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Milwaukee Brewers Top 20 prospects for 2017

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Lewis Brinson
Lewis Brinson
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Brewers Top 20 Prospects for 2017

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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.

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. 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) Lewis Brinson, OF, Grade B+: Age 22, first round pick by the Rangers in 2012, acquired in Jonathan Lucroy deal; hit .268/.305/.468 with 15 homers, 17 steals, 21 walks, 87 strikeouts in 406 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; excellent tools with speed, power, and throwing arm all impressive; offensive production remains erratic with pitch recognition that comes and goes, increasing his risk premium and keeping him from truly elite prospect status; 20/20 upside but expect some inconsistency. ETA 2017.

2) Josh Hader, LHP, Grade B+: Age 22, originally drafted by Orioles in 19th round in 2012, treaded to Astros, then traded to Brewers; 3.29 ERA in 126 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with 161/55 K/BB, 101 hits; persistently excellent strikeout ratios at every level; fastball 93-97 combined with plus slider and delivery funk makes him tough to square up; change-up has made enough progress that I think he can remain a starter; inconsistent command remains biggest problem but he may very well put up better numbers in the majors than he does at Colorado Springs. ETA 2017.

3) Corey Ray, OF, Grade B+:
Age 22, first round pick in 2016 from University of Louisville; hit .247/.307/.385 with five homers, nine steals, 20 walks, 54 strikeouts in 231 at-bats in High-A; was challenged with jump from college to Florida State League; didn’t thrive but wasn’t bad enough to lower his stock given circumstances; above-average power and speed, weakest tool is throwing arm; another guy with 20/20 potential assuming off-season surgery to repair torn meniscus works out; ETA 2018.

4) Isan Diaz, INF, Grade B/B+: Age 20, comp round pick in 2014 by Diamondbacks, traded to Brewers in Jean Segura deal; hit .264/.358/.469 with 34 doubles, 20 homers, 72 walks, 148 strikeouts in 507 at-bats in Low-A; unusual left-side power from a middle infielder, ball jumps off the bat; works counts and hits fearlessly but there are some contact issues which could inhibit batting average at higher levels; not terrible at shortstop but range and arm will work better at second long-term; ETA 2019.

5) Mauricio Dubon, SS, Grade B: Age 22, drafted by Red Sox in 26th round in 2013, born in Honduras but went to high school in California, came to Milwaukee in Tyler Thornburg deal; hit .323/.379/.461 wth 31 doubles, 30 steals, 44 walks, 61 strikeouts in 486 at-bats between High-A and Double-A; line drive hitter with career .306 average, makes contact, can swipe a base, showed more pop in ’16; steady defender at shortstop and likely to stay at the position, though he’s been excellent during trials at second base, also has experience at third base and outfield; could be super-utility guy with unusually good bat for the role. ETA 2018.

6) Luis Ortiz, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, first round pick by Rangers in 2014, traded to Brewers in Lucroy package; posted 3.08 ERA with 78/23 K/BB in 91 innings between High-A and Double-A, 96 hits; throws 92-96 MPH fastball, mixes in slider, curve, and change giving him full arsenal; good feel for pitching with solid stuff gives number three starter projection; main worry is history of nagging injuries leading to durability concerns, has yet to top 91 innings in a full season. ETA 2018.

7) Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Grade B: Age 23, 11th round pick in 2014 out of Mississippi State; breakthrough season in 2016 with 14-9, 2.68 ERA in 158 innings between High-A and Double-A, 173/40 K/BB, just 121 hits; huge increase in strikeout rate compared to past seasons; fastball reportedly ticked up from low-90s into mid-90s; command improved as well, mixes in average slider and change-up; often viewed as a reliever in the past but performed well enough to change that reputation in ’16; hasn’t received a lot of attention yet outside Brewers circles but that deserves to change. ETA late 2017.

8) Phil Bickford, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, first round pick by Giants in 2015, traded to Brewers in August; will open 2017 on suspension list for drug of abuse; posted 2.93 ERA with 135/42 K/BB in 120 innings between Low-A and High-A, 96 hits; despite strong performance his reputation has actually declined; velocity can be erratic; clocked as high as 98 but heater can dip to 90-92; slider varies between plus and below-average, as does change-up; command can wobble more often than the walk total implies; although he’s performed well as a starter the number of observers who see him as a reliever long-term has increased; I still like him a lot but there’s enough smoke here to add a note of caution and back off a tad from previous grade. ETA 2018.

9) Marcos Diplan, RHP, Grade B-: Age 20, signed by Rangers in 2013, traded to Brewers in Yovani Gallardo deal; posted 3.02 ERA with 129/50 K/BB in 113 innings between Low-A and High-A; fastball usually in low-90s but has been clocked as high as 96-97; very good slider; many see him as reliever due to inconsistent change-up and 6-0 stature but I think they should keep him in rotation as long as possible; ETA late 2019.

10) Lucas Erceg, 3B, Grade B-: Age 21, second round pick in 2016 from NAIA school Menlo College; hit .327/.376/.518 with nine homers, 20 walks, 54 strikeouts in 272 at-bats between Pioneer and Midwest Leagues; expected to hit for both power and average from the left side, provided strike zone doesn’t get away from him at higher levels; has range and arm for third base though needs a bit more polish; would have been a certain first-rounder if not for significant worries about makeup; will have to see how much of a problem that really is. ETA 2019.

11) Brett Phillips, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 22, sixth round pick by Astros in 2012, acquired in Carlos Gomez trade; hit disappointing .229/.332/.397 with 16 homers, 67 walks, 154 strikeouts in 441 at-bats in Double-A; still scouts well with plus speed, plus raw power, and 70-grade throwing arm; can crush mistakes and makes an effort to work counts but problems with swing mechanics were exploited by Southern League pitchers; given tools and past success he deserves more chances to make adjustments but he may be at least another year away. ETA late 2018.

12) Trent Clark, OF, Grade B-/C+
: Age 20, first round pick in 2015, hit .231/.346/.344 with 37 walks, 68 strikeouts in 221 at-bats in Low-A; season marred by persistent leg/hamstring problems; excellent feel for the strike zone but lack of power production was disappointing; will need to show more power and/or maximize on-base ability since speed is just decent even when his legs don’t hurt; solid defender should handle all three positions; let’s see what he does when healthy. ETA 2020.

13) Jorge Lopez, RHP, Grade C+/B-
: Age 23, second round pick from Puerto Rico in 2011; was destroyed in Triple-A (6.81, 66/55 K/BB in 79 innings, 101 hits) but improved after going back to Double-A (3.97, 47/16 in 45) and threw very well in winter ball; word is that thin air in Colorado Springs hindered his best pitch (curveball) which destroyed his confidence; when he’s right he mixes in the plus curve with a fastball at 90-95 and a workable change-up; I think he can rebound if healthy. ETA late 2017.

14) Jacob Nottingham, C-1B, Grade C+:
Age 21, hit .234/.295/.347 with 11 homers, 29 walks, 138 strikeouts in 415 at-bats in Double-A; I thought he was one of the top catching prospects in baseball a year ago but ’16 was quite poor; strike zone got away from him, Southern League pitchers exploiting his tendency to chase; has the physical tools to catch but remains raw, gave up 21 passed balls and made 15 errors, both rates much too high; too young and physically talented to write off but obviously has a lot of work to do. ETA 2019.

15) Ryan Cordell, OF, Grade C+
: Age 24, 11th round pick by Rangers out of Liberty University in 2013, traded to Brewers in Lucroy deal; hit .264/.319/.484 with 19 homers, 32 walks, 97 strikeouts in 405 at-bats in Double-A; impressive to see in person with 60 raw power and speed as well as a fine glove but contact/pitch recognition took a year to iron out in Double-A and remain uncertain for the future; ETA 2018.

16) Corbin Burnes, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, fourth round pick in 2016 out of St. Mary’s; posted 2.02 ERA with 41/18 K/BB in 36 innings between rookie ball and Low-A; Midwest League observers liked nasty 90-95 power sinker (backed up sabermetrically by 2.33 GO/AO) and slider flashes plus but needs to change speeds better and throw more consistent strikes; number three starter potential if that happens, could still look good in pen if it doesn’t. ETA 2019.

17) Gilbert Lara, SS, Grade C+
: Age 19, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014 for $3,100,000, which was Milwaukee’s entire international bonus pool; at the time, was viewed as an excellent hitter with a questionable glove; his defense has actually turned out better than expected, with surprising range and reliability, although scouts still project a move to third base; unfortunately bat has been weak, with mediocre strike zone judgment and not nearly as much power as expected; young enough to improve of course, but a good example of how difficult it can be to project very young international players. ETA 2021.

18) Cody Ponce, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, second round pick in 2015 from Cal Poly Pomona; posted 5.25 ERA with 69/17 K/BB in 72 innings in High-A, 84 hits; huge guy at 6-6, 240 but usually throws strikes; fastball in mid-to-upper-90s, can mix in curve, cutter, change-up; despite good general control his stuff played down last year, due to command-within-the-strike-zone issues as well as nagging injuries; may wind up in pen. ETA 2019.

19) Devin Williams, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, second round pick in 2013, posted 3.79 ERA with 94/46 K/BB in 97 innings between Low-A and High-A, 91 hits; good solid fastball in low-90s, along with a change-up that drew praise from Midwest League observers; slider and curveball remain erratic, as does his command; on the right night he looks like a number three MLB starter but he’s not there yet. ETA 2019.

20) Monte Harrison, OF, Grade C+:
Age 21, second round pick in 2014, hit .221/.294/.337 with six homers, eight steals, 20 walks, 97 strikeouts in 267 at-bats in Low-A, season ended early with broken hamate; has been dogged by injuries including broken ankle in ’15, slowing his development; excellent athlete with power, speed; attempts to work counts but held back by contact troubles, needs at-bats to fix that but health has prevented them; has late bloomer potential; I liked him when he came out of high school and haven’t given up yet, but risks are high. ETA 2021.


OTHER GRADE C+:
Nathan Kirby, LHP; Chad McClanahan, 3B; Demi Orimloye, OF Freddy Peralta, RHP; Jon Perrin, RHP; Braden Webb, RHP; Jordan Yamamoto, RHP


GRADE C
: Tristan Archer, RHP; Yhonathan Barrios, RHP; Zack Brown, RHP; Clint Coulter, OF; Mario Feliciano, C; Gabriel Garcia, 1B; Jake Gatewood, INF; Payton Henry, C; Adrian Houser, RHP; Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP; Damien Magnifico, RHP; Kodi Medeiros, LHP; Josh Pennington, RHP; Michael Reed, OF; Wendell Rijo, INF; Victor Roache, OF; Forrest Snow, RHP; Joantgel Segovia, OF; Troy Stokes, OF;Trey Supak, RHP; Brent Suter, LHP; Tyrone Taylor, OF; Aaron Wilkerson, RHP; Taylor Williams, RHP; Weston Wilson, 3B; Kyle Wren, OF Trey York, 2B

I will answer questions in the comments section. I originally had Wei-Chung Wang listed but he’s not technically a rookie and I’m not interested enough to over-ride that. He’s a Grade C, possible fifth starter.