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Brewers to watch at Spring Training

February has come around again, and for followers of the pastime, that means baseball is not far away. Aside from the surprising free agent signing of Eric Thames, the Milwaukee Brewers have been relatively quiet this offseason. After trade speculation surrounded MVP outfielder Ryan Braun for the last season and a half, any and all rumors fell through and Braun remains the Brewers’ franchise player. Reliever Tyler Thornburg was sent to Boston in exchange for infielders Travis Shaw and Mauricio Dubon, and pitcher Josh Pennington. Additionally, long time backstop Martín Maldonado was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for catcher Jett Bandy. Other than those transactions, General Manager David Stearns has been mostly out of the spotlight. With that being said, the Brewers will still enter Spring Training with several players to watch, each with unique storylines.

1B/OF Eric Thames (2016: 40 HR, 118 RBI, .317/.425/.676 in Korean Baseball Organization)

Thames last played in the Majors in 2012 with the Blue Jays and Mariners, where he only appeared in 86 games and compiled an underwhelming slash line of .232/.273/.399. Thames is expected to be the Brewers’ primary first baseman, replacing Chris Carter who led the National League in home runs (41) in 2016. Carter’s contract was not tendered, and he became a free agent this offseason.

What makes Thames so intriguing is the apparent commitment the Brewers are making to him. Thames signed a 3-year contract worth at least $16M after he put up video game-type numbers in South Korea. In his three seasons there, Thames recored 472 hits, 124 home runs, and a batting average of .349. Those kind of numbers are more than enough to draw attention from big league clubs, but is a three year commitment viable? Although Thames was the KBO’s MVP in 2015, the pitching he will face in Major League Baseball is, frankly, much better. Nonetheless, the Brewers liked their chances with Thames’ lefty bat enough to let Carter walk.

SS Orlando Arcia (2016: 4 HR, 17 RBI, .219/.273/.358 with Brewers)

For the first time in his career, Orlando Arica will go to Spring Training knowing one thing is for certain—he will be a Major League starting shortstop afterwards. Arcia’s long awaited debut came last year, and he flashed the brilliance many have said he was capable of. Although he only hit .217 at the plate, Arcia showcased his defensive range and offensive aggressiveness.

Arcia was long regarded as one of the premier defensive players in the minors. In 2015, he broke out as a potential offensive threat as well, and skyrocketed up baseball prospect boards. Since then, Brewers fans longed for the day he would become the team’s next star. And at just 22 years old, he has plenty of time to develop. 2016 will be Arcia’s first full-season test at the big league level. With Jonathan Villar to his left at second base, Milwaukee’s middle infield could evolve into one of the most prolific in baseball.

LHP Josh Hader (2016: 3-8, 3.29 ERA, 126.0 IP, 161 SO in AA and AAA)

According to MLB Pipeline, Josh Hader is the best southpaw prospect. He has recently drawn ambitious comparisons to Chris Sale because of his lanky build and three-quarter delivery. The prize of the Carlos Gomez-Mike Fiers trade in 2015, Hader has been a strikeout machine since his pro debut in 2012 with the Baltimore Orioles’ organization. In 505.0 professional career innings pitched, Hader has struck out 578 batters, all while maintaining an ERA of 2.96 and a WHIP of 1.18. Most baseball pundits and columnists agree that, barring injury, 2017 will be the year Hader gets to toss his electric repertoire against Major Leaguers.

The Brewers have a good problem—too many starting pitchers. In addition to Hader, Taylor Jungmann, Tommy Milone, Wily Peralta, Brent Suter, Chase Anderson, Matt Garza, and Jorge Lopez will all be considered for spots in the rotation (with Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra, and Zach Davies being virtual locks). Regardless of Hader’s spring performance, it’s unlikely that he will see substantial playing time in the Majors early in the season, but he could be first name called in the case of an open roster spot during the 2017 campaign.

OF Keon Broxton (2016: 9 HR, 19 RBI, .242/.354/.430 with Brewers)

Keon Broxton was somewhat unknown among fans when the Brewers traded Jason Rogers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for him in 2015. Broxton was drafted in the third round in 2009 by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but took longer than expected to blossom. He played in just seven games with the Pirates in 2015, but he earned the Opening Day start in center field for Milwaukee the following year. Broxton struggled initially, which led to multiple stints in AAA. However, in the latter half of the season and after adjusting his batting mechanics, Broxton became a reliable, consistent player, both offensively and defensively.

The Brewers have stockpiled talented outfielders in recent years, but even with young studs like Corey Ray, Lewis Brinson, and Brett Phillips nearing the Majors, Broxton’s spot on the team should be safe if he performs adequately this spring. Broxton has flashed signs of being a 20-20 player. He crushed nine home runs in just 75 games, and he stole 23 bases. If he’s able to stay consistent enough to stay in the bigs, he could be in for a breakout season in 2017.

2B/UTIL Scooter Gennett (2016: 14 HR, 56 RBI, .263/.317/.412 with Brewers)

With Arica easing in to the full-time shortstop role and Villar moving to second base, Scooter Gennett will have to learn new positions if he wants consistent playing time this season. Manager Craig Counsell told reporters in January that Gennett would be seeing time in the outfield in Spring Training, which is not unheard of. Gennett’s teammate Hernán Pérez, a third baseman by trade, saw extensive time in right field last year, in an effort to keep his solid bat in the lineup.

Having a switch hitter in Villar manning second base all but erases the need for a platoon at the position. If Gennett is able to handle the outfield transition without too many hiccups, it’s reasonable to expect him to share time with Domingo Santana in right field. Otherwise, Gennett could be moved towards the top of Stearns’ trade list.

Brewers add to bullpen, sign closer Feliz to 1-year deal

Early Thursday afternoon, the Brewers made a move that had been rumored for around a week by signing closer Neftali Feliz to a one-year, 5.35 million dollar contract. Along with the base salary, the deal could max out at 6.85 million with incentives. Milwaukee will be Feliz’s 3rd team in as many seasons and his 4th overall, having previously played for the Rangers, Tigers and Pirates.

Evaluating the Tyler Thornburg Deal

On Tuesday, December 6th, the Brewers kept their off-season wheels churning by trading closer Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Travis Shaw and minor league prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. The trade came as somewhat of a surprise, as Thornburg established himself in 2016 as a dominant reliever and possessed three more years of club control, but the Brewers obviously saw this as an opportunity to continue their rebuild by adding young, controllable pieces to both the big league club and the farm.

Thornburg started out the year as the Brewers set-up man, and was promoted to the role of closer after the subsequent trades of Jeremy Jeffress to Texas and Will Smith to San Francisco. His stat line does his dominance justice, as he pitched to an 8-5 record with a 2.12 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 67 appearances. He held opponents to a .162 batting average and converted 13 saves. Thornburg started his career in Milwaukee as a starting pitcher after being a well-regarded prospect, but was shifted to the bullpen during the 2013 season. Thornburg’s departure will bolster the back-end of Boston’s bullpen and leave a gaping hole in that of the Brewers, one which may be filled by in-house options such as Jacob Barnes, Jhan Mariñez, and Corey Knebel.

Now, let’s evaluate the three pieces that the Brewers acquired in the deal.

Travis Shaw, 3B

Shaw is a 26-year-old third baseman that will immediately slot in as the Brewers starting third baseman. He has split time at both third base and first base over his career, but due to the recent signing of Eric Thames, Shaw likely will not see much time there. This move almost certainly pushes Jonathan Villar to second base full-time. Shaw has a reputation as a power-hitter. In his introduction to the big leagues in 2015, he slashed .270/.327/.487 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games of action. He came into 2016 as the Red Sox starting third baseman, but was mostly platooned to the point where he faced almost exclusively right handed pitching. His performance dropped off a bit, as he hit .242/.306/.421, but he still holds good potential as a power bat. He also offers good defense at the hot corner. Shaw holds very high value due to the fact that he is controllable for the next five years.

Mauricio Dubon, SS

According to Baseball America, Dubon was the Red Sox 7th best prospect prior to the trade, and he slots in as the Brewers’ 9th best prospect according to MLB.com. Dubon is above-average in all areas except power. He is noted as having exceptional bat to ball skills, and should hit for a high average at any level. After starting the season at High-A Salem, he was promoted to Double-A Portland and thrived, ending the year as one of the top performers in the Eastern League. Between the two levels, he hit .323/.379/.461, and hit even better when you look at his Double-A performance exclusively (.339/.371/.538). Dubon doesn’t offer much home run power, but he does make hard contact consistently and should get a solid number of doubles. He also offers plus speed, as he stole 30 bases in 2016. Look for him to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs if the Brewers decide to be aggressive. While the Brewers currently have the middle of their infield locked up with Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Villar, Dubon is an excellent provider of depth and could be in a utility role as soon as later this year if he performs at a high level in the first half.

Josh Pennington, P

Pennington was rated as Boston’s 22nd best prospect prior to the trade according to MLB.com, and according to them he is not within the Brewers top-30 prospects following the trade. Pennington is a starting pitcher with a power arm, as his fastball can reach mid to upper 90s. He is a bit of an unknown, and is definitely a raw prospect. He played for Boston’s Class-A affiliate and performed well, pitching to a 2.86 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 13 appearances (56.2 innings). Given that he has a power fastball and curveball, a move to the bullpen could be the ultimate landing spot for Pennington. He likely will start the year with the Brewers’ new Class-A Advanced affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats.

Why the Brewers’ Signing of Eric Thames Makes Perfect Sense

Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Brewers made their first splash of the offseason this past week, signing first baseman Eric Thames while non-tendering incumbent first baseman and NL home run leader Chris Carter. This may come as a surprise to many. However, when you look at the multitude of factors surrounding this decision and peel back the layers, it starts to make perfect sense, and could very well be a stroke of brilliance.

So who is Eric Thames? Well, his MLB pedigree doesn’t say much. Over 181 career games and 633 AB, Thames held a batting line of .250/.296/.431, while also striking out nearly 28% of the time. Like many young hitters, he lacked plate discipline and pitch recognition skills, leading to his extremely low on base percentage and ultimate exit from the MLB.

This prompted his move to the KBO League, South Korea’s equivalent of the MLB. The KBO has produced a number current major leaguers such as Cardinals’ reliever Seung-hwan Oh and Mariners’ first baseman/designated hitter Dae-ho Lee, both of whom proved to be effective contributors at the MLB level. Upon arriving in Korea, Thames miraculously transformed into the patient and powerful hitter that he always had the potential to be. In his first year in the KBO, he hit .343 and slugged .688, while also drawing 58 walks. He improved upon that with an even more outstanding year in 2015, when he hit .381 to go along with an otherworldly .790 slugging percentage, bolstered by 47 home runs and 42 doubles. He regressed slightly in 2016, hitting .321 with a .679 slugging percentage, but he still posted elite numbers nonetheless.

Despite this success, Thames is a wild card. His inability to hit major league pitching in the past still looms over him, but he certainly has seemed to make quite the transformation while overseas. In a worst case scenario, Thames’ success overseas has been due merely to a drop in competition and he fails to latch on as a major league contributor. I do not see this to be a scenario that has any significant chance of playing out, however. A more likely baseline would be that Thames’ hits in the .240 to .250 range with 20 plus home runs, which is great production for a first baseman at his price tag. This is only a baseline projection, and the possibility that he produces above it is definitely there and prevalent.

The logic of this addition comes when you look at what it means financially for the Brewers. Chris Carter was due to make in the neighborhood of $8-10 million through arbitration in each of the next two seasons. Let’s suppose he makes a cool $9 million in 2017 and 2018, which amounts to two years of Carter for $18 million. Comparatively, the Brewers will have Thames for three years and $16 million. Signing Thames gives the Brewers much more value, as well as similar offensive production. Carter’s elite power plays down because of his high strikeout rates and low batting average on balls in play (BABIP), not to mention additional troubles like his poor baserunning and defensive skills. Thames can be considered a comparable offensive weapon at this point in time, with the potential to out-perform Carter on multiple levels.

This signing is the epitome of low risk/high reward. If the Brewers have struck gold, they will have made the biggest steal of the offseason. Watching video on Thames, he reminds me more and more of a slugger very familiar to the Brewers: former first baseman Prince Fielder. Thames displays power to all fields much like Fielder did, and creates leverage through a slightly uphill swing plane, though it definitely is not as drastic as Fielder’s. However, to expect Thames to be the second-coming of the Prince to Milwaukee is much too steep. It is important for Brewers fans to keep expectations tempered and not buy into the hype until it (hopefully) becomes actualized.

The path Eric Thames has taken is anything but typical, but his exit from the MLB and subsequent time in South Korea could very well turn into an integral part of the Brewers rebuild. If all goes well, this signing could just be the latest example of how David Stearns and Co. are brewing something special in Milwaukee.

Season in Review: Top Takeaways from the 2016 Brewers

2016 generally went as expected for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers struggled on the field and key veteran pieces were traded for promising prospects, but faithful fans still arrived to Miller Park in droves, helping eclipse the 2.3 million tickets sold mark for the eleventh straight season. Numerous stories helped define the Brewers season, and here are some of those which stand out most.

The Most Hectic Offseason Possible

“Slingin” David Stearns had his work cut out for him when he assumed the position of Brewers GM in the fall of 2015. He was handed an underachieving big league roster and a mediocre minor league system, and wasted little time in tearing it apart. Heading into spring training, more than half of the 40-man roster that began the 2015 season with the Brewers had been flipped. Following up on his plan to infuse young, controllable talent into the minor league system, Stearns made a bevy of trades that acquired players that fit this mold. Two of the larger deals were sending power-hitting outfielder Khris Davis to Oakland for prospects Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby and trading Jean Segura to Arizona for starting pitcher Chase Anderson, infielder Aaron Hill, and prospect Isan Diaz. Both Diaz and Nottingham are top-20 prospects and Chase Anderson proved to be a decent rotation option at the big league level. Hill, however, was traded to Boston in July after a hot start to the season, netting two more prospects in infielder Wendell Rijo and pitcher Aaron Wilkerson.

Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #1-5

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We’ve made it. Finally, we arrive to the cream of the Brewers crop, the top five prospects in the system. These five are universally regarded as being the best that the Brewers have to offer, and it is easy to see why. All possess game-changing talent, and could realistically be perennial all-stars if they reach their respective ceilings. Only time will tell, but these five are the crux of why David Stearns and Co. are brewing something special in Milwaukee.

 

5. Phil Bickford P

Hours before the 2016 trade deadline, the San Francisco Giants decided to make a move to bolster the back-end of their bullpen by acquiring reliever Will Smith from the Brewers. Due to his value as a near elite left-handed specialist, Smith did not come at a low price, as the Giants had to give up top-100 prospect Phil Bickford and catcher Andrew Susac. Bickford was a two time first round draft pick, being the 10th overall pick in 2013 out of high school and then the 18th overall pick in 2015. His fastball is considered to be his best pitch, as he has a four-seam that can reach 98 mph (more recent reports however have suggested that his velocity has dropped) and a two-seam that comfortably sits anywhere from 89-92 mph. The two-seamer can be especially effective, as it possesses good arm-side run that makes it a swing and miss pitch. Bickford also throws an above-average slider and has a below-average yet developing change-up that should become a serviceable offering. One area in which he has reportedly struggled is with his command, with some saying that he is wild while others say he has pinpoint control. I do not perceive any major issues in that area, and assume the variability in reports is due to his ongoing development as a pitcher. His walk rate did balloon to 5.0 BB/9 after his trade to the Brewers, but he is a young pitcher, and command issues are bound to happen at times with stuff as “electric” as his.

Bickford started his professional career strong in 2015 with the Giants’ Arizona League affiliate, pitching to a 2.01 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. This earned him a promotion to Class-A for 2016, where he spent only 11 starts (2.70 ERA and 10.4 K/9) before being promoted to Class-A Advanced. He thrived there as well, and had a 2.73 ERA with 9.8 K/9 prior to being traded to the Brewers. He struggled by his standards upon arriving with the Brewers Class-A Advanced affiliate Brevard County, but still achieved a respectable 3.67 ERA with 10.0 K/9 in a league where he was more than three years younger than the average player.

Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #6-10

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.

Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #11-15

This week’s group of five prospects all share a common theme: they have sky-high potential. With all of these prospects being from the Doug Melvin era, where he focused on acquiring players with raw talent that could be transformed into major league skills, it makes sense that some have struggled in developing while others have thrived. It is very logical to think that all five of these prospects could be above-average major leaguers, but it is also a likely possibility that they could falter (or in certain cases, keep faltering) in the minor leagues and never make it to Milwaukee. Only time will tell, but I believe that we will soon see at least a couple of these players in Brewers uniforms for years to come. Here are top prospects #11-15:

15. Monte Harrison OF

Monte Harrison was one of three high-risk, high-reward high school prospects (along with unranked prospects Jake Gatewood and Kodi Medeiros) that the Brewers gambled on in the first two rounds of the 2014 MLB draft, as the Crew selected him with the 50th overall pick. Following the Brewers’ disappointing 2013 season in which the big league club struggled, Ryan Braun’s Biogenisis scandal came to fruition, and the minor league system lacked any meaningful talent, general manager Doug Melvin looked to these three high school prospects to kick-start a rejuvenation of youth in the organization. The Brewers signed Harrison for $1.8 million, a hefty over-slot bonus that was necessary to lure Harrison away from his commitment to play both football and baseball at the University of Nebraska. This investment has not been substantiated thus far, as he has struggled to stay healthy and perform to the level expected of him.

Harrison certainly possesses all the peripherals of a major league player. He is a physical specimen, standing at 6’3” and 220 lbs. with an extremely muscular and athletic build, making his teammates look miniature in comparison. He has elite speed and a cannon for an arm, allowing him to be utilized as a defensive weapon. His strength gives him above-average raw power. While he certainly has the look of a big leaguer, his performance has lagged. After a mediocre professional debut in the Arizona Rookie League in 2014, the Brewers aggressively assigned Harrison to the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, where he significantly struggled on his way to a .148/.246/.247 batting line while striking out in nearly 42% of his plate appearances in 46 games. After being reassigned to the Helena Brewers of the more appropriate rookie-level Pioneer League, Harrison thrived, hitting .299/.410/.474 with 14 stolen bases in 28 games. However, his breakout was halted by an ankle injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Back at Class-A Wisconsin in 2016, Harrison’s struggles resurfaced, as nagging injuries held him to playing in only 80 games, in which he hit .220/.300/.339. Given his performance, Harrison holds his ranking of #15 solely due to his untapped potential and top-notch tools. If he can put in all together, Harrison has the ceiling of being a capable middle of the order threat, and at this point it is reasonable to expect that the 21-year-old will either be a boom or bust prospect.

14. Cody Ponce P

After being drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft out of California Polytechnic State University, Ponce had an excellent professional debut, pitching his way to a 2.29 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over 14 games for the Helena Brewers and Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Ponce is a menace on the mound, as he stands 6’6” and weighs 240 lbs. Given this size, scouts predict that Ponce will have no trouble remaining a starting pitcher. He boasts four pitches that are all at least average, with his fastball and cutter being his go-to offerings. His fastball generally sits from 92-96 MPH, and it looks even faster to hitters given his size. Ponce still has a way to go in his development, especially with his control, but this should not be a problem given that he is only 22 years of age.

Ponce’s 2016 season was divided between success and struggle. He started off dominantly with Class-A Advanced Brevard County, as over his first nine starts he logged a 2.50 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP to go along with a nearly 5-to-1 K/BB rate. In his most commanding start of the year on July 9th, he struck out 12 hitters in 6 innings while giving up only 3 hits, which was made even more impressive due to the fact that he only threw 73 pitches. However, over his final eight starts, Ponce faltered and finished the season with an inflated 5.25 ERA and .285 batting average against. As we have seen, when Ponce is effective, he can be an elite asset on the mound. He could have simply just worn down as the season progressed, but I think it is more likely that he developed a mechanical issue that needs to be fixed. There really is no other explanation for how his season toppled so quickly. Ponce will likely start 2017 back in Class-A Advanced Brevard County, but I assume he will probably move up to Double-A Biloxi rather quickly given that he can iron out the kinks.

13. Jorge Lopez P

Going into the 2016 season, Jorge Lopez looked like a potential star in the making. He had just come off a dominant 2015 campaign, in which he won the Milwaukee Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award after dazzling the Double-A Southern League with a 12-5 record, to go along with a 2.26 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He was ranked as the #57 prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com following this performance, which was good enough for #3 in the Brewers system at the time behind Orlando Arcia and Brett Phillips. Lopez was considered to be the future ace of the big league rotation. However, his journey to the majors has been derailed momentarily by a disastrous 2016 season in which we saw Lopez need to be demoted from Triple-A back down to Double-A.

In Triple-A this season, the 23 year-old got obliterated by the opposition, pitching to a 6.81 ERA over 17 games. He averaged 4.2 innings per start, and hitters teed off on him, leading to a .312 batting average against and a gaudy 1.97 WHIP. His control was the one area in which Lopez took the most significant step backwards, as he walked over three hitters per appearance. Some tried to attribute his collapse to the thin air in Colorado Springs, where the ball seemingly catapults off the bat as the stadium sits over a mile above sea level. The fact of the matter is, Lopez actually pitched better in Colorado Springs (though still not close to being an accomplishment in any regard), as his 6.16 ERA at home trumped his 7.40 ERA on the road. After his demotion to Double-A, Lopez seemed to somewhat right the ship, as he achieved a 2.67 ERA over his last five starts while striking out 27 batters. Hopefully he carries this finish into 2017.

Lopez certainly has the stuff to be a capable big league starter, as he features a mid 90s fastball that he complements with a well shaped 12-6 curveball, as you can see in the video below. The key to future success will be refining his control, as one can assert that his disconcerting walk rate and batting average against are the main causes for his demise in 2016.

12. Brett Phillips OF

When the Brewers acquired Brett Phillips as part of a four-prospect package from Houston in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers, he was touted as the centerpiece of the Brewers substantial return, being noted as a potential 5-tool center fielder that could bolster a big league lineup. Up until the trade, Phillips had enjoyed enormous success in the Astros’ minor league system. Drafted out of high school in the 6th round of the 2012 draft, Phillips experienced a breakout year in 2014, hitting a combined .310/.375/.529 between Class-A and Class-A Advanced. Even more impressive was the distribution of extra base hits he accumulated, as he hit 29 doubles, 14 triples, and 17 home runs. He complemented this display of all around power with 23 stolen bases and exceptional defense, recording 17 outfield assists.

In 2015, Phillips picked up right where he left off, hitting .320/.379/.588 at Class-A Advanced before being promoted by the Astros to their Double-A affiliate. He displayed less power at Double-A, hitting only one home run in 31 games, but he still hit an excellent line of .321/.372/.463. Phillips was then traded to the Brewers, and he seemingly lost his groove over the rest of 2015, hitting only .250 for Double-A Biloxi. His downturn in production was written off as being connected to a nagging thumb injury, and coming into 2016 he was ranked as the #32 prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Phillips enjoyed a surge in popularity during spring training in 2016, when his pterodactyl-esque laugh took over the internet (you can see it in this video).

While he enjoyed this initial “success” off the field in early 2016, Phillips performance on the field was significantly less than expected. Phillips hit for a subpar line of .229/.332/.397, and his strikeout rate rose dramatically, as he whiffed in nearly 30% of his plate appearances. Although many are discouraged about Phillips’ future after his rough 2016 showing, he still has all the tools necessary to turn himself into a starting major league outfielder. If he fulfills his potential, we could see him atop the Brewers batting order as soon as 2018. However, in order to achieve this, he needs to rediscover the level of ability that made him such a threat in 2014 and 2015.

11. 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 Rookie-Level Helena in 2014. Woodruff pitched to a 3.28 ERA with Helena, and then finished with a 3.45 ERA in a year-long stint with Class-A Advanced Brevard County in 2015. In 2016, Woodruff elevated his game to a whole new level.

Woodruff started out the 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. Woodruff’s greatest strength may be his command. He achieved a 4.33-to-1 K/BB rate, and only walked 2.3 batters per nine innings. His walk rate would place second amongst the Brewers current major league pitching staff, as he would trail only Zach Davies’ 2.2 mark. Woodruff’s excellent command can be seen further in the video below, as he precisely locates his fastball. Woodruff will likely start 2017 in Triple-A, and if he succeeds, it could force the Brewers to insert him into the rotation as soon as July of next year if the opportunity presents itself.

Brewing Something Special: Brewers Top Prospects #16-20

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.

With One Month Left in the Forgettable Season of 2016: Which Brewers Should You Tune into Watch?

Photo via the Associated Press/John Minchillo
Photo via the Associated Press/John Minchillo

As the 2016 Brewers season winds down amongst tumbleweeds at Miller Park (except when the hated Cubs invade)  and the Packers take over the Wisconsin sports spotlight there are still several reasons to tune into the Young Brew Crew. Since the hire of David Stearns almost 1-year ago (9/21/15) the Brewers 40-man roster and farm system have undergone a dramatic change, all for the betterment of the franchise’s future. While the Brewers provided us with some competitive play during the first few months of this season of low expectations. The bottom has fallen out since the departures of Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith and the team has been swimming upstream trying to avoid the bottom of the National League cellar. However there are several key, young current players along with top prospects who could make their MLB debut and other minor leaguers trying to make a mark in Milwaukee this September that are still worth tuning in as the Crew finishes up the 2016 campaign with 23 of their 29 games against Central Division foes. As you sift through your Fantasy Football lineup, I encourage you to at least flip on FSN because even though the present may be bleak the future is definitely bright:

SS- Orlando Arcia (22 years old) headlines the reason to watch as he has shown flashes of the gold glove potential he possesses and continues to get used to Major League pitching and prepare to become the everyday Shortstop of the future. His bat struggled out of the gate but  Arcia has been on fire over the last few weeks raising his Batting Average from well under the Mendoza Line to now batting .221  to go along with his first 2 Home Runs and 12  RBI’s. The sky’s the limit, the bat just needs to continue to make more consistent contact.

3B/SS- Jonathan Villar (25) has enjoyed a breakout season and gets the month to work out the kinks over at Third base and refine his base running skills and improve his very respectable slash line of .297/.376/830. The Carlos Gomez-eske base running blunders continue to follow Villar throughout the summer. None the less, Villar has still has found himself with 52 steals and behind only Tommy Harper (73 steals in 1969 as the Pilots), Scott Podsednik (70 in 2004) and Pat Listach (54 in 1992) for the single season club record.

CF- Keon Broxton (26) spent most of the year riding the elevator between Milwaukee and Colorado Springs and was never able to settle into a groove. However, since being recalled on July 26th Broxton has shown that he has the talent and physical attributes to stay in the Majors and a slight change in his batting stance has led to a surge in OPS to .769 which, if he can keep it up, would signal that he will be the likely leading candidate to start the 2017 campaign in centerfield. The complexing part about Broxton is there is a large contingent of outfield talent waiting in the minor leagues, but he has shown he is more reliable and durable than Domingo Santana at this point.

SP-Junior Guerra- (31) was David Stearns first signing as GM of the Brewers and has enjoyed an excellent “rookie” season. A recent stint on the DL halted any of the ROY chances Junior had but a 2.93 ERA and 7-3 record to go along with 90 K’s and 37 BB’s over 107 IP has given Guerra a great shot to either slot into the upper half of the rotation in 2017 or be dealt to a contending team looking for back end of the rotation help.

1B- Chris “Sleepy” Carter (29) playing on a 1-year contract, Carter has been of the feast or famine variety this year, whacking 33 majestic Home Run shots while also Striking out 174 times. He has been able to help fill in the First base hole that has plagued the Brewers since the departure of Prince Fielder in 2012 and has also become a fan favorite because fans still and will always, love the long ball. September will be an interesting month as Carter will look to end on a high note as he goes into the offseason as a Free Agent.

LHP- Brent Suter (27) the Harvard alum made his MLB debut in August and became the first LH Starting Pitcher for the Crew since August 28th, 2013 (474 games for those who are curious). Suter has done an admirable job filling in thus far and will continue to get a role out of the bullpen in September.

RHP Jacob Barnes (26) displayed some nastiness out of the Brewers bullpen in 16 appearances before landing on the DL with elbow soreness is slated to be recalled this week to add depth to a surprisingly solid bullpen.

Beginning September 1st, MLB teams were allowed to expand from 25 to 40 players on their active game day roster. While the Minor League Season won’t wrap up until next week don’t expect the Brewers to go hog wild on bringing in young prospects up quite yet as, but keep an eye on these guys as they try and raise their stock going into the offseason:

RHP Taylor Jungmann (26) made the opening day roster only to falter early and often before being sent down to Colorado Springs. Struggled mightily in AAA and found himself in Biloxi where he was able to turn things around and post a 9.6 K/9. Jungmann may gets a call back up to prove he has righted the ship.

RHP Damien Magnifico (25) made his MLB debut on August 16th and will add another arm to the bullpen. Magnifico had a successful MiLB season posting a 4.02 ERA in very hitter friendly Colorado Springs to go along with only allowing 2 Home Runs in 62 innings.

C Andrew Susac (26) C Andrew Susac (26) the backstop received in the Will Smith trade looks to give himself some momentum heading into the offseason following an oblique strain which has caused him to miss a the majority of his minor league time in the Brewers organization. Susac was selected in the Second Round of  the 2011 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants and made his Major League debut with the Giants in 2014.

A crazy stat in a game filled with them is that Susac got his “first” major league hit, a single, on July 30th, 2014. However, when Susac played in a September 1st continuation game from May 22nd against the Rockies, which was originally suspended by heavy rains, Susac collected a single and later scored. Because the game was a continuation, and due to MLB’s record-keeping rules, May 22nd is the official date of Susac’s first hit and run scored. Susac also wound up with a spot on the Giants Postseason roster in 2014 and was the backup catcher to Buster Posey. He posted a .250 BA (1-4) in the Postseason and collected a World Series Championship ring as the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in an epic 7-game series.

Two notables  who didn’t get the September call up:

OF- Lewis Brinson (22) has been tearing the cover off the ball (.397/.403/1.065)for Colorado Springs since coming over from the Texas Rangers in the Jonathan Lucroy/Jeremy Jeffress trade and has vaulted into the #2 prospect in the System, behind Arcia. With 33 players on the roster currently it would have been very difficult to find regular playing time for Brinson so he will get a chance to rest and prepare to arrive in Maryvale next Spring with a chance to make the MLB ballclub.

LHP- Josh Hader (22)  has been the best pitching prospect in the Brewers pipeline, but has had some struggles in the mile-high Colorado Springs air. He has displayed the skills to receive the call up, but as expected, due to the fact he has already set a career high for Innings Pitched he will be watching the Brewers on TV as he prepares for 2017. Read Alexander Juneau’s Spotlight on Hader .