A look into the solid Brewers farm system
Milwaukee Brewers Top 20 Prospects for 2018
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine.
All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major “if” in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Keston Hiura, 2B, Grade B+/A-: Age 21, first round pick in 2017 from University of California-Irvine, ninth overall, hit .371/.422/.611 in 167 at-bats in pro debut between rookie ball and Midwest League, 13 walks, 37 strikeouts; excellent hitter who is close to major league-ready, plenty of bat speed, projected to hit for both power and average; main question is defense, as he was limited to DH by an elbow injury for most of the season, got into just three games at second base in pro ball; may be destined for left field but even so his bat will play anywhere; ETA late 2019.
2) Corbin Burnes, RHP, Grade B+: Age 23, fourth round pick in 2016 from St. Mary’s; outstanding 2017 campaign with 1.67 ERA in 146 innings between High-A and Double-A, 140/36 K/BB, only 103 hits and three homers allowed; fastball 90-95 and he locates it well, mixing in slider, curveball, change-up; secondary pitches could use a bit more polish but all flash plus and he throws strikes with everything; strong feel for pitching, positive makeup reports, only criticism I’ve seen is that his delivery has a touch of effort to it but his athleticism and pitch-efficiency compensate; ETA late 2018.
3) Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Grade B: Age 25, 11th round pick in 2014 from Mississippi State University; posted 4.31 ERA in 77 innings for Triple-A Colorado Springs, 71/26 K/BB, 80 hits, 1.44 GO/AO; that’s very credible given the environment in that park and league; 4.81 ERA in 43 major league innings with 32/14 K/BB, 43 hits; but still rookie-eligible for 2018; hard sinker gets up to 96-97; working in a slider and change-up; relatively polished but has the occasional “what the hell was that?” bad start; nothing left to learn in the minors, should be a durable inning-eater; this is the same grade he got last year; ETA 2018.
4) Luis Ortiz, RHP, Grade B: Age 22, first round pick in 2014 by the Texas Rangers from high school in Sanger, California, traded to Brewers in 2016 Jonathan Lucroy trade; posted 4.01 ERA in 94 innings in Double-A with 79/37 K/BB, 79 hits allowed; his numbers are frankly only mediocre but scouting reports remain quite positive, 91-96 MPH fastball, excellent slider, workable curveball and change-up; on the right day shows sharp command of four major league quality pitches but overall results don’t quite match the perceived talent; suffered through hamstring problems in ’17 that may have had an impact; I gave him a Grade B last year and my instinct says to stay with that another year; ETA late 2018.
5) Freddy Peralta, RHP, Grade B: Age 21, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 by the Seattle Mariners, traded to Brewers for Adam Lind; posted 2.63 ERA with 169/62 K/BB in 120 innings between High-A and Double-A, with only 77 hits allowed; outstanding K/IP and H/IP ratios but walk rate was high; certainly better overall stats than Ortiz but scouting reports aren’t as good; fastball can hit 95 on the right day but more commonly in low-90s, though it plays up because he has a good slider and change-up and is deceptive due to his delivery; possible mid-rotation starter; ETA 2019.
ANALYST NOTE: I ranked the Grade B pitchers in the order they are most likely to reach the majors; I see all three as possible mid-rotation arms. If you ordered them by pure scouting reports, it would go Ortiz/Woodruff/Peralta. If you are just looking at numbers, it would go Peralta/Woodruff/Ortiz.
6) Brett Phillips, OF, Grade B-: Age 23, originally drafted by Houston Astros in sixth round in 2012 from high school in Seminole, Florida, traded to Brewers in Carlos Gomez deal; hit .305/.377/.567 in Triple-A with 19 homers, 45 walks, 129 strikeout in 383 at-bats, then hit .276/.351/.448 in 87 major league at-bats, albeit with 34 strikeouts; his 2017 was much better than 2016 (.229/.332/.397 in Double-A) although the friendlier PCL environment was at least part of that; that said, the power is real and he also has an excellent throwing arm, but opinions about his pure hitting ability remain mixed and contact frequency is still an issue; could have wild swings in batting average and OBP, some seasons where he hits like an All Star and others where he struggles to hit .230; ETA 2018.
7) Lucas Erceg, 3B, Grade B-: Age 22, second round pick in 2016 from Menlo College; hit combined .259/.310/.421 with 15 homers, 36 walks, 96 strikeouts in 506 at-bats between High-A and a three-game stint in Triple-A; recipient of a large amount of hype last spring, standing out for power and throwing arm; but bat was perhaps a bit less polish than expected; pitchers at higher levels may exploit his aggressiveness; has the tools to play third base and has made strides towards improving reliability, an issue in the past; ETA 2020.
8) Tristen Lutz, OF, Grade B-: Age 19, compensation round pick in 2017 from high school in Arlington, Texas; very successful debut, hitting .279/.347/.559 in 68 at-bats in Arizona Rookie League, then .333/.432/.559 in 93 at-bats in Pioneer League, combining for 16 walks, 42 strikeouts in 161 at-bats; hard to beat all that although better feel for the strike zone would help at higher levels; raw power has earned anything from 50 to 60 grades depending on source; solid athlete although unlikely to be a base-stealer, arm would fit well in right field; ETA 2022.
9) Mauricio Dubon, INF, Grade B-: Age 23, drafted in the 26th round by the Boston Red Sox in 2013 from high school in Sacramento, California; traded to Brewers in December 2016; hit combined .274/.330/.382 with eight homers, 38 steals, 39 walks, 76 strikeouts in 492 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; best tool is running speed but he’ll occasionally surprise you with some power; good arm but range works better at second base than shortstop; ETA 2018.
10) Corey Ray, OF, Grade B-: Age 23, first round pick in 2016, fifth-overall, from the University of Louisville; disappointing season, hit .238/.311/.367 in High-A with seven homers, 24 steals, 48 walks, and 156 strikeouts in 449 at-bats; physical tools that made him a top draft pick are still there, with much better than average speed and raw power potential; only weak physical tool is throwing arm; all that said, his pure hitting skills were much weaker than expected, with contact issues paramount, traced to difficulty maintaining his swing mechanics; I rated him as a B+ pre-season and still like his long-term potential but there are more questions now; ETA 2020.
11) Trent Grisham, OF, Grade C+/B-: Formerly known as Trent Clark, he changed his name to Grisham this past winter; age 21, first round pick in 2015 from high school in Richland, Texas; played season at age 20 in High-A, hit .223/.360/.348 with eight homers, 37 steals, 98 walks, and 141 strikeouts in 457 at-bats; solid tools, except his throwing arm, but shows good speed and more power potential than eight homers implies; extremely patient hitter but the downside is letting some hittable pitches go by and unlike many young hitters he may be better-served by being more aggressive rather than less; ETA 2021.
12) Marcos Diplan, RHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 21, signed by the Texas Rangers out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, traded to Brewers in Yovani Gallardo deal; posted 5.23 ERA in 126 innings in High-A with 119/71 K/BB; arm strength ahead of pitchability, can hit 94-95 with some reports as high as 98; shows a plus slider and adequate change-up on his best days but struggles with command and consistency; I have liked his potential since he was an amateur and he is still young but adjustments are crucial as he reaches Double-A this year; ETA 2020.
13) Cody Ponce, RHP, Grade C+/B-: Age 23, second round pick in 2015 from Cal Poly Pomona, posted 3.14 ERA in 138 innings between High-A and Double-A with 103/30 K/BB, 140 hits; very “physical” at listed 6-6, 265, with a fastball that can hit 95, a plus cutter, a curveball that is pretty good, and a change-up that has progressed but needs more work; throws strikes most of the time and is fun to watch, but has a history of injuries and may fit best in bullpen despite four-pitch arsenal; ETA 2019.
14) Troy Stokes, Jr, OF, Grade C+/B-: Age 22, fourth round pick in 2014 from high school in Baltimore, Maryland; breakout season hitting .251/.341/.447 between High-A and Double-A, 20 homers, 30 steals, 63 walks, 111 strikeouts in 499 at-bats; well-kept secret with power/speed/patience production; doesn’t field or throw particularly well so the bat is the attraction here; just 5-8 but power seems real, could be high secondary average player along the lines of Matt Lawton; a year from now this grade may seem too low; ETA 2019.
15) Taylor Williams, RHP, Grade C+: Age 26, fourth round pick in 2013 from Kent State University; missed 2015 and 2016 seasons with elbow injury/Tommy John but came back effectively in 2017, posting 3.09 ERA in 47 innings in Double-A, 57/21 K/BB, then looking good in 4.2 major league innings, fanning four and showing a fastball up to 97-98; also has a very good slider, command was a bit rusty coming off two years of injury but stuff looks very good, nearly ready for major league pen although there’s still some chance he could start if he can improve his change-up; ETA 2018.
16) Jon Perrin, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, 27th round pick in 2015 from Oklahoma State University; posted 2.91 ERA in 105 Double-A innings with 91/21 K/BB, 103 hits; I saw him in college and was impressed with his pitchability, which successfully made critical transition to Double-A; fastball anywhere between 88 and 94 with good location, mixing in curve, slider, change, nothing really plus but the whole works better than the sum of the parts; could be Mike Fiers-type sleeper; ETA late 2018.
17) Jake Nottingham, C, Grade C+: Age 22, sixth round pick by the Astros in 2013 from high school in Redlands, California, traded to Oakland Athletics in 2015 then to the Brewers in 2016; hit .209/.326/.369 with nine homers, 37 walks, 87 strikeouts in 325 at-bats in Double-A; I thought he was one of the top prospects in baseball a couple of years ago but he’s had significant problems adapting to Double-A pitching; the good news is that he did boost his isolated power production in ’17 while improving his feel for the strike zone, plus he is still only 22 years old; his defense has also improved gradually with slow but steady upgrading in all categories; he’s still got a shot at being quite valuable; ETA 2019.
18) KJ Harrison, C, Grade C+: Age 21, third round pick in 2017 from Oregon State University; strong pro debut with .308/.388/.546 line in the Pioneer League, 23 walks, 55 strikeouts in 185 at-bats, 10 homers; high strikeout rate may be problematic at higher levels, power is real but pure hitting skills have been doubted; defense is also questionable; arm is strong but he’s raw as a receiver and thrower and has work to do to be playable back there; could be similar to Nottingham for both good and ill; ETA 2021.
19) Jorge Lopez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 25, second round pick in 2011 from Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, posted 4.25 ERA in 104 innings in Double-A with 105/38 K/BB, 92 hits; has been on prospect lists for seven years now with performances varying between excellent and dismal, leading to frustration for fans, analysts, the team, and the player; seems to find his niche in relief after switching to pen last July, with 3.62 ERA in 37 innings, seven saves in nine attempts, 32/11 K/BB and particularly good pitching in August (1.62 in 17 innings, 13/5 K/BB); he’s always had a fine arm and hit 97 in relief, both curveball and change-up can be quite good although usually not in the same game; still too much here to give up on but a change of scenery might help; ETA 2018.
20) Josh Pennington, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, 29th round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2014 from high school in Lower Cape May, New Jersey; acquired in 2016 Tyler Thornburg trade; posted 2.78 ERA in 10 starts (but just 32 innings) in Low-A, 31/8 K/BB; Midwest League observers liked his stuff despite short leash pitch counts, noting a low-to-mid-90s fastball and an excellent curve; has a history of elbow problems including Tommy John surgery and has never thrown more than 57 innings in a full season; could move very quickly if moved to bullpen; ETA 2020.
OTHER GRADE C+ (interchangeable with 16-20): Phil Bickford, RHP; Zack Brown, RHP; Jean Carmona, INF; Larry Ernesto, OF; Mario Feliciano, C; Gabriel Garcia, 1B; Jake Gatewood, 1B; Carlos Herrera, RHP; Adrian Houser, RHP; Thomas Jankins, RHP; Caden Lemons, RHP; Kodi Medeiros, LHP; Nate Orf, 2B; Carlos Rodriguez, OF; Trey Supak, RHP; Je’Von Ward, OF; Braden Webb, RHP
OTHERS OF NOTE: Yeison Coca, SS; Clint Coulter, OF; Bubba Derby, RHP; Devin Hairston, SS; Payton Henry, C; Cooper Hummel, C; Gilbert Lara, SS; Max Lazar, RHP; Jesus Lujano, OF; Ernesto Martinez, Jr, 1B; Chad McClanahan, 1B; Karlos Morales, LHP; Brendan Murphy, LHP; Demi Orimoloye, OF; Antonio Pinero, SS; Wuilder Rodriguez, RHP; Quintin Torres-Costa LHP; Michele Vassalotti, RHP; Tyler Webb, LHP; Devin Williams, RHP; Kyle Wren, OF
The Brewers system was tough to get a handle on, as there were several dichotomies between scouting and performance. I will be around to discuss the list in the comments section on Thursday.