The common theme with last week’s group of prospects was their sky-high potential. This week, prospects #6-10 boast that same potential, but also have a history of performance that backs it up. All five of this week’s prospects are 21 or younger and in the lower levels of the minor leagues. While some fans may find it discouraging that they will most likely not be in Milwaukee until at least a couple of years down the road, it is important to remember that these prospects have already figured out how to perform professionally at a high level, and with that they still have tons of room for growth in each of their respective skill sets. I find that very exciting, as each of their production thus far could very well only reveal a scratch on the surface of what they may become. Here are top prospects #6-10:
10. Lucas Erceg 3B
The Brewers selected Erceg with the 46th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and he has done nothing but impress since. Although his performance is pretty clear-cut indicator of his on-field talent, he has an interesting backstory of off-field struggles, which supposedly scared some teams away from taking him as high as the Brewers did in the draft. After a breakout sophomore campaign at the University of California, where he batted .303/.357/.502, Erceg was deemed academically ineligible, forcing him to transfer to Menlo College. Erceg’s transfer worried scouts, as it made them question his work ethic. In many scouting reports, he is noted as having a questionable attitude, making his early selection by the Brewers a gamble in the minds of some.
Despite all of the disappointment surrounding his departure from California, Erceg put together an impressive season at Menlo in 2016, slugging 20 home runs in 56 games with an impressive batting line of .308/.351/.639. His power potential and smooth left-handed swing are what prompted the Brewers to pick him in the 2nd round, as at the time they lacked power hitters throughout all levels of the minor league system. Erceg also possesses a very strong arm, one that profiles nicely at third base. He pitched out of the bullpen periodically in college, reaching up to 94 mph with his fastball, so he definitely has the arm strength to effectively man third base at the big league level. His frame is ideal for a third-baseman, with Erceg standing 6’3” and weighing 200 lbs. If he struggles defensively, his offensive production could easily support a move to first base or a corner outfield position.
After being drafted, Erceg began his professional career at Rookie-Level Helena. He impressed from the get-go, as he mashed the tune of a .400/.452/.552 line with 22 RBI in 26 games. Following his torrid start, Erceg was promoted to Class-A Wisconsin, and he just kept producing. He finished the year with hitting .327/.376/.516 with 9 home runs and 51 RBI in 68 games between the two levels. The 21 year-old will likely start 2017 with Class-A Advanced Brevard County. It will be fun to see if Erceg can continue his rapid ascent within the Brewers farm system. If he does, we could see him with the big league club as soon as 2018.
9. Gilbert Lara SS
One of the youngest players in the Brewers organization at a ripe 18 years of age, Lara also has one of the highest ceilings. The Brewers originally signed Lara to a team-record $3.1 million international signing bonus as a 16 year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2014. He was ranked as the #4 prospect in his international signing class. Lara possesses an impressive, projectable body for his age, standing 6’2” and weighing 190 lbs. He may eventually grow out of the shortstop position and slide over the third base as he fills out, but for now shortstop is where the Brewers will continue developing him. Thus far he has displayed defensive skills that are adequate to support him at either position.
The area of Lara’s skillset that really gets scouts salivating is his bat. He is touted as having plus power potential that has shone through in batting practice, although it has not been exhibited in game situations thus far. I suspect that is mainly because of the sizable age deficit at which he is playing. Lara is a hard-working player, and I have no doubt that his raw power will eventually break through. On the contact side, he has been productive thus far. In 2015, in hit .248 for the Arizona League Brewers, being nearly three years younger than the average player. He played one level up in 2016 for the Helena Brewers, and after a rough start, he righted the ship and finished with a .250 batting average. He struggled immensely in June and July, but turned the corner in August, and over his final 27 games he hit .314.
At this point, Lara is still a somewhat of an unknown entity. He possesses all of the tools to be an above-average major league player, and as his improves and matures as a player, I believe those tools will emerge and manifest themselves wholly. It will be a long time until we may see Lara in Milwaukee, but if his development is successful, the wait will be well worth it.
8. Marcos Diplan P
Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Rangers in 2013, Diplan was acquired by the Brewers when they traded Yovani Gallardo to Texas in January of 2015. Only 18 years old at the time, Diplan was considered to be an exciting prospect with a sky-high ceiling, but also one that needed plenty of refinement. He was the top-ranked player in his 2013 international signing class, and justified it by dominating the 2014 Dominican Summer League. Over 64 innings, he finished with a pristine 1.55 ERA to go along with a 6-2 record. He gave up only 32 hits (4.5 per 9 innings) – an incredible accomplishment – but also walked 36 batters. Nonetheless, it was an outstanding start to his professional career.
Following the trade, Diplan was assigned to Rookie-Level Helena. While he did not excel at the same level as he did in 2014, it was still an encouraging year. He pitched to a 3.75 ERA while striking out 9.7 hitters per 9 innings. Diplan did not make any strides in his control, however, as he had 14 wild pitches in 50 innings pitched and walked 21. Despite these struggles, he still stood out above many due to his undeniable talent.
2016 was a breakout year for Diplan. He started the season with Class-A Wisconsin, and despite being nearly three years younger than the average player, the Midwest League simply did not offer enough competition for him. In 17 games, he went 6-2 with a 1.80 ERA, striking out 89 batters in 70 innings. Following this outstanding performance, he earned a promotion to Class-A Advanced Brevard County. Now over four years younger than the average player, Diplan experienced mixed results. In some starts he seemed overmatched, and in others he shone. In 10 appearances with Brevard County, he finished with a 4.98 ERA and a 1-2 record. However, if you exclude his three worst performances, in which he gave up a combined 13 earned runs in 9.1 innings, Diplan would have a 2.91 ERA. While this is not indicative of his entire body of work (all pitchers have bad games and the ones that minimize them are the most successful), it does offer a snapshot into how elite of a pitcher he can be.
Diplan pairs an electric fastball that can reach 98 mph with a plus slider, a mix that should help him sustain his strikeout rate as he ascends through the minors. His one glaring weakness at this point is his command, and if he is able to refine that, there is no limit to how good he can eventually be. Some say that Diplan has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the Brewers system, and I think that this opinion is entirely justified given what we have seen of him thus far.
7.Trent Clark OF
The Brewers drafted Clark out of high school with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft. In the summer before his senior year of high school, Clark played for the U-18 American national team, which really put him on the map in terms of being a high-level prospect. Over 12 games, he hit .538 with a .928 slugging percentage and 24 RBI, leading them to the gold medal at the 18-and-under Pan American Championships. Upon being drafted, Clark was praised for his professional approach at the plate, and was considered to be one of best hitters in the draft, if not the best.
Clark started his professional career impressively in 2015. Between the Arizona League Brewers and Rookie-League Helena, Clark hit .309/.424/.430 with 21 RBI and a stellar 39/44 K/BB ratio. Following this encouraging start, Clark was primed for a breakout full season in 2016, but his season with Class-A Wisconsin was limited due to multiple injuries. They limited his effectiveness, and he struggled on his way to a .231/.346/.344 batting line. Clark will likely start 2017 with Class-A Wisconsin again, but should he stay healthy and produce, a promotion to Single-A Advanced Brevard County will happen rather quickly.
As previously noted, Clark’s most impressive tool is his hitting ability. He is an excellent contact hitter, possesses great plate discipline, and has the strength and bat speed to hit 15 home runs per year if everything goes according to plan. Clark does have a rather unusual style of gripping the bat, which has scared some scouts about his power potential, but it does not seem to bother anyone in the Brewers organization. He uses a grip comparable to how one would grip a golf club, but as long as it works for him, I see no reason to adjust it. Clark is an above average outfielder with an average arm, so he likely is destined for left field at the major league level, and is made even more likely by defenders like Brett Phillips, Corey Ray, and Lewis Brinson playing center field at various levels in the Brewers system. Clark has the ability to make an outstanding lead-off hitter one day for the Brewers, and hopefully he bounces back in a big way in 2017.
6. Isan Diaz 2B/SS
The Brewers acquired Diaz in February of 2016 in the trade that sent Jean Segura to Arizona. Diaz was coming off a magnificent season, as he hit .360/.436/.640 with 13 home runs en route to winning the Rookie-Level Pioneer League MVP award. Originally drafted by the Diamondbacks out of high school in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft, Diaz is a young prospect at 20 years old and still has plenty of room to improve his craft. Following the trade, he was thought of to be in the number 10-15 range regarding the Brewers top prospects, but along with Brandon Woodruff, he has seen his ranking soar after a productive season.
The Brewers assigned Diaz to Class-A Wisconsin to start 2016, and he initially struggled. Through May, he was hitting .212 with only three home runs, and people started wondering if his 2015 season was a fluke. Diaz soon silenced these critics, as he broke out in June and July. Over these two months, he hit .322 and slugged .624, racking up 16 doubles, four triples, and 12 home runs. Diaz kept mashing in August, hitting .280/.432/.538, but faded in September. Nonetheless, Diaz displayed that he is an elite level hitter who could profile into the middle of a big league lineup. He finished the season with a line of .264/.358/.469, and led the Midwestern League in home runs.
The one tool that gives Diaz the most value is his power. Standing at only 5’10” and weighing 180 lbs., Diaz makes great use of his lower half to generate bat speed and maintain power through contact. He is also a very patient hitter, which can be seen by the fact that he finished second in the Midwest League with 72 walks this past year. He maintains his power to all parts of the field, making him even more dangerous in the modern-era of baseball as teams cannot shift against him. There is little doubt that he has the ability to sustain his production in the future as he advances through the minor league system.
One area of his game that that is less certain is where he profiles defensively. Diaz only possesses an average throwing arm, and with Orlando Arcia manning shortstop for the foreseeable future, the Brewers likely will move Diaz to second base. He started receiving reps there in 2016, and I would assume going forward that he will likely split his time equally between the two positions. As a second baseman, Diaz would provide tremendous value with his hitting ability, and would have an above average arm for the position to go along with his shortstop-level instincts.
Diaz will be one of the most exciting prospects to watch over the coming years, as he injects a source of power into a Brewers farm system that otherwise is mostly lacking in that respect.