With the big-league squad struggling to begin the season, many have shifted their focus more toward the Brewers’ farm system, and at Disciples of Uecker, we provide minor league box scores throughout the season to help readers follow the various affiliates and prospects. Box scores only provide partial information, though. They describe what happened, but not how it happened or why it happened. And really, the latter is what matters, especially when analyzing prospects. The process and the physical/mental tools tell a much better story about a young player than simply the results.
Thus, I wanted to write an update on some of the Brewers’ top prospects, including some insight from people in (or connected to) the industry.
Orlando Arcia, SS, Class-A Wisconsin
If you’re not already on the Orlando Arcia bandwagon, be sure to climb aboard and strap in while space is still available. One contact said he’s the first and last guy scouts want to talk about when discussing the Brewers’ system. The 18-year-old shortstop may only own a .246/.322/.308 slash line on the season, but he’s caught fire as of late — hitting .340/.435/.415 in the month of May. He projects to stick at shortstop all the way up the ladder and has an advanced approach at the plate.
Just think: he’s 18 years old, playing his first professional season stateside in the difficult Midwest League, and he’s still holding his own? And not only holding his own, but OPS-ing .850+ in May? This guy is the real deal. Next year, we could be talking about Arcia as the Brewers’ number-one prospect, and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus opines he will be a top 101 prospect in all of baseball.
Tyler Thornburg, RHP, Triple-A Nashville
The first two months of the season can be labelled as nothing other than a disappointment for Thornburg. The Brewers’ starting rotation currently ranks last in the National League with a 5.17 ERA, and Thornburg remains in Triple-A Nashville with a lofty 6.80 ERA.
Nobody seems to know where to place the right-hander — starter or reliever. One contact even said he thought the Brewers were conflicted as to Thornburg’s ultimate role. The 24-year-old hurler has struggled with his fastball command this year, leaving it up in the zone quite often. And without much natural angle to the plate because of his short stature, he has to work down in the strike zone with his fastball to be effective. Otherwise, it gets very straight and hittable — which Brewers fans saw last year in his brief promotion to the majors.
Still, Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospect Nation told me: “I still believe Thornburg can start at the big league level, he just may need a large chunk of this year to continue refining his game.”
Clint Coulter, C, Class-A Wisconsin
The raw numbers haven’t been pretty for the Brewers’ first-round draft pick in last year’s draft. He’s only hitting .184/.281/.306 with two home runs. Despite that, though, scouts continue to be very encouraged about his ability at the plate. The power potential remains, and he’s shown an ability to drive high-end velocity.
Defensively, it’s been a work in progress. I haven’t talked to anyone who believes Coulter will be able to stick as a catcher at the major-league level. In fact, multiple contacts expressed concern over the Brewers’ keeping him at catcher. The physical and emotional stress catchers experience during development is extraordinary — especially catchers who are spending extra time developing the defensive tools — and multiple contacts wondered if his development would be better served moving him away from catcher now and just let his bat play.
Victor Roache, OF, Class-A Wisconsin
Roache fell to the Brewers with the 28th pick of the 2013 Draft because he severely injured his wrist in his final collegiate season. Because of that injury, the Brewers got a premium talent late in the first round. They got a potential middle-of-the-order bat with plus raw power that will play in either right or left field, and that raw power could eventually develop into 30+ homers in the majors.
The question is whether Roache will be able to hit enough to allow the power to play. He’s shown both power and patience this year, but scouts continue to question his ability to handle quality breaking stuff. His pitch recognition isn’t well-developed at this point. The organization hopes he can become at least a .250 hitter with plenty of walks and homers — which is plenty valuable — but strikeouts will likely remain an issue throughout his professional career.
Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Double-A Huntsville
Many pitchers in the Brewers’ organization have scuffled this spring, but Nelson has moved into the spotlight because he’s one of the top-tier guys who has taken a step forward. He owns a 3.04 ERA in 47.1 innings and the peripherals have been impressive — 9.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9.
Although he’s a personal favorite and has performed very well in 2013, one contact cautioned fans to lower their expectations for Nelson. He profiles as a workhorse mid-rotation starter. Nothing more. His third-or-fourth starter grade may be disappointing to some, but his floor appears to be high. Everyone I spoke with said he’s a big leaguer. And for an organization that has struggled to develop starting pitching, that’s encouraging.
Johnny Hellweg, RHP, Triple-A Nashville
Hellweg is interesting because he’s 24 years old and in Triple-A, yet he’s largely considered a project who is still learning how to pitch. The numbers aren’t pretty. He currently has a 4.33 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 33 walks in 43.2 innings. At the same time, he’s reportedly hit triple-digits on the radar gun and goes through stretches where he’s utterly dominant on the mound.
Two separate contacts said they believe he has a chance to stick as a starter, but neither was willing to commit to that stance. At 6-foot-9, his mechanics are very difficult to repeat. His levers are extremely long and can get out of sync in a hurry. This is best exemplified by his May 5th start against Round Rock. He was throwing a no-hitter through three innings and had popped 100 mph. Then, suddenly, Hellweg lost it and walked four hitters in the fourth and couldn’t recover. He was lifted after 3.2 innings, and his final line marred his early performance.
It sounds like Hellweg will probably land in the back-end of the Brewers bullpen in the coming years, possibly as a shutdown closer. Still, he shows flashes of “getting it” as a starter, and I expect the organization to nurture that possibility as much as possible before transitioning him to a bullpen role.
Mitch Haniger, OF, Class-A Wisconsin
Haniger needs to go to Brevard County. He’s currently hitting .295/.401/.511 with 11 doubles, two triples and five home runs. He even has seven stolen bases and hasn’t been caught once. The 22-year-old outfielder needs a bigger challenge than the Midwest League, though the Brewers could be keeping Haniger with the Timber Rattlers in an attempt to keep him with the next group of hitters — much like the Brewers did with the Huntsville Stars in 2008.
Tyrone Taylor, OF, Class-A Wisconsin
When the Brewers drafted Taylor in the second round last year, he was considered an athlete first and a baseball player second. He made some adjustments to his swing last summer, though, and tore through the Arizona League and Pioneer League before succumbing to a shoulder injury.
This year, he’s holding his own in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old outfielder. He’s hitting .240/.275/.370, but he’s driving the baseball with some power and is continuing to hone his baseball skills. He projects well up the middle and should stick as a center fielder. The key is whether he’ll hit enough for it to matter. The early results have been very positive for Tyrone Taylor.
Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Double-A Huntsville
Jungmann was supposed to be a can’t-miss guy coming out of the University of Texas. He was someone who could advance quickly through the Brewers’ system and make an impact at the major-league level. Heck, some draft experts even wondered if the Brewers would move Jungmann to the bullpen to help them in the 2011 postseason race.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened that way. He owns a 5.09 ERA in Double-A and only has 20 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. Multiple contacts expressed concern over his inability to miss bats, and nobody has been wowed by his offspeed offerings. He’s been sitting 92-93 mph with the fastball for Double-A Huntsville and has the ability to reach back for more. At this point, though, it seems Jungmann profiles more like a back-end starter (4/5) with one contact wondering if he’s even a big league arm at all.
He’s been working on a new grip on his curveball since last season, so perhaps that’s a reason why his strikeout numbers are so depressed. Eventually, though, he’s going to have to show something. It hasn’t been anything to write home about thus far.
Jorge Lopez, RHP, Class-A Wisconsin
I asked a couple contacts to give me an off-the-radar guy who they liked in the Brewers system. Both mentioned right-hander Jorge Lopez. He’s still sitting in the low-90s with his fastball and can touch 95-96 mph. He also has good feel for his curveball and changeup. The problem is an extreme lack of consistency, which is why he has an 11.64 ERA. Still, he’s striking out almost a batter per inning and still has loads of projectability at only 20 years old.
He may never develop into anything. He may never even reach Double-A. But the right-hander has encouraging raw tools. The numbers just show how raw those tools are right now.