The future looks bright in Milwaukee. The Brewers recently placed six prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, showing that the system not only houses great talent, but great depth as well. Highly regarded prospects like outfielder Trent Clark and pitcher Phil Bickford were left off, while both could easily have made the list. A second drug-related suspension likely pushed Bickford out of consideration, with a string of injuries doing the same for Clark. They will look to bounce back in a big way in 2017.
Five of the six Brewers’ prospects that made the list were acquired within the last year, displaying the commitment that the organization made to develop young, controllable talent. The Crew will look to continue their rebuild this year, as they possess a high draft pick in the first round and also have several players that could turn into trade chips in exchange for more prospects come trade deadline time. Now, let’s look at each of the six prospects ranked in the Baseball America Top 100, with each of their respective rankings.
- Lewis Brinson, OF
Considered the jewel of the Brewers’ 2016 deadline deal with the Texas Rangers, Brinson possesses the potential to be one of the most special players in Brewers history. Drafted in the first round by the Rangers in 2012, Brinson has all the tools necessary to be a perennial all-star. Coupling his raw power with elite speed, he is a serious threat to be the first Brewers player to achieve a 30 home run-30 steal season since Ryan Braun in 2012. Brinson also has the ability to be a special defender, as his speed, arm, and instincts give him the ability to be a hawk in centerfield.
With his torrid start this spring, Brinson could certainly make a case to be the Brewers starting centerfielder on opening day in 2017, but I suspect that he will start the year with Triple-A Colorado Springs to continue polishing the rough edges that remain. The Brewers are in no rush to promote him to the big leagues, as they have star Ryan Braun manning left field with plenty of other outfield talent on their current roster, such as Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, and Hernan Perez.
- Josh Hader, P
A tall, lanky, electric lefty that is a ripe 22 years of age, Hader reminds many of White Sox ace Chris Sale. Originally a 19th round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, then traded to the Houston Astros in 2013, Hader has outdone all expectations and turned himself into a premier prospect.
In 2015, the Brewers acquired Josh Hader from the Astros in a trade deadline blockbuster. The Brewers sent centerfielder Carlos Gomez and starting pitcher Mike Fiers to Houston in exchange for a glut of prospects – outfielder Brett Phillips, outfielder Domingo Santana, pitcher Adrian Houser, and Hader. Prior to the trade, Hader had pitched to a 3.17 ERA with 9.5 K/9 with the Astros Double-A affiliate, and upon his arrival to Double-A Biloxi, he picked up right where he left off. Over the remainder of the season, Hader achieved a 2.79 ERA with 11.6 K/9 and a 0.98 WHIP, making it start to look like he may turn into the gem of the deadline deal that was originally thought to be headlined by Brett Phillips.
There is no questioning Hader’s ability as a pitcher. He possesses two plus-pitches with his mid 90s fastball and sharp slider, and he is working on developing his change-up into a more reliable offering. Paired with fellow top-100 prospect Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers Triple-A affiliate should have an elite 1-2 punch. Look for him to get a call-up if he succeeds and a need arises.
- Corey Ray, OF
Corey Ray was the Brewers compensation for their awful 2015 season, as they selected him with the 5th overall pick in the 2016 draft. Ray emerged to be an elite threat as a sophomore, hitting .325/.389/.545 while driving in 56 runs and stealing 34 bases. He built on this by putting together a similarly spectacular junior campaign in which he was in the running for the Golden Spikes award. He hit .310/.388/.545, hitting 15 home runs, driving in 61 runs, and stealing 44 bases without getting caught even once. He was profiled by many as the best available position prospect prior to the MLB draft, and was highly sought after due to his elite power-speed combo. Once he fully develops, he could easily be a 20-20 player, and that is on the modest end of the projection scale.
While he stands 5’11” and weighs 185 lbs., Ray has the unique ability to play all three outfield positions, but probably profiles best in left field or center field. He is one of several impact outfielders currently in the minor leagues for the Brewers, and it will be interesting to see how this situation pans out. Although he currently is in big league camp, he will almost certainly start the season in Class-A Advanced, and should he succeed there, I could see him being promoted to Double-A near the mid-season mark. He spent the off-season rehabbing a knee injury, and will need to re-acclimate himself to professional baseball.
- Luis Ortiz, P
The addition of Luis Ortiz in the Lucroy/Jeffress trade deadline blockbuster gave the Brewers a high impact arm to add to the top of their farm system. Originally a first-round draft pick of the Rangers in 2014, Ortiz is only 21 years old, and stands 6’3” and weighs 230 lbs. He shows polish and skill that few other pitchers his age possess. He features three above average pitches, with a mid 90s fastball, a slider, and a change-up. The Brewers assigned Ortiz to the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers upon acquiring him, where he dominated from the get-go. Ortiz started his Brewers career with five scoreless appearances over 17.1 innings, living up to the lofty expectations that he brought with him when he was acquired as a top-rated prospect. In his short debut with the Brewers organization, Ortiz certainly impressed, pitching to a 2-2 record with a 1.93 ERA.
While ascending through the minors as quickly as he has, it would not surprise me if Ortiz started the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. However, I believe he will spend a good part of the year with Double-A Biloxi, as it is not worth it to rush a young pitcher like Ortiz to the big leagues through the extremely hitter-friendly environment of Colorado Springs if there is no need for starting pitching at the MLB level. We could see Ortiz in a Brewers uniform as soon as the second-half of 2017, but I think a more likely ETA would be 2018. The Brewers will surely be careful with the 21-year-old, but it is hard to not get excited about a prospect with his talent.
- Brandon Woodruff, P
Brandon Woodruff has come out of nowhere to take the Brewers’ minor league system by storm in 2016. Drafted by the Brewers in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB draft, the Mississippi State product has been the hallmark of consistency since his initial arrival to the organization. Woodruff started out the 2016 season in Class-A Advanced Brevard County. Back for a second time in the Florida State League, the 23-year-old was lights out, pitching to a 4-1 record with a 1.83 ERA in eight starts. This earned Woodruff a promotion to Double-A Biloxi. After initially struggling in his first eight starts, Woodruff turned the corner and excelled, finishing with a 1.67 ERA over his final 12 starts. Even with the hiccup at the start of his stint in Double-A, Woodruff ended the season with a combined 14-9 record and 1.02 WHIP over the two minor league levels at which he pitched. Even more impressively, he led all of minor league baseball with 173 strikeouts.
Woodruff looks to have everything necessary to succeed as a starting pitcher in the future. He has a well-built frame, standing 6’4” and weighing 215 lbs. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s, and he locates it well. He also offers a slider with good bite and a changeup that moves away from lefties, giving him a solid three pitch mix. Both of his off-speed pitches are about average at this point, but I expect for him to refine at least one of them to an above average level going forward. He will make up the second half of a dominant top of the rotation in Triple-A Colorado Springs, pairing with Josh Hader.
- Isan Diaz, 2B/SS
The Brewers acquired Diaz in February of 2016 in the trade that sent Jean Segura to Arizona. 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. He spent the 2016 season with Class-A Wisconsin, and 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. 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. He should be an exciting one to watch in the coming years.