Pitching, pitching, pitching.
These three words sum up what was most impressive about the Milwaukee Brewers' minor league system in the month of May, a span of 31 glorious days that saw the system's top prospect -- Jimmy Nelson -- produce admirably in his 2014 debut while a former first round draft pick -- Jed Bradley -- made his jump to double-A ball.
It was a less noteworthy May for a handful of the system's more heralded position prospects (Tyrone Taylor, Orlando Arcia, Hunter Morris, just to name a few), but others certainly stepped forward and produced in noteworthy fashion. Find out who those and others were in out latest minor league report.
Previous Reports: April
Who's Hot: Pitchers
RHP Jorge Lopez (A+ Brevard County)
May line: 5 GS | 2.25 ERA | 2.97 FIP | 0.97 WHIP | 23 K/9 BB | 1.69 GO/AO | .499 oppOPS
The lanky (6-foot-4, 165 lbs.) right-hander Milwaukee took with its second round pick three years ago came into his own for the first extended period of time in his brief pro career this past month, holding opposing batters to a sub-.500 OPS while averaging 6.4 innings per outing. It's difficult to say his statistical improvements were anything close to a fluke, as he was effective at inducing soft contact (9% line drive rate in May compared to 19% in April) last month, which led to a .231 BABIP allowed compared to a .400 BABIP in April. Could it be that Lopez has developed a better feel for his curveball, which scouts projected to be an above-average offering prior to the 2011 draft? If so, look out.
RHP Jimmy Nelson (AAA Nashville)
May line: 5 GS | 1.36 ERA |1.95 FIP | 0.99 WHIP | 44 K/13 BB | 13.4% SwStr | .503 oppOPS
Nelson's most admirable quality -- swing-and-miss ability -- was on full display last month with Nashville, as the 6-foot-6 behemoth right hander garnered a 13.4% swinging strike rate over his five outings in May. To put that into some perspective, Felix Hernandez owns a 13.5% SwStr rate this season (and the major-league average pitcher holds true to a 9.9% rate). His 59.9% season ground ball rate would rank second-highest among qualified right-handed starters at the big-league level, too, and the .496 OPS he held batters to in May was right in line with the .490 OPS he allowed in April. Consistency? Check. Whiffs? Yup. Ground balls? You bet. This guy knows how to pitch.
LHP Brad Mills (AAA Nashville)
May line: 6 GS | 1.16 ERA | 2.36 FIP | 0.70 WHIP | 43 K/9 BB | 11.8% SwStr | .398 oppOPS
Splitting time between the 'pen and rotation in April, Mills transformed into the Sounds' second ace -- alongside Nelson -- this past month thanks in large part to the 1.16 ERA and 0.70 WHIP he accumulated over six starts. But ERA and WHIP only tell a small portion of the story written by the 29-year-old this past month; the veteran southpaw missed bats at a 11.8% frequency (up from 8.0% in April), and held opponents to a mind-boggling .398 OPS. It's unrealistic to expect the .188 BABIP he allowed in May to continue for much longer, but we can say definitively that he knows how to limit the long ball (1.8% HR rate this season) and rack up strikeouts -- two skills that could prove valuable to Milwaukee's bullpen (or rotation, if need be) down the line.
RHP Tyler Cravy (AA Huntsville)
May line: 6 GS | 1.22 ERA | 3.39 FIP | 0.84 WHIP | 27 K/6 BB | 11.1% SwStr | .567 oppOPS
The ever-difficult jump from high-A to double-A ball seemed anything but difficult for Cravy, who received an honorable mention in our 'who's hot list' last month for his 0.90 WHIP effort over 24.1 innings of work in April. The former 17th-round pick's production didn't fluctuate much in May, as he went on to post an even better WHIP (0.84) all while posting an earned run average of 1.22 and impressive 11.1% swinging strike rate exclusively out of Huntsville's rotation. Fielding Independent Pitching (3.39 this past month) isn't a big fan of Cravy, mainly in that opponents posted a feeble .222 BABIP against him last month, so we should obviously expect a dropoff in production sometime in the near future.
LHP Jed Bradley (A+ Brevard County)
May line: 5 GS | 2.65 ERA | 3.33 FIP | 1.06 WHIP | 24 K/5 BB | 5.82 GO/AO | .600 oppOPS
Two years of atrocious production coupled with nagging injuries in high-A Brevard had us all believing the future held little for Bradley, who Milwaukee spent a top-15 pick on back at the 2011 amateur draft. But the Georgia Tech product's efficacy this season has created at least some hope. This past month, Bradley performed to the tune of a 2.65 earned run average while producing soft contact in bunches, evidenced by an insane 5.82 groundout-to-airout ratio that raised his season ground ball rate to a healthy 68.2% (up from 52% last season). His strikeout totals decreased noticeably (6.4 K/9) in May compared to April (9.9 K/9), but his improved control allowed his 5.8 April K/BB ratio to stay relatively steady at 4.8 K/BB in May. Can he handle the jump from high-A to double-A? We'll see.
Honorable Mentions: Hobbs Johnson (2.10 FIP, 5 GS), Tyler Alexander (5.5 K/BB, 23 IP), Drew Gagnon (1.60 ERA, 6 GS), Ariel Pena (13.9% SwStr), Damien Magnifico (1.57 ERA, 6.3 K/9 after 3.46 ERA, 3.8 K/9 in April), Tyler Wagner (1.97 ERA, 5 GS despite 3.8 K% drop from April)
Who's Not: Pitchers
RHP Kyle Heckathorn (AAA Nashville)
May line: 14.1 IP | 7.53 ERA | 6.61 FIP | 1.74 WHIP | 8 K/4 BB | 10% SwStr | 1.066 oppOPS
Heckathorn's first month was a disappointment, and May wasn't much better. The former rotation prospect turned full-time reliever this season with Nashville logged 14.1 innings last month, and pitched to a 6.61 FIP in that span. Opponents OPS'd 1.066 against him in the meantime, and now hold true to a 1.027 OPS against Heckathorn this season. It's been rough.
RHP Zach Quintana (A Wisconsin)
May line: 16 IP | 6.19 ERA | 4.75 FIP | 2.19 WHIP | 9 K/14 BB | 3.9% SwStr | .863 oppOPS
Not many pitchers graduate high school with a sinking fastball sitting 88-91 MPH, but that's exactly the type of heat Quintana brought at several Perfect Game tournaments and showcases prior to the 2012 amateur draft. That, coupled with a good feel for his changeup and biting curveball, was a big reason the Brewers took him in the third round two summers ago; but the results aren't showing. In May, Quintana walked 14 and struck out just nine in 16 innings of work against low-A competition, leading opponents to accumulate an on base percentage of .450 against him. Just 20 years old, there's still plenty of time for Quintana to figure out his stuff; though he might have an extended stay in the Midwest League in order to accomplish that.
Honorable Mentions: Alfredo Figaro (12 ER, 12 IP), Jacob Barnes (5.68 ERA, 6 GS), Kevin Shackelford (.895 oppOPS, 15.1 IP)
Who's Hot: Position Players
C/DH Clint Coulter (A Wisconsin)
May line: 122 PA | .255/.393/.490 | 12 BB/25 K | .387 wOBA | .279 BABIP
The Clint Coulter who appeared overwhelmed by Midwest League and even Pioneer League pitching last season was nowhere to be found this April, when the 20-year-old slaughtered baseballs with a .608 slugging percentage to go along with an impressive approach (15 BB/12 K) in the batter's box. May unveiled a less dynamic version of what Coulter accomplished in the season's first month, slugging .490 and still managing a .387 wOBA. His biggest regression was to that of his eye at the plate, striking out roughly twice as often (25) as he reached base via base on balls (12). I captured some of his struggles last week in Cedar Rapids, and found that he was often knotted-up against soft stuff in the dirt. If he can regain his discipline at the dish -- which I think he will -- then we will see the Coulter of April very, very soon.
1B Nick Ramirez (AA Huntsville)
May line: 132 PA | .286/.348/.504 | 10 BB/37 K | .365 wOBA | .380 BABIP
Ramirez climbed the minor league ladder one step higher in each of his first three seasons in the system, but the scouting report remained the same with each passing year: Big kid; lots of raw power; impatient at the plate; can't hit offspeed stuff. Such is not the case this season, at least with respect to his plate discipline (career-best 0.34 BB/K ratio). As for Ramirez's power numbers, those improved slightly in May, posting a .506 slugging percentage (.489 SLG% in April). Perhaps the biggest reason Ramirez finds himself on this list is the fact that his BABIP skyrocketed to .380 this past month (.262 BABIP in April); however, I question his ability to maintain that number considering his season line drive rate stands at just 17.9%.
OF Michael Ratterree (A Wisconsin)
May line: 130 PA | .259/.315/.509 | 9 BB/41 K | .353 wOBA | .342 BABIP
As the Most Valuable Player of last summer's Pioneer League, Ratterree embarked on his first full campaign in the system with heightened expectations. He in no way lived up to those expectations in April, a month in which he posted a .741 OPS in split time between low-A Appleton and double-A Huntsville. But he's absolutely raking of late, slashing .316/.369/.645 over his last 20 games of May. I witnessed his quick trigger and bat head speed in Cedar Rapids last week, and can tell you the loud contact he produced last season in rookie ball is officially back. Pitchers beware.
1B/3B Jason Rogers (AA Huntsville)
May line: 126 PA | .308/.413/.486 | 16 BB/18 K | .397 wOBA | .349 BABIP
No player/prospect included on our list produced a higher wOBA (.397) than Rogers in the month of May, so it makes at least some amount of sense for the 6-foot-2 first baseman to be named the system's 'hitter of the month'. Displaying less-than-impressive plate discipline (18 K/9 BB) in April, Rogers employed a more refined approach at the plate last month, producing a nearly even 16 walks and 18 strikeouts over 30 games. Couple that with his improved base-running numbers (2.4 BRR this season, -2.4 BRR in 2013, according to Baseball Prospectus), and it's clear that Rogers is improving in more ways than one as we inch closer to the All-Star break.
2B Christopher McFarland (A Wisconsin)
May line: 91 PA | .313/.367/.538 | 6 BB/13 K | .379 wOBA | .333 BABIP
In a lineup that features both Coulter and Ratterree, McFarland has quietly produced both with the bat and on the basepaths this season for low-A Wisconsin, owning a .468 slugging percentage and 15 stolen bases in 18 attempts. The month of May yielded even more magnified results in both respects for the former 18th round selection, slugging .538 with five more stolen bags, helping to raise his season speed score to a career-high 8.8, according to FanGraphs. I'm skeptical about McFarland's ability to maintain the power numbers he created last month, mainly because he's below-average at placing consistent quality contact on offspeed offerings. But at this rate, we could see him in high-A ball soon should he continue to nab bases at an impressive rate and hit for a high average.
Who's Not: Position Players
SS Angel Ortega (A Wisconsin)
May line: 97 PA | .211/.242/.300 | 3 BB/23 K | .234 wOBA | .269 BABIP
Milwaukee's fourth-round selection from two summers ago has a ways to go before he fills out his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame, so it stands to reason that Ortega won't hit for much power to this point in his career. But there's really no excuse for such porous plate discipline (0.26 BB/K this season), especially in May, when he drew just three walks and struck out 23 times in 97 plate appearances for low-A Wisconsin.
3B Taylor Green (AAA Nashville)
May line: 79 PA | .240/.269/.373 | 3 BB/14 K | .276 wOBA | .283 BABIP
Green's offensive numbers in April weren't impressive by any stretch of the imagination, but he was able to post a .362 on base percentage in 19 games despite batting just .271. This past month, Green's OBP dropped to .269, mainly due to his three walks produced in 79 plate appearances.
Honorable Mentions: Taylor-Smith Brennan (.326 SLG%, 26.7 K%, 29 G), Johnny Davis (.264 BA despite escalated .343 BABIP, 24 G), Cameron Garfield (.247 OBP, 22 G)