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.
Be sure to check back throughout the week. On Wednesday and Thursday, we will unveil the remainder of the Top 30. On Friday, Ryan will have an overall look at the Brewers’ farm system.
21) OF Michael Reed (stats)
Few current Brewer positional farm hands possess the raw, across the board tools to excel up the middle as Reed, who was taken in the 5th round of the 2011 amateur draft. The Brewers clearly valued the strong center fielder’s upside, as they gave him a well-over-slot $500,000 plus college tuition days before the deadline. He’s really quite raw, but has the potential to develop all 5 tools and is already showing some refinement of tools into skills. Over 62 plate appearances in the Rookie Arizona League, Reed batted .232/.295/.375. On the surface, that’s not an impressive line but the split between the batting average and both the on base and slugging percentages shows at least some development of the type of secondary skills that raw, toolsy prospects often lack. He has the speed and arm to play center long term. There is a long ways to go for Reed, but, if he is able to realize his potential, he could be an above average center fielder for the Brewers the second half of this decade.
22) RHP Brooks Hall (stats)
If you’re searching for a true sleeper prospect for the upcoming season, Brooks Hall could be your man. The right-hander made his Low-A debut in 2011, compiling a 4.13 ERA over 100.1 innings. His strikeout numbers were not impressive this past year, but those should be improving in the near future. His fastball has only been sitting 88-91 MPH, though room in his frame for added velocity exists. He also touched 95-96 MPH coming out of high school in 2009. The 21-year-old also possesses an advanced feel of his offspeed pitches, throwing both his curveball and changeup for strikes at a young age. Hall will not overpower anyone on the mound, but his deceptive delivery and well-rounded repertoire should allow him to out-pitch his opponents and find success. If he can rediscover some of that high school velocity, the Brewers may have a hidden gem.
23) RHP Drew Gagnon (stats)
The Brewers popped this big right hander out of Long Beach State in the 3rd round last June. His fastball sits around 90 MPH with the ability to touch the mid 90’s on occasion. He’s developed a true out-pitch slider, when it’s located, and is working on a changeup. He will need to polish up that change to help him keep left-handed hitters from killing him as they did in his brief stint in Helena in 2011. Over 19 innings, he allowed a .254 average to righties and .600 to lefties. He had no problem striking out hitters, punching out 27, but also walked 10. If Gagnon can find a way to reign in lefties and bring down his walks, he profiles as a potential solid back-end starter down the road. If that proves to be beyond his reach, he has an excellent chance of at least pitching some major league relief innings down the road due to his fastball/slider combination. He figures to get his first shot at full season ball in 2012, likely opening with the Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League.
24) SS Yadiel Rivera (stats)
The 19-year-old shortstop turned some heads when he tore up the Pioneer League in June and July. He is a bit of a poor man’s Alcides Escobar: a plus-defensive shortstop with a below-average walk rate. The main differences lie in the fact that Escobar is a better defender — though that’s no slight on Rivera — and that Escobar made far more consistent contact with the baseball as a minor leaguer. Rivera only hit .234/.269/.368 on the season, which would be enough to drive him off most prospect lists, but he showed the ability to be a legitimate prospect over the summer. He even showed a little pop at the plate. Still, as just a teenager, Yadiel Rivera is still learning how to hit. The way he plays defense at shortstop, though, he will receive plenty of opportunities to reign in his aggressive approach at the plate and provide enough value with the bat to allow his glove to play. It won’t take much.
25) RHP Eric Arnett (stats)
It’s only been about 30 months since the Brewers selected Arnett with the 26th pick of the 2009 draft out of Indiana University, but sometimes it feels like it’s been longer. His first two professional seasons were essentially total losses, as he was cuffed around at every stop he made. Things started to turn around a bit in 2011 for Arnett, though. While the velocity that he drove his junior year breakout at IU has never fully returned, he was able to use his slider effectively enough to drive some real improvement, especially in his peripheral numbers. Over 158 innings at both Helena and Wisconsin, Arnett posted a 4.35 strikeout to walk ratio, a giant leap forward. He still gave up far too many hits, which resulted in combined 5.13 ERA. Ultimately, unless he sees a velocity resurgence or learns a completely new way to pitch that avoids hard contact when he’s forced to throw the fastball, it’s hard to see Arnett ever living up to his potential as a first round pick. Heading into his age 24 season he is rapidly approaching “now or never” territory, and he’ll most likely start the year at High-A Brevard County with a couple other recent first-round pitchers.
26) RHP Kyle Heckathorn (stats)
Just a season ago, Heckathorn was a consensus Top 10 prospect in the Brewers’ system. A disappointing season and significant improvement from his counterparts has led to a serious decline in his stock. Multiple scouts used the term “inconsistent” regarding his starts throughout the majority of the season. The season culminated very poorly, as he surrendered 19 earned runs in his final three starts for Double-A Huntsville to end the year with a combined 4.97 ERA over 116 innings. He has always been known for his big fastball and low walk numbers. Those two skills, however, were not present in 2011. One of the biggest criticisms of the big right-hander has been that he does not throw “quality” strikes. Right now, he appears to be a potential seventh or eighth inning reliever, though even that might be in question at this point.
27) SS Chris McFarland
Middle infielder Chris McFarland slipped to the 18th-round because he had a very solid commitment to play at Rice University, especially after a down senior year in high school. So it was a bit of an upset when the Lufkin, Texas product signed for $315,000 and college tuition on deadline day. As a result of the late signing, McFarland has yet to play official pro games, though he did impress some observers with his work in fall instructional league. At the plate, McFarland’s greatest asset is a very quick bat with solid doubles power that figures to develop into home run power as he fills out. He has the defensive tools to play up the middle, including a strong arm and above average speed. The Brewers will work him at shortstop for now, though there is some fear he’ll outgrow the position at some point down the road. It’s not clear where he’ll play in 2012 yet, but McFarland has the tools and work ethic to play in the majors someday if he can refine those tools into a big league skill set.
28) OF Brock Kjeldgaard (stats)
Pronounced KILL-guard, the 6-foot-5 outfielder burst on to the scene in 2011. At the time of his promotion to Double-A over the summer, his 18 home runs were the most by any Brevard County Manatees player in a single season — a record that was broken by Hunter Morris later in the year. Kjeldgaard even added another 6 home runs after his promotion. The corner outfielder possesses a ton of power in his big frame, but his swing has a ton of miss in it. He struggles against quality offspeed pitches, of which he will only see more as he nears the big leagues. Not to mention he only hit .237/.332/.461 against right-handed pitching. Still, the organization said nothing but glowing things of the young man all season. He hit a combined .271/.356/.499 between High-A and Double-A and was even added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. The 2012 season in Double-A will truly serve as a useful barometer of his skill set.
29) OF Max Walla (stats)
The progress has been slow and steady for Walla, a second-round pick in 2009 out of high school in New Mexico. While not a classic size for a slugger (5’11, 195), he was projected to produce big power when drafted. The big time pop is yet to materialize in game play, but Walla did take a big step forward with the bat in the Pioneer League last year, hitting .285/.374/.411. The walk rates have always been solidly around 10%, and his strikeout rate dropped from an absurd 41% down to a more manageable 25%. He showed quick wrists and very good bat speed through the zone at times last season. He is slow, but does possess enough arm to play right field if the bat develops. The Brewers have been very cautious with Walla, and as a result, he is somewhat behind where most high school draftees are at age 21. If he can have the long awaited for power breakout, though, he is a guy who could move up this list quickly. He should open the 2012 season with Class-A Wisconsin.
30) Hunter Morris (stats)
Some players fit first baseman stereotypes like a glove. Morris is one of those players. Defensively limited to first base (he underwent a laughable experiment at third base back in the 2010 Arizona Fall League), Morris needs a special bat to provide value at the big league level. He is country strong and showed substantial power against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers last season — 19 home runs in a very difficult Florida State League — but his “swing at everything” mentality will not serve him well in the higher levels of the minors. When it comes down to it, an OPS below .800 and a 3.4% walk rate as a 22-year-old in High-A ball just doesn’t profile as a big leaguer. It won’t cut it. His huge power keeps him on the list, though, as we continue to hold out hope that his plate discipline improves enough to supplement his 20+ home run potential.