Top 50 Prospects: Advanced Arms | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Continuing Disciples of Uecker‘s prospect coverage, we’re highlighting all of the prospects throughout the Brewers’ organization that merit some extra attention. This series will serve as a primer for our forthcoming “Top Prospect List,” to be revealed at the end of these features. These features should hopefully provide details on some prospects that may not be listed on year-end / 2016 lists, and also to add substance to the “prospect list” process. We’ve broken the prospects down into four groups: Young Arms, Young Position Players, Advanced Arms, and Advanced Position Players. For reference, any prospect that is likely to begin the 2016 season at high-A or below we considered “young.” This installment will feature the system’s Advanced Arms.

Top Prospects Series

Young Arms

RHP Yhonathan Barrios || 2016 age: 24 || 2009 International Signing (Colombia) [Pirates]; traded to Brewers in July 2015.
There is some sense that the Brewers’ advanced arms exemplify extremely functional MLB depth, without necessarily featuring elite potential. So, looking at players like Yhonathan Barrios might not be as exciting as dreaming on bats like Demi Orimoloye or even Orlando Arcia. However, what a prospect like Barrios lacks in toolsy punch, he makes up in a true, solid floor: Barrios cracked the MLB with the Brewers in September and almost immediately impressed. The young righty struck out 7 of 22 batters faced, and produced a 1.67 GB:FB rate.

What I find particularly interesting about Barrios is that he was sort of dismissed as a fastball-only prospect in the deep Pirates system. Many Pirates prospect analysts seemed to shrug at the trade with Aramis Ramirez, and even Brewers fans and analysts seemed to understand that Barrios was some type of lottery ticket. Yet, the 5’10” or 5’11” flamethrower immediately showed that he need not rely on his fastball more than 60% of the time in his first taste of MLB action. His quick assent and aggressive assignment justify a reevaluation of Barrios’s position among the Brewers’ stacked RHP depth.

According to BrooksBaseball, Barrios threw a hard-riding fastball at 97 MPH in his first stint. The change up was Barrios’s greatly favored secondary offering, biting 3″ down and 2″ armside (compared to his fastball). While scouting reports suggested that Barrios threw a “screwball” action slider, pitch f/x suggested that the pitch does break “gloveside” moreso than the change up (although, not by a ton). That breaking ball is nearly a cutter, dropping in only 3″ to 4″ below the fastball. It will be interesting to see how Barrios selects his stuff in an extended stay at the big leagues, but it is already clear that the prospect adds a true selection of fireball pitches into a bullpen that is already stacked with such options.

The only question will be how that change up and slider come along, and whether Barrios can craft those three pitches into a back-end role. Even so, grabbing a serviceable, MLB-ready reliever for a retiring veteran 3B is quite a solid haul, and one could even suggest that the Brewers scouts did their homework on Barrios, as the righty suddenly seemed like much less of an MLB lottery ticket once he arrived in Milwaukee.

RHP Junior Guerra || 2016 age: 31 || 2001 International Signing (Venezuela) [Braves]; acquired via waivers from in October 2015 [from White Sox].
While constructing a Top 50 list, I debated with Kyle about the merits of including Junior Guerra as a prospect. What mainly stood out, in my mind, was the fact that Guerra will be yet another rookie in Milwaukee, even if he will be 31 years old (perhaps, in my own imagination, I am reclaiming my own youth by pegging someone in their 30s as a prospect). Anyway, there are plenty of arguments against Guerra as a prospect, including the fact that he’s well beyond minor league free agency status, and has already spent time in the Independent Leagues. But, age ain’t nothing but a number, FanGraphs featured him as a prospect at 30, and moreover, Guerra’s three pitch combination and hard velocity is quite intriguing.

In fact, Guerra basically has the hardest fastball of any of the Brewers’ starting pitching prospects for 2015. Moreover, the righty mixes a splitter/change/split-change, slider, and cutter in his repertoire, giving batters two looks at 87, as well as looks at 83 and 95. The fastball is a “true” rising and near-cut offering, perhaps best mimicking Jacob Barnes‘s offering. Guerra creates three planes with his off-speed pitches: the “cutter” drops 6″ but basically stays on the same horizontal plane as the fastball; next, the “slider” drops more than a foot from the fastball while breaking 4″ gloveside (this is really got to be some type of nickel curve); finally, the “split change” is the only pitch that Guerra “busts in” on RHB, and that pitch still drops at 5″ from the fastball, too.

Rebuilding will be the perfect place for Guerra, who should rightfully have a chance to break spring training as a starter or long relief option. I would not be surprised if Guerra served as a swingman in 2015. The righty profiles as a tricky pitcher, given his hard fastball and “true” breaking ball-off-speed artist profile. Hopefully Guerra allows Brewers fans to have some fun with those fantastic off-speed pitches, and gets a real chance to continue his professional career.

LHP Josh Hader || 2016 age: 22 || 2012 Draft – 19th round [Orioles]; traded to Brewers in July 2015 [from Astros].
The Arizona Fall League video evidence suggested that a lot has changed about Josh Hader since the Brewers traded for the divisive lefty. Hader’s performance in the AFL undoubtedly was the talk of Brewers prospect heads, as the lefty’s continual ascendence amplifies the significance of one’s position about whether he can start or relieve, while also noting that the value of the latter is probably quite strong. Still, if one raises questions about his delivery, well, it simply seems quieter:

This could be completely out of place, but Hader even appears to have quieted the rocking prior to his delivery, and his release point also appears to be more consistent than previous seasons’ video. I raised questions about the delivery and role during my midseason personal list, but seeing Hader’s AFL performance and understanding the impact of his fastball vastly improved Hader’s standing in my own personal ranking of Brewers’ prospects (for what it’s worth). In fact, one could make a compelling argument that trademates Hader and Adrian Houser are both among the Top 5 arms in the Brewers system.

From his relatively low release point, the 6’3″ Hader throws a hard-rising-and-riding fastball, averaging higher than 97 MPH during the AFL. This eclipses most of the estimates of previous scouting reports, which indeed reported high velocity potential, but not high average velocity. Hader also hammers a sinking change up that drops 5″ from his fastball, and his 77-78 MPH “slider” must be more of a curveball (I’m not sure a 20 MPH differential qualifies a breaking ball as a slider).

Given that Hader is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft until after the 2016 season, he is perhaps the most important advanced Brewers prospect to ease along in 2015. Hader should find every opportunity to start at AAA Colorado Springs, as BPMilwaukee notes that if Hader relieves in Milwaukee, it’s not necessarily an indictment of the pitcher’s own abilities. In this sense, Hader’s prospect value raises not only for his age and depth, but also the strength of his fastball and release profile. Even if Hader eventually makes the MLB as a reliever, one now has much more of an idea about how the southpaw will profile in such a role.

LHP Hobbs Johnson || 2016 age: 25 || 2013 Draft – 14th round.
You’re going to hate me for a minute, but Hobbs Johnson “looks” like an MLB southpaw. His mound composure, mix of stuff, and approach coming from behind in the count show that rumors of the “bulldog” mentality may indeed be true:

Look at any scouting report of Johnson, or most of them, anyway, and there is hardly mention about his stuff across the board. He’s not a big, imposing pitcher at around 5’11”. Video suggests that the lefty throws some combination of fastball, cutter, breaking ball, and change up. Bypassing his stuff, scouting reports instead opt to characterize Johnson as a back-rotation, bulldog mentality pitcher that has a high floor because of his composure and approach. Even during an action-packed prospect year, it seemed like Brewers prospect fans swarmed Johnson a bit, as the prospect of adding another pitching depth option from the advanced minors seemed too good to be true. Furthermore, Johnson also contrasts the extremely stacked advanced minors and MLB depth chart at RHP, which hints that maybe a solid showing to add polish at AAA Colorado Springs will earn Johnson an early season call-up.

Others of Note:
RHP Jorge Ortega
LHP Clint Terry
LHP Brent Suter
RHP Brandon Woodruff
RHP Javi Salas

More Near-MLB & 40-man Roster Depth:
40-Man Roster Prospects:
RHP Jorge Lopez
RHP Adrian Houser
RHP Tyler Wagner
RHP Zach Davies
RHP Jacob Barnes
RHP Damien Magnifico
RHP Zack Jones
RHP Ariel Pena

RHP Drew Gagnon
RHP Brooks Hall
LHP Jed Bradley
RHP Austin Ross
RHP Jaye Chapman
LHP Mitchell Lambson
RHP Kender Villegas

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