30 Farmhands #2: The Best of “The Rest” | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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One of the great aspects of cheering for the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2014 is that the club arguably had one of their best drafts in GM Doug Melvin‘s tenure (maybe even in a decade). Certainly, Bruce Seid and his staff made a marked change in some of their signability and impact talent approaches, which is certainly another element that made his abrupt passing so shocking; there was a genuine sense that Seid successfully implemented a high stakes drafting strategy. Vice President and Special Assistant Ray Montgomery certainly has his work cut out for him following Seid’s 2014 draft, in order to maintain (and improve) this feeling that the Brewers’ farm system is no longer barren of talent or upside.

While Brewers fans can probably cite the first three picks of the draft as the key reasons for its success (and there are good arguments for this), Seid and company also selected several other intriguing players throughout the rounds. Outside of Monte Harrison, Jake Gatewood, and Kodi Modeiros, the Brewers continued to look for big pitchers, landing a slew of arms that might not have talent ceilings to match their size (but could have solid floors, drafted out of college). While no one gains the headlines for athleticism and signability issues quite like Harrison (which made him such a great pick), the Brewers also drafted some nifty tools and under-the-radar potential in their 2014 class. So, it is certainly not meant to denigrate the other prospects in the 2014 draft to call them “the best of the rest;” rather, it’s an indication that the Brewers saw quite an influx of talent in 2014.

This is the second installment in a fun series aimed at profiling some of Milwaukee’s farmhands. While I am very new to prospect writing, I believe there are certain areas we can look at for each player that help us raise questions about the link between performance and tools. I am not yet ready to compile lists, so I will feature groups of players and look at some of their performances and scouting reports. If there’s a relevant tagline for this series, it’s simply that throughout the summer, it seemed like there were more notable performances in the Brewers farm system to get excited about, impact prospects moving forward in the system, and bigtime signings and a textbook “high ceiling” / “impact talent” draft. This series will list 30 key developments.

Part One: Developing DSL
(Forthcoming Parts on Arms, Replacements / Depth, Surprises, and Impact Talent)

“The Rest”
C Greg McCall (9th round; Helena Rookie, 2014)
Greg McCall was an intriguing prospect from day one, as even the JSOnline’s draft summary did not include a scouting report for the college catcher. In an interview with Derek Harvey of Brew Crew Ball, Perfect Game’s Patrick Ebert hinted that McCall may have been drafted as an older catcher for some of the Brewers’ young arms in their system (Ebert specifically named Modeiros in this case. Since the Brewers assigned McCall to Helena, instead of Arizona, one might believe the Brewers did not draft McCall to handle Modeiros). However, Ebert also noted that McCall showed some power at the University of Texas-Arlington, and that’s exactly how his batting profile played out west. Even if McCall was older than the typical Pioneer Rookie League positional player, it is difficult to look past a .326 AVG and .465 SLG, which was driven by eight extra bases hits (among 28 total hits). McCall also played exclusively at catcher and designated hitter, which makes it difficult to speculate about any ideas the Brewers have to move McCall around the diamond.

CF Troy Stokes (4th round; Arizona Rookie, 2014)
It’s really tough to write about prospects without hyping them. This is the #1 lesson I am learning thus far, while learning how to write about prospects: it seems like just about every player drafted was All-Conference, All-League, the best player on their team, etc. You name it, you’ll probably find it in their bio. Furthermore, as these kids are drafted, the number of interview news pieces, or local “fluff” stories, often outweighs scouting notes on these players. This is not a criticism of the process, local newspapers, or the prospects: it is an absolute accomplishment to be drafted by an MLB team, and each draftee inherently carries that sense of “maybe this is the one that breaks through and reaches his full potential.” (And anyway, if my writing on this draft appears too rosy, there are plenty around the internet and print sources who will provide counterpoints in their analysis). This is why it’s fun to follow prospects. In this regard, there is a lot of good press about Stokes, who is regarded as a well-rounded player that might not have one standout tool, but comports himself well around the aspects of the game.

According to JSOnline, Stokes does not necessarily have one standout tool, but Stokes’s base running totals betray that idea. At Calvert Hall in Baltimore, Stokes set school records for runs scored and stolen bases during his senior season. In the Arizona Rookie League, Stokes was second only to Harrison in stolen bases. Stokes’s walk rate is also encouraging, as the outfielder showed an early understanding of the strike zone. Once again, Stokes was second only to Harrison in walks. (I probably don’t need to add that if Harrison develops as his potential abilities suggest, it should not be a bad thing to continually hear, “Stokes was second only to Harrison”). Fox Sports calls Stokes a prep player that might require a long time to develop, but thus far his performance suggests Stokes is headed in the right direction. It’s hard not to like the idea of a player that can run and understands the strike zone playing in the center of the diamond.

RHP Jordan Yamamoto (12th round; Arizona Rookie, 2014)
I imagine, at some point and time, Brewers fans and analysts may argue that Jordan Yamamoto has the stronger chance at moving forward as a starting pitcher than his state companion and teammate, Kodi Modeiros. This is not meant as a knock on Modeiros, who instantly adds to the ceiling of the Brewers’ arms, and was ranked among the Top Five prep arms in the 2014 draft. Rather, that comment is meant as praise for Yamamoto, who shone in an outing against Modeiros and impressed the scouts that made the trip to Hawaii. I also want to hint at the buzz about Yamamoto, since the press about both arms includes ample excitement about their potential and their ability to represent Hawaii in professional baseball. Of course, Yamamoto was also ranked within the Top 50 prep arms, which means that the Brewers did quite a good job in acquiring well-regarded high school arms in this draft.

Yamamoto, scouted at 92-93 MPH in Hawaii, also arguably had a better adjustment in the Arizona Rookie league than Modeiros. The young righty only made 10 appearances and three starts, but struck out 22 of 98 batters faced. If Yamamoto’s stuff continues to advance, it’s hard not to get excited about this swing-and-miss, commanding strike zone performance. One potential knock against Yamamoto is that he does not necessarily have the height and body to project significant physical development, but size should not be used as an argument against Yamamoto at this point in his professional career.

RHP David Burkhalter (6th round; Arizona Rookie, 2014)
Following the draft, blurbs on Louisiana prep hurler David Burkhalter noted that although the righty had a scholarship to the University of Louisiana-Monroe, a coaching change could impact his decision to commit to college pitching. Indeed, Burkhalter himself said that he was disappointed that the university’s new baseball coach only had a one-year deal. Less than a week after those comments, Burkhalter signed with the Brewers instead of working with pitching coach Ben Sheets. The righty promptly exhibited solid strike zone command in the Arizona Rookie League. In 10 games and four starts, Burkhalter struck out 19 batters against seven walks, which was the best walk rate of any of the Brewers’ young Arizona prospects (no one young than 20 years old posted a stronger walk rate than Burkhalter).

At this stage, Burkhalter’s age makes him an extremely raw prospect, but his size makes him one of the most intriguing young arms in the Brewers’ 2014 class. In fact, Burkhalter is the biggest high school arm signed by the Brewers from their 2014 draft, which leads one to wonder how the Brewers project the righty into his body as he ages and progresses on the farm. For this reason, one could see Burkhalter as a poster boy for the Brewers’ recent “draft big arms” strategy.

CI Dustin DeMuth (5th round; Helena Rookie & Wisconsin A, 2014)
In contrast to the last three youngsters featured, college corner infielder Dustin DeMuth arguably represents more of a “solid floor” than a “projectable, high ceiling” pick. Drafted as a third baseman, DeMuth already has played at third and first for the Brewers farm, which leads one to look for power in his bat. Scouted for high average and gap potential, the lefty bat destroyed Helena and was promptly promoted to the Midwest League. DeMuth’s stats don’t look as great with the Timber Rattlers, but six of his 16 hits were for extra bases. He was also not as old in A ball, whereas he was quite old in the Pioneer League. Even with a statistical downturn at A-Ball, DeMuth’s .333 AVG and .458 SLG in Helena stand out.

One might wonder whether DeMuth will be determined to silence critics that questioned his gamble to turn down a $150,000 signing bonus from the Minnesota Twins after the 2013 draft. DeMuth’s own quotes suggested that his decision was about having the chance to complete his education, rather than potential professional bonuses, which dropped to $50,000 after the 2014 draft. Locally, DeMuth was noted for his pure athleticism, which leads one to suspect that the infielder will have the physical ability to make good on his determination to advance to the majors. Noted as one of the top pure athletes on the Indiana University campus, DeMuth will have plenty of athletes to compete with for that honor in the Brewers system.

Keep An Eye On
OF Mitch Meyer (7th round. Extra base hits, potential eye, surprising power?)
RHP Bubba Blau (24th round. Size, age, fastball (97 top in college), strikeout %)
RHP J.B. Kole (8th round. Age, size, fastball)
RHP Brandon Woodruff (11th round. Age, size, two-way player in college)
SS Jonathan Oquendo (14th round. Age, multiple defensive positions, walk %)
RHP Brock Hudgens (31st round. Strikeout %, Hit %, runs prevented)
LHP David Carver (35th round. Lefty, size, strikeout %, walk %)
LHP Zach Hirsch (19th round. Lefty, size, strikeout %)
C Matt Martin (27th round. Batting average, defensive position)
RHP Carlos Leal (34th round. Converted by Brewers to pitcher, college catcher, strikeout %)
RHP Donnie Hissa (21st round. Size, local prospect (Iron River, WI.))

Resources
BaseballAmerica. The Enthusiast Network, 2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2014.
Journal-Sentinel, Inc., 2014.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.
Other sources cited as linked.

Greg McCall’s entry updated at 8:00 AM, December 2.

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