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 50 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. Today’s feature will be the last installment before revealing a Top 50 list (this was the year to do such a list, given the progress in the Brewers’ system). For reference, any prospect that is likely to begin the 2016 season at high-A or below we considered “young.” Today we’ll look at the organization’s Advanced Position Players.
1B Garrett Cooper || 2016 Age: 25 || 2013 Draft – 6th Round.
Cooper was a senior sign for the Brewers out of Auburn in 2013, and he came to the professional ranks with a polished bat and patient approach at the plate. The club had hopes that he could be a quick riser through the system, though that hasn’t exactly been the case. After splitting his first pro season between Helena and Appleton, Cooper was assigned to Brevard County to begin 2014. There he struggled to the tune of a .238/.330/.341 line in 53 games before being demoted and finishing the season in the Midwest League.
Cooper got a second chance at Brevard County in 2015 and this time he proved he could handle the assignment. He was one of the top hitters on the circuit, slashing .294/.356/.436 in 470 plate appearances with 42 extra base hits. His offense in the notoriously pitcher-friendly league was measured at 42% better than league average in terms of wRC+. He received a late-season promotion to AA Biloxi, and posted a ridiculous 1.329 OPS in nine games through the end of the season.
Soon to be 25, Cooper has generally been a little bit older than his competition at each level. He’s more of a doubles hitter than a true home run threat, but his advanced approach at the plate help make a legitimate on-base machine. He puts the ball in play (17.8% K rate in 2015) and he’s walked in close to 9% of his career minor league plate appearances, posting a career .363 OBP across 243 games. At 6’6″ tall Cooper is a big target at first base, but he still has some work to do to improve on his overall defensive ability.
A profile of Cooper at 27 Outs Baseball praises his positive attitude and work ethic, saying he always has a smile on his face. It’s probably safe to call Cooper a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect given his advanced age and lack of home run power from the right side, but if all goes right he could have the potential to become close to being an average MLB regular at first base. It’s hard to argue against Cooper as the club’s top first base prospect at this point and he’ll likely begin 2016 in AA.
3B Garin Cecchini || 2016 Age: 25 || 2010 Draft – 4th Round [Red Sox]; designated and traded to Milwaukee in December 2015.
Cecchini began making a name for himself shortly after the Red Sox drafted him in 2010, displaying an extremely disciplined approach at the plate even in spite of his young age. After leading the minor leagues in on-base percentage and posting a cumulative .322/.443/.471 batting line between high-A and AA in 2013, Garin entered 2014 as a consensus top 75 prospect in the game.
Cecchini’s stock has tumbled quite a bit since then, however, as he’s seemingly stalled a bit upon hitting AAA. He posted a .712 OPS in 114 games in 2014, but saw an uptick in his strikeouts paired with a significant decrease in his walk rate. He got an 11 game audition at the big league level towards the end of the season and posted a strong .813 OPS, but after the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to play third base the following winter Cecchini’s future was very much in doubt. He struggled significantly in 2015 while trying his hand in the outfield and first base in addition to the hot corner, and was designated for assignment after posting a meager .213/.286/.296 line in 469 plate appearances for Pawtucket.
The Brewers very much have a short-term and long-term need at third base, so acquiring Cecchini for only cash considerations was seemingly a no-brainer. He looks to be a classic change-of-scenery candidate and it’s fair to question how much positional instability coupled with some mechanical changes in hopes of increasing his power hurt his overall production. The old Cecchini – the one who walked in 17% of his plate appearances in 2013 – looks to be exactly the type of player that new GM Slingin’ David Stearns wants to stuff the organization with. Perhaps a new hitting coach and organizational philosophy will help Cecchini restore some of the luster to his now-faded prospect star. He entered the Brewers’ system ranked as the 20th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
The left-handed hitting third baseman is still young and has the potential to have an above-average hit tool at the big league level, though he’s never displayed much in-game power and probably won’t ever be more than about 10 home run threat. His disciplined approach should help make up for this however and allow him to reach base at an above-average clip. Defense has never really been his strongest suit, but he’s got the ability to be an average defender at the hot corner and also has some experience in the outfield and at first base (another position that the Brewers are weak at following the Adam Lind trade). If it all comes together for Cecchini, he could be a consistent 2-3 Win Above Replacement contributor and it’s likely he gets a chance to break camp as the 2016 Opening Day third baseman.
OF Michael Reed || 2016 Age: 23 || 2011 Draft – 5th Round.
Reed was considered somewhat of a project when he was drafted as a toolsy prep outfielder from Texas and battled some injury troubles early on his career. Finally fully healthy in 2015, Reed broke out in a big way between AA Biloxi and AAA Colorado Springs and earned himself a cup of coffee in Milwaukee to end the season.
Reed is another prospect who fits into the Stearns-ian mold and has long been lauded for his extremely disciplined approach at the plate. This approach can of course lend itself to strikeouts as well, so at first glance Reed’s .265 batting average might seem a bit underwhelming. He has, however, walked in 14% of his career plate appearances and boasts an excellent .375 on-base percentage. The biggest question about Reed’s offensive game has always been his power and though he’s unlikely to ever become a big home run threat, he did his best to answer those questions in 2015 with a career-high 45 extra base hits and an increased line drive rate. Overall, Reed hit a stellar .269/.371/.410 with five home runs in 525 plate appearances between AA and AAA and he collected two hits in six at-bats in the big leagues.
The Brewers apparently don’t appear to be willing to use Domingo Santana in center field to start 2016, and if the club cannot make an outside acquisition to fill the spot it wouldn’t surprise me to see Reed get a shot there in spring training. His strong arm profiles best in the right field, but he does have the above-average speed to be able to handle center field and has made 76 career appearances there. He’s a burner on the basepaths, as well, stealing 26+ stolen bases in each of the last three seasons. If his new-found extra base power translates to the big leagues then Reed could wind up as an excellent top-of-the-order hitter as an everyday player. If not, then his versatility and experience across all three outfield spots coupled with his on-base ability should at least give him a floor as a productive fourth outfielder.
Others of Note / 40-Man Prospects:
SS Orlando Arcia
INF Yadiel Rivera
INF Colin Walsh
OF Ramon Flores
OF Brett Phillips
OF Tyrone Taylor
OF Clint Coulter
INF Javier Betancourt
OF Victor Roache
Even More Depth:
C Manny Pina
INF Nate Orf
1B Nick Ramirez
OF Kyle Wren
C Adam Weisenburger
C Parker Berberet
INF Brandon Macias
INF Nick Shaw
OF Ben Guez