With the Brewers valiantly fighting to win games in September with several replacement-level players and no playoff aspirations, fans can look to the Brewers farm system for a glimmer of hope. The Brewers recently were lauded as owning the top ranked and deepest farm system in all of baseball, containing 8 top-100 ranked prospects after the trade deadline. While recently promoted Orlando Arcia and newly acquired Lewis Brinson are often looked at as the future cornerstones for the big league club, there are many pieces throughout the Brewers minor league system that offer great future potential. In this four-piece series, I will give my personal rankings of the Brewers Top 20 prospects. It is worth noting that the Brewers do have some players in the minor leagues that one could reasonably consider prospects but are ineligible for true prospect status due to major league service time or age, such as former rule 5 draft pick Wei-Chung Wang and pitcher Aaron Wilkerson. While they could have possibly found a place in these rankings, they will not be considered. Without further adieu, here are prospects 16-20.
20. Devin Williams P
A second-round pick out of high school, Devin Williams signed with the Brewers for $1.35 million after they selected him with the 54th overall pick in 2013. While high school prospects can sometimes take a few years to get out of rookie ball, the soon-to-be 22 year old has steadily progressed his way through the lower levels of the Brewers system, finishing the 2016 season at Class-A Advanced Brevard County. Coming into the organization, many thought of Williams as a project with a high ceiling, as he possesses a considerably projectable body with his lean frame and an electric fastball. However, everyone knew he had a ways to go with refining several areas of his skill set, especially his secondary pitches and command. Standing 6’3” and weighing in at 165 lbs., he still has plenty of room to add more muscle and grow into his body.
While he has not been overwhelming with his performance, he certainly has shown upside and consistency. After recording a 3.38 ERA in the Arizona League in 2013, he was hit around in the uber-hitter friendly Pioneer League in 2014, pitching to a 1.42 WHIP and 4.48 ERA. He rebounded in 2015 at Class-A Wisconsin, finishing with a 3.44 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and an impressive 9.0 K/9. He spent most of 2016 having a successful year with Wisconsin, earning a late season call-up to Class-A Advanced County. He faced tougher competition after his promotion, but still finished the season with a cumulative 3.79 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 97.1 innings.
While Williams arrival to Milwaukee is still faraway, he shows the potential to be a middle to back of the rotation starter. His calling card will always be his high strikeout rate, and we will have to watch if he maintains that as he ascends through the system.
19. Corbin Burnes P
Burnes is a 2016 draft pick of the Brewers, selected in the 4th round out of St. Mary’s College. Burnes dominated this past spring as a junior at St. Mary’s, achieving a 9-2 record with a 2.42 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 101.2 innings pitched. At 6’3” and 205 lbs., scouts have no concerns at all with Burnes’ makeup, as they profile him as a backend starter that can eat up innings, which was evident through the high number of innings he pitched for St. Mary’s. Burnes has a good fastball that sits comfortably at 92-95 MPH, and has three secondary offerings that at this time are about average: a slider, curveball, and changeup. If Burnes can develop one of these pitches to be above average, he could heighten his ceiling quite a bit.
Burnes excelled in his introduction to professional baseball, pitching to a 3-0 record in 12 games between the Arizona League Brewers and the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. He recorded an excellent 2.00 ERA, while striking out 41 batters in 33 innings pitched. While we may not have seen much of Burnes yet, what he has shown us has been nothing but promising, and he hopefully can move through the system quickly. He will likely spend the beginning portion of next season at Class-A Wisconsin, but expect him to be moved up to Class-A Advanced rather quickly if he continues pitching at the level he did in his brief professional debut this year.
18. Jacob Nottingham C/1B
A former standout high school tight end, Nottingham was drafted in the 6th round out of high school by Houston in 2013. Nottingham’s body type certainly shows his football past, as he stands at 6’2” and weighs 230 pounds, making him a wall behind the plate. Nottingham has spent time in three organizations, as Houston traded him to Oakland at the deadline in 2015, which was followed subsequently in the winter by the A’s flipping him and pitcher Bubba Derby to the Brewers for slugger Khris Davis. Although he was drafted and developed as a catcher, Nottingham has split time between catcher and first base this season. Never regarded as anything above a fringy-average catcher at best, it will be interesting to see where the Brewers organization will deploy him in the coming years.
After struggling to start his professional career in 2013 and 2014, Nottingham found his groove in 2015, hitting .326/.368/.543 at Single-A and .306/.357/.416 at Class-A Advanced. Nottingham has often been noted for his power, and between the two levels he hit 17 home runs and 82 RBIs. Unfortunately, he regressed a bit this season, hitting .234/.295/.347 at Double-A Biloxi. This season has been more on track with his 2013-2014 seasons, as in those years he hit a combined .238/.325/.375. The Brewers are hoping that the real Jacob Nottingham is his 2015 self.
Despite his struggles in 2016, Nottingham still holds great potential due to his powerful swing and knack for finding the barrel. He played the past year in Double-A being three years younger than the average player, and still has plenty of time to figure things out. He almost certainly will start 2017 back in Biloxi, where he hopefully will have more success in his second go at the Southern League.
17. Ryan Cordell OF/3B
Welcome to the Brewers, Ryan! Ryan Cordell was acquired this past week as the PTBNL in the deadline deal that sent our beloved Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to the Rangers. Cordell is an advanced prospect, as he is 24 years old and just completed a successful season at Double-A. Drafted out of Liberty University in the 11th round by the Rangers in 2013, Cordell is an all-around prospect that is at least average in all five tools. Standing at 6’4” and 195 lbs., he profiles as a prototypical corner outfielder, yet has also seen time at third base, first base, and center field over his time in the minors.
The area where Cordell offers the most value is his bat. He is a player that once he reaches the majors could hit .260 and have 20-25 home runs per year. As you can see in the video below, he assuredly possesses some big pop in his bat. Cordell’s average has dipped as he has ascended through the minors, as he hit over .300 in both Class-A and Class-A Advanced, but he still hit a respectable .264 at Double-A this year. With an overall batting line of .264/.319/.484, Cordell certainly has the offensive tools necessary to warrant enough production for a corner outfield spot. He also offers plus speed, which has helped him steal 72 bases over 384 games in 4 seasons in the minors, which over the course of a 162 game season averages out to just over 30 stolen bases. While facing major league catchers would likely lead to a decrease in his base stealing capabilities, he still could plausibly steal over 20 bases at the MLB level, which would make him a 20-20 threat. This speed, combined with his power, makes Cordell an intriguing third piece of the Rangers trade that could be with the Brewers as soon as late-2017. As an older prospect, Cordell needs to produce at the level of which he is capable next year, as the Brewers house a bevy of highly ranked outfield prospects in the lower minor league levels, which could certainly cloud his future as a potential regular in Milwaukee’s outfield of the future.
16. Freddy Peralta P
Acquired by the Brewers along with two other young pitching prospects from the Seattle Mariners in the Adam Lind trade in December of 2015, Freddy Peralta has been a pleasant surprise in 2016. Originally signed by the Mariners out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Peralta mostly struggled in his stateside debut for the Mariners’ Arizona League affiliate in 2014 and 2015. Following the trade, Peralta started out 2016 at Class-A Wisconsin and dominated, pitching his way to a 2.85 ERA with 12.8 K/9 and a 1.15 WHIP, while also holding batters to a lowly .202 batting average. This success earned Peralta a promotion to Class-A Advanced Brevard County during the second half of the season.
For the most part, Peralta struggled in Brevard County. An interesting note is that in Brevard County, Peralta was utilized mostly out of the bullpen. In the two games he started, he pitched a combined 10 innings with 3 earned runs, while coming out of the bullpen he gave up 11 earned runs in 12 innings. Peralta worked largely as a starter earlier in the year at Wisconsin, a role in which he had outstanding success. Moving forward, to get the most out of Peralta, one can only hope that they proceed to develop him as a starter. He certainly has a deep enough mix of pitches to make this happen, as he currently boasts an above average fastball that can reach into the 94-95 mph range, along with three solid secondary pitches.
Peralta’s high strikeout rate is an outstanding achievement given the age deficit he has played at. At Class-A Wisconsin, he was nearly two years under the average age, and was more than three years younger than the average player in Class-A Advanced when he finished the season with Brevard County. Peralta’s age is one of the main factors that places him ahead of Devin Williams and Corbin Burnes in these rankings, as he is nearly two years younger than both. Like those two, it may take a few years for Peralta to reach Milwaukee, but hopefully he continues to develop as the dominant starter we saw in Wisconsin.