The Brew Crew Ball community has spoken, and the top ten prospects are in. I always find this ranking revealing - I think it’s a good mix of paying attention to recent performance, scouts’ takes, new prospects, personal preference, and hopes and aspirations. Having a vote from those invested in the future of the Brewers smooths out the edges of bias and, I believe, gives us a good view of how the prospects rank.
That said, we are frequently wrong. Here’s our 2017 voting results (1-10). As you will see (if you bother to look), four of those on the top ten have disappeared from the 2018 list, with only one of them because he is an official major leaguer now. Josh Hader accumulated enough playing time to not be included in this list. He also totally justified his 2017 #2 finish; he was very effective out of the Brewer bullpen last season.
However, three of last season’s top ten are still in the Brewers’ system but have fallen out of that grouping. None of Corey Ray (3), Trent Clark (now Grisham) (8), or Phil Bickford (9) have shown up as of yet. Ray and Grisham haven’t advanced their development and have been passed by players who did, and Bickford had a lost season due to a recreational drug suspension and then an injury that derailed his comeback.
The thumbnail sketches below will be more subjective than objective. Last season, we included projections of when players would arrive with the big club. We picked out 4 of the top 10 to debut in the 2017 season, and all of those players did exactly that...and none of the others. (Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips, and Brandon Woodruff all appeared with the big club last season).
I’ve included my dreamed-for Brewer comp for each of the top ten.
1. OF LEWIS BRINSON (age 23)
Last year ranking - 1
Brinson comes in as the Brewers’ top prospect for the second year in a row, and did it decisively, with 53% of the vote. I will now predict that it will be his last appearance at the #1 spot on this list. Next year he will no longer be eligible due to having played too much to be considered for the list, he will have been traded, or if he IS still eligible he will not have performed well enough to get voted into this position again. Lewis had an inauspicious major league debut in 2017 (.106/.238/.277, OPS .513; 2 HR in 47 AB). A September call-up didn’t happen due to a hamstring injury that ended his season prematurely.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Larry Hisle (pre-shoulder injury)
2. P CORBIN BURNES (age 23)
Last Year ranking - 20
That’s a big jump for the righty, but his performance in 2017 justifies it. He is the reigning minor league pitcher of the year for Milwaukee after a combined A+, AA line of 1.67 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. He worked 145.2 innings. The 2016 4th round pick looks to build on two successful minor league seasons and perhaps make an appearance with the Brewers major league squad this season. He ranks as a mid-rotation starter with four effective pitches.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Yovani Gallardo
3. 2B KESTON HIURA (age 21)
Last Year ranking - debut
Hiura was the Brewers’ first round pick (#9 overall) in 2017, coming out of UC Irvine as the top rated college hitter. Hiura came out with an elbow injury that limited him to DH duty for UC Irvine and most of his time in rookie ball and at low-A Appleton, but he did appear at second base for the T-Rats at the end of the season. His bat was a resounding success, with a slash of .371/.422/.611, OPS of 1.033, in 187 plate appearances. He is a solid contact gap hitter who had 4 home runs in those 187 times at the plate. If he can keep the bat and play some adequate defense, the Brewers will have one of their best first round picks ever.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Paul Molitor (I think big!)
4. OF MONTE HARRISON (age 22)
Last Year ranking - 18
Three injury plagued seasons weren’t enough to keep us from including Harrison in our top 20 last year, and a power-packed 2017 season jumped him all the way to fourth this season. Monte gathered 513 plate appearances in low A ball and high A, and he put up a slash of .272/.350/.481, OPS .831, with 26 homers and 27 steals. Harrison didn’t come out of nowhere - he was a second round pick in 2014 - but said injuries limited him to 850 plate appearances in his first three seasons. A healthy season with a healthy swing opened some eyes, and added another very good outfield prospect to an already impressive group for the Brewers.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Gorman Thomas (well, not exactly the same type, but the results would be fine)
5. P BRANDON WOODRUFF (age 25)
Last Year ranking - 10
Unless the Brewers make some very significant additions to their rotation between now and the start of the season, only poor performance will keep Woodruff from making 25+ starts for the Crew this year. He made eight starts last season and posted a 4.81 ERA and 1.326 WHIP. Not super impressive, but keep in mind that he missed about four weeks after injuring a hamstring stretching for his supposed MLB debut. Woodruff was the 2016 Milwaukee minor league pitcher of the year, and looks to be at least a mid-late rotation piece and significant innings eater for the Brewers in the future. He has good command of his fastball and slider, and threw the fastball at an average just a tick below 95 mph last season.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Jimmy Nelson (minus the base running)
6. OF BRETT PHILLIPS (age 24)
Last Year ranking - 7
Maverick moved up a notch after dropping in our 2017 poll, and did with a fine season in AAA Colorado Springs and a good debut with the Brewers. Phillips just missed qualifying himself right off of our list, with a .305/.377/.567 slash in 432 plate appearances at the Springs (19 homers), and a 98 plate appearance big league debut for Milwaukee. In the bigs, he slashed .276/.351/.448 and drove 4 homers. His defense in center was good, and his throwing arm was superb. Phillips ranks anywhere from fifth in outside rankings (Baseball Prospectus) to 15th (Fangraphs), so there is considerable disagreement as to his future value. I expect to see him stick with the Brewers for the entire 2018 campaign, as a platoon centerfielder or fourth outfielder, or a solid starter. I guess he has me confused, too, but I sure wish him success - he is a great guy to have on your team as a fan.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Ben Oglive (probably fewer dingerz, but who knows?)
7. P LUIS ORTIZ (age 22)
Last Year ranking - 4
We are perhaps getting a little impatient with Ortiz at too-young of an age. Fangraphs still has him as the Brewers #4 prospect, and his pitches still grade out very well. But his 94.1 innings pitched last year were the most he has put up in his four year minor league career, and he hasn’t pitched above AA ball yet. His ERA last season was 4.01 and his WHIP was 1.230; he allowed 12 home runs in his 20 starts and 2 relief appearances. Despite a 60 rated fastball and 60 rated slider, with a 50-55 rated change, he only struck out 7.54 per 9 innings while walking 3.53. It will be interesting to see where the Brewers slot him for next season.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Chris Bosio (it’s possible that body type influenced my comp here)
8. 3B LUCAS ERCEG (age 23)
Last Year ranking - 6
Erceg’s drop of two spots isn’t due to his lack of growth, although 2017 wasn’t a breakout season. It’s because Hiura and Harrison shown brightly. The second round pick out of 2016 (his draft position conceivably hurt by some off-field questions) came through with a slash of .259/.310/.421, with 15 homers in 549 plate appearances, with the vast majority of his season spent at A+ with the Carolina Mudcats. He put in a little time with Colorado Springs for the AAA play-offs when call-ups left the Sky Sox short handed. Lucas’ throwing arm is rated at a very high 70, so if he hits solidly he will be a long-term major leaguer.
My hoped-for Milwaukee Career Comp: Eddie Mathews (I bet you saw THAT coming!)
9. 2B ISAN DIAZ (age 22)
Last Year rank - 5
Isan Diaz dropped as well, and mostly because his peripheral numbers declined in moving from low A to high A. His strikeouts were up, his BABIP was down, and so all of his numbers - batting average, OBP, slugging - were down. This may be attributable to playing with an injured hand, to stepping up in competition, something else, or all of the above. Diaz’ major league potential will rest on maintaining a power bat as a middle infielder while getting on base enough to contribute a positive WAR. As with Luis Ortiz, age is a factor - Isan is still young and will be given every chance to re-ignite the excitement that his 20 homer season in Appleton generated among fans and scouts alike. But his line of .222/.334/.376 from last season with the Mudcats isn’t gonna cut it.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Dale Sveum
10. P FREDDY PERALTA (age 22)
Last Year ranking - 21
Brewer fans are more excited by Peralta than ranking services. Baseball Prospectus puts him into the 11-20 group; Fangraphs at 12, Prospects 1500 at 14. But Fangraphs’ Future Value ranking of 40 isn’t optimistic. So why are BCB fans high on Peralta? Because Freddy gets results. Over 120 innings in high A and AA ball last season, he posted a 2.63 ERA and a 1.158 WHIP. He walks too many (around 4.5/9 IP), but his hits per 9 innings was an awesome 5.85. And BABIP was at .268, so it wasn’t just pitching into luck - he is tough to hit. Can he maintain this pace? Well, the scouts don’t think so, but what the heck...maybe the guy knows how to pitch.
My hoped-for Brewer Career Comp: Teddy Higuera (wouldn’t that be awesome?)
Just think what the future will be like when all these guys play like their comp guys. I can’t wait!
Keep voting, this year’s 18th and 20th ranked guys could be top 5 or 10 next year!
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs