This 6-10 range is where things start to get really interesting in the Brewers’ prospect rankings. All of the players in the Brewers’ top-10 have the potential to be core pieces within the coming years, and it is exciting to see such a stockpile of high-end talent. Prospects 6-10 feature five position players who boast advanced tools. The possibility exists for all five to be in a Brewers’ lineup together in the next two to three years if all goes according to plan. Let’s start with #10, outfielder Monte Harrison:
- Monte Harrison, OF
Harrison, a former second-round pick, had struggled to stay healthy up until 2017, greatly limiting his exposure and development. He limped to a .220/.300/.339 batting line in 2016 with Class A Wisconsin, and the future seemed to be dimming. However, 2017 brought better fortunes, and he responded with a monster season split between Class A Wisconsin and Class A-Advanced Carolina. He slashed .265/.359/.475 with 11 home runs and 11 stolen bases in just 63 games at Wisconsin. He didn’t slow down in the slightest with his promotion to Carolina, as he went on to hit .278/.341/.487 with 10 home runs and 16 stolen bases. In the field, Harrison had 9 outfield assists between the two levels.
Harrison boasts a profile that is typical throughout the Brewers’ current big league roster, as he brings a lot of swing and miss in his game but also has electric power potential. In the field, he utilizes his speed to play all three outfield positions, and pairs a 70-grade arm to boot. His individual tools are rivaled only by those of Lewis Brinson’s in the Brewers’ system, and it is a toss-up regarding whose are better. His combination of power, speed, and overall athletic ability gives him a sky-high ceiling, one that if reached could make him an all-star. However, to get there he will need to solve the holes in his game, most notably his strikeout rate. There is considerable risk with Harrison; the reward, however, could be remarkable.
- Lucas Erceg, 3B
Erceg gained a large following last year with his impressive professional debut, as the 2016 2nd round pick hit .327/.376/.518 with 9 home runs and 51 RBI between rookie-level Helena and Class A Wisconsin. That led to an aggressive placement with Class A-Advanced Carolina, making it appear that the Brewers would try to fast track Erceg to the big leagues. After a rough start to the season (.239/.283/.368 prior to the All-Star break), Erceg caught fire in the 2nd half, hitting .273/.330/.466 with 9 home runs and 46 RBI. His season ended with a temporary promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs to assist in their playoff push, where he thoroughly impressed despite a very small sample size (.357/.429/.500). Erceg is currently continuing his success in the Arizona Fall League, a post-season league made up of many of the game’s top prospects. He is hitting .320/.346/.640.
Erceg’s value mainly emanates from his complete hitting profile. He is one of the scarce hitters in the Brewers’ system that offers both above average contact and power potential. In addition, he has a relatively low strikeout rate compared to many of his peers, and owns a solid walk rate as well. When you add in his above average defense at the hot corner, it becomes easy to see how he is potentially the best homegrown third base product the Brewers have had since Ryan Braun. While no one expects Braun-level production from Erceg, third base has been a position at which the Brewers have struggled in developing big league players, so Erceg could and should break that trend.
- Brett Phillips, OF
Phillips arrived in Milwaukee at the 2015 trade deadline in part of the package for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. He was touted as a top-50 prospect at the time amidst a breakout season. However, a rough 2016 saw him plummet in the rankings as he hit .229/.332/.397. By wRC+ this was still an above-average season in the Double-A Southern League, but nonetheless it scared many prospect evaluators. Phillips re-emerged in 2017 in the thin air of Triple-A Colorado Springs, hitting .305/.377/.567 with 19 home runs in 105 games. He bounced between Triple-A and the majors for the majority of the 2nd half, and impressed in Milwaukee by slashing .276/.351/.448 in 98 plate appearances spanning 37 games. He made quite the case down the stretch to warrant consideration for the Brewers’ primary centerfield slot in 2018.
Unlike many of the Brewers’ heavy hitting prospects, Phillips garners extreme value in the field. Despite playing in just 37 games, he ranked as the 13th best centerfielder in the MLB according to FanGraphs’ defensive runs above average metric. His “plus” speed paired with an 80-grade arm (the highest ranking on the scouting scale) makes him a difference-maker and perennial gold-glove threat. At the plate, Phillips does possess swing and miss issues (30% strikeout rate since arriving in the Brewers’ organization), but he has the potential to make up for it with his above-average walk rate and his solid approach. He has sacrificed contact for power over the last two years, but with his defensive value Phillips needs to be merely serviceable at the plate to warrant him a starter-level player.
- Isan Diaz, 2B/SS
After a 2016 season that culminated in being named the Brewers’ Minor League Player of Year, Diaz struggled to carry over his success into 2017. In 2016, Diaz displayed his advanced offensive game en route to finishing with a .264/.358/.469 slash line paired with 20 home runs and an above-average 12% walk rate. This caused him to soar up prospect boards, as second basemen with that type of offensive output are a rare commodity. 2017 started out well for Diaz, as he hit .273 in April, but he saw his fair share of ups-and-downs over the course of the year, finishing with a line of .222/.334/.376 with 13 home runs.
At only 21 years of age, there is no need to panic over Diaz’s down year. Many of the Brewers’ top hitting prospects struggled to produce in Carolina, and it will be interesting to see if the club promotes those players to start 2018 regardless. Diaz is often noted as having extreme upside at the plate, and it is easy to see him at his peak being a 25+ home run threat while hitting in the .270-.290 range. In the field, Diaz has recently switched to second base to accommodate the Brewers’ future plans for him, and he should grade out as average for the position. If all goes according to plan, Diaz could be an integral part of the Brewers’ lineup in 2-3 years.
- Corey Ray, OF
Corey Ray has quickly established himself as one of the most polarizing prospects in the Brewers’ farm system. Lofty expectations were placed on Ray after being GM David Stearns’ first draft selection, and this has placed him under extreme scrutiny. Strong performance is expected from someone drafted as high as Ray (5th overall), especially with his excellent college pedigree. However, Ray has yet to live up to the hype through one-and-a-half minor-league seasons. In 2016, he hit a modest .247/.307/.385 with 5 home runs in 57 games. At the time, this average stat line was written off as simply being Ray adjusting to professional baseball and his aggressive placement to Class A-Advance playing in as a second factor. 2017 saw him struggle more, however, as he hit .238/.311/.367 with 7 home runs. Ray’s highly touted offensive game has yet to materialize, as he struggles have continued into the Arizona Fall League.
On paper, Ray possesses all the tools to be an all-star. His potential in every tool grades out above average, and he has the defensive ability to stick in center field long-term, maximizing his value. Upon being drafted, it seemed as though the Brewers would be able to fast track Ray through the minor leagues, with his ETA being late-2018. That plan has seemed to change with Ray’s difficulty in finding success, as some glaring and serious holes have emerged. Most concerning is his strikeout rate. In 2017, Ray struck out 31% of the time. This was an issue of his many saw in college, but figured that further development would solve it. Ray has the potential to be a star in the Brewers’ line-ups, and it would be a tough blow to David Stearns and Co. if their first prized pick fails to pan out. I am guessing that the Brewers will continue to be aggressive and assign Ray to Double-A Biloxi to start the 2018 season, but would not be surprised if they feel he has more to prove at Class A-Advanced Carolina before moving up.