Well I bet you thought baseball was over now. I bet you watched Ned Yost trip over a tree branch only to fall face-first into a well-hidden stash of leprechaun gold yet again, and lamented the end of the season as a host of former Brewers celebrated Kansas City's first championship since 1985. Well think again, pal. We've got some #MustWin games down in Arizona so never fear, baseball lives on.
Yadiel Rivera entered play with the Arizona Fall League with a somewhat uncertain future. The Brewers are facing a roster crunch as several of their top prospects must be added to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. With only one out-going free agent (Kyle Lohse), the Brewers will need to make some tough decisions in the coming months as they make room for some of their top prospects. Rivera, after a miserable year at the plate in 2015 -- his.238/.266/.303 with AAA-Colorado Springs saddled him with a 48 wRC+ -- might have been a candidate to lose his spot on the Brewers' roster. He needed a strong showing with the Surprise Saguaros to justify being kept on.
I think he might just be worth another look.
Rivera is absolutely obliterating the (admittedly less-than-stellar) pitching in Arizona right now: his 1.207 OPS ranks third in a league filled with some of the best hitting prospects in baseball (of the nine of the MLB.com Top 100 prospects participating, eight are position players), and he has matching 18.9% strikeout and walk rates. He's also flashing some speed, swiping five bases in eight attempts to lead Surprise. This is all in a very small sample size, of course -- RIvera has just 37 PA in nine games -- but it's very encouraging to see Rivera hitting for any length of time.
While Rivera's .433 batting average is certainly impressive, it's not even the highest among the Brewers' middle infield prospects. That tag belongs to Nathan Orf, who we actually missed in our AFL preview a couple of weeks ago since he was added to the Surprise roster after the initial announcement of the Brewers' participants. The second baseman's .464 AVG leads the entire league, and while it's currently being boosted by a completely preposterous .481 BABIP, Orf is taking full advantage of the rabbit's foot lodged in his backside by consistently putting the ball in play -- he's struck out just twice in 25 plate appearances. Orf has also spent time as in center field and at catcher and while he doesn't pop up on many of the Brewers' top prospect lists, Orf is the type of guy who could find himself in a super-utility role in Milwaukee in the next year or two.
Adrian Houser, acquired in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade with the Astros, is one of the Surprise starters and was having an excellent fall before a monstrous Halloween appearance that saw him surrender four runs on five hits over four innings. He had previously surrendered just one run over three starts (10 IP). The rest of the Brewers' pitching contingent is coming out of the bullpen, and all of them are enjoying excellent seasons in the AFL as well:
- Jacob Barnes: 0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 5.2 IP, 8 K, 2 BB
- Josh Hader: 1.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6 IP, 8 K, 4 BB
- Damien Magnifico: 2.08 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 4.1 IP, 7 K, 3 BB
Moving back to the hitters, Michael Reed has a very interesting line thus far. While his .211 batting average looks rough, his completely ridiculous 22.4% walk rate has kept his OBP at an extremely acceptable .388. While a BB% of greater than 20 probably isn't sustainable, a high walk rate has been very much a part of Reed's game throughout his minor league career (14.5% for his career).
Last but very much not least Brett Phillips, one of two Brewers in MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, is having a fairly nice time in the AFL as well. He's slashing .346/.452/.538, which in the AFL's batter-rich environment is only good enough for fourth place in OPS among his teammates with the Saguaros.
The Saguaros, 9-7 and in a virtual tie for first place in the West division, play five games this week before the Fall Stars Game next Saturday.