Over the last two years, the Brewers farm system has been ranked near the bottom of all systems in baseball. This year, Bleacher Report ranked the Brewers dead last post draft, Baseball America ranked them 23rd pre draft, and I do think I remember Sickels ranking them 28th pre draft. There are absolutely zero glowing reviews of the team's minor league talent pool. Ouch. To be honest, it didn't help that the team has been buyers for the past four seasons. Top 100 prospects Matt LaPorta, Brett Lawrie, and Jake Odorizzi have all left the organization in trades for the team to make playoff pushes. To be honest, LaPorta hasn't developed and Lawrie has yet to show that he's the big player that he was thought to be. Odorizzi is the only one of the three to show his potential, but he only broke the top 100 prospect list after he was traded. In fairness, Lawrie is only 23, so he has time yet.
The team has failed to draft higher than the 12th overall pick since 2007. In contrast, the team drafted 13th or higher from 1994 to 2007, except in 2006, when they drafted Jeremy Jeffress with the 16th overall pick. Those high draft picks netted a talent pool which had high expectations. The Brewers drafted Geoff Jenkins, Ben Sheets, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Ryan Braun with those picks. Of all those named, only Braun and Weeks still remain in the organization, with Weeks having an excellent chance of being dealt in the next few weeks. The first round selections from 2008 to now are either no longer with the organization, or have yet to make an impact. The Brewers more recent drafts haven't been a total waste. They grabbed Yovanni Gallardo in the 2004 draft in the second round. Jon Lucroy has proven to be an excellent catcher, and Tyler Thornburg is one the system's highest rated pitching prospects, and they were drafted in the second and third rounds respectively.
So, the drafts have not brought the team a supply of quality prospects, and those that did develop have since been traded. According to the experts, the system is basically a barren wasteland of below replacement level players and minor league fodder. Personally, I don't think this could be further from the truth. While I don't believe the team has a top 10 farm, I think they have at least a decent system. As a prospect junkie, I see many prospects to get excited about. There are a number of prospects in the system that I feel have the ability to become contributing members of the big league club, if not all stars. So what if they're not top 100 prospects, come from big college programs, or were drafted in the top 5 of the amateur draft. There are guys oozing talent and performing very well. Here are the guys I think will be the ones making a difference at the big league level by the all star break 2015. They are listed in order of importance to the future of the club.
Taylor Jungmann(SP)- Jungmann is the example I use when I talk about how much I hate prospect "experts". Taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, he cracked the top 100 prospect list before ever throwing a pitch in pro ball. Every scouting report I read on him pre-draft said that he has ace potential and should be an easy top 10 selection. Jungmann's 2012 season in high-A was alright, but nothing to get too excited over. He carried a 3.53 ERA with a WHIP of 1.340. Those are ok numbers, even with his strikeout numbers down. That season caused Sickels and many others to drop him from their top 100 lists. This year he's carrying the same 3.53 ERA in AA, and has lowered his WHIP to 1.156. The K's dropped a bit this year from last year, but he's still seeing success. Jungmann has the possibility of joining the Brewer's rotation at some point in 2014 if he puts up the same numbers in AAA. He may never develop into that ace, but with a floor of a #3 starter he sure could be a big help to a rotation lacking those kind of arms.
Tyler Thornburg(SP)- When you draw alot of comparisons to a two time cy young award winner, you would think that was a good thing. Many scouts knock Thornburg for his lack of size and putting everything he has into his pitches. Pre draft scouting reports all projected him as a reliever, and give nothing of a projectable ceiling if he remained a starter, but the Brewers have kept him a starter since drafting him and it's paid dividends. From 2010-2012, he put up a stellar 2.56 ERA between four levels, striking out everyone he faced. In his first full season in AAA, he's hit a bump in the road with a 5.79 ERA. His strikeouts have dropped slightly, but not significantly. I was listening to Jim Bowden and he said in his time as GM of the Nationals, he didn't like to season guys in the Pacific Coast League, as it is a hitters league and usually did more damage than good. I have a feeling that Thornburg is a victim of the PCL and should be allowed to work with the Brewers. He's already been called up and looked good in his only relief appearance so far. If he's allowed to work out the kinks in the bigs, he'll probably be ready to be an effective middle rotation starter for the 2015 season.
Jimmy Nelson(SP)- Nelson is yet another Brewer prospect that has defied scouts. The Brewers grabbed him in the second round of the 2010 draft, hoping for the pitcher they saw in the last two years at the University of Alabama. Most scouts said he was too erratic to stay a starter and would most likely end up a power reliever. All Nelson has done is pitch like a dominant starter since being drafted. His control is still a bit spotty, but even though he allows runners on at a 1.348 clip in his minor league career, he's not allowing them to score. He holds a career 3.50 ERA over 4 levels, and currently holds a 3.02 ERA between AA and AAA this year. He's also fanned a batter per inning, but still only has a 2.66 K/BB this year, with 20% of the batters who got a free pass earning it with a HBP. With a bit of control improvement, he has the ability to be a solid #2 starter. If he never finds that control, he will still be a great #4/5 guy, much like an Edwin Jackson. If he finishes the year strong in AAA, he should be ready to join the Brewers rotation some time in 2014.
Scooter Gennett(2B)- Many people who follow Brewer prospects might ask why I didn't rank Gennett higher. Taken in the 16th round in the 2009 draft, there wasn't much excitement surrounding him. He quickly changed that by hitting at every level of the minors. He shows average tools except when it comes to hitting. He won't hit for power and his defense will be average at best. He may show a tiny bit of power in Miller Park, but that's a stretch at best. When he arrives in Milwaukee for good, he should be an above replacement level player. His first taste of the bigs this year didn't go so well. He's only 23, and with the Brewers looking more like sellers as the season wears on, he may get a second chance this year if they decide to part ways with Rickie Weeks. He may never be an all star, but he'll fill a need for the next few years.
Hunter Morris(1B)- I may be the only one that thinks Morris will ever contribute in the bigs. Both scouts and fans aren't real high on this guy. He put up rather mediocre numbers until last year in AA, when he was named MVP of the Southern League. It was the first time he showed his raw power and an improved approach at the plate, which led to him doubling his walk rate from the rest of his minor league career. This year is both good and bad. On the bad side, he's only batting .244 and has committed 4 errors(compared to 6 all of last year). On the plus side, he's nearly reached his walk total from last year, giving him a .325 OBP. He has also improved on his power numbers, crushing 18 homers. If he can finish the year strong, I think he makes the statement that he's ready to take over first base for the Brewers in 2014. Though he will never be an elite first baseman, he should produce numbers similar to that of Corey Hart.
If you're looking at that list and notice it's lacking ace pitchers and big bats, you'd be correct. It's the reason the Brewers farm is ranked as low as it is. However, the point I'm trying to make is that there are quality prospects to fill current needs of the club. You only need to go back over the last five years to see three HUGE reasons why quality, cheap, middle of the rotation arms are a great thing to have producing well in the upper minors(I'm talking about the signings of Suppan, Looper, and Wolf). Money saved can be used to sign quality free agents or retain quality players, which is an aspect that can be easily overlooked when looking at a farm system.
If we step away from the upper minors, there are even better players in the low levels. Outfielders like Victor Roache, Tyrone Taylor, and Mitch Haniger all have the talent to play above replacement level ball, with some thinking Roache has enough power to become an elite power hitter. Moving to the infield, Clint Coulter and the recently drafted Tucker Neuhaus have loads of upside. Devin Williams headlines the pitchers, while Jed Bradley has recently risen his prospect stock. Austin Blaski is a guy I scouted before he was drafted and I believe he will be the biggest steal in last years draft.
If the Brewers do decide to sell at the deadline, it will not only help the team's long term future, but hopefully also the short term. If they can land some high level prospects, this team has a great chance to get on the winning track by 2015. The Brewers currently have enough prospects to fill some of the holes that the team has had trouble filling in the past. In part II, I will highlight what players the Brewers should sell off to maximize their chances at rebuilding a winning franchise.