It wasn’t too long ago that the Milwaukee Brewers were derided as having one of the worst farm systems in the major leagues. For too long, the Brewers were a team that was ‘stuck in the middle’ between truly competing for the playoffs and building for the future. Things quickly began to change, however, following the disastrous month that was April of 2015. Once the franchise determined that it wasn’t going to win anything of substance with the core in place at the big league level, the stripping down of the organization began quickly building momentum into the full-blown rebuild that we as Brewers fans have had to endure for the better part of the last two years. Between Doug Melvin and Slingin’ David Stearns, Milwaukee has traded the following players since July of 2015:
Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Jonathan Broxton, Gerardo Parra, Neal Cotts, Francisco Rodriguez, Cy Sneed, Luis Sardinas, Adam Lind, Jason Rogers, Trevor Seidenberger, Jean Segura, Tyler Wagner, Khris Davis, Jed Bradley, Aaron Hill, Jaye Chapman, Jeremy Jeffress, Jonathan Lucroy, Will Smith, Eric Young Jr, Tyler Thornburg, Drew Gagnon, Martin Maldonado
As an organization, the Brewers have traded an entire 25-man roster worth of players in the last 18 months. Some deals were clear rebuilding types of trades, while others were counterbuilding sort of moves that returned some players at the big league level. The fruits of these labors are an MLB-level club that’s sprinkled with compelling young talent, and a farm system that is now a consensus top-five group in the league.
As a Brew Crew Ball community, we have been discussing and voting to rank the Milwaukee Nine’s top prospects for the past few weeks. Here are the top 10 Milwaukee Brewers prospects, as selected collectively by you, the reader:
1. OF Lewis Brinson
2016 Stats (AA-AAA): 434 PA || .268/.305/.468 || 15 HR || 17 SB || 87 K || 21 BB
Brinson has become Milwaukee’s consensus #1 prospect since the graduation of Orlando Arcia. He flashes plus power, and though the hit tool needs a bit of refinement it still projects as at least average. He doesn’t strike out a ton but he also hasn’t shown the same ability to draw walks at AA and AAA as he did in the lower levels. Brinson is a plus runner whose speed plays on both the basepaths and in the outfield. He projects as a plus defender in center field, and is also capable of playing the corners. If everything goes right for Brinson then he’s a consistent 20+ HR, 20+ SB threat who makes multiple All-Star teams, but even if the hit tool doesn’t allow him to reach that ceiling his defensive floor should help him be a productive regular anyway.
2. LHP Josh Hader
2016 Stats (AA-AAA): 126.0 IP || 3.29 ERA || 161 K || 55 BB || 6 HR || 1.238 WHIP
After gaining some notoriety in the 2015 Arizona Fall League, Hader carried that momentum over into a terrific 2016 season. The stuff is outstanding - a fastball that tops out at 97-98 MPH, a swing-and-miss slider, and a changeup that club officials have praised as improved during 2016. His funky, sidearm delivery and smaller build could lead to durability issues down the road and he’s had issues working deep into ballgames. His control is below-average and he’ll walk his fair share of hitters, which helps run up his pitch count and will probably keep him from eating a ton of innings. Still, Hader could have the ability to an above-average starter in the middle of a rotation with a late-inning relief floor thanks to his fastball/slider combo and big strikeout ability.
3. OF Corey Ray
2016 Stats (A-A+): 270 PA || .239/.307/.370 || 5 HR || 10 SB || 58 K || 23 BB
Ray was Milwaukee’s first round pick in the 2016 draft and was rated by some as the top collegiate player available. Given his relative polish, he began in high-A Brevard County and could be a quick riser to the big leagues. His hit tool will probably be only average or a tick better, and he showed an early penchant for striking out a fair amount at the lower levels. He could have above-average power, though, and is a plus runner. Ray moved from right field in college to center field as a professional and he’s still learning out there. If he can’t stick in center, left field would be a more likely destination in the big leagues due to his mere average arm strength.
4. RHP Luis Ortiz
2016 Stats (A+-AA): 90.2 IP || 3.08 ERA || 78 K || 23 BB || 9 HR || 1.312 WHIP
Ortiz has battled some health issues and has yet to top 100 innings in a season since being drafted in 2014, but when he is on the mound it’s hard not to get excited about what he brings. He throws a fastball that sits 92-97 MPH, a pitch that he can deliberately manipulate the velocity and movement of. His slider sits 83-86 MPH and grades out as plus, and he throws a changeup and curveball that have both flashed average. Ortiz has advanced command of all four pitches in his arsenal but his tendency to pitch away from contact can lead to high pitch counts. The club will also probably have to keep an eye on his weight as we go forward. With his build and arsenal, however, Ortiz could be a mid-rotation starter down the road with a floor of late-inning relief.
5. SS/2B Isan Diaz
2016 Stats (A): 587 PA || .264/.358/.469 || 20 HR || 11 SB || 148 K || 72 BB
Diaz started to gain some attention after winning the Pioneer League MVP award in 2015 while in the Diamondbacks system, and after being dealt to Milwaukee he carried that production over into an outstanding 2016 full-season debut with Class A Wisconsin. He lead the Midwest League with 20 home runs and projects for above-average power. He has an advanced approach and pitch recognition skills at the plate, with his elevated strikeout rate due more to working deep counts than a ton of swing-and-miss. Diaz’s below-average speed and fringey arm won’t play much longer at shortstop, but he should be at least an average defender at second base. He projects as an above-average regular at the keystone, with All-Star potential if the hit and power tool continue to show well as he faces more advanced competition.
6. 3B Lucas Erceg
2016 Stats (R-A): 295 PA || .327/.376/.518 || 9 HR || 9 SB || 54 K || 20 BB
Erceg fell to Milwaukee in the second round of this past summer’s draft due to some perceived makeup issues, those to his credit Erceg has worked to dispel some of those as a professional. His production can go a long way to helping people forget about the off-the-field stuff, and thanks to his above-average bat speed and balanced swing. The hit tool projects for somewhere close to average, with the potential for above-average to plus power. He’s a below-average runner, but has a decent glove and a plus-plus arm that should help him stick at third base. He could be an above-average regular at the hot corner, a position of dire need in Milwaukee’s system, but should be athletic enough to pick up some first base and potentially corner outfield should he not hit enough to be a starter.
7. OF Brett Phillips
2016 Stats (AA): 517 PA || .229/.332/.397 || 16 HR || 12 SB || 154 K || 67 BB
Everyone was stoked about Phillips a year ago, but his stock has fallen a bit after some struggles in AA in 2016. He did prove that his power is for real and he could be average to above-average in that category at the big league level, but it came at the expense of his hit tool. Phillips saw a major increase in his strikeouts while working through some mechanical issues with his swing and his hit tool now projects as below-average. He has shown a dramatic increase in his ability to draw walks since coming to the Brewers, so he should still at least be able to get on base at a respectable clip. Phillips has plus speed and a good glove in center field, and his Howitzer arm may arguably be one of the strongest in the minor leagues. His ability at all three outfield positions should help give Phillips a floor as a fourth outfielder, with his chances at being a regular player in center greatly hinging on his hit tool.
8. OF Trent Clark
2016 Stats (A): 262 PA || .231/.336/.344 || 2 HR || 5 SB || 68 K || 37 BB
Even with his unorthodox golfer’s grip and swing, Clark was considered to have an advanced hit tool when Milwaukee chose him in the first round of the 2015 draft. He still flashes that same plus hit tool and terrific bat speed, but injury issues have hindered his ability to stay on the field and generate exciting production to this point in his career. Beyond the plus hit tool, nothing else really jumps out about Clark’s profile; he should develop fringe-average to average power, he’s an average runner, and his fringey arm will probably push him to left field if he can’t stick in center. If Clark can stick in center field, the hit tool could be enough to make him an above-average regular there, otherwise he should be a productive reserve outfielder.
9. RHP Phil Bickford
2016 stats (A-A+): 120.0 IP || 2.92 ERA || 135 K || 42 BB || 6 HR || 1.150 WHIP
Bickford was the Giants’ first round pick in 2015 and has posted some very strong results early in his career. His fastball was clocked at 98 MPH when he was drafted, though he’s lost a little velocity since then and sits more regularly in the 91-93 MPH these days. He’s got a swing-and-miss slider that projects as above-average, though his changeup has a ways to go in to become a useful offering against advanced competition. Bickford hasn’t walked many guys in his career but his in-zone command needs refinement. The tools and build are there for Bickford to be a mid-to-back of the rotation starter, but with his current profile a relief role seems more likely at this point. He’ll miss the first 50 games of 2017 after testing positive for a drug of abuse.
10. RHP Brandon Woodruff
2016 Stats (A+-AA): 158.0 IP || 2.68 ERA || 173 K || 40 BB || 6 HR || 1.019 WHIP
Woodruff captured Milwaukee’s MiLB pitcher of the year on the strength of his outstanding 2016 season and improved his stock quite a bit in the process. His velocity picked up this year and he was consistently throwing 95+ MPH with his fastball. His slider took a step forward this year as well and projects as above-average, to go along with an average changeup. His control and command have taken big strides since his middling collegiate career and now project as average to above-average. With his solid three-pitch arsenal, sturdy build, and improved command, Woodruff looks like he could be something like a #4 starter who will eat some solid innings, with the chance for a bit more.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference