We've talked about this a lot lately, so you're probably aware of it: The Brewers' farm system is very light on potential high-impact talent, and might be the worst in baseball in that regard.
With that said, all hope for the farm system is not lost. By my count, there are at least eight players who could be in line for a bounce-back or breakout season in 2011, and if a handful of them come through their development could add a much-needed boost to the organization.
Taylor Green, 3B
2010: .260/.336/.438 in 113 games for AA Huntsville
Green is not far removed from being a top talent in the Brewer organization. He was a .289/.382/.443 hitter for Brevard County in 2008 and a candidate to be the PTBNL in the Sabathia deal (the Indians received Michael Brantley instead). Unfortunately for Green, rib and wrist injuries limited him to 93 games in 2009 and he wasn't effective when he played, hitting just .267/.345/.371.
Some of his power returned in 2010 but his on-base percentage dipped a bit. In last year's edition of John Sickels' Baseball Prospect Book, Sickels said that Green "lacks the power normally associated with third base," and probably isn't athletically capable of moving to second. He was left unprotected and was not selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Green won't turn 25 until November, though, and could open the 2011 season in Nashville. If Mat Gamel is also there then there could be a logjam at third base, but if Green can find playing time and keep hitting he could resurrect his prospect status.
Eric Arnett, RHP
Age: 22 (will be 23 before Opening Day)
2010: 100.2 IP, 6.79 ERA, 1.629 WHIP, 46 BB, 79 K for Rookie Helena and Low-A Wisconsin
Arnett's 2010 season was an unqualified disaster. He was hit hard and hit often, and after a season and a half of pro ball he's got a 6.18 career ERA. Among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings for Wisconsin last season, Arnett was the only one to allow more than one home run per nine innings: He allowed 1.5. He also walked over four batters per nine innings and led the Timber Rattlers with ten HBP.
The Brewers face a tough decision on what to do with Arnett. He could feasibly be asked to repeat Wisconsin, but the organization's best move might be to challenge him and give him a fresh start in Brevard County. The pitcher-friendly parks of the Florida State League would probably keep some of last year's home runs in the ballpark, and a good season there would likely restore some of his confidence and prospect status.
Arnett clearly has some talent: If nothing else, he's a former first round pick. It's possible it won't work out, but if the Brewers put him in a position to succeed it's possible he'll bounce back and have a strong 2011.
Follow the jump for a look at six more players.
Logan Schafer, OF
2010: .174/.286/.261 in seven games for Brevard County
Schafer was the Brewers' Minor League Position Player of the Year in 2009, but injuries derailed him early and kept him out for most of the season in 2010. He received an invitation to major league camp but missed all of spring training with a groin injury, then played in just seven games for Brevard County before injuring his foot and missing the rest of the regular season.
Schafer was able to bounce back and play eight games in the AFL this winter, so there's reason to believe he'll be healthy this spring. The Brewers have invited him to major league camp, so he'll get a chance to show off his tools on the big stage.
2009 is Schafer's only full pro season to this point, but he won an FSL batting title by hitting .308/.370/.440 while playing in 120 games. As Jaymes Langrehr of The Brewers Bar noted, Schafer's situation is not that different from the one Lorenzo Cain faced last spring. If Schafer comes to camp healthy and hitting, he could make himself a top prospect in a hurry.
Kentrail Davis, OF
2010: .304/.407/.459 in 97 games for Wisconsin and Brevard County
Davis managed to put together a very good season in 2010 despite a notable setback. Davis struggled to stay healthy early in the season for Brevard County, where he was getting on base a lot for all the wrong reasons. Davis was hit by ten pitches (second most on the team in 2010) in just 33 games for the Manatees, and also battled a hamstring problem.
In an effort to get him healthy, the team demoted Davis to Wisconsin, thinking the cooler climate might help his hamstring. While in Wisconsin, all Davis did was hit .335/.421/.518, leading the team in slugging and OPS.
If the organization wants to challenge Davis they could have him open the 2011 season in Huntsville. It's a significant talent jump and he'd be one of the younger players in the league, but it's worth considering for a player who is arguably the organization's #1 position prospect. If he can have a full, healthy, productive season he could be a top-100 caliber player next year at this time.
Cutter Dykstra, 3B
2010: .312/.416/.411 in 100 games for Wisconsin
It's been a rocky road for Dykstra, but his 2010 line would imply that his disappointing 2009 (.234/.325/.334 for Helena and Wisconsin) is in the rear-view mirror and he's ready to become a consistent player in the minors.
On top of some well-publicized family drama (Cutter is Lenny Dykstra's son, if you didn't know), Dykstra has bounced around the field a fair amount as the organization struggles to find a long term position for him. He played 79 games at third base last season, but has also played first, second, left, right and center field as well as DH during his two and a half seasons in the minors. He looked absolutely lost at times at third in 2010, but I think he's athletic enough to be good at the position if the team leaves him there long enough to learn it.
Meanwhile, Dykstra shows impressive discipline at the plate (a .416 OBP) and some decent speed once he's on base, stealing 27 bases in 35 attempts. Perhaps most important, he's still pretty young: He won't turn 22 until the end of June.
Dykstra will likely open the 2011 season in Brevard County and, since power isn't a big part of his game, he could potentially have a big season there.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP
2010: 26.2 IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.612 WHIP, 13 BB, 33 K for Helena
When Dylan Covey didn't sign, Nelson became the Brewers' top remaining pick in the 2010 draft. Even before signing, Nelson was a little controversial: There was a brief uproar when it was discovered that a pre-draft scouting report compared him to Jeff Suppan. There doesn't appear to be much to the comparison, though: Nelson throws much harder (can hit 96) and appears to be able to strike batters out.
Obviously, we don't have much of a sample size to analyze at this point with Nelson, who made just 12 appearances (six starts) for Helena after signing. But he's a likely candidate to open the season in Wisconsin and if he continues striking out batters at his early pace, he'll climb the prospect rankings pretty quickly.
Tyler Thornburg, RHP
2010: 23.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 1.114 WHIP, 11 BB, 38 K for Helena
Like Jimmy Nelson, Thornburg is a 2010 draft pick who hasn't spent much time in the organization yet. But, despite the fact that he was drafted after Nelson, Thornburg was dominant in his brief time with the H-Brewers and has drawn a much more favorable comparison: I've seen Tim Lincecum's name come up in conversations about him several times now.
Like Nelson, Thornburg is expected to open the season in Wisconsin, and if he's successful there good news will likely travel fast.
Zelous Wheeler, IF
Age: 23 (turns 24 on Sunday)
2010: .275/.382/.396 in 135 games for Huntsville
Wheeler is a pretty fascinating case. He's been a pretty good hitter with limited power throughout the minors, hitting .271/.369/.399 over four seasons. The question about him has usually been his eventual position: He's been a third baseman and second baseman and for most of 2010 a lack of organizational depth created an opportunity for him at shortstop.
If you've seen Wheeler you know that his frame doesn't look like that of an infielder, especially a middle infielder. B-Ref lists him at 5'10" and 215 lbs, and I'd say his height and weight are likely exaggerated up and down, respectively, in those figures.
With that said, the Brewers' lack of viable shortstops in the minor leagues means Wheeler will likely get every chance to stick at that position. And if he can maintain this level of plate discipline, it might not take long for him to establish himself as a potential alternative to Yuniesky Betancourt. He was invited to big league camp this spring, so he'll get an opportunity to show what he's got early.