Throughout the season, I have shifted my focus from the MLB team to the Brewers’ farm system, which is perhaps a necessary consequence of preparing to cover a rebuilding ballclub. The Brewers also had one of the most exciting minor league seasons that they could have had, taking into account their valuable draft, bigtime development from several players, and midseason trades. So, it is time to revamp the Top 30 Prospects at Disciples of Uecker, and we have more on the way in that regard. This is the start for my personal list, which at this stage involves a lot of thinking out loud: the fact is that there are so many changes and steps forward in the organization that it is difficult to maintain the positions for several highly regarded prospects from 2014. As Ned Yost would say, “I’m not married to it,” this is my first attempt at a serious prospect list.
In terms of ideology, I tried to take into consideration a player’s overall tools and ceiling more than anything. However, in practice, I often found a player’s 2015 performance, development, high floor, and/or advanced status getting in the way of that. I will need to balance those elements better in the future.
SS Orlando Arcia (2010, Venezuela. AA Biloxi, 2015 [age 20 season]). The indisputable star of the system. Resource: Orlando Arcia: “Best Player in Southern League.”
Key: All statistics cited in this feature were compiled on Tuesday, August 11, 2015.
CF Brett Phillips (2012, 6th [Astros]. A+ Lancaster / AA Corpus Christi [Astros]; AA Biloxi, 2015 [age 21 season]). Resource: Meet the Newcomers. There is a lot to love about the frequency with which people throw around “Five Tools” and Phillips’s name, suggesting that the lefty bat adds real star power to the Brewers farm. The combination of Phillips’s tools, ceiling, and advanced prospect status make him a no-brainer to challenge Arcia (and I imagine some might even rate him higher than Arcia, perhaps due to power/speed potential, but there’s no way I’m knocking Arcia out of the top spot during his breakout year).
By the way, if you adhere to the “Defensive Spectrum” to judge potential value according to defensive position, isn’t it amazing to see these two prospects leading the potential star depth in the middle of the diamond for the Brewers? So many Brewers fans that were disgruntled with the 2015 trade deadline tossed out the club’s dearth of corner infielders as a knock against President & GM Doug Melvin, but the fact of the matter is solidifying this type of (reserve-controlled) talent at SS and CF is infinitely more important than worrying about who is going to play 3B or 1B.
SS Gilbert Lara (2014, Dominican Republic. R Arizona, 2015 [age 17 season]). Resource: Developing DSL. It’s too easy to look at Lara’s statistical decline since his surging open to the season and decide that he must rank lower in the system. If it weren’t for the trade deadline, I’d have ranked the young righty bat #2 in the system, due to his overall offensive potential, his reported work ethic and coachability, and his ability to handle an aggressive assignment by the Brewers front office.
OF Trent Clark (2015, 1st. R Arizona, 2015 [age 18 season]). Resource: 2015 Draft Days One & Two. It looked like Trent Clark might face a rough injury early in his season, but the young centerfielder returned in July and proceeded to showcase his polished bat in games. There’s a lot to like about the lefty bat, including his application of plate discipline, average, gap power, and speed (both in terms of extending extra base hits into triple, and effectively stealing bases). Clark is a long ways away from the MLB, and one must wonder if the club will aggressively assign him to A Wisconsin in 2016, just as they challenged Monte Harrison and Jake Gatewood this year, which would also help to quickly solidify Clark’s value and potential in the Brewers’ system.
RHP Cody Ponce (2015, 2nd. R Helena / A Wisconsin, 2015 [age 21 season]). I’ve been a Cody Ponce fan since the draft, and if I had to bet on a guy that I will consistently favor here at Disciples of Uecker, I’m going to bet that Ponce is that guy. I like that he fits the mold of the Brewers’ “big RHP” to the extreme, but he also brings a full gang of pitches to the mound. His delivery appears still and compact, especially for a pitcher of his stature. Furthermore, Ponce has immediately established himself in the Brewers system, briefly staying at Helena before earning his first promotion. If Ponce reaches his ceiling and does so quickly, that could earn him an even higher position in the Brewers’ farm, but it is not necessarily the case that this type of high ranking depends on a quick ascent to the MLB. Compared to RHP in the Brewers’ system, Ponce’s combination of size, fastball delivery, and assignment/development are good arguments for his position as the top ranked RHP in a deep class.
RHP Devin Williams (2013, 2nd. A Wisconsin, 2015 [age 20 season]). I gather that there are RHP in the Brewers system that have a stronger combination of fastball and off-speed pitches, or higher fastball ceiling in some cases, but Williams is tough to beat with his 2015 development. The young righty is taking his first full-season step for the Milwaukee organization, and is carving up the strike zone with a 69 K / 31 BB / 2 HR line. A couple of rough GB:FB outings skewed his overall ratio, which gives Brewers fans and analysts something to look for in future development. If Williams can manipulate those batted balls to favor more groundballs, he will have another weapon alongside his strong peripheral performance.
CF Monte Harrison (2014, 2nd. R Helena / A Wisconsin, 2015 [age 19 season]). Ignore those tough A Wisconsin statistics, from those months that gave Monte Harrison his first full season in professional ball. Once Harrison returned to R Helena, he put together his plate discipline, power, and speed once again (matching his 2014 debut in Arizona). Harrison’s overall athleticism once again showed in the field, although one might raise questions about whether his season-ending broken ankle will impact his speed tool. However, that injury should not impact Harrison’s ceiling too much, as his fielding, bat, and power potential give the prospect a wide range of angles to succeed on the field.
RF Michael Reed (2011, 5th. AA Biloxi / AAA Colorado Springs, 2015 [age 22 season]). Resource: Depth, Surprises, Replacements. Why be high on Michael Reed? The righty bat (a) made the jump to AA Biloxi, while (b) advancing his hitting beyond 2014, (c) continually walking a ton, (d) effectively stealing bases, (e) advancing his power, and (f) serving as a true “two way” player with strong defense in rightfield (especially thanks to his assists). Reed basically had the type of season that raises legitimate speculation about his potential to start in the MLB, and at the very least he solidified his previous ceiling of a toolsy outfield depth prospect. Now that Reed is closer to the MLB, and the Brewers added more impact outfielders, he may begin his career as a reserve by default, but his 2015 performance should help fans take a closer look at his abilities for next season.
OF Domingo Santana (2009, Dominican Republic [Phillies]. AAA Fresno / AL Houson [Astros]; AAA Colorado Springs, 2015 [age 22 season]). Brewers fans already know Domingo Santana as the most controversial prospect acquired at the deadline, in terms of potential ceiling and the ability of Santana to apply his power by commanding the strike zone. Santana is tearing up the Pacific Coast League after the trade (just as he was before the trade), and it simply seems to me that given his swing mechanics, someone at some point will be able to translate his power potential into MLB impact. Let’s hope it’s the Brewers.
RHP Jorge Lopez (2011, 2nd. AA Biloxi, 2015 [age 22 season]).
RHP Miguel Diaz (2011, Dominican Reoublic. R Arizona, 2015 [age 20 season]).
RHP Tyler Wagner (2012, 4th. AA Biloxi / NL Milwaukee, 2015 [age 24 season]).
If one were to divide the Brewers’ rankings, one could conceivably work three separate rankings for areas of strength and depth: shortstop/middle infield, centerfield/outfield, and right-handed pitching. For this reason, I am torn on Jorge Lopez, Miguel Diaz, and Tyler Wagner, in terms of rankings. Obviously, I like all three arms, and for different reasons: while one might dream on Diaz’s potential stuff and ceiling moreso than Lopez and Wagner, Lopez and Wagner are advanced prospects that made a crucial developmental step in 2015 at AA Biloxi.
In fact, Lopez might be in a completely different class altogether, as BaseballProspectus favored Lopez’s 12-to-6 curve over his fastball (which could receive a better future grade with improved command). On the other hand, Wagner is renowned for his ability to consistently stick as a starting pitcher, despite his relief pedigree in college, and his strongest grade would be his sinker. Even if some see Wagner as a future reliever without development of his secondary pitches, I would not be surprised if Wagner continues as the type of pitcher who will thrive on proving others wrong about his role. By contrast to both Lopez and Wagner, Diaz’s topspeed velocity on his fastball places him on a different level, and his combination of fastball and curve could help him skyrocket once he receives his first full season assignment (his next big step in 2016). Many are already much higher on Diaz, as BaseballProspectus even rated the young righty #10 in their 2015 rankings.
LHP Nathan Kirby (2015, CBA Competitive Balance A. A Wisconsin, 2015 [age 21 season]). In many ways, Nathan Kirby’s 2015 was incomplete, so much so that the southpaw flashed different types of off-speed pitches during his brief College World Series appearance (2 outings), and did not necessarily have his best stuff (but still prevailed). FanGraphs featured about as strong a case as possible for the “potential downside” for Kirby, and one could argue that command will largely determine the amount of success Kirby has with his arsenal. On the other hand, Kirby appears as a rather polished, high floor pitcher, and one cannot discount his ability to throw three pitches (including above average change and slider offerings). In the College World Series, the lefty showed adaptability, some aggression, and a real feel for a straightforward, “less-is-more” pitching approach. One gets the sense that Kirby knows his strengths, and is not afraid to work to those strengths in games.
LHP Kodi Medeiros (2014, 1st. A Wisconsin, 2015 [age 19 season]). I had a tough time with Kirby and Medeiros, so I ultimately grouped both lefties together. Medeiros could have a higher ceiling with his fastball/slider combo, and his delivery might be a little more “sidearm” than Kirby’s. It is tough to be “down” on Medeiros’s stock after his performance throughout his first full season, and in a perfect world both he and Kirby could work at Advanced A Brevard County next season. I gather the knock might be that delivery, but if Medeiros can continue to develop his change up, an unorthodox delivery is not necessarily going to derail the 6’2″ southpaw from a starting role. With a strong strike out performance at Wisconsin, next year Brewers fans can look for Medeiros to maximize that element of strike zone command while improving his walks.
CF Tyrone Taylor (2012, 2nd. AA Biloxi, 2015 [age 21 season]). Consider two things about Tyrone Taylor:
(1) Not only did Harrison and Reed make gains in 2015, but the Brewers also drafted a high ceiling prep high schooler (Clark), and acquired two loud tools, potential impact, advanced outfielders at the deadline (Phillips, Santana). Even if Taylor took the next step with his bat in 2015, there is an argument to be made that these transactions drop his ranking.
(2) With 412 PA in the Southern League (entering Tuesday), Taylor ranked #19 in terms of total PA. Only Arcia and Reds prospect Jesse Winker were younger / comparable in age with more PA. By my count, Taylor was one of eight Southern League bats that were 21-or-younger with 250 PA.
|Southern League Youngsters (preseason revised BA)||Age||PA||AVG / SLG / OBP|
|Byron Buxton (Twins #1)||21||268||.283 / .351 / .489|
|Orlando Arcia (Brewers #2)||20||444||.302 / .345 / .439|
|Billy McKinney (Cubs #6)||20||296||.284 / .347 / .420|
|Jorge Polanco (Twins #8)||21||345||.294 / .351 / .405|
|Jesse Winker (Reds #3)||21||428||.264 / .367 / .387|
|Courtney Hawkins (White Sox #9)||21||330||.243 / .300 / .410|
|Albert Almora (Cubs #7)||21||347||.264 / .317 / .389|
|Tyrone Taylor (Brewers #1)||21||412||.263 / .318 / .331|
So, (1) means that even if Taylor ranks much lower than in 2014, the system is much stronger now and had a particularly good year for outfielders, which means that Taylor’s stock is an asset to the Brewers’ deep system. Taylor himself is not necessarily a worse prospect in 2015 than he was in 2014, but the Brewers system is also not the same, either (8 players on this list were not part of Milwaukee’s organization before June 2014). On the other hand, (2) means that this type of ranking for Taylor does not mean that anyone should give up on the youngster, who was truly playing in an “older,” advanced Southern League. Taylor maintained his discipline at the plate, and also beat the Southern League’s batting average, which hints that even if 2015 raises some questions about Taylor’s bat coming around to match his speed, athleticism, and glove, he did not lose his ability to hit overall.
You’re probably wondering about Clint Coulter, and I had a heck of a time deciding what to do with Coulter. Part of me really wanted to rank a group of high floor, near-MLB guys #15-#20, and just knock them out in one group, leaving space for guys like Taylor and Coulter higher on the list. Coulter had a really strong offensive season at A+ Brevard County (which is pushing a RS/G environment close to 3.78), and he showed some excellent potential in his raw right field. There is a lot to like about Coulter, but I ultimately ran into problem number (1) that faced Taylor: Coulter is coming on as an outfielder in a deep year for outfielders. However, given the overall depth in the Brewers’ system, rather than pure star-power potential, there are certainly arguments in favor of ranking Coulter as high as Trent Clark or Domingo Santana; it’s all in how you value Coulter’s overall potential, advancement, etc., versus those other outfielders.
As for Coulter vs. Taylor, against Coulter’s offense I am gauging Taylor’s age, his age against his league, his centerfield defense, hit, and speed. I like Coulter’s bat a lot and see him as having the same chance that Arcia had to break out at AA Biloxi; although lists seem “set in stone” once you read them, one must consider that stock is not necessarily “down” on Coulter even if he does not share his exact 2014-2015 ranking. If the cards fall the right way, Coulter and Taylor could open 2016 in the Shucker’s outfield together, and both have the chance to show the strengths of the Brewers’ depth.
Other Favorites: RF Clint Coulter (see above); RHP Zach Davies (close to MLB, extremely high floor, “pitchable” righty); LHP Josh Hader (fastball, high floor, advanced minors development); RHP Marcos Diplan (aggressive assignment, fastball, delivery); and SS Jake Gatewood (power potential).
25-or-Younger MLB Recent Graduates: SS Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel, RHP Tyler Cravy, RHP Taylor Jungmann.