Through the first couple months of the 2016 minor league season, the halfway marks for each team is slowly creeping up. In each of the minor league divisions, a three-day All-Star Break typically rests between late June and Early July. This season, the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers and Low-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers mark their halfway point between June 20th to the 22nd; the High-A Brevard County Manatees are off from June 17th to the 19th, and the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox have their break between July 11th and 13th. With most of the breaks nearly a couple weeks away, it only seemed fitting to mark the first couple month’s conclusion by creating a full 25-man roster of the Brewers’ best organizational players so far this season. These players rank from star prospects to organizational depth and accomplished veterans. But they all share one similar quality: their outstanding play as the first half starts to wrap up.
NOTES: Most players on the list have been covered in the Non-Top 30 Prospects piece I wrote last week, so some guys that made the team are better covered there. There is also obvious room for discussion, as there were countless borderline calls when it came to the back-end of the roster.
Around the horn, the top producers lay on the upper tier of the system – a good sign for the Brewers with the Major League Trade Deadline in another month and a half. At first base, Garrett Cooper has opened some eyes on the offensive side by providing gap power, as 16 of his 45 hits are for extra bases. Infielder Nathan Orf has also played well in the first two months in split time between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Aside from Cooper and Orf, the other infielders pose an interesting tandem for the second half of the season. All of these players could be brought up once the Brewers trade players away or lose anyone due to injury. Catcher Manny Pina has shown solid offensive abilities as well as veteran leadership in Triple-A Colorado Springs. At age 29, the journeyman maintained one of the best wRC+ in the farm system (155, 100 is considered ‘average runs created’). He’s also thrown out about 40% of base stealers so far this season (17 for 43) – his best since 2013. Offseason acquisition Garin Cecchini has quietly become a staple in the Sky Sox lineup at the corner infield positions, as he’s putting up a nice .286/.347/.762 slash. The former #55 prospect in 2014 provides a little bit of everything, and his BABIP indicates that this could be considered regular production from him. Expect him to get a tryout at the major leagues later on this season. Lastly, the system’s top prospect Orlando Arcia has succeeded so far in his first taste of Triple-A. Even at the higher level, he is nearly mirroring his production from last season (.307/.347/.800 with 8 HR, 69 RBI and 74 R and 25 SB in 552 AB’s). The biggest worry about him was his offense, but the performance thus far has proven any serious doubters wrong to this point in his career.
Honorable Mentions: C Josmil Pinto (AAA), C/1B Mitch Ghelfi (Low-A), 1B/RF Andy Wilkins (AAA), SS/3B Jacob Gatewood (Low-A), 2B/SS Nick Shaw (AA), SS Angel Ortega (High-A)
For the outfield, the Brewers have seen some impressive production out of lesser-known names. OF/1B David Denson, mentioned in the last piece, has grown into a solid offensive player for Low-A Wisconsin, knocking in the second-most runs behind Isan Diaz and Jacob Gatweood’s 25. He also is second on the team in on-base percentage, only behind 2B Blake Allemand (discussed later). Up-and-Down outfielder Keon Broxton probably shouldn’t have made the list due to only playing 28 games in the minors. However, his production after being sent down was too incredible not to warrant spot. In just 25 games, he managed to hit .301/.390/.972 slash with 7 HR and 15 SB’s – both either tied for most in the system (home runs) or second (stolen bases). Although his K-rate is still well-below average, Broxton could make a return to the big leagues if he can lower the rate.
Outfielder Brett Phillips, the Brewers second-best prospect and the #28 overall prospect according to MLB.com has been solid, but there are a few strange differences compared to last season. What is the most worrisome category for him has been his batting average. A career .292 hitter, it was troublesome to see him hit only .250 last season for the Crew to pair with the slightly increased number this season. One thing that should be noted is his strikeout and walk rates. His K-rate normally sat around 18% within the Astros organization the last two years to pair with a walk rate of about 6%. With the Brewers, his focused has changed – striking out almost a third of the time (about 30%) with a walk rate of around 11-12%. The increased K-rate could be a major factor for his drop in batting average, but none of his other categories have really suffered because of it. Perhaps this is a sign of a new development strategy from the new regime that focuses on getting on base, but Phillips has continued to put up strong numbers despite the shift in focus.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Wren (AA), Victor Roache (AA), Trent Clark (Low-A), Michael Reed (AAA), Carlos Belonis (Low-A)
Overall, even the backups of the organization’s-best have produced at incredible rates. Most of the names on the list have been pleasant surprises to the season. Catcher Max McDowell has hit well splitting time with the hometown player Mitch Ghelfi. Although the average is not as eye popping, his on-base percentage and stolen bases provide a rare combination not found in many catchers. Only time will tell if the 2016 13th round pick has the stuff to reach the majors, but he’s off to a great start. Likewise, second basemen Blake Allemand was one of the best hitters for the Timber Rattlers, hitting .338/.403/.878 in 42 games. He’s just getting adjusted to Single-A Brevard County, but the 23 year-old has made the most of his season thus far. OF Johnny Davis may just be the quickest player in the system, swiping 16 bases (26 attempts). The 26 year-old has been in the system since 2013, but he could finally be making strides to reach the upper minors.
The final two spots on the bench were extremely difficult to figure out. One may have thought that OF Michael Reed could have made it with his hot start to the season, but ever since the call-up of Alex Presley he’s hit .191/.372/.689 in 35 games. Although he’s had 5 hits in the last 3 games and may be out of his horrid cold streak, other candidates have been more sound and consistent. OF Kyle Wren was also an option (as I am a big fan of), but journeyman Jake Elmore has impressed in limited time. Paired with his ability to play nearly everywhere in the field, he’s been incredible in the Colorado Springs lineup. Plus, if this were a real team, a utilityman would serve well off the bench. Aside from Mitch Ghelfi’s recent struggles (starting after I wrote the piece on him and others…woops), catcher Jacob Nottingham has been trending in the opposite direction. Since April 25th, the 8th best catching prospect and #10 on the Brewers list has hit .309/.366/.821 in 32 games and slugged 5 home runs.
|Josh Hader||LHP||AA||10 (10)||51.0||0.88||1.00||.189||65-17||11.47||3.00||3.82||.290|
|Marcos Diplan||RHP||Low-A||12 (6)||47.2||1.89||1.17||.184||64-24||12.08||4.53||2.67||.278|
|Jon Perrin||RHP||A-/A+||11 (11)||65.0||2.77||1.06||.247||68-7||9.42||0.97||9.71||.330|
|Brandon Woodruff||RHP||A+/AA||12 (12)||66.0||2.73||1.06||.213||68-19||9.3||2.6||3.58||.288|
|Bubba Derby||RHP||AA||11 (11)||52.2||4.27||1.52||.287||55-18||9.4||3.08||3.06||.353|
Although a number of top prospective arms are either struggling (Lopez, Medeiros) or have limited numbers (D. Williams, Ponce), there are a number of lower-level guys that have pitched well. The obvious top choice is the Brewers second-best pitching prospect, lefty Josh Hader (#4 in the top-30). His numbers so far this season have been extremely strong, leading many to believe the Brewers may have stolen a ton of value in last year’s Gomez/Fiers deal. No doubt his stock has skyrocketed, even after a rare outing last night where he gave up a run – though going six innings and striking out eight. Another highly-touted arm from a past trade, Marcos Diplan (#19 in the top-30) has procured a very impressive first season in Low-A Wisconsin. At those levels, many starters act as spot-starters/long relievers, as you’ll see in the bullpen. The 19 year-old has struck out an impressive 64 batters in 47.2 innings – good enough for the best K/9 in the organization.
Two other arms that were also discussed last week – Jon Perrin and Brandon Woodruff – have been solid arms even since their promotions. Although Woodruff (30th-best prospect) has a 4.57 ERA in his first 4 starts in Biloxi, his latest two have been superb (12.2 IP, 2.13 ERA, .143 opp AVG combined). Meanwhile, Perrin has continued his consistency, adding a 3.10 ERA with a 21-6 K-BB ratio in 29 IP. He has been saddled with the loss in the last three starts, but tossed into the 6th inning every time and pitched two quality starts for the Manatees.
The final spot in the fantasy rotation was literally a toss-up between Wei-Chung Wang, Eric Hanhold, and RHP Bubba Derby. Among the three, Derby has struck out more batters and walked less guys than the other two (Wang = 35-18 in 49.2 IP…Hanhold = 45-15 in 58 IP). Likewise, Derby’s statistics indicate that his numbers are negatively effected due to a near-50 point increase in average with balls in play (BABIP). Although it may not be an extreme difference, he is pitching a little better than his numbers appear to be.
Honorable Mentions: LHP Wei-Chung Wang (AAA), RHP Eric Hanhold (High-A), David Burkhalter (Low-A)
|Freddy Peralta||RHP||Low-A||11 (5)||38.1||2||3.29||1.12||.197||50-14||11.74||3.29||.284|
|Tim Dillard||RHP||AAA||8 (1)||22.0||0||2.86||1.23||.241||22-7||9.00||2.86||.305|
|Jordan Yamamoto||RHP||Low-A||11 (4)||46.0||0||2.54||1.09||.240||49-8||9.59||1.57||.328|
|Drew Gagnon||RHP||AA/AAA||18 (1)||31.1||1||2.59||0.96||.174||35-11||10.1||3.2||.257|
|Jacob Barnes||RHP||AAA/MLB||17 (0)||22.1||1||1.21||0.94||.182||23-7||9.27||2.82||.245|
|Stephen Peterson||LHP||AA||26 (0)||30.1||0||2.67||1.15||.235||34-8||10.09||2.37||.333|
|Damien Magnifico||RHP||AAA||21 (0)||25.1||9||1.78||1.14||.198||25-11||8.88||3.91||.273|
Lastly, the organization’s relievers/spot starters have gotten off to a great start. The Timber Rattlers surely must be pleased with the performances of both righties Freddy Peralta and Jordan Yamamoto. As they both make starts on occasion, they have combined with Marcos Diplan, swingman Miguel Diaz, and David Burkhalter to form a formidable pitching staff. Of the two, Peralta – acquired in the Adam Lind trade last winter – ranks among the top-30 prospects, coming in at #26. Double-A lefty Stephen Peterson has also maintained his abilities since last week, tossing two and a third scoreless innings while striking out 6. Upper-level arms Jacob Barnes and Tim Dillard have also produced. Barnes – the 29th best prospect – was recently called up to the majors and has thrown two scoreless innings thus far. Meanwhile, the 32 year-old Dillard has held the fort down in AAA Colorado Springs, producing the third-lowest ERA out of the bullpen (Barnes led with the 0.94 ERA). The second man in that ERA race is closer Damien Magnifico (#28 in the top-30), who has been a solid back-end flamethrower. Righty Drew Gagnon, a 3rd round 2011 draft pick, also makes the list by tossing 13.1 scoreless innings in Double-A Biloxi before moving onto the hitter-friendly Colorado Springs. He hasn’t thrown extremely well since making the move, but has struck out at least a batter in all but two of his outings.
Honorable Mentions: RHP Jaye Chapman (AA/AAA), RHP Stephen Kohlscheen (AA), RHP Josh Uhen (High-A), LHP Zach Hirsch (High-A), RHP Scott Grist (Low-A)