With the Brewers busy licking their wounds after losing back-to-back series for the first time this year and the NFL taking center stage for the evening looking at its future, now seems like a good time to talk about the eventful first month of the minor league season. While not everything has gone right for the Brewers in the minors so far, it is fair to say that more has gone right than wrong, particularly when it comes to recent first round picks and most of the top prospects.
We haven’t had much minor league content on the site this year so far. I’ve gotten quite a bit of correspondence about this and you can rest assured it is something that we’re working to change in the coming months. OK, let’s hand out some hardware.
Patiently Awaiting His Turn Award: RHP Jimmy Nelson AAA Nashville
The consensus top prospect in the system, Nelson has done everything anyone could ask, and perhaps more, so far in 2014. He’s limiting scoring (2.00 ERA) striking batters out (44 K’s in 45 innings) and generating nearly twice as many outs on the ground as in the air. Should a need arise in the rotation, Nelson would be a perfectly logical choice for a callup, though his rotation mate Mike Fiers has actually been even better and has major league experience to his credit. One way or another, though, Nelson will be pitching for the Brewers at some point in the near future and has done nothing but solidify his prospect status this year.
The Brewers have taken some heat since they picked Jungmann 12th and Bradley 15th in the 2011 draft, passing on such talents as Jose Fernandez and Sonny Gray in the process. Both players have failed to move as quickly to the majors as many expected at the time , but both have started to turn it around in one particularly important area this year: striking batters out. Thus far, both players are striking out at least a batter per inning, and they’ve also put significant distance between their strikeouts and walks allowed. Both players are old and experienced for their current level, so likely midyear promotions should be interesting and telling challenges for them. That being said, the fact that they’ve reestablished themselves as prospects thus far is nothing but a positive development for the system.
Raw Numbers Aren’t Everything Award: SS Orlando Arcia, Advanced A Brevard County
When a top prospect hits .254/.350/.344 over the first month of a season, it’s generally more of a cause for concern than celebration. Put those numbers in proper context, though, and some things really jump out. Arcia is a 19 year-year old, still physically maturing shortstop, and happens to be one of the youngest players in one of the toughest hitting environments in the minor leagues, the Florida State League. He also is showing a very advanced approach, with more walks (17) than strikeouts (15) so far. The Brewers are pushing him very fast, but he’s managing to keep his head above water offensively. He has some cleanup work to do on his defense, but has all the tools to be a plus defensive shortstop down the line. Might be the best prospect in the system currently.
Keith Law Foresight Award: OF Michael Reed Adanced A Brevard County
More than a few eyebrows were raised this winter when ESPN.com’s Keith Law made Reed his fourth best Brewers prospect. Reed was a fifth round pick in 2011 and has had a solid, though somewhat unspectacular career to this point. He’s breaking out in a big way this year, though. Though he’s always been a big walker, he’s taking that to a new level this year, taking 32 free passes so far in 32 games. Add in the 11 extra base hits and you get a .300/.474/.450 line. The main issue going forward for Reed is one of profile, because he doesn’t have the prototypical home run power usually associated with corner outfielders and would be a defensively limited center fielder.
The Not Quite MVP Award: OF Tyrone Taylor Advanced A Brevard County
As with Arcia, you have to adjust for league and age when looking at Taylor’s raw numbers at Brevard County. Remember, the 2012 second rounder was considered a raw, upside-type pick when the Brewers drafted him and yet he’s consistently produced since turning pro. He currently leads all of minor league baseball in doubles with 18, and it’s not hard to imagine some of that doubles power turning into homer power down the road as he fills out. Taylor seems like the heir apparent to Carlos Gomez in centerfield when his contract expires after 2016, and the team could probably do a lot worse than him if it ends up working out that way.
The Actual MVP Award: C Clint Coulter, Class A Wisconsin
As bad as 2013 was for Coulter, the Brewers first pick in the 2012 draft, 2014 has been an absolute revelation. Coulter dealt with injury, under-performance and a demotion last year, but is hitting an eye popping .297/.415/.564 this year in the early going for the Timber Rattlers. He’s demonstrating outstanding plate discipline, walking (17) nearly as much as he’s striking out (20). He’s also hitting for some serious power for a guy who won’t be 21 until this summer. The Brewers believe he can stick behind the plate, so they’re going to take their time with him to try and maximize his value. There may come a time, though, where it becomes hard to patiently wait for the defense to catch up to the bat and the team starts looking for another place on the diamond to play him.