For the fourth-consecutive year, Ryan and I put our heads and notes together to create a Top 30 Prospects list for the Brewers’ organization. As always, neither of us got exactly what we wanted on this list, but we compromised to put together a quality list that combines our thoughts and opinions.
1) RHP Wily Peralta (stats)
The first half of the season for Peralta sent shockwaves of concern throughout the Brewers’ fanbase, as his ERA ballooned to almost 5.00 and his walk rate approached 5.0 BB/9. After getting promoted to the big leagues as a September callup, though, he impressed. Peralta posted a 2.48 ERA (2.65 FIP) in 29.0 innings. He still showed some command issues, but nothing like his Triple-A troubles. The right-hander throws a heavy fastball that sits 92-95 mph and touches 98 when he throws more of a true four-seamer. He also possesses a nasty slider and a changeup that flashes plus, but is more likely to develop into a league-average pitch. His stuff will not hold Peralta back. He must prove he can command his pitches, pound the zone, and allow his stuff to do the work. Scouts still believe he has a number-two ceiling, and the Brewers desperately need him to breakout in 2013 if they want to legitimately make a postseason push.
2) RHP Taylor Jungmann (stats)
When the Brewers took the big right-hander out of the University of Texas with the 12th pick of the 2011 Draft, it was assumed he would move quickly through the minors and grab a mid-rotation spot in the Brewers rotation. From that perspective, Jungmann’s 2012 debut was disappointing. He spent much of the year working on developing his secondary offerings at the Brewers’ request, and perhaps as a result, his numbers suffered much of the year. His ERA was a respectable 3.53, but he only struck out 5.82 batters per nine innings. He uses power sinker that sits low-90 and can reach 95, as well as a slider/curveball that can flash plus to induce early weak contact and generate ground balls. He also has a changeup, but it is still far from being an effective big-league pitch. A strong August run should provide hope that Jungmann can eventually reach that middle-of-the-rotation level, possibly as soon as next year if he can consolidate those late-season gains.
3) RHP Johnny Hellweg (stats)
Hellweg can touch triple digits with his fastball, but regularly throws in the low-to-mid 90s as a starter. He perhaps has the highest upside of any starting pitcher in the upper levels of the Brewers’ farm system, but he’s a volatile prospect. His 6-foot-9 frame is long and lanky, and he loses his release point often. He also lacks a true third pitch, though his changeup reportedly improved last year. If he eventually moves to the bullpen, his power fastball-curveball combination gives him closer potential. If he can improve his command and develop his changeup into more than a show-me pitch, he could be a true number-two starter. High-risk, high-reward prospects are never comforting to watch develop, but he’s one of the only prospects the Brewers have in the upper echelons of the minors who has true All-Star potential. It’s just far from guaranteed.
4) C Clint Coulter (stats)
That the Brewers liked Coulter and would draft him in the back-end of the first round was perhaps the worst-kept secret in last June’s draft.The Brewers loved Coulter’s all-around package, projecting him to hit for both average and power and showing discipline at the plate. They also give him a real chance to work himself into a capable big-league catcher. He has the arm to limit the running game, and Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks reported from fall instructionals that his footwork had significantly improved since joining pro ball. His rookie league debut was impressive, hitting .302/.439/.444 with five home runs in only 49 games. If forced to move off catcher, his bat should still play in a corner spot. Whether Coulter opens at Class-A Wisconsin or in extended spring training will likely be tied to his defensive performance this spring.
5) RHP Tyler Thornburg (stats)
The right-hander began the 2012 season in Double-A Huntsville, where he carved up the Southern League with a 3.00 ERA and almost striking out a batter per inning. He then bounced between the big leagues and Triple-A. The strikeouts continued, but Thornburg showed his fastball is very hittable when not located properly. One scout said Thornburg tends to overthrow, especially his fastball, which causes him to lose his release point at times. He still possesses a fastball that sits in the low-90s and can touch the upper-90s when he really reaches back, as well as a curveball and changeup that already flash league-average and just need more consistency. Whether he’s a starter or a reliever remains up for debate. More and more evidence is coming to the forefront, however, that he may be more effective in the back-end of the Brewers’ bullpen. Still, eight appearances at the big league level doesn’t close the book on him as a starter.
6) RHP Jimmy Nelson (stats)
It was a tale of two seasons for the 2010 second-round pick out of the University of Alabama. He shone brightly at High-A Brevard County, putting up excellent K:BB, hits and home runs per nine innings numbers along with a stellar 2.21 ERA. After he made the jump to Double-A, the good news was that the hits, home runs and strikeout rates all remained roughly constant. The bad news, however, was the walks per nine innings jumped from 2.8 to 7.2 and the ERA spiked to 3.91. Nelson needs to learn to trust his stuff and fill the zone a bit more, even if that means sacrificing a few more hits. Ultimately, his strong mix of a power-sinker and slider should keep the ball in the park more often than not, and he should fulfil his upside of a middle-of-the-rotation inning eater. If he can figure out Double-A Huntsville this year, he could be in line to pitch in Milwaukee in September or next year.
7) 1B Hunter Morris (stats)
Morris torched Double-A pitching last season and won the Player of the Year award in the Brewers’ minor-league system, hitting .303/.357/.563 with 28 home runs (.261 ISO). No one has ever doubted Morris’ plus raw power at the plate, but the 24-year-old made a couple minor mechanical adjustments at the plate to make his power more usable in game action. He also showed improved plate discipline in Double-A, though it remains a work in progress. One contact said the Brewers believe Morris can be an Aubrey Huff type player and view him as a potential everyday first baseman. Some question marks exist — such as his ability to handle quality breaking balls and left-handed pitching — but the 2012 season marked a massive breakout campaign for Morris. He will begin the season in Triple-A Nashville and look to continue his development, as he’s first in line to replace Corey Hart at first base in 2014.
8) 2B Scooter Gennett (stats)
There is little mystery when it comes to the diminutive second baseman. He is going to barrel a lot of baseballs, spray them around the field and get the most out of his body on the defensive side of the ball. However, he won’t take many walks, hit for tons of power or make many rangy plays in the field. At the end of the day, he’s probably a major leaguer, but for how long and in what capacity is going to be determined by how much he can improve his power and discipline. One big-league scout, though, predicts Gennett will eventually hit double-digit home runs as he develops. He will turn 23 this year, but he is still probably a few years from being a competent big league second basemen with the glove, which is fine, considering Rickie Weeks is under contract for at least two more seasons.
9) OF Mitch Haniger (stats)
Milwaukee drafted Haniger in the supplemental round (38th pick) in the 2012 Draft and believe the Cal Poly product can eventually develop into an everyday player. He has the prototypical right-field makeup, as he has above-average power and a great arm. His professional debut was cut short due to an injury to his PCL, but he did hit .286/.379/.429 with a home run and a stolen base in 14 games with the Timber Rattlers. Prior to the draft, some scouting reports expressed concern with his high-strikeout tendencies and wondered if he would make enough contact to avoid a low batting average. Haniger showed improvement in his junior season, however, and the Brewers feel he’s going to hit for average and potentially produce 20+ home runs down the road.
10) OF Tyrone Taylor (stats)
It’s been awhile since the Brewers had a top draft pick hit the ground running after signing, wildly exceed immediate expectations and established himself as a top prospect. Obviously, since he is ranked down at number ten, that didn’t quite happen with Taylor. Until he went down with a shoulder injury, though, it looked like maybe it was happening. The Brewers drafted Taylor as an athletic, developmental project in the second round last year, but he made some swing adjustments over the summer and demolished the Arizona League to the point where he earned a promotion to short-season Helena to face better-developed competition. He raked in Helena, too, before being shut down for the year. He profiles as an above-average defensive player in center field and could develop into a double-digit home run hitter if everything develops perfectly. Don’t be surprised if the potential future centerfielder and leadoff man leaps up this list by next spring.