Every morning, I try to write up a quick report of what happened down in the Brewers’ minor league system. Seeing a day-to-day snapshot helps contextualize much of the prospect coverage that floats around the blogosphere, though sometimes a single article is needed to compartmentalize the discussion.
I have not had a chance to see any Brewers prospects since my week-long stint in spring training — in which I did see a few dozen prospects for various periods of time — but the following thoughts are largely derived from what I am being told or from what other well-respected prospect talent evaluators are saying.
RHP Jimmy Nelson
Aside from Tyler Thornburg, the most glowing scouting reports this spring have been attached to the big right-hander out of the University of Alabama. Nelson is now throwing 94-96 MPH with his fastball, which has serious sink, and maintains his velocity well. One report I received had Nelson still hitting 94 MPH in the eighth inning during one of his better starts this spring.
His overall repertoire features the fastball mentioned above, as well as a mid-80s slider that has true two-plane break and serves as his knock-out pitch. He can spot it for strikes and get both lefties to swing-and-miss. Nelson also throws a changeup. This spring, he talked about his changeup becoming his second-best offering and how much it has progressed, but he has not featured his changeup as much as expected this season. Still, it is a decent third pitch he can feature during his second or third time through a batting order to keep batters off-balance.
I am huge on Jimmy Nelson right now. Hopefully, we get to see Nelson make the jump to Double-A this summer and continue his success. If he does that, Nelson could be a Top 5 prospect within the system next year.
Milwaukee does not have too many position players worth following, though Gennett is certainly a notable exception. The minuscule second baseman has always fought off questions about his height. Scouts and talent evaluators have never questioned his hit tool, though, and one scout told me this spring that Gennett was one of the most impressive hitters he saw in Arizona. He will not feature plus-power or walk a ton, but he barrels everything at the plate. An adjustment last season has rocketed him up the scouting boards.
Don’t worry about the .273 batting average. That will climb this summer. The 22-year-old is simply navigating through a tough stretch at the plate. Things will turn around.
All of the value as a prospect does lie in the batting average, though. The power does not project to be much at the big league level. The defense is shaky. The on-base percentage will be heavily dependent on the batting average, as he does not walk much. His prospect value is thus limited, but you have to love prospects with a standout tool, especially a true plus hit tool.
RHP Kyle Heckathorn
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus receives much of his prospect information straight from scouts and big league executives. He recently said of Heckathorn:
“His stuff plays up due to some deception from his long levers and his durable frame is built to eat innings. There’s no star potential, but he’s very much starting to look like a usable big league arm down the road.”
This is precisely where expectations stood when the Brewers drafted him in the supplemental first round in the 2009 Draft. Nobody expected a superstar. Scouts believed the organization was drafting a workhorse arm that had a chance to be a mid-rotation starter or a back-end reliever. The adjustment period appears to have taken a bit longer than previously expected, but Heckathorn has begun to figure out how to pitch to professional hitters and has regained his value as a prospect.
RHP Tyler Thornburg
Thornburg is atop the Southern League leaderboards in almost every pitching category. He impressed the organization this spring and carried over his success into the regular season. Some fans had their feathers ruffled when Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus quoted a scout as saying that he is rather “unathletic” and still may not be a starter long-term.
That evaluation has nothing to do with his stuff or his command. It has everything to do with his delivery and the sustainability of that delivery for 150+ innings per year. Keep in mind, it’s one thing to repeat that delivery at 22 or 23, when your body can handle a lot of strain and bounces back extremely well. It’s another thing entirely to maintain a stressful delivery at 30 or 31.
With that said, I am becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of Thornburg starting. One scout I ran into this spring told me that the concerns about Thornburg starting were far overblown. I also know that the organization absolutely views him as a future piece of the rotation. At the very least, he has earned every right to fail as a starter before being moved permanently to the bullpen.
The left-hander started his season brilliantly, throwing 19 innings before giving up his first earned run of his professional career. His most recent starts have not been as smooth, but he has more than held his own in the Florida State League.
Reports of his velocity only sitting 88-91 MPH in some starts has been concerning. This spring saw him at 91-92 MPH and he touched 93 multiple times, but even that is lower than what he was hitting last fall in instructionals. Expect the velocity to improve throughout the summer months, though.
OF Caleb Gindl
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com spoke to a scout about Gindl, who said:
“This kid is going to hit. He’s more athletic than people give him credit for. He’s a good outfielder with a plus arm.”
That is one of the more glowing scouting reports I have ever read regarding Gindl. Most see him as a fourth outfielder due to his relegation to a corner outfield spot and his fringe power. He showed a solid hit tool this spring, though.
Having seen Gindl multiple times, I am not exactly sure where the “good outfielder” part comes from. He does feature a big arm, but the instincts and routes are not very good in right field. Multiple scouts have reiterated that to me. Granted that was over the past two years, so perhaps Gindl improved enough this spring to garner the report from the scout above, who obviously knows much more than me.
RHP Taylor Jungmann
Although Jungmann has not lit the Florida State League on fire, his performance has been steady and effective. His fastball velocity has again been a little underwhelming at 90-92 MPH, even 88-89 at times, though he is reportedly working with more movement on his fastball than he did in college. He also features a curveball and changeup that can be thrown for strikes on a consistent bases.
Jungmann is exactly what we thought he would be.
RHP Hiram Burgos
One of the more pleasant surprises this spring has been Burgos. The right-hander currently has an ERA of 0.87 and a 41-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has overwhelmed opposing hitters by mixing speeds, throwing strikes, and throwing four or five legitimate pitches. His fastball velocity has reportedly sat 90-91 MPH in recent starts, though I hear that his slider has been quite good this spring.
We must be skeptical of players making repeat performances at levels — especially of a 24-year-old in High-A ball — but the early results are promising. He throws strikes and is extremely competitive on the mound. Look for the organization to push him to Double-A if he continues his success throughout the remainder of the month of May.
1B Hunter Morris
The former Auburn Tiger has pounded out doubles in the Southern League this year, hitting 16 doubles en route to a .303 batting average. His walk rate has improved a bit, as he has drawn eight walks in his first 35 games. He only had 18 walks all of last year.
Still, his value is somewhat limited. The extreme raw power is obvious, but approach issues and a lack of on-base skills could keep him from making a big league roster down the road. A couple of minor league talent evaluators have gone on record this spring stating that they are not huge Hunter Morris fans. Still, as stated before, you have to love standout tools from prospects, and Morris certainly has shown legitimate raw power over the past year.