While the Milwaukee Brewers failed to accomplish anything of note at the major league level this season, one wouldn’t be far off by saying 2015 was a banner year for the growth of the farm system. The system graduated some nice pieces in Taylor Jungmann, Jason Rogers, Corey Knebel, and Domingo Santana, and there is still even more talent in the pipeline. Thanks to a strong draft, several shrewd trades, and the development of many of the players already in the system, the Brewers’ farm system should now be ranked somewhere near the top 10 throughout baseball.
Producing a top 15 prospect list was no easy task thanks to the balance and depth the Brewers now possess. I considered both upside and proximity to the majors while ranking. Minor league stats aren’t everything, of course, so I tried to strike a balance between performance and the tools that a player has.
Editor’s Note: Age reflects 2016 season age, as per Baseball-Reference.
SS Orlando Arcia (Age: 21. 2010 International Signee, Venezuela):
Most considered Arcia to be the top prospect in a weak Brewers’ system before the season began. Now, however, the recently turned 21 year old is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, coming in at #12 on MLB.com’s list. Arcia was named the Brewers’ minor league player of the year while torching through the Southern League at a .307/.347/.453 pace in 129 games. He saw marked increases in his extra base hits and line drive rate, while still flashing his above average speed by stealing 25 bases on the year. Oh, and he won the minor league gold glove at shortstop, too. His low walk rate could be some cause for concern, but Arcia looks like he’ll become the Brewers’ everyday shortstop before too much longer.
CF Brett Phillips (Age: 22. 2012 6th Round (Astros). 2015 trade to Milwaukee):
Phillips was a midseason addition to the Brewers’ farm system, but his impact was immediately felt as he slotted into centerfield for the Shuckers and into the number two ranking in the Brewers’ system. He hasn’t shown the same how run power in AA (1 home run in 54 games) as he did in high-A (19 home runs in 93 games), but his increased walk rate at the higher level is encouraging given his youth. Phillips has above average or better tools across the board and should have the speed to stick in center, though his tremendous arm could play anywhere in the outfield. Phillips could develop into a perennial 15+ homer, 15+ stolen base threat with plus defense at the major league level. With Arcia and Phillips both in the not-so-distant future plans, the next Brewers’ contender could feature a good bit of star power up the middle.
CF Trent Clark (Age: 19. 2015 1st Round):
I thought the Brewers were getting a steal when they got Trent Clark at 15th overall, and he has looked excellent so far through stops at both rookie levels. Clark represents a shift in draft strategies under Ray Montgomery – while his predecessor, Bruce Seid, often drafted power first hoping the hit tool would develop later (Coulter, Roache, Gatewood in recent years), Montgomery took a player with a polished hit tool who could develop more power as he matures. Clark hit .309/.424/.430 between the AZL and the Pioneer League this season, walking nearly as many times (39) as he struck out (44) in a combined 55 games. His good speed helped him leg out seven doubles and six triples, and he added another two home runs for good measure. He showed some nice ability on the basepaths and stole eight bags, while also accruing seven assists in the outfield. Clark made it through some adversity by overcoming what could have been a terrible injury early in the season, and could follow the path of Gatewood and Harrison with an early season assignment to Appleton in 2016. My bet, though, is that he handles it much better.
SS Gilbert Lara (Age: 18. 2014 International Signee, Dominican Republic):
Lara impressed with his power during instructionals last season, and the Brewers skipped an assignment to the DSL in favor of coming stateside. The 17 year old held his own in Arizona and was rewarded with an assignment to Helena, though he reportedly looked a little tired by the end of the year. Though the overall .240/.285/.321 slash in 63 combined games may not jump out at you, Lara was three years younger than his competition. His plus power is his loudest tool, but he’s also shown better than expected ability at shortstop and has started working out at third base, where early reports are good. Given the club has already been aggressive with his stateside assignment, it wouldn’t surprise me to perhaps see Lara begin next season in Appleton.
RHP Jorge Lopez (Age: 23. 2011 2nd Round):
Lopez’s talent has been talked about plenty since he was drafted, but 2015 was the year he finally broke through, winning the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year. His changeup caught up to his curveball as a second reliable off-speed offering, combined with a sinking fastball that jumped a few MPH to the 92-95 range this season. The results were a 2.26 ERA and 54% ground ball rate in 143.1 innings pitched at AA this season with an increased strike out rate. He’ll walk his share of hitters, as he demonstrated in his two MLB starts (5 BB in 10.0 innings), but he looks like he’s got the stuff to succeed as a starter in the big league rotation. Kiley McDaniel said he’d rank him as a top 50 prospect in a chat he hosted in August, and Lopez could likely get a shot to compete for a spot in the Brewers’ rotation next spring.
RHP Cody Ponce (Age: 22. 2015 2nd Round):
I’ve loved Ponce since the moment the Brewers’ drafted him, and if Jorge Lopez weren’t already MLB-ready, I’d have probably ranked Ponce ahead of him. He throws a four pitch mix with a fastball clocked at 98 MPH, gets ground balls in bunches, misses bats, and has demonstrated excellent command at both the college and pro levels. Here he is striking out Yasiel Puig at instructs. Ponce has the build of a workhorse and possesses a terrific work ethic; he should be mostly unencumbered by innings limits and could fly through the system starting next season.
LHP Kodi Medeiros (Age: 20. 2014 1st Round):
Questions about his unorthodox delivery cast some doubt on Medeiros long-term viability as a starter, but that didn’t stop the lefty from opening some eyes in the Midwest League this season. I personally saw him hit 95 MPH during the annual game against Beloit at Miller Park, where he pitched 5.2 innings while allowing one hit. Kodi’s fastball/slider combination helped him generate ground balls 65% of the time this season, and he didn’t allow a home run in 93.2 innings pitched. Everything he throws has big movement and he struck out 23.5% of hitters he faced. Baseball America ranked him as the 16th best prospect in the Midwest League this year.
OF Michael Reed (Age: 23. 2011 5th Round):
Reed has long been lauded for his on-base ability, having walked in 14% of his career plate appearances to date, but 2015 was a breakout year for him in terms of power production. He managed only five home runs in 131 games between AA and AAA this year, but he slugged 45 total extra bases and his combined .141 ISO was a career high. He showed some positional flexibility by playing some center field in the minors this season, and he certainly has the speed (26 stolen bases) to play there, though he’s more experienced in the corners and has an arm for right field. Reed made his big league debut late in the season and could become a top-of-the-order, high OBP type with gap power in the vein of Nori Aoki. Depending on any moves this offseason, Reed could open 2016 as a stopgap option in centerfield or compete for the fourth outfielder spot on the bench.
RHP Devin Williams (Age: 21. 2013 2nd Round):
Between Ponce, Medeiros, and Devin Williams, the Timber Rattlers certainly weren’t short on exciting pitching prospects this season. Williams still has room to grow within his 6’3” frame, so he could continue to add velocity to a fastball that already hits 95 MPH. He’s continued to show improved command from when the Brewers drafted him, and generates plenty of swings-and-misses with a 23.5% K rate this season. He got a late start this year due to injury and tailed off towards the end. The Brewers will probably continue to bring the recently turned 21 year old along slowly and work to build up his innings and continue development of his off-speed pitches.
OF Monte Harrison (Age: 20. 2014 2nd Round):
Harrison struggled mightily in his debut in Appleton this year, but he was well below the league average age and looked much better after getting moved to down to the Pioneer League in June. There he put together a promising combination of power (10.8 XBH%), speed (14 stolen bases) and discipline (11.8%% BB rate) against some more appropriate competition. Harrison’s shown the potential of being a five tool player and spent most of his time at center, but if his season-ending ankle injury greatly affects his speed at all he’ll still have the bat and the plus arm that would play in right field.
RHP Zach Davies (Age: 23. 2011 26th Round (Orioles). To Milwaukee in 2015 trade):
Davies looks more like he should be wandering the halls of a high school than pitching in the big leagues, but the diminutive righty made quite the successful six start cameo for the Brewers this year. He struggled somewhat with walks at the major league level, but he’s shown elite command in the minors and that shouldn’t continue to be an issue. Davies won’t overpower you, but he mixes his pitches well, gets a lot of movement and generates plenty of ground balls, better than 50% in the majors and minors this year. Nick has written plenty on Zach’s ability to adjust at the big league level so far, and ended the season on a high note with two scoreless starts. Davies should continue to experience success in the back-end of a rotation, though his ceiling probably isn’t much higher than where he is at now.
OF Tyrone Taylor (Age: 22. 2012 2nd Round):
Taylor proved to be a tough one for me to rank. He’s got good tools, but he has yet to really capitalize on any of them. He hasn’t yet shown the ability to hit for much power or get on base at a high rate. He doesn’t strike out much, but a high contact rate has yet to yield a high batting average. Taylor does possess good speed and athleticism that plays well in the outfield and on the bases, and at just 21 there is still plenty of time for him to further refine and take advantage of his above average hit tool. Matt Eddy noted in BA’s Southern League Top 20 Prospects Chat that Taylor overhauled his stance this season in an effort to generate more power, so the hope is that this year was a development year and we’ll start seeing better results when he likely returns to Biloxi in 2016.
SS Jake Gatewood (Age: 20. 2014 1st Round):
Like Harrison, Gatewood also struggled with his early assignment to Appleton but looked much better after getting moved down to Montana in June. There Gatewood’s plus raw power started to show itself in games to the tune of a 14% extra base hit rate. If he can hit enough to tap into that power consistently, he could become a dangerous presence at the plate. Gatewood handled himself well enough at shortstop this year, but at 6’5” the expectation is that he’ll probably end up at third base eventually. He’s already started working out there in instructs to add some versatility to his game, and has the plus arm for the position.
RHP Adrian Houser (Age: 23. 2011 2nd Round (Astros). 2015 trade to Milwaukee)
Houser performed like a different pitcher after the Brewers received him in the blockbuster trade with Houston this year. He significantly improved his walk rate, bumped up his strikeouts, and threw a Maddux in the Southern League playoffs. He’s got the build of a workhouse starting pitcher, a repeatable delivery, and mid-90s fastball that helped generate a 55% ground ball rate this season. His curveball is an above average secondary offering and his changeup is still coming along, but if Houser can repeat the success he experienced in Biloxi then he could also shed successfully the “back-end starter” label currently placed on him in favor of something more promising.
OF Demi Orimoloye (Age: 19. 2015 4th Round) :
Orimoloye has been playing against advanced competition as part of Canada’s national junior team for a few seasons now, and this experience has helped him hit the ground running in his professional career. He mashed in the AZL, hitting for extra bases 12% of the time in 33 games, including six home runs. He stole 19 bags and added four outfield assists, for good measure. His approach at the plate needs refinement, as the youngster walked just three times against 39 strikeouts. Orimoloye is still a very raw prospect, but he’s got some very loud tools and has been impressing at instructs down in Arizona (video).
Other favorites: RHP Tyler Wagner, RF Clint Coulter, RHP Miguel Diaz, RHP Marcos Diplan, LHP Josh Hader, OF Victor Roache