Recently, after being deluged with requests (okay, there were two), I added a prospect ranking to the left-hand sidebar. The off-day today seemed like a good time to expand a bit on my reasons and thinking. Besides, nothing generates good debate like somewhat arbitrary, mostly uninformed hierarchies!
01. Mat Gamel 3B (22) [AA] - .373/.434/.630/1.065, 21 errors
Breakout player of the year has gone from Ryan Braun Lite to Ryan Braun, which unfortunately includes the errors as well. Gamel has better range than Braun did, and with the system choked with outfielders, he'll get the next year and a half to prove he can't play third.
02. Matt LaPorta OF (23) [AA] - .292/.404/.596/1.000
LaPorta looks for all the world like a right-handed Pat Burrell, again including the iffy corner outfield defense. He's not the pure hitter that Gamel is, and he doesn't have the defensive upside, but he has the best plate approach in the system.
03. Alcides Escobar SS (21) [AA] - .326/.359/.435/.794, 21/26 SB
Escobar differs from the other position players near the top of this list in that he is an elite glove man rather than a defensive liability; though he's committed 15 errors already, that total is inflated by his excellent range. His plate discipline hasn't improved (his walk and strikeout rates are almost identical to those from his stint in Huntsville last year), but he's flashing significantly more power than ever before, which is a great sign.
04. Jeremy Jeffress RSP (20) [A+] - 41.7 IP, 36 H, 22 R, 22 ER, 5 HR, 15 BB, 56 K, 1.68 GO/AO, .234 BAA
The only pitcher in the system even remotely close to being a future ace at the Major League level, Jeffress throws high-90s heat, touching 100, and his slider and changeup are also potential plus pitches. He’s had a couple disastrous starts, but even in those he dominated for multiple innings before collapsing, something that could be due to lapses in focus. He’s also seen an intriguing rise in his groundball ratio this year.
05. Angel Salome C (22) [AA] - .346/.404/.534/.938, 24% CS (18/74), 8 PB
Salome might be the best prospect in the system due to position scarcity if he could actually catch, but he can’t really, despite possessing a good body for the position, which is another way of saying he’s too short (5’7") to play anywhere else on the field. He does have a missile for an arm, but it’s lacking a guidance system so far. On the offensive side of things, there’s little question that he can hit, and he’s seen a nice recovery in his walk rate from last year, especially as the season has gone on (12/15 BB/K in 82 June AB’s as his average has come down from stratospheric to merely good).
06. Jonathan Lucroy C (22) [A+] - .311/.384/.527/.911 38% CS (22/58), 4 PB
Only five days younger than Salome, Lucroy (pronounced like LaCroix) is hot on Angel’s heels as a prospect. A recent promotion to Brevard County hasn’t slowed him down at all, and a 31/40 BB/K ratio tells the story of his advanced plate approach. He has a rep as an offense-first catcher, but his stats look pretty good and the pitchers don’t seem to be saying anything bad about him. Lucroy’s also has stolen 8 bases while only being caught once.
07. Taylor Green 3B (21) [A+] - .302/.384/.459/.843, 11 E
Last year’s most pleasant surprise has carried his success over to the tough hitting milieu of the Florida State League. Gritty off the charts, nobody particularly likes Green’s tools, but he seems to be getting the job done just fine so far; next year will be a pivotal one for Green’s prospect status, as the jump to AA is the biggest one in the minors. Green’s a natural second baseman but plays an acceptable third base, a position he will likely continue to occupy until Mat Gamel claims it. He’s the system’s best Canadian prospect.
08. Michael Brantley CF (21) [AA] - .320/.403/.409/.812, 23/29 SB
Brantley came into the year as a big-time sleeper after consistently posting .300/.400 AVG/OBP stats throughout his minor league career but utterly lacking power, and he’s awakened with a roar, morphing into what could be a great leadoff hitter with stats similar to Luis Castillo’s, only from the center field position. He’s not a particularly good defensive center fielder yet, but he’s a great athlete and should improve.
09. Zach Braddock LSP (20) [A+] - 43.7 IP, 34 H, 24 R, 21 ER, 2 HR, 27 BB, 51 K, 0.67 GO/AO, .215 BAA
Braddock was the pitching version of Taylor Green last year, blowing both hitters and stats nerds away with his huge strikeout totals before being shut down with shoulder problems. Fully recovered after a delayed start to the year, Braddock has had his ups and downs at Brevard County, but has retained his dominance, as you can see from his strikeout rate and batting average against. Walks, which weren’t a problem for him at all last year, have really plagued him so far. He doesn’t have Jeffress’ pure stuff, relying on a fastball that’s about 90 MPH, but lefties who can strike people out like this get a lot of chances. Again like Green, the jump to AA next year will be quite telling for Braddock.
10. Cole Gillespie LF (24) [AA] - .277/.378/.494/.872, 7/7 SB
LaPorta Lite, Gillespie is even older and his production has resembles his teammate’s in shape but with less amplitude. He’s a polished, professional hitter who will at the very least be a fourth outfielder, but he’s probably limited to left field defensively because shoulder surgery has ruined his throwing arm.
11. Steve Hammond LSP (26) [AAA] - 94.7 IP, 84 H, 40 R, 35 ER, 6 HR, 33 BB, 82 K, 1.35 GO/AO, .238 BAA
Hammond is probably the most underrated prospect in the system. He reached AA in just his second year in the system and seemed to be being fast-tracked, possibly as a reliever, but now, two years later, he’s only just been promoted to AAA. 2007 was rough for Hammond, but he’s gotten back on track this year. He’s old for a prospect, but that’s less of a concern for pitchers than hitters. Hammond has an excellent chance to be a #3/4 innings eater-type starter in the big leagues, which isn’t as sexy as Jeffress’ potential but is necessary when you’re a team like the Brewers. I’m thinking a lefty Jeff Suppan is a good comp, though Suppan already had three 200+ innings seasons in the Majors under his belt by this age.
12. Omar Aguilar RRP (23) [AA] - 36.7 IP, 24 H, 12 R, 7 ER, 1 HR, 18 BB, 33 K, 0.79 GO/AO, .190 BAA
I’ve been touting Aguilar’s power arm since he was in Rookie ball, and indeed, he still throws in the mid-to-high 90s; however, his lack of a quality secondary pitch is starting to catch up with him as he reaches the high minors. Even if that secondary pitch never comes around, he’ll still get repeated Major League looks simply because of his fastball, but if it does, he has closer potential. Jose Capellan without as good of a slider but with the velocity Capellan was supposed to have?
13. Lorenzo Cain CF (22) [A+] - .277/.346/.426/.772, 19/22 SB
Cain is probably rooting as hard as anybody for the Brewers to acquire C.C. Sabathia, simply becaust he’d likely be able to move up to Huntsville, where he belongs, as a result. He struggled last year at Brevard County, but this year has seen his power increase satisfactorily while keeping the rest of his numbers static, leading me to really want to see what he can do once he gets out of the oppressive FSL. Watching he and Brantley jockey for the CF position over the next couple of years should be fun.
14. Evan Frederickson LSP (21) [R] - 9.7 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 14 K, 1.80 GO/AO, .297 BAA
Giant power lefty was somewhat of a surprise supplemental-round pick in this year’s draft, but has vindicated the Brewers so far with an excellent 14/2 K/BB ratio that belies his terrible control as a collegian. Just a blip, or real progress? We’ll see, but the Brewers’ player development staff has earned the benefit of the doubt.
15. Evan Anundsen RSP (20) [A] - 80.0 IP, 79 H, 33 R, 30 ER, 4 HR, 19 BB, 61 K, 2.41 GO/AO, .268 BAA
My favorite starter in the non-Jeffress/Braddock division, Anundsen couples excellent control with intriguing strikeout potential and great groundball tendencies. Fausto Carmona Lite?
16. Caleb Gindl OF (19) [A] - .273/.358/.420/.778
Gindl isn’t lighting the world on fire like he did last year at Helena, but he is hanging in quite nicely as a 19-year-old in A-ball while simultaneously increasing his walk rate. Gindl will probably continue to fly under the radar a bit next year as the FSL beats his young bat to a draw, but look for a possible breakout in 2010.
17. Luis Pena RRP (25) [AAA] - 30.7 IP, 27 H, 12 R, 12 ER, 2 HR, 20 BB, 28 K, 1.26 GO/AO, .241 BAA
Pena doesn’t throw quite as hard as Aguilar, but has a better breaking ball. He’s only been a reliever full-time since last year, but while his numbers are good, they’ve never really been dominant. I probably should have him higher than he is, since a nearly-ready power bullpen arm sounds pretty good in the abstract, but I’m haunted by the ghost of Jose Capellan’s sudden rise and massive overhypedness.
18. Rob Bryson RSP (20) [A] - 48.0 IP, 40 H, 29 R, 25 ER, 3 HR, 19 BB, 62 K, 0.90 GO/AO, .221 BAA
If you’re looking beyond the prospect horizon for possible Next Big Things, Bryson is probably the mostly likely candidate. As you can see from his strikeout rate, he’s got good stuff, namely a mid-90s fastball and improving slider. His stats make it seem as if he’s gotten a bit unlucky, so the breakout could be closer than you think. Bryson gets mentioned as a possible closing candidate a lot, but he’s going to have to pitch his way out of a starting role first (Bryson hasn’t started many games for West Virginia this season, but that’s due to the innings restriction placed on pitching prospects by the organization; he’ll move back into the rotation soon).
19. Alex Periard RSP (21) [A+] - 78.3 IP, 81 H, 44 R, 36 ER, 2 HR, 24 BB, 55 K, 2.00 GO/AO, .258 BAA
Periard, the rare Canadian Milwaukee farmhand not from Ontario or British Columbia (he’s a Québécois), is frequently touted as having strikeout stuff but a pitch-to-contact approach. He’s flashed dominance this season, including an encouraging groundball rate, but for now remains merely interesting.
20. R.J. Seidel RSP (20) [A] - 61.7 IP, 71 H, 39 R, 36 ER, 4 HR, 25 BB, 41 K, 1.34 GO/AO, .287 BAA
The pride of La Crosse, Seidel still has lots of time to fill out his 6’5" frame and tap into his intriguing power potential, but for now he’ll settle for holding his own at West Virginia.
21. Cody Adams RSP (21) [R] - 3.7 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 0 BB, 1 K, 1.25 GO/AO, .368 BAA
Adams, one of three 2008 second-rounder picks for the Brewers, had a rough debut for Helena and for now makes the last quintile of this list purely on pedigree.
22. Cutter Dykstra CF (19) [R] - .222/.333/.278/.611
Another 2008 second-rounder, Nails Jr. hasn’t done much to start the season at Helena and hasn’t played in the last couple games because of a sore groin, an injury that often lingers and could lead to him having an underwhelming first season. Like Adams, he makes the list because the Brewers do a lot of things right and saw fit to take him with a high draft pick.
23. Amaury Rivas RSP (22) [A] - 67.3 IP, 60 H, 30 R, 26 ER, 5 HR, 24 BB, 55 K, 1.09 GO/AO, .233 BAA
Rivas, a 2005 Dominican signee, is enjoying a breakout season for West Virginia, offering glimpses of great stuff, which got him named to the Sally League All-Star team. He’s a little old for A-ball, and he hasn’t really been particularly good before, so I’m wary, but he’s certainly turning out a lot better so far than higher-profile Dominican signings like Roque Mercedes and Rolando Pascual.
24. Darren Ford CF (22) [A+] - .234/.314/.311/.625, 38/46 SB
Darren Ford really does a lot of things well on the baseball field. He’s the fastest guy in the system, and one of the fastest in the entirety of professional baseball, andhe uses that speed to run down everything hit near him in center field. He has a little bit of pop, and he has a better idea of the strike zone than most crappy fast guys, yet here he remains, a crappy fast guy. Will the Brewers take mercy on him next year and promote him to Huntsvile, sparing him a third straight season struggling with the heavy sea air of the FSL? If they do, will that snap him out of his now-year-long doldrums? I hope so.
25. Zelous Wheeler 2B/3B (21) [A] - .300/.381/.437/.819
This year’s Taylor Green, only with a way better name, Wheeler is a underwhelmingly toolsy utlity-type player who’s hitting his way out of his typecasting. If you can’t root for Zelous Wheeler, you’d better start looking for someone to smuggle you cigarettes into Guantanamo Bay, because you’re downright un-American.
Brent Brewer SS (20) [A+] - .212/.293/.297/.589, 20/25 SB, 22 E
Brewer is the counter-argument for ranking Adams and Dykstra simply because they’re second-round draft picks. He’s only 20 and in possession of all the tools in the world (well okay, maybe not a garlic press), and yet he may have already played himself into the ACC—for football, because he can't really hit or field. This is why I didn’t want to draft Anthony Hewitt.
Mark Rogers RSP (22) – n/a
The former #5 overall pick hasn’t pitched since 2006 and won’t until at least 2009 after undergoing another shoulder surgery recently. At this point, he’ll be lucky to have Mike Jones’ career.
Chris Errecart 1B (23) [AA] - .282/.355/.520/.875
Yeah, he’s slugging .520, but that OBP belies his poor plate discipline (he walked 12 times in April and 8 times since then; he a similar start and dropoff last year). He used to be an outfielder, and I think he got moved to first because of the glut of outfielders, not because he couldn’t play it, so I guess he could be a pinch hitter/fifth outfielder for someone someday since he seems to have real power, but if that’s what you’re looking for, Brendan Katin awaits your call at AAA.
FIVE-PLUS-TWO ROOKIE-BALL NAMES TO KNOW:
Jake Odorizzi RSP (18) [AZL] - The #32 overall pick this year, Odorizzi will probably rank in the second five on the big list next time I make it and might already be the Brewers’ second-best pitching prospect. He'll report to Arizona only July 1st.
Shawn Zarraga C (19) [AZL] - The Aruban native received $250K to sign as the Brewers’ 44th-round pick last year and immediately became the third-best catching prospect in the system.
Cody Scarpetta RSP (19) [AZL] - The third Illinois right-hander on this list, Scarpetta would have gone in the top three rounds of the draft last year if he'd been healthy. He'll make his professional debut sometime in July.
Erik Komatsu OF (20) [R] - The Brewers’ 8th-round pick this year out of Cal State Fullerton, Komatsu is young for a college draftee and will very possibly tear up the lower rungs of the minors with his advanced hitting ability.
Chris Dennis OF (19) [R] – Dennis has big-time power from the left side of the plate. Plus, he’s Canadian!
Hitaniel Arias OF (17) [AZL] – Big, young Dominican outfielder.
Jose Garcia OF (17) [AZL] – Not quite as big, even younger Dominican outfielder.