capably. He doesn’t have much upside in the power or average departments, yet he still showed a propensity to get on base in the minors. SS Yadiel Rivera (VIDEO) is a great defender at short, and has quick hands and a solid lower half at the plate. He gets too choppy, however, and beats a lot of balls into the ground. He likely doesn’t have enough bat to have more than a backup ceiling.
Lower level hitters: OF Troy Stokes (VIDEO) is in the mix for the Midwest League affiliate’s outfield, but he may get squeezed by the numbers game. He has a smaller stature but some intriguing tools in the field and at the plate.
Upper level pitchers: RHP Damien Magnifico (VIDEO) throws up to 100 mph, but not none of his offspeed pitches figure to keep hitters off it. RHP Jacob Barnes (VIDEO) pitched well in his eight appearances in the Arizona Fall League, setting himself up for a look in the big-league bullpen. He has some cut to this fastball, but his command and the rest of his arsenal are inconsistent or below-average. He’s shown the ability to get whiffs in the minors, so he’ll get a chance sometime this year for the parent club. RHP Austin Ross (VIDEO) saw his velocity jump in the bullpen last year and will stay in that role going forward. He’s competing for a spot in the big-league pen, and has taken well to the relief role
RHP Ariel Pena (VIDEO) continues striking hitters out at a high level, but his command will need to improve to make an impact in his now full-time reliever role. LHP Wei-Chung Wang (VIDEO) was outrighted off the 40-man roster last year, and he responded with a spiked fastball velocity and had a solid second half. His stuff has never been crazy projectable, so the Brewers will look for him to keep his end-of-year run going in Double-A this season. LHP Jed Bradley (VIDEO) may find an org niche as one of the only lefty bullpen options in the high minors. He has shown signs of commanding his pitches a little better in the zone.
Lower level pitchers: RHP Angel Ventura is slated for A-level Brevard County, though he’s right on the cusp of going to the Florida State League. His command started to click, and he showed off some big strikeout numbers at the end of the year.