With the MLB playoffs in full swing, there's plenty of story lines for Brewers fans to follow. In the National League, Public Enemy No. 2 just dispatched Public Enemy No. 1 sending St. Louis home and Chicago to their first NLCS appearance since 2003. In the American League four teams featuring former Brewers fan favorites--I'm perhaps stretching the definition of "favorite" for Marco Estrada--are locked in a pair of series that are going the distance.
Starting yesterday however, a handful of Brewers prospects who hope to someday lead the Crew back to the playoffs are getting their own taste of October baseball. The Arizona Fall League--a six-team winter league composed of top prospects from all 30 MLB teams--kicked off their season which runs through November 21st, this week. Teams are mostly limited to sending American players at AA and AAA with some exceptions. Some high profile names--most notably top prospect Orlando Arcia--are absent from the Brewers' list of participants.
Milwaukee's prospects will play on the Surprise Saguaros--a saguaro is a tree-like cactus, a fact that I did not have to look up--alongside youngsters from the Yankees, Royals, Rangers, and
Baby Eaters Cardinals. MLB.com's Jim Callis said Surprise had the league's best collection of talent, so while the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers fell just short of a championship in their roller-coaster inaugural season, part of the core of the Brewers' bright future still has a shot to add some hardware to the organization's cobwebbed trophy case.
Pausing briefly for an introduction, my name is Travis Sarandos, and this is my first article here at Brew Crew Ball. I'm looking forward to becoming a part of the community here, and I hope you enjoy what I'll bring to table. That out of the way, here's a rundown of the seven Brewers that will play for the Saguaros over the next several weeks (prospect rankings in parenthesis are from MLB.com):
Brett Phillips, OF (No. 35 in MLB Top 100, No. 2 on Brewers' list)
The 21-year-old outfielder was the key piece of the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade with Houston, a designation that will follow him throughout his career with Brewers fans expecting a significant return on investment in exchange for the pair of fan favorites. Phillips slashed .309/.347/.527 this season, split between three teams (High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi with Houston, and Biloxi with Milwaukee), and he's one of nine players on the MLB.com Top 100 list who will participate in the AFL this winter. Phillips, a sixth round pick in the 2012 draft, is a five-tool prospect who projects as the Brewers' center fielder of the future.
Josh Hader, LHP (No. 14)
Hader also came to Milwaukee as a part of the trade with the Astros. Noah Jarosh went deep on a full scouting report for Hader after the trade in July here. Hader impressed in his short stint with Biloxi, striking out 50 in 38.2 innings with a 2.79 ERA in seven starts, which is pretty well in line with his career averages. A 19th round pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, the 21-year-old came to Houston by way of the Bud Norris trade.
Michael Reed, OF (No. 17)
Reed, selected by Milwaukee in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, is our first homegrown prospect on the list. Reed split 2015 between Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs this season before being rewarded for an outstanding year with a cup of coffee in the bigs in September, where he tallied two hits including a double in six at bats.
If you're going to be a stickler about sample size though, we can talk about his year in the minors as well. Reed posted an impressive wRC+ of 129 at Biloxi, and had a league average 100 wRC+ in 39 games at Colorado Springs, which is really not too bad for a 22-year-old, just in my very humble opinion. Reed has a solid combination of on-base ability (.371 OBP in 2015) and speed (33 doubles, 7 triples and 26 stolen bases in 2015) that could make him a solid top-of-the-order bat down the line.
Yadiel Rivera, SS (No. 18)
Another player that came up to Milwaukee as part of the organization's second wave of September call-ups, Rivera did little to assuage fears that his bat is not going to play in the major leagues, going 1-for-15 with no walks and four strikeouts. This might be Rivera's last chance; with Arcia slated to start next year as Colorado Springs' starting shortstop, Rivera will be out of a job unless he can prove that he's at least worth a look as a utility infielder for Milwaukee. A poor showing in Arizona could put Rivera in danger of losing his spot on the 40-man roster, with so many younger guys knocking on the door (more on this later).
Rivera is only 22, but his career slash-line of .241/.288/.354 is poor, even for a slick-fielding shortstop. He did post a career-best wRC+ of 107 during a 52 game stint with Biloxi this year (his only stop with a wRC+ over 100 in his career), but struggled mightily after being jumped to Triple-A.
Adrian Houser, RHP (No. 27)
Houser is the third and final player from the Gomez/Fiers trade heading to Surprise, since the fourth is already the Brewers' starting center fielder. A second round pick in 2011, the 22-year-old fell out of favor with Houston after failing to make good on his considerable promise. Since joining Milwaukee, however, Houser has been outstanding, going 4-1 with a 2.92 ERA and a shiny 5.33 K:BB ratio. Houser got a late-September call to the big leagues as well, surrendering a hit and two walks in two innings of relief work over the last week of the season. Houser started on Opening Day for Surprise, tossing three innings of one hit ball with a couple of strikeouts.
Jacob Barnes, RHP
One reason teams tab certain players for the AFL is that they are going to be eligible for the next Rule 5 draft, and they're getting one last audition in a prospect-rich environment to see if they merit adding to the 40-man roster to protect them. This could very well be the case for the last two prospects on this list (Phillips won't yet be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, and Hader, Reed and Rivera are already on the 40-man roster). The 40-man roster is full right now, and the one spot that will open up with the subtraction of departing free agent Kyle Lohse will be filled by Arcia. With a number of players ahead of them on the waiting list to be added (Wei-Chung Wang, Victor Roache and Jorge Ortega are likely first in line), there's a lot at stake for Barnes and Magnifico this winter.
Barnes appeared in 39 games for Biloxi in 2015, primarily as a reliever. He's progressed slowly through the minors, and at 25-years-old the 2011 14th round pick is a bit old for Double-A. He finished the 2015 season with a solid-if-unspectacular 3.36 ERA and a eye-catching 10.1 K/9.
Damien Magnifico, RHP
Magnifico also spent the year as a reliever for Biloxi, serving as the team's primary closer. His numbers are a bit shinier than Barnes': in 42 appearances Magnifico recorded 20 saves and a matching ERA and WHIP of 1.17. Magnifico can run it up to triple digits on the radar gun, so that and an 80-grade name is likely to make him a strong candidate to be added to the 40-man roster, despite a pedestrian 1.73 K:BB ratio. On Tuesday, Magnifico came in to stop the bleeding after Kansas City's Kevin McCarthy (no, not the would-be Speaker) blew Surprise's four run lead in the eighth, surrendering the go-ahead run on a single and a walk, though the runner was inherited so he wasn't charged with an earned run or the loss.