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Opening Day Countdown: The 2017 Prospects

Seventeen days until real baseball. If you try real hard, you might be able to just sleep until then!

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The past two days I took a look at the Brewers prospects we can hope to see break into the majors in 2018 and 2019. It's part of a loose series we had this week on Brewers prospects. In addition to those two articles, Kyle took a two part look at the prospects we might see play for the Brewers in 2016. Today will be the final portion of that series, as I take a look at the prospects we might see come up in 2017.

First, here are the links to the previous prospect posts for your perusal:

Opening Day Countdown: The 2019 Prospects
Opening Day Countdown: The 2018 Prospects
Milwaukee Brewers Prospects to Know for 2016: Arms
Milwaukee Brewers Prospects to Know for 2016: Hitters

As a reminder before we really dig into the meat of the article, I'm using MLB Pipeline's ETA. It's important to emphasis the "Expected" part. We don't know that these guys are going to arrive the year in which they've been projected. Some of them will take longer. A few of them might actually come up sooner. And others still might never make it to the majors at all.

I wanted to offer one other bit of clarification. When we're talking about major league ETA's we're typically not talking about the year in which a player opens the season as a regular. We're just talking about the first time we think they're going to get their first major league appearance. Sometimes that just means mid-season promotion. Sometimes that just means a September call-up. But often those players--assuming they project as regulars at that time--will factor strongly into the following season.

Without further ado, here's the list of prospects we can hope to see sometime in 2017:

Position Players: OF Brett Phillips, C Jacob Nottingham, OF Clint Coulter, OF Victor Roache

Pitchers: RHP Taylor Williams

This is a pretty top heavy list with Brett Phillips and Jacob Nottingham being the highlight. Clint Coulter is a fan favorite and a guy I'm really hoping can turn it on this year in AA. But understand, he really did not have a good season last year. He burned bright hot in April. But like the brightest stars, he burned out fast. He hit 325/429/649 (226 wRC+) with 6 home runs that first month. Then he hit 232/310/351 (103 wRC+) with 7 home runs over the last 4+ months of the season. That is not just the run suppressing environment at play here, I'm sorry to say. I wish it was. Now of course I'm not suggesting he's cooked. But scouts have concerns about his swing and ability to make contact. He's really going to have to turn things on or he might end up a bench player with limited versatility (1B/RF).

Victor Roache had a solid season statistically last year. Unfortunately I didn't get to see him play much and I've not read any scouting reports on him. That part isn't surprising because he had nearly hit his way into being a non-prospect coming into the year. It's disappointing though, because we can only glean so much information from his stat line. He seemed better able to tap into his raw power better this year. And he drew a fair amount of walks. But his strike out rate was still high. He's been dinged in previous reports for a long swing and poor pitch recognition. Those are things I cannot say have improved or not. Still, with the outfielders ahead of him, his future place with the Brewers may be on the bench--if he has a future with the Brewers major league team at all.

Taylor Williams is an interesting case. In spring of last year he was creating a lot of buzz. His combination of plus fastball, slider, and control had a lot of Brewers players comping him to Craig Kimbrel. And I remember reading a lot of praise from scouts/evaluators with no connection to the Brewers--and therefore no reason to embellish. Unfortunately he dealt with an elbow injury that forced him to miss all of last year and ultimately undergo Tommy John surgery. He'll miss all of this season meaning when he pitches next, it will be for the first time in over two years. He'll be 25 as well. The ship may have sailed on Williams sticking in a rotation, but if he can come back and acclimate to relief work, One would hope he could move quite quickly through the system. Still, it's hard to see him come up in 2017 unless it's in September.

How about we speak of a more pleasant topic. Coming in the 2015 season Jacob Nottingham had much of the same questions--defensively--that have plagued Clint Coulter. Most would have told you to expect a move off catcher at some point in Nottingham's development. Some of those people will probably still tell you the same thing. However the number is much smaller today. Last year was a huge breakout for him. He made significant improvements defensively. No one thinks he's ever going to be better than average, and he might only ever be fringe average at best. But that's more than good enough to let him behind the plate with the offensive potential he brings. He's not a guy that walks a lot so the on-base is likely never to be great. But he makes good contact and has above average game power. Twenty home runs in his prime is not be out of the question. Offensively I think we're easily talking about potential for top ten at the position, maybe even top five. Nottingham played at A+ last year and should open the season at AA. I don't expect the Brewers to move him aggressively. There's really no reason to and they'll want to develop his defense as best they can. So I would expect him to spend the whole year at AA. Maybe with an assignment to the AFL. Then I would expect to see him spend a large portion of the 2017 season in AAA. Perhaps he'll get a mid-season promotion or a September call-up. I think his defense more than his bat will dictate that.

Brett Phillips is universally considered the Brewers second best prospect after Orlando Arcia. He's a center fielder right now and projects to be average to above average defensively there. He has a huge arm and if he needs to move to right field, he'll be a plus defender there. He hits for a good average, should have average or a tick better power when he comes into his own, and average or better speed. A solid defender with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in center field is a really good player. I see the potential for 3+ wins here. I think he'll start the season in AAA, which might lead some to believe he'll get a call up this year. It might happen in September. But I think it's more likely they wait until after the Super Two cut off next year. Which means he could be the starting center fielder by May of next year.