Top prospect list season has not been kind to the Milwaukee Brewers. John Sickels, formerly of Minor League Ball but now writing at The Athletic, did rank Brice Turang around the middle of his annual list, but the Brewers do not have any players ranked in the top-100 prospects according to scouts from Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus, or Fangraphs (though Turang did check in at #104 on the FG list). BA recently rated Milwaukee as presently having MLB’s worst farm system.
Turang has been listed as the org’s top prospect by pretty much every scouting service out there, but a different kind of top prospect list was released by Fangraphs today that recognizes an under-the-radar performer from within Milwaukee’s minor league ranks. ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski uses the projection system that he developed to annually rank the game’s top-100 prospects based on the statistics that they’ve generated so far and the future performances forecasted by those minor league stats. He writes:
“These projections are not a replacement for scouting. Projection systems are very clever, and a smart analyst can figure out a lot of ways to approach some of the thornier data questions that emerge over 15 years of prognostication (as for me, I’ve muddled by). But they can’t capture everything and the farther down the minor league ladder you go, the worse the data gets and the shorter the players’ histories become...So if you’re wondering why Jasson Dominguez is missing from the list, it’s not that he’s a lousy prospect, it’s just that ZiPS doesn’t have anything useful to say about him yet.
One of the biggest differences between ZiPS and most other prospect lists is that, given the uncertainty surrounding any prospect’s future performance, ZiPS projections tend to give higher career WAR forecasts to lower-risk, lower-ceiling players in the high minors...Some of the successes — players who ranked higher on the ZiPS list than any other I found — include Ozzie Albies (No. 49, pre-2015), Mookie Betts (No. 26, pre-2014), Trea Turner (No. 11, pre-2016), and Joc Pederson (No. 2, pre-2015). Naturally, there have been some dismal busts too, just like any prospect list, the worst possibly being the year ZiPS had Arismendy Alcantara ranked 13th. Whoops.”
As one can easily discern from reading Dan’s post over at Fangraphs, the ZiPS list varies greatly from the list put together by Eric Longenhagen and the Fangraphs scouting team because it favors production over tools. And according to ZiPS, one pitcher who has performed well enough over the years to be recognized as the #73 overall prospect is right-hander Alec Bettinger.
Bettinger, who turns 25 in July, was a 10th-round draft pick Milwaukee out of the University of Virginia back in 2017. After debuting in the Pioneer League that year, Bettinger moved to full-season ball in 2018 and started the season by posting a 3.73 ERA and in 62.2 innings for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers before getting the bump up to Class A-Advanced Carolina. Alec could muster only a 6.91 ERA in 54.2 innings at that level to close out the campaign, but a strong 56:17 K/BB ratio and some bad luck on batted balls (.377 BABIP) led to a FIP more than two runs lower than his actual earned run average. That was enough to convince the front office to start him off with Double-A Biloxi in 2019.
All Bettinger did in response was turn in one of the top pitching seasons in the Southern League. He started 26 games and finished second on the circuit with 146.1 innings pitched as well as 157 strikeouts. Only five pitchers who logged at least 100 innings in the SL walked batters at a lower rate than Alec (2.15 BB/9) and only two hurlers in that same sample had a lower WHIP (1.066). Bettinger tied for the 11th-lowest ERA among that group at 3.44, but his earned run average was accompanied by an even more enticing FIP of 3.13.
Fangraphs scouts Bettinger as having an average fastball (50 on the 20-80 scale) in the low-90s with a potentially above-average curveball (future grade of 55) and cutter (future grade of 55) to go along with potentially above-average (future grade of 55) command of his arsenal. Last July, Longenhagen wrote “[a] senior sign who has combined a bit of a velo bump with sound pitch design, Bettinger is having a statistically dominant season and has back-end starter stuff.”
Bettinger may not have the sexiest profile in terms of velocity and stuff, but his track record of success leads ZiPS to believe that he has a future at the game’s highest level. He will likely get a chance to face Triple-A competition for the first time in 2020, which would put him just one step below making it to the big leagues. The Brewers don’t have a ton of starting pitching depth beyond their projected rotation, so depending on how things play out this season with attrition and injuries, there is a distinct possibility that Bettinger could earn his shot if he continues to perform capably.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference