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Wednesday, August 21st 2019
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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.

The Return of Ryan Braun

The Brewers have had Ryan Braun’s bat in the lineup for just 30 of the teams 78 games so far this season. That makes the Brewers first place start all that more of a surprise. The naysayers don’t seem to think that the Brewers need Braun or that they’re better off without him. I understand people’s dislike for him, but to think that the Milwaukee Brewers are better without him is absolutely foolish. If Braun is healthy, he’s going to hit at an elite level.

image via Bleacher Report

Since May, Ryan Braun has only played in six games. He did however play in 24 games in April and was off to a very solid start. He hit seven homeruns, drove in 18 runs, and had an OPS of 960. I know it’s hard to believe people truly think that the Brewers don’t need a player that produces like that in the middle of the lineup. You know who doesn’t think that? Eric Thames. Thames had an absolutely historic April hitting .345, with 11 homers, 19 runs knocked in, and an OPS of 1.276. Obviously it wasn’t realistic for him to stay on that pace, but there maybe something to his struggles. Since Ryan Braun got hurt in May, Eric Thames has seen his numbers drop significantly. I’m not taking anything away from what he has done so far because he has been great. Shattering any expectations that the Brewers could have had for him going in the season. In the month of May, Thames only hit three homers with a batting average of only 221 and an OPS of 791. He got his power stroke back this month hitting six homers, giving him 20 on the season. However, so far in June he has only hit 179 with an OPS of 722. Eric Thames is still going to draw walks and hit homers, but the numbers speak for themselves, he’s a better hitter when hitting in front of Ryan Braun.

image via JSonline

The bottom line is if the Brewers want to stay in the division race all season, they are going to need contributions from everybody, including Ryan Braun. Everybody in the Brewers lineup will benefit with him in the lineup. It doesn’t matter if it’s the guys hitting in front of him seeing better pitches or guys in the bottom of the order hitting with him on base, everybody benefits.

Brewers of the future: Lewis Brinson

This is the first chapter of a series that will dissect players who will likely be contributors to the Milwaukee Brewers for the years to come. These pieces will discuss who the player is and who the player can be.

If you don’t closely follow the Milwaukee Brewers farm system, the name Lewis Brinson might not mean much to you. But if you paid attention during last year’s trade deadline, you would know that Brinson was the crown jewel of the trade that sent Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to the Texas Rangers. After shortstop Orlando Arcia debuted with the Brewers last season, Brinson immediately became the organization’s top prospect, and was named the 18th best minor leaguer for 2017 by MLB Pipeline.

Brinson has long been regarded as a five tool caliber player. The Rangers saw enough potential in him to draft him 29th overall in 2012. At 22 years old, Brinson is much more polished and Major League ready than other top prospects, and he is expected to be called up to the big league club at some point this season.

Credit: milb.com

Brinson didn’t truly breakout in professional baseball until 2015 when he slashed .332/.403/.601, hit 20 home runs, and stole 18 bases in 100 games in Advanced-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Defensively, Brinson has been underrated but very efficient. In 428 professional games, he’s only committed 21 errors. If Brinson lives up to his potential, the Brewers could have another Ryan Braun in the outfield.

Speaking of Ryan Braun, he’s still on the team, which means there isn’t really a current open starting spot in the outfield. Keon Broxton will likely hold down the fort in centerfield after he broke out in 2016, and Domingo Santana will be given every chance to stay in right, so long as he’s able to stay healthy. If trade rumors surrounding Braun actually come to fruition (that’s a big if), Brinson will be the team’s full-time left fielder. A trade of Braun seemed imminent last year, but nothing happened. And nothing continued to happen throughout the offseason. If there was any time for Braun to be shipped, it was 2016.

What Brinson can be: Perennial All-Star

Hitting for power, hitting for average, speed, fielding, and arm strength. Those are the five tools in baseball. Brinson has exemplified each of those tools throughout his baseball career, including the early part of this year’s Spring Training. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report on Brinson states, “Few players in the Minors can match Brinson’s power and speed ceiling, the combination of which could make him a 30-homer/30-steal threat at maturity. After receiving a taste of Triple-A in late 2016, Brinson could be ready for his big league audition earlier than initially expected.”

Player comparison: Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen has epitomized consistency throughout his great career. McCutchen has been regarded among the best outfielders in baseball for nearly a decade, both on and off the field. While wearing the black and gold, McCutchen has hit for power and average, stolen bases, and even has a gold glove to his credit. In Pittsburgh’s community, McCutchen has embodied a charitable spirit, and has become one of the most charismatic representatives of the game. A combination of Brinson’s style, talent, and laid back attitude makes him a budding Andrew McCutchen (but perhaps with even more home run potential).
2017 stat projections: 51 G, 8 HR, 19 RBI, .266/.308/.409

Wily Peralta: How Did We Get Here?

A lot can happen in just three years, just ask Wily Peralta. In the 2014 season he finished with a 17-11 record and a 3.53 ERA, a really nice season for the then 25 year old. With a season like that, there were some lofty expectations. Fast forward to 2017 and Peralta is on the 10 day DL and the Milwaukee Brewers’ fan base is calling for his head. It seems inconceivable that things could go so wrong so quickly, but they have. How did we get to this point? What lead us from this:

To this:

This isn’t meant to be an “Old Takes Exposed” sort of thing, because everyone truly believed that Peralta had a bright future with the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, as great as 2014 was, 2015, 2016, and 2017 showed us that that is likely not the case.

It’s hard to be so dismissive of someone like Wily, though. A 97 mph fastball and a slider can be a nasty combination. Still, most of 2016 was a struggle for Wily, but he didn’t necessarily have any deep-rooted analytical stats that that could help pinpoint the issue. He didn’t walk a ton of guys, he didn’t lose anything on his pitches, and there wasn’t a discernable difference in where he was placing his pitches. This is where you start to find the problem. Since his debut he has had the 4 seam fastball, 2 seam fastball, and slider combination. Sure he can throw a changeup, but where it ends up is anyone’s guess. It could be in the catcher’s glove or it could be 450 feet the other way. The point is, Wily hasn’t grown as a pitcher and one has to wonder if he put in the effort as well. A lot of pitchers are able to add to their arsenal and make adjustments; we haven’t seen that from Peralta in 5 years.

To his credit, as much as he struggled last season he finished on a strong note. His last 10 starts saw him garner just a 2.92 ERA, seven Ks per nine innings, and around two walks per nine innings, so there was reason to have hope for 2017. As we know, that hope was violently squashed. The quality pitching did not carry over to the next season, and it’s clear why. Predictability can kill pitchers, and that’s what is happening. If major league hitters are seeing the same two or three pitches every at-bat, it’s guaranteed that they will start to key in on what is coming next. Especially if they get to see him three or four times a game. Well, the Brewers thought they could fix that when they moved him to the bullpen. Maybe if Wily is only used in relief situations, hitters won’t be seeing his same stuff over and over. It’s sound logic. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case, things got worse. The second above Tom Haudricourt tweet will show just how bad things got.  Peralta used to pitch to contact and get a lot of ground balls, over time that stopped being the case. He’s never been a strikeout machine, so where do the outs come from? Eventually they don’t. That’s how you end up with a 7.21 ERA.   As much as I don’t want to cast Wily off the island, the options are narrowing down. It’s coming down to letting him go or sending him back down in hopes he can have a 2016 type resurgence. The issue with the latter option is that he has to be designated for assignment. If that’s the route the Brewers take, because he would be DFA he could be picked up by other teams. If no other team picks him up, he would then be on the Sky Sox.

The Brewers have to ask themselves some hard questions. Can they allow him to work out of this funk in the majors? That’s a risky move considering how wide open the NL Central is currently. If he stays the same, he would surely cost the team some games that they cannot afford to lose. If he does improve, can you trust it? Would it be worth bringing him back again next season to see if the improvement is sustainable or would they try to trade him for anything they possibly could? There are a lot of different roads that this can take, and the shortest one is to wash your hands of him. It’s cutthroat, but that’s the business. Wily had some moments for the team but this is now three seasons in a row where it’s hard to be encouraged by what you have seen. I think the option both parties, and fans included, are hoping for is that when Wily returns he has some things figured out. The bullpen needs an arm that can get a few innings, and keep us in games or hold onto the lead. If Wily can return and be that guy, it would be unexpected and feel like a miracle but this is baseball we’re talking about. This has been a season full of surprises in Milwaukee, what’s one more?

Brewers Minor League Review: August

With the minor-league season coming to a close, it is time for the final “Minor League Review” of the season. August saw all Brewers’ affiliates play competitive baseball, and while only one affiliate (Colorado Springs) will make their league’s playoffs, Biloxi and Carolina made valiant pushes down the stretch. Let’s take a look at the individual performance of each team, starting with Triple-A:

Colorado Springs Sky Sox (AAA)

Record: 14-13 in August, 78-55 Overall

MVP: Nate Orf (.366/.430/.677, 11 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR)

Summary:

After already losing Garrett Cooper and Ryan Cordell to trades in the month of July, the Sky Sox took an even bigger hit with the minor league season-ending injury to top prospect Lewis Brinson. Despite this, Colorado Springs locked up their first postseason berth in 20 years. On offense, Brett Phillips continued his domination of Triple-A pitching, hitting .326/.406/.506. The catching duo of Rene Garcia (.383/.400/.468) and Tyler Heineman (.357/.449/.548) provided some surprising firepower. However, most impressive was second baseman Nate Orf, who hit .366/.430/.677 on the month. Mauricio Dubon (.218/.287/.295) struggled in his second full month of Triple-A ball, with the wear and tear of a full season possibly contributing to his slump.

On the mound, the Sky Sox have now lost two of their top starters in Paolo Espino (traded to Texas for cash considerations) and Brandon Woodruff (will be called up to join the big-league rotation for September). This means the Sky Sox will rely on Taylor Jungmann (2-1, 1.50 ERA in five starts), Bubba Derby (3-0, 3.80 ERA in four starts) and Angel Ventura (1-1, 3.68 ERA in four starts) to anchor their rotation down the stretch into the playoffs, along with Junior Guerra (2-1, 1.52 ERA in five starts) if the Brewers do not recall him to provide depth for the September playoff push. In the bullpen, Wei-Chung Wang continued to lead the pack, giving up two runs over nine innings of relief, and will likely be recalled to Milwaukee. Wily Peralta also turned in seven scoreless relief appearances, although he did post a K/BB ratio of 7-to-6.

Biloxi Shuckers (AA)

Record:  16-11, 68-65 Overall

MVP: Freddy Peralta (1-1, 0.40 ERA, 33K)

Summary:

The Shuckers turned in an excellent month as they pushed towards the playoffs, but their bid ultimately turned out to be too little, too late, as they are eliminated from playoff contention. With their roster bolstered by the promotions of outfielder Troy Stokes Jr. and infielder Jake Gatewood, an offense once devoid of difference makers became quite the opposite. Gatewood continued his breakout season by hitting .256/.293/.474 in his first taste of Double-A pitching, while also beginning to play both first and third base. It will be important for Gatewood to maintain the plate discipline he developed at Class A-Advanced Carolina, as he drew only four walks on the month. Stokes performed well in his first full month since being promoted, hitting .250/.342/.420 with 4 HR and 7 SB. His power-speed profile could make him an interesting fourth outfielder on the big-league squad in the future. Clint Coulter displayed improved plate discipline by walking 14 times en route to a .375 OBP, but still struggled to a .231 batting average. Jacob Nottingham continued his nosedive at the plate while on occasion showing flashes of the offensive talent that made him a standout prospect, hitting .167/.342/.383, with August marking the third month that he has hit under .170. Tyrone Taylor struggled as well after returning from injury, putting up a .190/.271/.405 line in 12 August games.

Several members of the impressive pitching staff continued to perform at a high level. Corbin Burnes highlighted his month with eight innings of two-hit ball on August 21st, putting an exclamation point on his breakout season that will almost certainly culminate in being named Brewers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He posted a 1.91 ERA over five August starts. Freddy Peralta continued to mow down hitters, striking out 33 hitters in 22 and 1/3 innings of work while achieving a 0.40 ERA and holding opponents to a .105 batting average. If Peralta can reduce his walks (4.7 BB/9 on the season) he could be a dangerous piece of Milwaukee’s future. Aaron Wilkerson came off his brilliant July to put up a solid line of 2-0 with a 3.72 ERA. The Shuckers also benefitted from the relief performances of Nick Ramirez and Taylor Williams. Ramirez continued to absolutely deal in his first professional season on the mound, pitching his way to a 3-0 record and a 1.86 ERA in 19 and 1/3 innings out of the pen. The Brewers will have to add him to the 40-man roster this offseason or risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft, where another MLB team would most likely give him a shot given his success this year. Williams returned from a long layoff in late July and early August to spin six scoreless appearances spanning eight innings, holding opponents to a .095 batting average in the process and striking out ten. Williams could be a surprise add to the Brewers’ September squad, as he resides on the 40-man roster and could benefit from gaining MLB experience in low leverage situations.

Carolina Mudcats (Class A-Advanced)

Record: 14-14 in August, 69-65 Overall

MVP: Monte Harrison (.304/.355/.515, 5 HR, 9 SB)

Summary:

Things are finally starting to click for the Mudcats on many levels, but they likely will come up just short of the playoffs. Third baseman Lucas Erceg enjoyed an outstanding month, hitting .296/.384/.480. With his resurgent second half, it looks as though he is prepared to start in Double-A Biloxi at the outset of 2018. Outfielder Monte Harrison continued his push for Brewers Minor League Player of the Year by posting elite numbers in just his second full month at the level and achieving a 20-20 season. Corey Ray started to come alive but faded down the stretch, hitting .236/.300/.355, which is still a solid improvement over his July performance. Catcher Cooper Hummel mashed his way to a .273/.356/.442 line. However, this month was no different than any other in terms of disappointments, which in August turned out to be middle infielder Isan Diaz and outfielder Trent Clark. Limited by injury, Diaz struggled to a .161 average, while Clark took a step back from an impressive July to post a .186 average. Clark still drew his usual abundance of walks, but he needs to start swinging the bat better to begin to reach his ceiling as a first round pick.

On the mound, the Mudcats were led by Jordan Yamamoto. He tallied a 4-1 record in five starts to go along with a 2.03 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. August marked Yamamoto’s second straight month with a sub-3.00 ERA, and he seems prepared to start 2018 in Double-A Biloxi’s rotation. Zack Brown continued his impressive debut month with the team by going 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA. After his stellar month of July, Trey Supak continued to pitch well, sporting a 3.86 ERA in August. The same could not be said for Kodi Medeiros after his standout July, however, as he struggled to a 7.83 ERA over his five appearances (four starts) during August. It is starting to appear that his full-time conversion from starter to reliever could be looming sooner rather than later.

Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Class-A)

Record: 14-15 in August, 57-77 Overall

MVP: Thomas Jankins (3-2, 2.35 ERA)

Summary:

While not succeeding in the win column this season, some players have shown considerable talent in spots, and August was no exception to that sentiment. At the plate, first baseman Ronnie Gideon led the way with a .260/.318/.450 line. First rounder Keston Hiura was shut down mid-month with a hamstring injury after hitting .283/.352/.370, cooling off after a scorching start to his professional career. His advanced approach and hit tool should allow him to move through the system quickly, although he will need to develop a defensive home. Although not displaying much power, catcher Mario Feliciano’s ability to hit for average is impressive for an 18-year-old, as he slashed .284/.356/.309. He will grow into his power as his body matures. Third baseman Dallas Carroll performed well after being promoted from Rookie-Level Helena, batting .260/.339/.396. While the results are there, he likely won’t be anything more than an organizational depth player in the long run.

Some members of the pitching staff continued to display their talent and potential. Thomas Jankins once again was the ace of the staff after a dominant July, going 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA in six games. Josh Pennington remained strong after his mid-season return from injury, achieving a 1-1 record with a 2.02 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in four limited starts, his best being August 11th when he struck out nine in five scoreless innings. Lefty Drake Owenby pitched to a 2.31 ERA in six games (three starts), holding opponents to a .173 batting average. He is a sleeper candidate to make a splash next year, and will likely move up to Class A-Advanced Carolina.

So that’s a wrap on the 2017 Minor League Review. Check back throughout the month for an end-of-season top-20 Brewers prospects series!

Welcome to Milwaukee, Joe Gray

With their second pick of the 2018 MLB Draft, the Brewers selected Joe Gray, a high school outfielder from Hattiesburg, MS. Gray is your typical “athletic”, “toolsy” prep player that has high-risk/high-reward written all over him. Let’s take a look at the specifics and find out what he adds to the Brewers’ farm system:

Name: Joe Gray Jr.

Position: Outfield

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195 lbs.

Overview:

At this time last year, Gray was viewed as a potential top-10 pick. One of the challenges that comes with being hyped so early in the draft process is that it can lead to a player dropping for no reason other than he is under a microscope and every apparent weakness is magnified many times over. Thus, Gray falling to the Brewers in the second round could ultimately be a blessing. Players with his skill profile and potential are in high demand and typically go much higher in the draft. That’s not to say Gray is a perfect prospect, but he is about as solid a pick as we could have hoped for in the second round.

Strengths:

Gray is noted as being especially strong in multiple areas. He possesses above-average power potential, and some believe that he could one day anchor the middle of a lineup at the MLB level. In addition, he is a very good runner. This will make him a weapon in the outfield, and along with his power could make him a 20/20 threat. To top it off, he has a cannon for an arm – he was ranked as having one of the best throwing arms in the draft. He reached 98 mph at a showcase last summer according to MLB Pipeline, so he should be a great fit in either right field or centerfield.

Weaknesses:

Gray’s largest weakness is his hit tool. He has been noted as having some swing and miss issues, especially against high quality competition. A comparison of toolsets that comes to mind right away is a player like Keon Broxton or Monte Harrison (or Lewis Brinson for that matter) – all have elite tools but contact issues hold them back (or could in the case of Gray). Another weakness noted is Gray’s throwing accuracy, but this should not be too big of a concern as at the moment as he has plenty of time to fix this simple issue in the minor leagues.

Near Future:

Assuming Gray signs, he will almost certainly start his career in the Rookie-Level Arizona League. That’s where he likely will spend his entire season, which is what the Brewers usually do with their high school draft picks. He probably will start out in centerfield, but as he fills out his frame over the next couple years he may transition to right field. It will be a while before we could eventually see him in Milwaukee, but if all goes according to plan, he could be a special one.

Hey Chicago! The Brewers Are Coming…

Every series matters at this point in the season for a baseball team. On Monday, the Brewers started a series against the Cubs where they proceeded to win, 3-2. The second game did not go Milwaukee’s way as they could not develop a rhythm against Jose Quintana and lost, 3-0.  Wednesday, the last game of the series, the Brewers recorded 5 runs on 11 hits and won, 5-1. After the Brewers beat the Cubs Wednesday night, Chicago pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, had some words to say about the Crew.

“They’re definitely coming for us. We can feel it.”

As of Thursday night the Brewers are 1.5 games back of the first place Cubs and have their eyes set on the division title. The Brewers have not won the NL Central since 2011 and are in prime position to take over as the top team. For the remainder of Milwaukee’s schedule, they play teams with a combined winning percentage of .471. The rest of the regular season is manageable but it is an uphill battle. However, it is a battle Milwaukee intends on winning.

Curtis Granderson has been great, with a BA of .455 and an OBP of .647 since being acquired by the Brewers on August 31st. (Photo by Morry Gash)

After a day off Thursday, the Brewers continue their chase Friday night (7:10 CT) against the Pirates as newly acquired, Gio Gonzalez, takes on 2x all-star, Chris Archer.

*All stats and interview, found on espn.com, accurate as of 7:05 pm (ct) on 9/13/18*

New Year, Same Brewers

As the new year gets under way,it is the social norm to reflect on what the last year has brung. Looking at the Brewer’s past year, they made their first postseason berth since 2011. However, I can’t help but think about what came before to make the postseason roster. If you look at all the Brewers have done from drafts to trades, there are several bright spots.

Everything started after the 2014 season when the Brewers fell apart in the second half of the season. In 2015, they tried to patch things together but it didn’t work. That is when it was decided they were in operation rebuild. The following is looking back at key parts that brought us to the success of 2018.

Key Trades

Trading Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress

You may be thinking about how this trade helped propel the Brewers to the postseason. At the trade deadline in August of 2016, the Brewers traded  Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. In return they got a young outfielder in Lewis Brinson and RHP Luis Ortiz. Ring a bell?

Luis Ortiz later was  traded to the Orioles for Jonathan Schoop. As much as that was a bust, Lewis Brinson makes the trade worth while.

As you all remember, almost a year ago (January 25) Lewis Brinson was traded to the Marlins in exchange for now MVP, Christian Yelich. If there is someone out there who doesn’t think Yelich was a huge push for the Brewers, please click off now. Posting a 7.6 WAR and a HUGE wOBA (weighted on base average) of .422. This one was a pretty easy connection. Safe to say, without Yelich, the Brewers may not have ended in the same place.

Trading Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers

I am going to bring it back to July of 2015 when the Brewers made the first blockbuster trade. They received OF Brett Phillips, OF Domingo Santana, RHP Adrian Houser, and LHP Josh Hader in exchange for Gomez and Fiers.

I’ll talk about the elephant of the room first, Hader made a hefty impact on this past season. As for Houser, he has been a steady option to bring up from the minors for bullpen relief. As for Phillips, he had a pretty good impact in the first half of the season. He was then traded to Kansas City for Mike Moustakas.

Moose came to Milwaukee and made an immediate contribution. Not only was his “one the field play” valuable, but his playoff experience was huge for a young team going into the postseason for the first time.

Domingo Santana also had an impact in 2018. However, his biggest impact may come in the future with being involved in an off-season trade with the Mariners.

Trading Tyler Thornburg

A sometimes overlooked trade has brought great success. Gaining the underrated INF Travis Shaw for Tyler Thornburg has given the Brewers a steady LHH and great versatility. His value really shined this past year after agreeing to play 2B to make room for Mike Moustakas.

For a player who was fairly “inexpensive”, he has “boomed” in a Brewers uniform. The other part of that trade was acquiring young prospect Mauricio Dubon. Dubon struggled with an injury in 2018 but still carries a lot of potential. He is definitely a young face to keep your eye on.

After looking back to see how last year’s squad was formed, it’s important to look to the future. Since David Stearns has taken over, he has had multiple very good drafts. His first draft in 2016 has already proved plentyfull.

Coming out of that draft was RHP Corbin Burnes who has already proved himself in the majors and is slated to start in 2019. Another top pitcher is Zack Brown. He spent the 2018 season in AA. He put up very good numbers and is starting to prove himself as a future ace. The last player coming out of 2016 was Corey Ray. Whether he makes it to the majors in Milwaukee or is part of a trade, he is slated to have a big impact.

Moving into the 2017 draft, Keston Hiura takes “the cake”. He is a natural born hitter who adds a little power. It is easy to see him having an impact later in the 2019 season and for  years to come. The latest draft is hard to see a major league impact so early, however first round pick Brice Turang thrived in his first year in the minors.

It is easy to see that Brewers have made many key moves that brought them the 2018 success. Those same moves and drafts ensure that their success carries into years to come.

Brandon Woodruff: Next Milwaukee Brewers Ace?

Last Sunday in a home start against Philadelphia, starter Brandon Woodruff joined some elite Brewers company, becoming the first Milwaukee starting pitcher to have back-to-back outings of 8+ IP, with 10+ Ks and 1 hit or less since CC Sabathia in 2008.

The homegrown hurler was given a steady starting role for the first time in his career heading into 2019 after making only spot-starts and bullpen appearances as a rookie last season.

Woodruff has seized his opportunity to say the least. Over his last six starts, he is 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 43/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is pitching like a seasoned veteran despite being just 26 years old. Woodruff’s emergence has been crucial to the overall success of the ballclub, and it has potentially opened the door for some personal accolades in his first full season, such as an all-star bid.

His fellow young pitchers who began the season in the rotation, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes have yet to find their sea legs as starters in the bigs. Peralta’s first-inning demons have cost him his rotation spot (22.50 first-inning ERA), and Burnes’ susceptibility to giving up home runs (14) as been his undoing as a starter. Both pitchers are now coming out of the bullpen for the time being, and with Jimmy Nelson’s return on the horizon and the acquisition of lefty Gio Gonzalez, they will likely be relegated for to the bullpen for the foreseeable future.

Now back to Brandon Woodruff. When Phillies megastar Bryce Harper, (who Woodruff struck out three times on Sunday) was asked about Woodruff’s performance against them, he said ““Thank goodness for Knappy with him being able to get the homer right there,” Bryce Harper said. “I think a lot of us thought (Woodruff) had the stuff to be perfect today” That is some high praise coming from a player who was just paid $330 million last offseason.

The fastball has easily been Woodruff’s key pitch this season. His typical velocity sits at 96-97 MPH and hitters have not been able to catch up to it this season, so until that changes, look to see plenty more overpowering heaters from Woodruff.

Finally, you can’t bring up Woody’s performance this season and not mention his success at the plate. He has accumulated 10 hits in 27 plate appearances and has been so consistent that Craig Counsell has used him in a pinch-hit role on several occasions. His value as a batter makes him even more important to the Brewers. Who needs a universal DH?

There is nothing that would suggest Brandon Woodruff’s breakout is a fluke, so assuming he is able to sustain his level of production, we could be looking at the next homegrown ace of the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

 

Orlando Arcia: A Developing Star

With a runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the ninth the Milwaukee Brewers clung to a one run lead against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Closer Corey Knebel checked on the runner and then delivered a two-strike pitch to Pirates first baseman John Jaso. Jaso connected, driving a hard grounder past knebel on its way to the outfield grass behind second.

But second year Shortstop Orlando Arcia had other ideas.

After holding the runner on second, with the crack of the bat Arcia broke to his left striding to the hole. The young shortstop made it all the way to the outfield grass and continued three feet to the right of second base fully extending his glove out to scoop the baseball.

Now off balance and well into right center field Arcia gained control of his body, spun, and fired a no look dart to stretching first baseman Eric Thames, beating Jaso to the bag by a half a step.

Arcia saved the game for Milwaukee, keeping them in the National League playoff race for the time being while also securing himself a spot on highlight reels.

The 6 foot, 165 pound shortstop was nothing short of impressive in 2017, showing off his spectacular defense and finally holding his own at the plate.

In 216 plate appearances in 2016, Arcia struggled mightily hitting just .219. The rookie lacked confidence and discipline, struggling to lay off tough pitches out of the strike zone. But an offseason to reflect and work on his game knowing he had a starting spot in 2017 paid dividends.

Arcia caught fire a few months into the season and never looked back, finishing up 2017 hitting .277 with 15 home runs and 14 stolen bases. Not only was he a spark plug at the bottom of the lineup but Arcia also played a big role in run production, racking up 53 RBI’s.

However, not only was Arcia able to lay off pitches out of the zone but he also began taking outside pitches to right field rather than trying to pull. Brewers hitting coach Darnell Coles spent countless hours working with Arcia on his this opposite field approach, and his success has impressed manager Craig Counsell.

In a 2017 article by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Counsell explained his thoughts on Arcia’s approach at the plate.

“At this point in his career, it’s where he drives the ball best,” Counsell said. “I think it’s a great foundation for a young hitter, a great place to start. As he gains experience and puts at-bats under his belt, he’ll pull more balls in the air.”

“Not everybody has the ability to (drive balls the other way), especially at the shortstop position. It excites you because that’s a good foundation to start with. I’ve always thought it’s harder to learn to hit the ball the other way than it is to pull the ball.”

Below is one of Arcia’s opposite field doubles from 2017. This piece of hitting displays his patience to wait on the pitch and use his strong hands to drive the ball off of the right field wall.

But Arcia still has plenty to work on as 2018 approaches. In 2017 he committed 20 errors which was tied for most in the National League. He also struck out 100 times and made a number of baserunning mistakes.

All of these issues from 2017 are easy fixes for Arcia though, especially when it comes to defense and his base running. A number of Arcia’s errors came on rushed throws, which means as he continues to settle in at the pro level these rushed plays will become more routine for him. On the basepaths, however, Arcia will continue to try to take the extra base because of the player he is. As a Brewer fan you have to live with the base running mistakes at times, because what the aggressiveness brings can also be positive.

The future is bright for the 23-year-old shortstop. Not only does Arcia now have two years of major league experience, but he also has a lot more talent in the lineup around him to reduce the pressure. With hitters like Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Christian Yelich, and Lorenzo Cain, Arcia won’t be thrown into a top spot in the batting order. Instead he will be the seventh place hitter again, allowing him to stay relaxed with the bat.

All signs lead to another successful season for Arcia at the plate and in the field. If the shortstop can knock down his errors to the 10-15 range from last years 20, and hit around .275 once again, the Brewers can say for certain they have a shortstop with a number of gold gloves and a bright career ahead.