Milwaukee Brewers Top 20 Prospects for 2015
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Orlando Arcia, SS, Grade B/Borderline B+. Age 20. Held his own against older competition in Florida State League, hitting .289/.346/.392 with 31 steals, 42 walks, 65 strikeouts in 498 at-bats. Very skilled defensively, future will depend on how much offensive growth he shows. Could be similar to Alcides Escobar.
2) Tyrone Taylor, OF, Grade B: Age 20, hit .278/.331/.396 with 36 doubles, six homers, 22 steals, 39 walks, 58 strikeouts in 507 at-bats in High-A. Numbers are solid although I’d like to see more power. Everyone who sees Taylor in person comes away impressed and full of praise for his athleticism and improving instincts. There is some risk he could become a "tweener" if the power doesn’t blossom further.
3) Monte Harrison, OF, Grade B: Age 19, 2014 second-round pick with clear first-round tools, hit .261/.402/.339 with 31 walks, 48 strikeouts, 32 steals in 34 attempts in rookie ball. Harrison has the best set of physical tools in the entire system. He was supposed to be very raw but he showed a fine sense of the strike zone in his debut, leading the AZL in walks and avoiding excessive strikeouts. Brilliant use of speed on the bases and the bat has more raw power than the early SLG implies. Upside: Andrew McCutchen. Downside: Bubba Starling. Grade B is aggressive given risks but will play a hunch that this toolsy outfielder will develop skills.
4) Clint Coulter, OF-C, Grade B: Age 21, hit .287/.410/.520 with 22 homers, 73 walks, 103 strikeouts in 429 at-bats repeating Low-A. Moved to the outfield in instructional league. The power looks legitimate to me, we’ll have to see about OBP/average but Midwest League observers seemed to think the improvement was real despite league-repeater status. Has ranked lower on other lists but seems like a blossom candidate to me moving from behind the plate.
5) Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Grade B-: Age 25, posted 3.57 ERA with 147/61 K/BB in 154 innings, 140 hits between Double-A and Triple-A. Stereotyped Brewers pitching prospect: low-90s heat, decent slider and changeup, command can wobble some, eats innings. Ready for a trial as a number four starter.
6) Devin Williams, RHP, Grade B-: Age 20, higher ceiling than Jungmann, posted 4.48 ERA with 66/20 K/BB in 66 innings in Pioneer League, 74 hits. Projectable sort, could develop into a number three (or maybe a number two) starter, command of fastball and change-up took a step forward last year, breaking ball still in progress.
7) Taylor Williams, RHP, Grade B-: Age 23, spectacular in Low-A (2.36 ERA, 112/23 K/BB in 107 innings, 78 hits) but human in High-A (4.26 ERA, 25/5 K/BB in 25 innings, 29 hits). Fourth round pick from Kent State in 2013, short for a right-hander at 5-11 but can hit 94 and has solid secondaries. Some see him as a future reliever due to size.
8) Tyler Wagner, RHP, Grade B-: Age 23, posted 1.86 ERA with 118/48 K/BB in 150 innings in High-A, 118 hits. Successful season although ERA was misleadingly good. Heavy sinker in mid-90s, good slider, change-up remains mediocre, some see him as a reliever but he’s shown good durability in rotation. Another typical Brewers pitching prospect, workhorse type.
9) Kodi Medeiros, LHP. Grade B-: Age 18, first-rounder in 2014 from high school in Hawaii, posted 7.13 ERA with 26/13 K/BB in 18 innings in rookie ball, 24 hits. Tough to grade and rank, as he did not show the same stuff in pro ball that he demonstrated in high school. Outstanding movement on 94 MPH fastball, nasty breaking ball before the draft. Not as crisp after he signed, velocity and command both disappointing. Too early and too young to panic.
10) Jorge Lopez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, 4.58 ERA with 119/46 K/BB in 138 innings in High-A, 144 hits. Projectable, velocity hasn’t picked up as hoped but still in low-90s, good curveball, change-up needs polish. I really liked him when he was drafted out of high school in 2011 but his progress has been slow. Slow, not zero though. Still young.
11) Wei-Chung Wang, LHP, Grade C+: Age 22, Rule 5 pick from Pirates system spent most of ’14 on big league roster with a few "rehab" outings in the minors. Not ready for the Show jumping from rookie ball, 10.90 ERA with 13/8 K/BB in 17 innings, 30 hits, but that’s not unexpected. Can develop into three-pitch command-oriented starter.
12) David Goforth, RHP, Grade C+: Age 26, completed conversion to relief, 3.76 ERA with 46/29 K/BB in 65 innings in Double-A, 60 hits, 27 saves. Another arm with heavy stuff. I like him more than the numbers say I should.
ANALYST NOTE: From this point things are "mushy." Please don't get bent out of shape about exact ordering.
13) Victor Roache, OF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .226/.298/.400 with 18 homers, 37 walks, 138 strikeouts in 433 at-bats in High-A. Still shows outstanding raw power but contact problems have held him back, certainly far from being a complete hitter and we can’t use the 2012 wrist injury as an excuse any longer.
14) Gilbert Lara, 3B, Grade C+: Age 17, signed for $3,100,000 from the Dominican Republic this past summer. Hasn’t played yet but reportedly looked excellent in instructional league. Everyone agrees he has tons of power and a good throwing arm, but opinions on pure hitting skills and defensive home are mixed. Hard to rank someone like this with conflicting scouting reports and no objective data to analyze, but a year from now he could be number one on the list.
15) Jason Rogers, 3B-OF, Grade C+/Borderline C: Age 26, minor league vet has blossomed over last two years, hit .296/.365/.489 with 18 homers, 53 walks, 94 strikeouts in Double-A/Triple-A. Lacks exciting tools but has usually hit well and is versatile with the glove. Could be a solid role player, steal in the 32nd round in 2010.
16) Kyle Wren, OF, Grade C+/Borderline C: Age 23, acquired from Braves this past fall, would have been awkward situation to stay in Atlanta as the son of fired GM. Hit .290/.350/.365 with 46 steals in 496 at-bats in High-A/Double-A. Good glove, fast, no power, fourth outfielder profile.
17) Miguel Diaz, RHP, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 20, high-ceiling arm with mid-90s fastball, posted 4.21 ERA with 53/20 K/BB in 47 innings in rookie ball. Needs a lot of work with slider and change-up. Would rank higher on pure arm strength but a long way off. Slot him higher if you are patient and willing to make an upside play.
18) Jacob Gatewood, SS, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 19, supplemental round pick in 2014 draft, hit just .206/.249/.279 with 71 strikeouts in 204 innings in rookie ball. Gatewood has enormous raw power but issues with pitch recognition and too much swing/miss were a massive problem in his debut, as predicted by many scouts pre-draft. Defense was better than expected but it is the bat that will make or break him.
19) Tyler Cravy, RHP, Grade C/Borderline C+: Age 25, posted 1.63 ERA with 76/20 K/BB in 83 innings at three levels, 52 hits allowed. A Mike Fiers-type, nothing special with velocity but mixes in some good breaking pitches and pace-changers, throws strikes and can out-pitch many arms with better pedigrees.
20) Jed Bradley, LHP, Grade C: Age 24, former top prospect out of Georgia Tech has fallen out of favor with scouts after failing to reach the majors as quickly as expected as a 2011 first-round pick. He has made a bit of progress however, posting 3.91 ERA with 125/46 K/BB in 147 innings last year, 160 hits, but a very high ground ball rate. Could still sneak up on us as a fifth starter type.
OTHERS OF INTEREST: Nick Delmonico, 3B-1B; Dustin DeMuth, 3B; Drew Gagnon, RHP; Omar Garcia, OF; Johnny Hellweg, RHP; Hobbs Johnson, LHP; Damien Magnifico, RHP; Jarret Martin, LHP; Hunter Morris, 1B; Tucker Neuhaus, 3B; Ariel Pena, RHP; Shane Peterson, OF-1B; Nick Ramirez, 1B; Michael Ratterree, OF; Michael Reed, OF; Yadiel Rivera, SS; Michael Strong, LHP; Brandon Woodruff, RHP
The Brewers made a concerted effort to add more upside to the system the last three years. It is too soon to know if these efforts will bear fruit but on paper it looks good. The 2014 draft in particular could have excellent results if Monte Harrison, Jacob Gatewood, and Kodi Medeiros reach their potential. They also made a big splash in Latin America with the signing of Gilbert Lara. Upside is the obvious emphasis here.
The Brewers have shown they can find under-rated bargain talents like Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis and Mike Fiers. Jason Rogers, strike-throwing lefty Hobbs Johnson, reliever Michael Strong, Braves refugee Kyle Wren, and right-hander Tyler Cravy could all contribute as solid role player types along those lines. Identifying bargain talents that other teams pass on is a nice skill to have.
There is some good balance. Orlando Arcia and Tyrone Taylor provide defense and athleticism at key positions. If you buy into Clint Coulter’s breakthrough as being real (and I do), there’s a power bat for the corner. Victor Roache could still turn into something. More depth is needed.
The pitching side features several potential mid-rotation starters. Jungmann is ready for a trial now, while Tyler Wagner and Taylor Williams aren’t far behind, though both could wind up as relievers. Devin Williams, Jorge Lopez, and Wei-Chung Wang add to the potential starter mix but will need more time. There are relief arms as well, David Goforth being the most advanced. If Johnny Hellweg comes back strong from Tommy John surgery, so much the better.
Overall this strikes me as an average farm system that could look much better a year from now if the new 2014 signees reach their considerable ceilings. More depth is needed, but the Brewers have a knack for focusing on what players can do rather than on what they can’t, which helps uncover bargains. Doing that at the same time you add high-upside talents is a recipe for success.
It isn’t an either-or thing: a good organization should be able to find both bargains and stars. The Brewers have shown they can find the former. Now we’ll see about the later.