MLB Pipeline has been updating their top prospect lists by position since last week. So far they've done RHP, LHP, C, and now 1B. And so far only LHP Josh Hader has been named to a list. It seems Jorge Lopez was probably somewhere in the next ten RHP and should be including on the updated Top 100 list. But it comes as no surprise the Brewers were absent from catcher and now first base.
Make no mistake, the overall strength of the Brewers farm system is vastly improved. But there are two things to keep in mind. A large portion of their best prospects are outfielders: Brett Phillips, Michael Reed, Tyrone Taylor, Clint Coulter, Monte Harrison, Trent Clark, Demi Orimoloye, and so on. They'll only have a chance to be included on one of the ten total lists.
On top of that, a large portion of their best prospects are in the lower minors: Trent Clark, Demi Orimoloye, Monte Harrison, Gilbert Lara, Cody Ponce, Devin Williams, Kodi Medeiros, Nathan Kirby, Marcos Diplan, and others. The point is less obvious here. But generally speaking, prospects in the lower minors have a harder time making top prospect lists unless they're clearly huge toolsheds. As players get closer to the MLB level, they start to answer questions about their ability to reach their ceiling, thereby quelling uncertainties. I would not be surprised to find a number of these players make Top 10 lists once they've played at the AA level.
I just wanted to address that before I start talking about the Brewers first base scene--which to be fair is only beat out in bleakness by the Brewers catcher scene. We can look up and down the minors and not find a single first baseman that looks like the guy. However I'd be lying if I said there weren't any players that could surprise.
At AAA the Brewers have recently claimed Andy Wilkins. I have a hard time getting interested in him and to me he looks like a body to put at the position. He's 27 and has only received enough MLB playing time to log 45 plate appearances that did not go well. He struggled in 2015, but did hit 30 home runs in 2014. Might as well give him some AAA playing time and see what's up.
That could mean Nick Ramirez repeats AA...for the third time. The 26 year old has spent the past two seasons at AA with very limited success. He hasn't ever broken the 20 home run threshold and he strikes out quite a lot. He does have a solid walk rate. But at his age and having never reached AAA, if he doesn't show real improvement in 2016 it's probably fair to assume platoon role as a ceiling.
Battling Ramirez for playing time at AA could be Garrett Cooper. The now 25 year old is ready for a promotion for A+ after hitting 294/356/436 there in 470 plate appearances during the 2015 season. However I'd mitigate any enthusiasm one might have for the first baseman. For one, 24 is old for A+. And his 8 home runs in 2015 is a career high.
It's entirely possible Ramirez gets sent back to A+ start the season though as I'm not sure who would take his place right now. David Denson struggled in low-A and should go back there, at least to start the season. At age 20 there is still plenty of time left for him to harness his 70 grade raw power. Of all the players mentioned so far, Denson has the highest ceiling. But the risk is high as well. He has had trouble making contact and as a result has sported an obscene strike out rate.
Tyrone Perry was a recent draft pick--14th round pick in the 2015 draft. He spent the season with the Phoenix Brewers--one of their rookie leagues. He hit very well too: 278/400/426, and while he only hit 3 home runs scouting reports have his raw power as plus or better. I would caution against putting too much stock in rookie league numbers anyway. It wasn't the advanced rookie league which could mean that's his destination for 2016--which is fine for a 20 year old. The Brewers could advance each of the players mentioned around mid-season.
So far this list has not been very compelling, with the highest ceiling guys coming at the lowest levels of the minor league system--and not without warts. But there is one interesting player at the higher levels: Clint Coulter. Right now he's an outfielder, but that could change. With the recent acquisitions of Brett Phillips and Domingo Santana, Coulter is much further down the depth chart than he was this time last year. He also seemed to struggle defensively, though it was his first time playing the outfield. Still, with so many potentially better options--perhaps including Tyrone Taylor and Michael Reed--a move to first could clear a path for him and solve a problem for the Brewers. That would put more onus on his bat to perform. Some think that's a possibility while others have questioned his ability to make contact. He should play at AA in 2016 which will go a long way toward answer those questions.
First base is definitely an area of weakness for the Brewers. Chris Carter seems a temporary option despite his three years of team control. I think he either plays well enough to be traded, or he plays poorly enough to get replaced at the first opportunity. There is no middle ground. Unfortunately, the only prospect that looks to push him out isn't currently a first baseman. Perhaps this is an area where the Brewers will look to improve via trades.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs