After an unexpected postseason push and significant improvements from several players, the Brewers look to be in a position of the utmost strength moving forward. Whereas just last offseason it appeared the farm system was their only source of hope, the Crew is now in the position to use that same system to bolster its existing playoff-caliber roster, whether that be through trades or call-ups. While some top prospects seemingly took steps back, such as outfielder Corey Ray and infielder Isan Diaz, others leapt forward, including pitcher Corbin Burnes and outfielder Monte Harrison. All levels of the Brewers system are flush with talent, giving the big league team a shot to “chase October” and achieve sustained success in the near future.
In this 4-piece series, we will dive into my personal ranking of the Brewers’ top-20 prospects. These rankings are determined based off a combination of video and statistical analysis, along with intuition gained from available scouting reports. Before we get to the rankings, let me tell you something: this system is DEEP. While the Brewers do have some standout prospects at the top like Lewis Brinson, the top-20 could easily be a top-40. Kudos to the Brewers for acquiring such a stockpile of talent.
Without further adieu, here are your first five prospects (#16-20):
- Trey Supak, P
Acquired along with Keon Broxton in exchange for former Brewers’ first baseman Jason Rogers, Supak broke out in 2017. With a 6’5” frame and some remaining projectability, Supak looks to be the kind of guy that could succeed as a mid-to-back of the rotation starter in the future. Featuring a duo of above-average pitches with his fastball and curveball, it is crucial he continues to develop his change-up in order to give him a three-pitch mix.
In 2017, Supak started with the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. He dominated in eight starts, pitching to a 1.76 ERA and striking out 11.63 batters per nine innings. This performance earned him a promotion to Class A-Advanced Carolina Mudcats. While he struggled initially, he ended the year strong by spinning a 3.14 ERA over his final ten starts. His strikeout rate dropped to 7.09 K/9 in Carolina, but this can possibly be attributed to the level adjustment. It is still somewhat concerning nonetheless. Look for Supak to start 2018 back in Carolina, with a possible mid-season promotion to Double-A Biloxi if he succeeds and bumps his strikeout rate back up.
- Phil Bickford, P
Bickford is a prime example of how fast things can change. Acquired at the 2016 trade deadline with catcher Andrew Susac in exchange for relief pitcher Will Smith, Bickford was at the time widely regarded as a top-100 prospect. However, following a second suspension for drug use, a broken hand, and reports of declining fastball velocity, Bickford has descended fast in scouting circles. He already faced questions about his ability to remain as a starter due to his inconsistency before these issues surfaced. Despite this, I still believe the former first-round pick has the potential to regain his prior form and develop into a solid contributor for the Crew, whether that be as a back-end starter or a high-leverage reliever.
Bickford relies primarily on his fastball and slider, both above-average pitches. While his fastball had previously been reported to top out around 96 miles per hour (mph), he usually sits in the 90-92 range. His ability to remain as a starter will depend on making his slider more consistent and further developing his change-up. In limited action, Bickford pitched to a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings spanning five games in 2017. He posted a concerning 5.29 BB/9, but it is important to remember that this was his first in-game action since breaking his throwing hand. All the tools are there with Bickford – he just needs to put it all together in 2018 to re-cement his status as a legitimate prospect.
- Caden Lemons, P
As the Brewers’ 2nd round draft pick in 2017, Lemons is the epitome of a “projection” pick. Standing 6’6” and weighing in at 175 lbs., Lemons still has some ways to go in his physical development, and he is about as raw as can be on the mound. However, he reaches 97 mph with his fastball, and that is what the Brewers drafted him for. They hope that as he fills out his frame, he will add more velocity and possibly end up in the 100+ mph range when all is said and done. If he can do that while polishing two of his secondary offerings, the sky is the limit for Lemons. Some have compared his ceiling to current Mets’ flamethrower Noah Syndergaard should everything in his development go perfectly.
One area Lemons needs to improve most is his control. He struggles to locate, and his off-speed pitches are especially inconsistent. While he could simply overpower hitters with his fastball in the high school ranks, developing his trio of secondary pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) will be an integral step to achieving his lofty ceiling, as they currently lag far behind. Lemons pitched sparingly in 2017 (2.2 innings in rookie ball with a 6.75 ERA), so you can likely expect him to be in Rookie-level Arizona or Helena next season.
- Jake Gatewood, 1B/3B
As a former supplemental first-round pick, Gatewood had not lived up to his billing entering 2017. That all changed when he unleashed a new and improved approach right out of the gate (see what I did there?). Always known as a power bat, Gatewood had been held back considerably by his extremely poor plate discipline. To illustrate, he walked just 3.4% of the time in 2016. Leap forward to 2017, and Gatewood improved that number nearly fivefold to over 15% in the month of April. While he regressed over the course of the season to finish at a sliver under 9%, he still displayed significant improvement.
Gatewood exhibited his well-noted raw power in 2017 as well. He doubled 40 times to supplement his 15 home runs, slugging .441 on the year. While that may seem low to some, both Carolina and Biloxi are considered to be relatively difficult hitting environments (Carolina especially), and Gatewood is still growing into his in-game power. He needs to cut down on his concerning strikeout rate (28% on the year), and if he can reduce that to the low 20’s, Gatewood could really break out in 2018.
In the field, Gatewood made the transition from third base to first base in order to accommodate prospect Lucas Erceg in Carolina. He grades out as above average at first base and probably right around average at third base with a “plus” arm, so the positional versatility should help his future fit with the big-league club.
- KJ Harrison, C/1B
Selected in the 3rd Round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Harrison can flat out rake. After hitting .313/.382/.498 as a Junior, he slashed .308/.388/.546 in his first taste of professional baseball at Rookie-Level Helena. With 10 home runs and 14 doubles in just 46 games, Harrison boasts a nice blend of power and contact ability that is hard to come by, especially for a potential catcher (we’ll get to that use of “potential” in a second). In addition, Harrison sports a good approach, walking over 10% of the time. The only place he seemingly needs significant work is his strikeout rate (25%).
Harrison in the field is another story. After primarily playing first base and DH-ing in college, the Brewers surprisingly drafted him as a catcher, a position he had played only sparingly since high school. The early reports from Helena were not pretty, as he struggled to control the running game and his receiving skills lagged far behind his peers. He ended up throwing out 26% of potential base-stealers, but he still has a lot of work to do if he wants to stay behind the plate. Becoming at least average defensively would significantly increase his value, as catchers with his type of bat are rare. He would still provide value at first base due to his hitting ability, but Harrison as a catcher is much more tantalizing.