For the past four or some odds years, we've heard essentially the same story from prospect evaluators with respect to the Milwaukee Brewers' minor league system: It's bad.
While I can't say that I've disagreed, I think it's about time those same prospect gurus change their tune. The fact is that this system is at the very least respectable, and it's showing this year in the form of better-than-expected contributions from Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg -- players who were once a part of past Brewers pipelines deemed largely 'talent-less' by professional evaluators.
After a month's worth of play to start this 2014 minor league season, I'm even more convinced this system is better than previously thought. A handful of high-profile draft picks who sputtered early in their careers have righted the ship this season, and those who dazzled last season are continuing to do so against improved competition.
Let's get a look at some of those players -- and others who haven't impressed so much -- with our first month's minor league report. On a side note: It's great to be back and writing with Brew Crew Ball.
Who's Hot: Position Players
C/DH Clint Coulter (A- Wisconsin)
22 G | .324/.457/.608 | 15 BB/12 K | 204 wRC+ (92 PA)
No position player in the system has received more attention for good reasons that Coulter so far this season, which is really no surprise considering his 204 wRC+ ranks best in the Midwest League entering play Wednesday night. His .608 slugging percentage topped all other qualified hitters in Milwaukee's system through one month of play, to boot, a product of his improved selectivity (1.25 BB/K) at the dish compared to last season (0.35 BB/K) in 33 games with the low-A Wisconsin club. Did I mention he's got a 21-game on-base streak going for him?
OF Tyrone Taylor (A+ Brevard County)
25 G | .250/.319/.470 | 9 BB/13 K | 131 wRC+ (114 PA)
Don't let what looks to be a marginal slash line fool you -- Taylor finished the month of April with two insanely productive games, going 8-for-9 with eight runs scored, two home runs and four runs batted in. One of those games will live in the record books, as the 20-year-old Torrance (Ca.) High School product hit for the cycle at the heart of Brevard County's lineup, marking the first time in the organization's history that a player accomplished such a feat.
1B Hunter Morris (AAA Nashville)
24 G | .281/.326/.506 | 6 BB/21 K | 112 wRC+ (895PA)
A lackluster spring training output (.167/.211/.444 in 10 preseason games) didn't help Morris' chances at seizing the first-base job on opening day, and considering the impressive combined production of Mark Reynolds Lyle Overbay (noted by @bachlaw) at first base, the former fourth-round pick likely won't see big league playing time this season. But next season? That's still up for grabs, and a .518 slugging percentage through 22 games will certainly help his case moving forward. The only concern at this point may be if his escalated .322 BABIP can stay the course.
Who's Not: Position Players
OF Victor Roache (A+ Brevard County)
25 G | .175/.252/.289 | 7 BB/26 K | 57 wRC+ (101 PA)
Still probably bothered by his past wrist injury, the first 25 games of Roache's season haven't gone as he would have liked them to. After striking out 137 times in 119 games last season at the low-A level, the first-round selection from 2012 continues to struggle identifying secondary offerings, and in consequence has witnessed his overall strikeout rate (24.8%) remain stable from where it was last season (26.6%). Granted, the Florida State League is traditionally pitcher-friendly, but considering Roache has a .481 OPS against pitchers younger than he is, I'd say something is amiss for the former college standout.
OF Michael Ratterree (A- Wisconsin, AA Huntsville)
23 G | .185/.309/.432 | 15 BB/35 K | 50 wRC+ (97 PA)
Named the Pioneer League's most valuable player last season after posting a league-best .585 slugging percentage in 297 plate appearances, Ratterree's production has subsided considerably to start 2014. To date, the Rice product owns a .185 average (.238 BABIP) to his credit and has labored immensely against opposite-handed pitching, registering just one extra-base hit (a double) in 21 plate appearances against left-handed pitching this season. Let's hope his short-lived stint with Huntsville (.503 OPS in seven games) will serve him well the rest of the way in the Midwest League; his .245 OBP versus older pitchers is flat-out bad.
OF Mitch Haniger (AA Huntsville)
25 G | .193/.275/.341 | 10 BB/18 K | 81 wRC+ (97 PA)
Haniger flashed his well-rounded game for Ron Roenicke and the entire fan-base at spring training -- yielding a .929 slugging percentage in 10 games with the big league roster -- yet, that momentum hasn't carried over into his first stint in the Southern League. As has been the case with Ratterree, left handers have had their way with Haniger to this point, holding the supplemental first-round pick to a .211 slugging percentage. To be fair, that isn't much worse than his .391 SLG% against righties; but those numbers are probably bound to come up since it's unlikely his .197 BABIP will remain where it's at. Haniger is well-versed in making hard contact and pounding the gaps, so it's only a matter of time before those balls hit in play find the outfield alleys.
Who's Hot: Pitchers
RHP Mike Fiers (AAA Nashville)
5 GS | 0.80 ERA | 0.66 WHIP | 47 K/3 BB | 0.83 GO/AO | 10.2% SwStr | .422 oppOPS
Breaking his pitching arm last June and missing the remainder of the 2013 season, Fiers has dominated the twitterverse with his copious strikeout totals this season, capturing a Pacific Coast League-high 47 punchouts to just three walks. Three. Most of that success can be attributed to his excellent fastball command thus far, but we need not forget about his swing-and-miss improvements -- he's generated a very nice 10.2% swinging strike rate through his first five starts, which is improved from the combined 9% whiff rate he posted with Milwaukee and Nashville all of last season.
RHP Jimmy Nelson (AAA Nashville)
5 GS | 1.97 ERA | 0.88 WHIP | 31 K/9 BB | 2.1 GO/AO | 12% SwStr | .490 oppOPS
Another month, another appearance for Nelson on our 'who's hot' list. Milwaukee's consensus top prospect coming in to the season boasts a 3.44 K/BB ratio that's well improved from his 1.82 mark last season in 15 starts with Nashville. He's also been a ground ball machine, inducing more than twice as many ground outs as fly outs, and his 12% swinging strike rate ranks well above the 10.3% league-average for right-handed big-league starters this season.
RHP Brent Suter (AA Huntsville)
5 GS | 1.80 ERA | 0.70 WHIP | 28 K/5 BB | 0.81 GO/AO | 7.5% SwStr | .385 oppOPS
Making an ever-difficult jump from high-A ball to the double-A Southern League this season, Suter adjusted masterfully to improved competition in April, holding opponents to a feeble .160 average (third-best among qualified starters in the Southern League) and ridiculously low .385 OPS coming in to play Wednesday night. The reason? He's holding batters to a 17% line drive rate thus far, which in the big leagues would fall just outside the top 10% of qualified starters this season. Moreover, his FIP is a carbon-copy of his impressive 1.80 ERA, which tells us that the big 6-foot-5 right-hander has been even more exceptional in a hitter-friendly league than we previously thought.
Who's Not: Pitchers
RHP Taylor Jungmann (AA Huntsville)
5 GS | 4.23 ERA |1.30 WHIP | 29 K/8 BB | 1.89 GO/AO | 11.8% SwStr | .776 oppOPS
Jungmann's 2014 campaign got off to a smoldering start, registering 13 punchouts to just one walk in his first two outings -- a span in which he allowed just 10 hits in 11 total innings of work. His latest three outings have tapered off in this respect, walking seven while striking out 15 in 16.2 innings; so in terms of swing-and-miss ability, he's been fantastic. But when he puts men on base, things get ugly, evidenced by the .949 OPS of opponents against him with runners on base (compared to the .684 OPS with the bases empty).
RHP Zach Quintana (A- Wisconsin)
4 GS | 6.00 ERA | 1.83 WHIP | 11 K/7 BB | 0.79 GO/AO | 8.4% SwStr | .814 oppOPS
An intriguing third-round selection two summers ago, Quintana's steady progression through the system is questionable to an extent. His inaugural campaign in the rookie Arizona League yielded a 5.82 ERA in 43.1 innings, his 2013 stint with short-season Helena brought about a worse 6.95 ERA over an even bigger sample size (66 total innings in 14 starts). This season has been much the same, owning an even 6.00 ERA mark in four starts. He hasn't shown consistent command with his fastball, and Midwest League hitters haven't been kind to him, owning a .814 OPS.
RHP Hiram Burgos (AAA Nashville)
4 GS | 6.50 ERA | 1.778 WHIP | 20 K/10 BB | 0.65 GO/AO | 11.2% SwStr | .918 oppOPS
A contributor to the Brewers' rotation at this time last year, Burgos' 2014 production has been incredibly erratic to this juncture. On one hand, he's generating a healthy 11.2% swinging strike rate (increased from roughly 9% last season combined with Nashville and Milwaukee). But on the other hand, he's struggled mightily to hold opponents down (.918 OPS overall) -- especially against left-handed batters, who've posted a ridiculous 1.127 OPS against him. Mixing his pitches more effectively in the lower half of the zone could do the trick, but it remains to be seen if his forearm injury will allow him to do so moving forward.