30 Farmhands #10: Improvements | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Along with a set of Brewers prospects that produced steady seasons behind the stars of the system, there is another group of players that presented notable improvements on the field in 2015. These players will be scattered across my offseason rankings; some, like Jake Gatewood arguably showcased their bigtime tools on the field, leading to a potential surge in prospect ratings; others, like Wei-Chung Wang and Damien Magnifico, will arguably force their way onto the Brewers 40-man in a packed set of offseason roster decisions; others still, like Shtervin Matos and Jose Cuas, are still building their professional profiles.

Recent Prospect Coverage

Personal List: Top 15 Prospects
30 Farmhands #8: Prospect Narratives
30 Farmhands #9: Sleepers (Part One; Part Two)

I understand that minor league stats are not necessarily significant without considering scouting reports and developmental tasks or strategies assigned to players. So, this will be more of a study in peripheral stats (like strike outs, home runs, ground ball rates, plate discipline, etc.), or a search for statistics that might show that a player’s tools are appearing in-game.

I also understand that this list does not exhaust the number of prospects that featured improvements during the 2015 season. This list is meant to augment other recent lists I published.

Each entry features the player’s draft/signing year and round (or country of origin), as well as their 2015 professional levels.

In-Season Improvements

Jose Cuas, IF (2015, 11th. R Helena, 2015): I liked the story behind Jose Cuas from draft day — it’s hard to bet against someone who has displayed his tenacity — but the young infielder had a tough start to his rookie season. While other college draftees like Blake Allemand and Cody Ponce quickly jumped to A Wisconsin, Cuas batted .229 in his first nine games.

Improvements Notes
Jose Cuas Power & Batting Average Moved from 3B to SS / 2B too

Extra base hits started showing up in July, despite Cuas’s .236 AVG, and those extra base hits stayed around for the remainder of the season. When all is said and done, Cuas slugged 16 extra base hits (4 HR) in his last 143 PA, and his batting average jumped upwards, too. Cuas has a long way to go until one must worry about his MLB role, but it’s hard not to like his “utility infield” defense and power potential.

Garrett Cooper, 1B (2013, 6th. A+ Brevard County & AA Biloxi, 2015). After a couple of sets of repeat seasons between A Wisconsin and A+ Brevard County, Garrett Cooper already was old for some of his levels and had some trouble consistently maintaining his power. After a .275 / .361 / .353 AVG / OBP / SLG performance in April and May, the extra base hits surged in June.

Improvements Notes
Garrett Cooper Power (especially HR) increased / AVG also increased Discipline fluctuated / BB% declined during improvement

After hitting 11 extra base hits (1 HR) in June, Cooper’s out-of-the-park power expanded, and the righty bat slugged 6 homers, 12 doubles, and 2 triples in 178 July & August PA before the Brewers promoted him to AA Biloxi. Suddenly, Cooper leaps onto the map as a potential depth option (at least) for the Brewers’ 1B vacancy after 2016, and if he continues his improvement, one might wonder whether his power will translate to a starting MLB job. At any rate, he certainly plays at the right position for such an opportunity in Milwaukee.

David Denson, 1B (2013, 15th. R Helena & A Wisconsin, 2015). The 20-year-old first baseman showed great courage when he publicly came out in August, and while expressing support, some members of the Brewers expressed their feeling that Denson would be able to “focus on playing.” It’s impossible to speculate about the range of emotions or pressure that Denson felt. Sticking to the stats and scouting reports suggested a prospect that had yet to fully showcase his tools in-game at the beginning of his career.

Improvements Notes
David Denson 10 XBH & 12 BB in last 85 PA 2016 will be age 21 season

From August 18 onward, Denson’s power appeared, and he did not lose his advanced plate discipline in the process. Denson earned a promotion to return to A Wisconsin along with Jake Gatewood, and the extra base hits continued there, too. One can speculate about whether Denson will receive his third shot at A Wisconsin in 2016, or whether this power surge will give him his next test at pitcher’s haven Advanced A Brevard County.

Jake Gatewood, SS (2014, 1st. R Helena & A Wisconsin, 2015). Power is the biggest tool to watch for Jake Gatewood, and the young righty bat showed up in a big way at the end of his 2015 campaign. Given Gatewood’s youth, his appearance to open A Wisconsin in 2015 was arguably quite an aggressive promotion, which undoubtedly shades his statistics in a negative way. However, the shortstop returned to R Helena along with draft-mate Monte Harrison, and began a strong second half of the season.

Improvements Notes
Jake Gatewood Total Hitting Improvement @ Helena / Power & Discipline during second A Wisconsin stint Overall 28 2B / 2 3B / 10 HR in 431 PA

On June 24, it began: Gatewood cracked three doubles against Billings. A couple more doubles, and a handful of hits came during the next few games, when he slugged a homer on June 30. The homers would hold off for a bit, but the doubles — and hit parade — continued. Gatewood ultimately improved to a .274 / .331 / .476 batting mark at Helena, earning another promotion to the Midwest League. It’s easy to isolate the AVG and dismiss the promotion, but Gatewood’s power stuck around, and he also improved his plate discipline from his first trip to Wisconsin.

All told, Gatewood advanced in 2015, honing a few aspects of his game, responding to the adversity of a tough opening season assignment, and showcasing that bigtime power that placed him among the highly-touted draft prospects in 2014. One can only wonder what the youngster will do in his age 20 season, as he likely receives his second season to crack A Wisconsin with Harrison.

Damien Magnifico, RHP (2012, 5th. AA Biloxi, 2015). It’s probably not statistically significant to post a runs-prevention improvement, so I’m writing about Damien Magnifico’s incredible groundball : flyball improvement in July, August, and September.

Damien Magnifico K / BB / HR (IP / R) GB / FB
April – June 27 / 10 / 2 (30.3 / 7) 1.34
July – September 11 / 12 / 1 (23.3 / 3) 2.13

The Biloxi closer will be part of the Brewers’ Rule 5 Draft roster bubble, and while some will undoubtedly question his ability to miss bats despite a high velocity fastball, his ability to keep the ball on the ground is also crucial.

Sthervin Matos, 3B (2011, Dominican Republic. A Wisconsin, 2015). As the Brewers improve their Dominican Academy and become more aggressive in the International Market, players like Sthervin Matos almost seem like trailblazers from another era. In his age 21 season, Matos played his first year of full season ball, struggling to maintain his hit tool he flashed in Rookie Ball during 2014.

Improvement Notes
Sthervin Matos AVG improved in August / September Power & Discipline Potential

The youngster slugged quite consistently throughout 2015, even hitting three homers during a rough .185 AVG June. After that stretch, the bat picked up for the youngster, and he finished the year with 49 hits and a particularly torrid August and September. Notably, Matos flashes solid plate discipline along with his power, so it’s good to see his hit tool improve, too.

Ariel Pena, RHP (2007, Dominican Republic [Angels]. AAA Colorado Springs & NL Milwaukee, 2015). It is amazing to see Ariel Pena, one of the arms included with Jean Segura in the Zack Greinke trade, crack the MLB after spending more than three years in Milwaukee’s advanced minors. The righty is flashing a 92 MPH fastball thus far with the Brewers, and he’s splitting his off-speed pitches between a slider and change (he favors the slider, thus far).

Improvement Notes
Ariel Pena Improved K / BB & GB:FB as starter 92+ MPH fastball / slider / change

How did Pena get here? Late in the AAA Colorado Springs season, the righty shifted from relief to the starting rotation, and he improved almost every aspect of his game. The strike out rate improved, the walk rate declined, and he induced more groundballs, to boot. A 50 K / 23 BB / 5 HR / 0.63 GB:FB in 52.3 relief innings shifted to a 33 K / 8 BB / 2 HR / 0.72 GB:FB performance as a starter (in 30.3 IP). The righty is almost certainly emerging as another intriguing pitching depth option for an already packed pitching staff.

Wei-Chung Wang, LHP (2011, Taiwan [Pirates]. A+ Brevard County & AAA Colorado Springs, 2015). So many people have written about Wei-Chung Wang‘s improvement since the Brewers removed him from the 40-man roster that this almost seems unnecessary. But, have a look anyway:

Wei-Chung Wang K / BB / HR IP / R GB: FB
April 10 to June 13 45 / 23 / 7 60.7 / 43 0.73
June 24-September 6 51 / 16 / 2 85.0 / 26 (!!!) 0.88

I am looking forward to reading more scouting out of Brevard County, as video evidence of Wang’s delivery and approach has yet to surface from 2015 (here’s some great video from the AFL last year). The next task for the southpaw will be to tackle the advanced minors, and if Wang keeps up this performance, he could conceivably return to the MLB faster than expected. Undoubtedly, if that occurs, this radical Rule 5 pick will turn out to be one of President & GM Doug Melvin‘s most valuable gambles.

Honorable Mention: Cy Sneed, RHP (improved GB rate); Tyrone Perry, 1B (improved power/discipline); Elian Herrera, UTIL (AVG/discipline August, AVG/power September thus far); Taylor Jungmann, RHP (defined MLB rotational profile).

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