With just one player (Wily Peralta) cracking Baseball America's top 100 prospect rankings at the beginning of the season, the Brewers' farm system was unanimously considered one of the most shallow in all of baseball by prospect and system evaluators.
Halfway through the 2013 schedule, it's easy to see why.
Due to the rash of injuries cast upon Ron Roenicke's roster to this juncture of the season, a handful of the organization's top prospects -- Scooter Gennett, Sean Halton, Hiram Burgos, Khris Davis, Donovan Hand, Johnny Hellweg, Josh Prince, Caleb Gindl -- have received substantial amounts of playing time. What's validated the preseason sentiments of system evaluators, though, has been the fact that none of those players have stood out or remotely impressed on a consistent basis. Even those who made their debut last season -- Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Jim Henderson -- have not performed up to their billing, either, with exception to Henderson.
This presents a problem for the Brewers, who considered themselves contenders prior to the season and still have high hopes for next season. The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline may help boost the system with pro-ready talent, but right now, you'd have to dig deep into the system to find projectable, high-ceiling players.
With the All-Star break upon us, let's take a look at how those players, and others, stack up by ranking the top 15 prospects in the system who have yet to make a big league appearance. Check back in October to see how our end-of-season rankings shape up.
1. Jimmy Nelson, RHP
Scouting Brief: Strong, tall, filled-out frame. Possesses above-average slider and changeup that's come a long way. Sinking two-seamer that produces ground-ball outs. Control will need shoring up. Back-end rotation ceiling.
Why he's here: Nelson gets the nod for top pitcher (and prospect) in the system midway through the season for several reasons. For starters, his arsenal is more pro-ready than any arm in the system, wielding a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch in the form of a slider that has tight, violent break to it, a ground-ball inducing two-seam fastball that will help get him out of jams in the future and a changeup that has projection left on it. He has clean mechanics and knows how to control his long limbs, which has helped him keep the ball down in the zone well. He's been particularly effective out of the stretch thus far in triple-A ball, which further confirms that his future will most likely belong in the bullpen.
2. Taylor Jungmann, RHP
Scouting Brief: Tall, lanky build with minimal room left for weight gain. Easy velocity. Consistent arm slots. Fastball sits in 91-93 range with some arm-side run. Average slider with decent bite. Changeup improving. Back-of-rotation potential.
Why he's here: High hopes for the formerly dominant Longhorn starter dissipated quickly after a pedestrian 2012 campaign in the high-A Florida State League, where his strikeout stuff in college translated poorly to professional ball in the form of under six strikeouts per nine innings. That's roughly what he's accomplished this season in double-A, though he's struggled to adjust to superior bats and tighter strike zones, leading to elevated walk rates. He's been impressive out of the windup, holding opponents to a .240 slugging percentage compared to .383 from the stretch, but has allowed baserunners to mess with his delivery and normally above-average deception. He'll have potential as a back-line starter down the road with further coaching and experience; he simply needs to command his stuff in all situations.
3. Hunter Morris, 1B
Scouting Brief: Big, muscular frame; not particularly athletic. Line-drive approach, strong wrists through the zone. Loft-producing swing with a ton of raw power. Struggles with off-speed offerings. Crushes fastballs belt-high and above. Won't hit for a high average. Could be an average everyday first-baseman with the right adjustments.
Why he's here: Morris made a strong push for the preseason 'top prospect' billing after an outstanding 2012 campaign in double-A in which he batted .303/.357/.563, showing significant progress with respect to his pitch recognition skills. This season, he's showing a more advanced approach at the plate, posting a walk rate of 9.6 percent and strikeout rate that has remained at a steady 20 percent over the last two seasons. However, the results aren't there. Though he's hit for a ton of power, as expected, Morris simply cannot seem to find holes in defenses (.248 BABIP) in the manner he did last season (.342 BABIP), which has discouraged many fans about his big-league potential. I say don't worry -- batting average is far too overrated when evaluating prospects. The hits will eventually fall. And if his plate discipline continues to improve, which it has, he will eventually become a serviceable big league first baseman.
4. Tyrone Taylor, CF
Scouting Brief: Tremendous natural athlete with growing frame. Room to pack on 12-15 pounds of muscle. Quick hands through the zone, minimal pre-swing load, takes quick bat path to point of contact. Gap power right now; uses all fields. Good strike zone awareness. Will steal double-digit bases. Instincts play well in center field.
Why he's here: It was difficult for me to buy into the numbers (.387/.434/.667, 11 K/6 BB over 18 games) Taylor put up in just his first full season in the majors, simply because of how difficult it is to find refined, toolsy high school bats in the second round of the draft. But halfway through this season, the 19-year-old has turned me into a believer. Showing an ability to hit for consistent gap power to all fields and flash above-average plate discipline for his age, Taylor has quickly become the crown jewel of the Brewers' 2012 draft class. Once he fills out physically, he should be able to increase bat speed and lower-body torque, which will allow for him to hit for significantly more power. He's played an outstanding center-field, too, and with further coaching and experience could become a weapon on the bases.
5. Mitch Haniger, RF
Scouting Brief: Lean, athletic build; room to fill out in lower half. Above-average outfield arm. Solid defensive instincts. Good bat speed with line drive approach; mostly gap power right now. Hits fastballs a mile; struggles to put quality wood on off-speed stuff. Projects to be average everyday outfielder. Low risk.
Why he's here: Scouts were well-aware of Haniger's big league projectability coming into the 2012 draft, and he offered more reasons for optimism after a quality 2012 campaign -- .379 OBP -- in low-A ball that was cut short due to injury. Haniger returned to Appleton to start 2013 to show an even more refined game, walking (25) more than he struck out (24) while hitting for a considerable amount of power (.510 SLG). His promotion to the high-A Florida State League has dampened his success, as he's struggled to adjust to superior pitching -- most notably off-speed offerings -- which has elevated his strikeout rate to 19.1 percent and lowered his walk rate to 7.1 percent. So while the hits are still falling (.305 BABIP) and he's continued to flash his enticing power, his approach remains a big question mark and that will be a concern moving forward. There's no doubt that he'll adjust, but his stay in the low minors might be longer than previously thought.
6. Victor Roache, LF
Scouting Brief: Big league outfield frame with little room left to grow; muscular, lean, athletic build. Quick hands, strong wrists, good hip flexion produce plenty of raw power. Struggles to lay off breaking stuff out of the zone. Crushed fastballs up. Won't hit for a high average. Strong arm in left field. Average read off the bat and instincts.
Why he's here: Milwaukee's second first-round pick last summer, the first three months of Roache's inaugural season in the system raised plenty of eyebrows but for all the wrong reasons. By the end of June, the Georgia Southern product boasted a strikeout rate of 25.5 percent, mainly due to his often elongated swing, which has directly impacted his ability to square up or even make contact with breaking offerings. His approach has not improved in July, but he is placing more consistent line-drive contact on balls and has already accumulated seven extra-base hits over 14 games. He has a major-league ready arm out of left field and that's where he'll profile best at the next level. Though athletic, his muscular build will limit him on the bases. Knowing this, it will undoubtedly be Roache's ability to hit for power that will carry him through the minors. If he shortens up and lays off more breaking stuff in the dirt, he will shoot through the system. If not, who knows.
7. Jed Bradley, LHP
Scouting Brief: Strong, filled-out frame; very projectable to the next level. Easy motion and velocity; works downhill; in-tune, repeatable torso and lower-body mechanics. Arm action needs work. Very comfortable out of the stretch, taking more direct motion towards plate and more accentuated movements than from windup. Future innings eater. Mid-rotation ceiling.
Why he's here: Amid the elevated ERA's and inconsistent outings over his two first seasons in high-A ball lies a player with enormous potential. Though he does not posses the coveted power fastball, Bradley does possess a power-pitcher's frame at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds from the left side of the mound, which portends a future workhorse type at the next level. What's most concerning about Bradley, especially after spending such amount of time in college ball, is his control. A lot of that has to do with inconsistent arm action. Below shows a perfect example.
Both pictures show Bradley's torso and lower-body mechanics at the same point in his delivery. He repeats both well, working downhill to generate velocity on his fastball. Notice the obviously differing elbow placement in both, however. Inconsistent arm action has been a problem for Bradley; from the stretch, he gets on top of the pitch much better than from the windup, where his arm will need to travel a greater amount of distance in less time. This can make all the difference in command, which has been a big problem for Bradley this year. If he can get his mechanics in tune from the windup more consistently, he'll find greater success and will have a better shot at developing into the mid-rotation starter I believe he can be.
8. Orlando Arcia, SS
Scouting Brief: Slim, smallish frame; room to pack on mass to torso and lower half. Advanced approach for age; quiet mechanics; good bat speed and barrel control; gap power right now; good feel for strike zone. Plus range at shortstop; average arm strength; fluid motion turning double plays; instincts help speed play-up on the bases. Tremendous potential.
Why he's here: Lighting up the Dominican Summer League in 2011 (.296 BA, 23 XBH in 64 games) as a raw 16-year-old, Arcia sat out all of 2012 with a fractured ankle. He's put to bed all concerns over the injury this season in the low-A Midwest League, flashing an advanced approach (28 BB, 27 K) at the plate while manning shortstop in impressive fashion, showing plus range and tremendous double-play turning abilities. Still filling out his boyish frame, extra-base hits have been hard to come by -- he has 14 over 78 games -- but his pitch recognition skills, quick-to-the-ball bat path and decent barrel control have allowed for him to generate consistent line-drive pop against matured pitching. The hits have not fallen (.263 BABIP, .244 BA) as much as he'd probably like, but all that truly matters at this stage of his career is that he continues to a.) gain more lean muscle mass, b.) show a good feel for the strike zone and c.) continue to develop his defensive instincts. He's done each of these thus far, which is a great sign moving forward.
9. Ariel Pena, RHP
Scouting Brief: Power pitcher build at 6'3", 240; filled out physically. Works downhill; creates steep angle on sinking fastball; sits in 93-94 range and produces ground-balls frequently when down. Plus changeup action; decent deception. Nice tilt to slider but will need to refine control. Back-end rotation ceiling with improved control; middle relief arm floor.
Why he's here: Pena's 2013 campaign in the double-A Southern League began on a rocky note, walking (18) more batter than he struck out (12) over the first month of the season. He's rebounded to post a 3.03 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while striking out at batter per inning since the start of May. He possesses truly can't miss stuff, with a sinking two-seam fastball that -- when located -- produces a fair amount of ground balls and changeup that generates the majority of his swings-and-misses. His slider has sharp break to it and could potentially be a major league average offering down the road. Control has always been an issue for Pena, but he's made significant progress in that area of his game, especially of late, walking just three of the last 55 batters he's faced over his last two starts. If that continues, there's no reason why he shouldn't get at least one September spot-start. At the very least, he should get a handful of opportunities out of the bullpen once rosters expand.
10. Clint Coulter, C
Scouting Brief: Tall, thick, strong midsection and limbs. Not much weight left to be gained. Surprisingly athletic for his size. Strong forearms and wrists power bat through the zone. Little pre-swing load necessary to produce line-drive contact. Plenty of raw power. Struggles with advanced breaking and off-speed offerings. Below average across the board defensively.
Why he's here: The Brewers planned on taking Coulter with their first pick in last summer's draft long before they went on the clock at No. 27 overall, and with good reason. The then 18-year-old catcher looked and performed like a man among boys against local high school opponents, showcasing his tremendous raw power and quality approach at the 2011 WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Florida. His 2012 campaign in the rookie Arizona League provided reassurance to system evaluators (37 BB/40 K, .444 SLG), but that hasn't been the case this season. Between low-A and rookie ball -- he was demoted to the Pioneer League on May 29 -- Coulter owns a cumulative walk rate of just 7.6 percent, down from 17.1 percent last season. He's tapped into his power stoke a bit more since his demotion, but he'll need to improve upon his plate discipline before he's ready to make the jump back to low-A ball.
11. Devin Williams, RHP: It's been an unsteady start to Williams' professional career (8 BB, 10 K, 11 IP), which is expected considering he's only begun learning all that instructors have to say and that he's adjusting to the lifestyle of playing on a daily basis. But the Brewers do believe Williams, their first pick in June's draft, projects nicely to the next level, which he does. He has a projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, a changeup that has plus potential and a fastball and slider that could become average offerings.
12. Drew Gagnon, RHP: Making the difficult jump from high-A to double-A at the end of May, Gagnon has yet to put together an impressive outing with his new club, which is usually the case as hitters are far more advanced at the double-A level than at high-A. His strikeouts -- 27 over 33 innings -- are right where they should be, but he'll need to learn to pitch more to hitters' weaknesses and utilize the corners of umpires' tighter strike zones if he's to challenge for a big league appearance next season.
13. Tyler Wagner, RHP: Area scouts have been in hot pursuit of Wagner this season in low-A ball for a multitude of reasons. The 22-year-old right-hander can run his fastball up to 97 MPH, sitting comfortably in the 92-94 range with good arm-side sink that consistently produces ground balls. His secondary offerings, including a slider with decent movement and changeup with projection left on it, have improved considerably this season. Once he's able to command those secondary pitches more efficiently to each side of the plate, Wagner has a chance to be a back-line starter or at the very least an average late-inning reliever.
14. Kentrail Davis, OF: One of the most talented position players featured in the 2010 draft class, scouts figured that Davis would probably need little time in the minors to refine his game before becoming an everyday major league outfielder. Turns out, they were wrong, but only slightly. After a year and a half in high-A ball between 2010 and 2011, Davis made the jump to the double-A Southern League, where he strutted a much-improved approach at the plate and an ability to steal bases. This season, he's improved and now finds himself in triple-A, where he already has eight total bases in four games. Versatile and athletic in the outfield, don't be surprised if Davis finds playing time for Roenicke come September.
15. Tucker Neuhaus, 3B/SS: Like fellow 2013 second-round draftee Williams, Neuhaus has gotten off to a slow start in the rookie Arizona League, striking out (21) more than twice as often as he's walked (8). Again, I wouldn't read much into his initial numbers in the system, as he's still adjusting to playing baseball everyday. His bat is very projectable to the next level and he plays a tremendous third base. Once he gets his feet wet in the Pioneer League next season, then we can begin to evaluate.