The Milwaukee Brewers farm system is one of the better organizations in the game. It’s so strong that it traded away three top ten prospects (Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, and Isan Diaz) and still has some nice depth.
Let’s take a look at three prospects that are worth watching this season.
Corey Ray, OF
It’s rare that a team’s Top 10 prospect cut this list, as this series has focused on more under-the-radar names. But let’s face reality. Ray is walking the tight line of first-round bust.
Ray was known for a solid skill set, with seemingly above average skills in four of the five tools. Despite an average (at best) throwing arm, he had the speed to make up for it in the outfield to make him a valuable asset. Almost none of those tools have translated in the pros.
He is still just 23 years of age, and it’s too early, and unfair, to call him a complete bust, especially needing minor knee surgery after his first pro run. That said, Ray was expected to be a fast riser to Milwaukee, and much of his issues were mechanical as opposed to just having a bad season.
John Sickels still has him the tenth-best Brewers’ prospect based purely on his physical tools. Here’s what he said:
Age 23, first round pick in 2016, fifth-overall, from the University of Louisville; disappointing season, hit .238/.311/.367 in High-A with seven homers, 24 steals, 48 walks, and 156 strikeouts in 449 at-bats; physical tools that made him a top draft pick are still there, with much better than average speed and raw power potential; only weak physical tool is throwing arm; all that said, his pure hitting skills were much weaker than expected, with contact issues paramount, traced to difficulty maintaining his swing mechanics; I rated him as a B+ pre-season and still like his long-term potential but there are more questions now; ETA 2020.
Ray got a second chance in 2017 in the Arizona Fall League but showed no improvement. He struck out 19 times in 78 at-bats, and while I wasn’t in Salt River to see it, many still blamed his pitch recognition as an issue.
To say 2018 is a make or break season for Ray may be a bit premature. But there is no denying that plenty felt he would be much higher than High-A by now.
K.J. Harrison, C
Harrison is a peculiar piece for the Brewers. Part of the explosive 2017 Oregon State offense, the Brewers made Harrison their third-round pick in last season’s MLB Draft. The bat delivered, but the defense is now a work in progress.
The Brewers moved Harrison back behind the plate, despite playing primarily first base and designated hitter last season. He didn’t miss a beat offensively, slashing .308/.388/.546 with 10 home runs and 14 doubles in just 48 games, mainly behind pull-side pop. The power was certainly for real, and slight swing and miss issues (55 strikeouts, 23 walks) certainly leave question marks as he climbs the ladder. Still, there was little in which to be disappointed and he showed the ability to hit what was thrown and hit it well.
Obviously, the defense is going to be a project. He has the arm, but the receiving skills are going to need work. It will likely hold him back and stunt his progress up the ladder, but if he can figure it out professionally as a backstop, he has the bat to profile amongst the best at the position.
Despite the learning curve, it seems Harrison has supplanted Jake Nottingham as the top catcher in the system. That speaks more towards Nottingham’s downward spiral the past few seasons than it does Harrison, however.
Josh Pennington, RHP
Pennington gets the job done. That’s the best way to describe the 22-year-old righty. He doesn’t have the flashiest of stuff but continues to impress as he moves up the ladder.
He certainly comes with some concerns, as he has a history of elbow issues. Pennington had Tommy John surgery in high school, allowing the Boston Red Sox to grab him in the 29th round of the 2014 draft. The Sox dealt him to Milwaukee in the Tyler Thornburg deal, and he then had bone chips removed heading into 2017.
Still, Pennington put together another fine season in 2017. He posted a 2.97 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 30 Midwest League innings. Pennington struck out 29 and walked just eight. His history shows that he usually splits ground and fly balls pretty evenly, but the fly balls have a tendency to leave the park more often than preferred.
John has him in the mid-90s with his fastball and feels his curve is excellent. His changeup is behind, but should it develop, Pennington still has true-starter, likely back of the rotation, potential. If not, his fastball and curveball command is tight enough that he could transition to the bullpen with ease.
A healthy season from Pennington should see him start to move up the ladder quickly. Look for him in Carolina to start the season.