For the past two years, Ryan Topp and I have collaborated to create a Top 30 Brewers Prospect list. It involves some gnashing of teeth and compromise — neither of us get exactly what we want — but in the end, we unveil a solid Top 30 list that combines both of our thoughts and opinions on the Brewers’ top prospects. Thus, if you disagree with a particular ranking and believe Player A deserved to be ranked higher, there is a rather good chance than one of us wholeheartedly agrees with you.
Check back on Friday because Ryan will have his article reviewing the entire Brewers’ farm system going into the 2012 season.
1) RHP Wily Peralta (stats)
It’s been an interesting journey to the top of the Brewers prospect heap for the big right-hander. Signed out of the Dominican in 2005 at 16-years-old, the powerful righty missed all of 2007 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. By 2009, though, he had regained his velocity and began working his way up the organizational ladder. The 2010 season saw his strikeout rate take a step back, but that bounced back significantly in 2011 and helped drive his breakout in Double-A and Triple-A. Between the two levels, Peralta had a 3.17 ERA and better than a 2.5:1 K:BB ratio. He throws 94-96 MPH, with the ability to reach 97-98 MPH and possesses both an above-average slider and a solid-average change that flashes plus. Peralta’s biggest challenge will be to keep his walk rate down while still missing bats. He has a chance to be a #2 or #3 starter at the big league level, with some scouts firmly believing in him as a future #2. He has already tasted success in the upper minors at age 22, and if he continues to pitch well he should get a shot at the big leagues at some point in 2012, either as an injury-replacement starter or in the bullpen later in the year.
2) RHP Taylor Jungmann (stats)
In the 2011 Draft, the Milwaukee Brewers made a clear effort to sign big-bodied pitchers with a plus-fastball. It was an organizational philosophy that came to the forefront after a 2010 season in which the Brewers’ starting rotation combined for a 4.65 ERA at the big league level, and Jungmann certainly fits that idealistic mold. His 6-foot-6 frame and 93-95 MPH fastball will be a welcome addition to the organization. He also throws a plus-curveball with 12-6 action and a developing changeup. He is expected to be at least a #3 starter for the big league club, with many scouts believing he has a chance to be a #2 if his changeup develops properly and his delivery is smoothed out a bit. Jungmann is expected to begin his professional career and 2012 season in High-A Brevard County.
3) LHP Jed Bradley (stats)
One can have a spirited debate about which 2011 first-round college pitcher should be ranked higher at this point, so checking in at #3 is no slight to the southpaw out of Georgia Tech. Coming into his junior year, many felt Bradley had the potential to go in the top 5 of a loaded draft. A high BABIP contributed to a pedestrian 3.49 ERA, though, and he fell to the 15th-selection. His height and delivery give him good downward plane on all his pitches, which should help induce groundballs down the road. He features a fastball that sits in the 90-92 range with the ability to touch 95. Bradley also offers a good slider that overpowers hitters at times and mixes in a solid curve. His changeup flashes plus potential at times, and he’s working on finding consistency with it. Bradley’s mechanics are extremely sound, which should help him stay healthy and develop as a pitcher. If he refines his command and his pitches reach their potential, he has #2 starter upside, and some sort of career in a big league rotation is very likely. He is expected to open 2012 at Brevard County along with Jungmann.
4) RHP Tyler Thornburg (stats)
Tyler Thornburg rocketed up the Brewers’ prospect rankings with a stellar 2011 campaign, in which he compiled a 2.56 ERA over 130 innings, but a huge caveat exists in his value as a prospect. Most scouts see the right-hander as a reliever at the big league level. Much of it lies in the fact that he stands only 5-foot-11, but his delivery is very difficult to replicate over 100-120 pitches every five days. Thornburg throws his fastball 92-94 MPH early in his starts. After four or five innings, however, his fastball sits 88-90 MPH. If he can gain strength and sustain that velocity throughout his starts, he has the necessary three-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, changeup) to start. If he cannot sustain that velocity as he moves up the Brewers’ system, though, he will end up in the bullpen as a potential late-inning reliever.
5) RHP Jorge Lopez (stats)
The two pitchers taken by the Brewers before they drafted Lopez in the second round last June may garner all the headlines, but the lanky Puerto Rican may just possess more pure upside than either in the long run. His fastball sits in the 89-91 MPH range now with the ability to touch 94 MPH. Lopez has the sort of body (6’4” 165 LBS) that figures to fill out, though, so considerable projection remains possible for added zip. Lopez already possesses good feel for both his curve and change for a 19-year-old player fresh out of high school in Puerto Rico. The Brewers thought so highly of him that they allowed him to get his feet wet in 2011 in rookie ball for the Arizona League, where he fanned 10 while walking only 3 over 12 innings. He has a long way to go to reach the big leagues, but if everything falls his way scouts see a #2 starter with inning eating ability. There is even a non-zero chance he adds velocity and becomes a true ace sometime down the line. The Brewers have moved very deliberately with high school arms in recent years, so it will be interesting to see just how quickly they push Lopez up the ladder. Extended spring training and then an assignment to one of the short season squads seems likely, but definitely not certain, for 2012.
6) 2B Scooter Gennett (stats)
Perhaps no prospect in the Brewers’ farm system has more hype than Gennett right now. The 21-year-old second baseman lit up the Arizona Fall League and impressed scouts with his ability to consistently barrel the baseball. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said in September and October that scouts loved the adjustments that he made to his approach and swing over the course of the season, and he now projects to have a plus-hit tool at the major league level. He also shows decent pop for a 5-foot-9 middle infielder. Despite the fact that scouts have fallen in love with the bat, Gennett features a below-average glove at second base (no, he cannot play shortstop) and will likely struggle to hit for average power in the bigs. Comps are dangerous because they often lump players into boxes that are not entirely accurate, but I see a lot of Freddy Sanchez — without the glove — in Scooter Gennett.
7) OF Logan Schafer (stats)
The Logan Schafer Redemption Tour from an injury-plagued 2010 season got off to a rough start last year in spring training when the center fielder fractured his right thumb sliding into a base. The “here we go again” cries turned out to be premature, though, as the 2009 Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year quickly returned and started to produce. In 446 plate appearances over 3 levels (High-A to Triple-A), Schafer posed a .315/.385/.439 line to go along with his usual above-average defense. He recorded his first big league hit on September 18th in Cincinnati. His main liability as a hitter is his low power output, especially in the home run department. While it’s not critical for a center fielder to have big time power, Schafer will have cover the whole zone very well or risk becoming a batting average only hitter with no secondary skills. He’s done a good job in his career of drawing walks, but major league pitchers generally have to be given a reason to not simply pound the zone. If the power develops as Schafer matures into his body, he could be a legitimate starting center fielder for a contender. Otherwise, he profiles nicely as a second division starter or fourth outfielder. Either way, he’s a solid asset for the Brewers going forward.
8) 3B Taylor Green (stats)
From the way the entire fan base rallied around Taylor Green last season, one would expect him to be further up the prospect ranking list. The 25-year-old mashed in Triple-A Nashville in 2011, hitting .336/.413/.583 with 22 home runs in 120 games, and later made his big league debut in late August. Green plays a pretty good third base and demolishes right-handed pitching. In Nashville, he hit .360/.420/.646 against righties. It was essentially where all of his power came from. Against lefties, however, Taylor Green struggles much more. He managed a respectable .262 batting average against southpaws, but the power disappeared to the point that he only had nine extra-base hits against lefties all season. Worst case scenario: Taylor Green is the strong-half of a platoon at third base for a squad or an offensive-minded utility infielder who plays often against right-handed pitching. Best case scenario: Taylor Green hits right-handers well enough that his empty batting average against lefties plays. My money is on the former, but even that can be valuable at the league minimum.
9) RHP Michael Fiers (stats)
Between his pitching and his path to the top 10, there is very little that is conventional about Fiers. He was drafted just days before his 24th birthday out of Nova South Eastern University in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft. He features a solid four-pitch mix, with a fastball that sits 88-90 MPH and moves, as well as a curveball and a changeup that can freeze hitters. Fiers also developed a cutter last year. As a result of his age and lack of a blazing fastball, he has been greeted with skepticism at every turn as a pro — even starting in the bullpen last year — and all he has done is excel on the mound. He began 2011 by posting a 2.64 ERA in over 60 innings in Double-A and followed that up with a 1.11 ERA in the hitter-friendly PCL. Overall, he fanned more than a batter per inning while walking fewer than three batters per nine innings. He even pitched two scoreless innings in Milwaukee in September and has continued to perform in the Venezuelan Winter League. To make it in the majors, Fiers will have to rely heavily on location and deception. Most starters who fit that profile ultimately struggle to find long term success, but once again, there is very little typical about Michael Fiers.
10) RHP Cody Scarpetta (stats)
23-year-old Cody Scarpetta has always been on the prospect radar since joining the Brewers’ farm system in 2008. His fastball sits 93-95 MPH and can reach 97 MPH at times, and his curveball is routinely rated as one of the best — if not the best — in the organization. Scarpetta struggles with consistency in his mechanics and in throwing strikes. His walk rate was once again above 4.00 BB/9 in 2011, checking in at 4.69 BB/9. Those control issues are the main reason as to why scouts believe Scarpetta will eventually land in the bullpen. One scout even told me that he does not see Scarpetta as anything more than a 7th-inning reliever at this point. I believe limiting his upside to that is a little extreme, as his stuff is electric and can play up in short bursts. It would benefit the organization to transition the right-hander to the bullpen this season, allowing him to carve a niche in the ‘pen prior to (likely) heading there in 2013 with the big league club. The organization still believes he can stick in the starting rotation, however, and with the club potentially losing three starters after the 2012 season, it’s difficult to blame them for riding that horse until it breaks.