As many, many sources have documented throughout the season, there is a lot to like about the Brewers minor league development during the 2015 season. The AA Biloxi Shuckers had an amazing season while facing a seemingly insurmountable roadtrip; several key minor leaguers exhibited breakthroughs at that level, and that club was also bolstered by several advanced prospects from big deadline trades. The lower minors were boosted with a valuable 2015 draft, Dominican Academy graduates, and some aggressive assignments of 2014 draftees and International players alike.
Beyond these well-documented strengths, there are other players that made interesting advancements in the shadows of the system’s stars. This brief two-part series will highlight eight players that could surge forward in 2016, as well as another group of players with specific traits or tools that are worth watching.
Key: Each entry includes the player’s name, draft pick / signing date & country, and 2015 level(s).
David Burkhalter, RHP (2014, 6th. A Wisconsin, 2015): Between Kodi Medeiros‘s Fielding Independent Pitching and Devin Williams‘s full-season debut / breakout at A Wisconsin, Brewers fans might be forgiven if they overlooked David Burkhalter during his 19-year-old season. Yet, Burkhalter is similar to Medeiros in that he is an extremely young pitcher that jumped straight to full-season ball after the Arizona Rookie League, after the Brewers drafted him out of high school in 2014.
BaseballAmerica called Burkhalter “projectable and athletic” in physical terms, and his fastball already reached the low-90s prior to the draft. With his potential to be a big righty power pitcher, it was thrilling to see Burkhalter strike out 91 of 413 batters faced (almost as good as Medeiro’s lauded K-rate). Here’s where the duo split: the lefty Medeiros exhibited worse control (visible, perhaps, in a higher walk rate) but corrected that issue with a great groundball rate, while the righty Burkhalter was a troublesome flyball pitcher who corrected that issue by walking significantly fewer batters.
I am picking Burkhalter as a “sleeper” to emerge as the highest-rated, most-probable starting pitcher out of the 2014 draft, if he maintains (or advances) his strike zone command as he progresses throughout the minors. If his fastball grows into his frame as he matures, Burkhalter could end up as a lucky draft score, signed away from a commitment thanks to a coaching change at his college-of-choice.
Steven Karkenny, 1B/3B/OF (2015, 19th. R Helena, 2015): While profiling the Helena Rookies, I added a “Power/Speed Alert?” to Steven Karkenny‘s information, based on quotes from a fluffy news article that also included some interesting coaching comments. Karkenny was drafted out of The Master’s College, which is an NAIA school for baseball, meaning that the righty bat could have been overlooked due to the size of the program and its competition. (Incidentally, it is worth noting that The Master’s College is hardly an hour from Caly Poly Ponoma, home of potential fast-riser Cody Ponce, another arguably overlooked talent due to school size / competition in 2015. It will be worth digging for scouting info on the area personnel who worked on these picks, as the Brewers may have landed two draft gems by mining one area for potentially “overlooked / underappreciated” talent).
Anyway, Karkenny was “old” as a 22-year old beginning his career at Helena, but that power / speed showed up in games. Not only did the prospect hit for extra bases in 9.3% of his plate appearances, but he also hit more homers than average (so, it was “bigtime” Pioneer League power and “doubles” power); he attempted nine steals, getting caught only once; beyond that, his 59 K / 33 BB rate was also strong in 302 PA (even if his overall batting average was below the Pioneer League mark).
Correct me if I’m wrong, but that swing looks relatively quick and compact, and Karkenny appears to be quiet at the plate. I was torn between Karkenny and Tyrone Perry (2015, 14th) as sleepers from the “deep/midround” 2015 draft, as I like how both materialized tools in game. But I am highlighting Karkenny here because of the power/speed potential, and his 1B/3B/corner outfield defensive profile. Whether he continually advances his batting average profile and maintains his power as he faces advanced pitching will determine a lot about his role, but with organizational holes at 1B & 3B, Karkenny could materialize as a welcome “high floor” depth options with a few tools to contribute. (It goes without saying that 1B Perry also basically has a job to seize, as well, with his power and discipline approach).
November Note: Karkenny retired after the 2015 season.
Elvis Rubio, OF (2011, Dominican Republic. A Wisconsin, 2015): Elvis Rubio was regarded as one of the best (if not the best) power prospects of his 2011 signing class, and after a couple of years in professional baseball, that power is appearing in games.
Rubio worked three years in the Brewers’ Dominican Academy, since he immediately began playing in his age-16 season. He progressed each year, approaching 10% extra base hit% in his 2013 DSL campaign. That power diminished during his first season in Arizona, down to 3% doubles and 1.2% home runs. So, even if Rubio did not reach 10% XBH in 2015 with A Wisconsin, he pumped that doubles rate up to 5.5% (with his home run rate approaching 1%).
This video shows two sides to Rubio, outlining a swing chasing an outside pitch, and showcasing his in-game power. On July 28 against Peoria, Rubio reached that power potential twice, without walking or striking out, either. The righty bat fluctuated throughout the season, but he is finishing strong for the Timber Rattlers. Rubio is a “true sleeper,” in the sense that his biggest potential tool scouted during his signing class has yet to fully emerge, but that power is there and could be reached if Rubio continues to hone his strike zone. Since he just turned 21 in the middle of the summer, and is already approaching Advanced A ball, Rubio has time to find that power, too.
Quintin Torres-Costa, LHP (2015, 35th. R Arizona & Helena, 2015): The Brewers went to the pitching well in Hawaii twice during the 2014 draft, netting Medeiros and RHP Jordan Yamamoto. This year, they returned to the islands late in the draft, selecting Quintin Torres-Costa out of the University of Hawaii. Torres-Costa was a redshirt sophomore with a couple years of college eligibility remaining, and (perhaps most notably for the Brewers scouting department) previously played with Medeiros in high school. Torres-Costa was redshirted because he had UCL surgery in 2013.
According to the southpaw’s draft advisor, “He can throw 93 mph, has a decent slider, and with a little work will have good command of a changeup. He’s a good athlete and hard worker. At the 35th round, I think they’re getting a steal, and they agreed.” The youngster also showed an ability to respond to a difficult season and adjust, as he pitched poorly as a starter before improving as a reliever for Hawaii. The lefty built on his college improvements at both rookie levels, striking out 31.6% of his batters faced and maintaining a solid groundball rate.
|Brewers R & A LHP||2015 Level||K / BB / HR / GB:FB (IP)||2016 Age|
|Jake Drossner||R+||44 / 19 / 1 / 0.99 (43.0)||22|
|Kodi Medeiros||A||94 / 40 / 0 / 1.84 (93.3)||20|
|Luis Ortega||A||64 / 40 / 3 / 0.83 (81.0)||23|
|Drake Owenby||R / R+||25 / 11 / 2 / 1.22 / (32.0)||22|
|Trevor Seidenbeger||A+ / AA||37 / 21 / 1 / 0.60 (35.3)||24|
|Clint Terry||A+||38 / 5 / 2 / 0.60 (39.7)||24|
|Quintin Torres-Costa||R / R+||42 / 7 / 1 / 1.06 (31.3)||21|
|Christian Trent||R / R+||20 / 4 /2 / 1.30 (31.7)||23|
|Wei-Chung Wang||A+||91 / 39 / 9 / 0:77 (139.7)||24|
|Others||David Carver / Shawn Clowers/ Zach Hirsch / Nathan Kirby / Bradley Kuntz / Tyler Linehan / Trevor Lubking / Jarret Martin / Stephen Peterson / Chad Reeves|
As the chart above shows, the Brewers have strong depth in the low minors at LHP, including some of the organization’s most highly touted arms in recent drafts. I picked Torres-Costa as a potential “sleeper” because even if his role continues to place the prospect in relief, given his age and 2015 performance, that could “unleash” the youngster as a fast-riser in the system. So, it is worth watching whether the Brewers start Torres-Costa (given his injury history), and if he continues his strikout/groundball profile as he makes the next step in the minors, he could emerge as an extremely valuable depth arm (given his draft position).
Addendum: Looking for that next step:
There are obviously traits in each minor leaguer in the Brewers system that one must watch for each year, from the very top of the rankings to the organizational depth players. This is a group of players where very specific areas of their game could impact their place and development among the top prospects in the organization (or, a big jump into the Top 50, or so). Undoubtedly, some of these players may be looking to simply establish “high floors” as depth players, while others could leap in value. For a concrete example, I’ve thought Dustin DeMuth was an intriguing depth bat because of his polished college stature and experience, but his bat has stalled a bit as he advances (although he does have some strengths); on the other hand, Michael Reed had a breakthrough 2015, but now could conceivably improve his value further if he sticks as a centerfield candidate (even though he’s a solid corner outfield candidate, too).
Reed’s development, tools, and breakthrough rank him higher than DeMuth, but this is an example of how two players can have specific “next step traits to watch,” regardless of “top ranking” or “depth ranking.” Undoubtedly, it would be fantastic for the Brewers if one of their “depth option” corner infielders emerged, since there is a hole in the system there, and even a “high floor” player without a ton of upside could use good timing to seize an MLB job. Reed, on the other hand, is going to fight to stand out in a crowded outfield, and a “true” LF/CF/RF profile would help him immensely.
C Johel Atencio (2013, Panama): Watch for potentially aggressive assignment after 2015 injury.
OF Michael Reed (2011, 5th Round): Watch for potential defensive work at CF to increase.
RHP Miguel Diaz (2011, Dominican Republic): Watch for command improvement during first full season.
OF Brandon Diaz (2013, 8th): Watch those discipline and slugging developments at pitching-friendly Advanced A.
SS Christopher McFarland (2011, 18th): Watch for discipline and speed improvements during jump to AA.
C Beau Wallace (2015, free agent): Watch for consistent hitting and potentially aggressive assignments after R success in 2015.
3B Dustin DeMuth (2014, 5th): Watch for bat to take the next step as he advances.
RHP Kaleb Earls (2014, 13th): Watch for “limit the damage” low-BB / low-HR profile to continue during jump to AA.