The Milwaukee Brewers‘ quest to repeat as National League Central champions just became a whole lot more difficult.
In the second inning of their 5-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants Saturday afternoon, newly acquired 35-year-old free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez appeared to have badly injured his right ankle while attempting to steal second after singling in a run off Giants hurler Madison Bumgarner. Gonzalez’s basepath snafu now marks the fourth straight game where a Brewers regular has exited with an injury.
Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Brewers plan to place Gonzalez on the 15-day disabled list via his Twitter page earlier today, saying:
In 88 plate appearances this season, Gonzalez has posted a .250/.318/.450 line with four home runs an 14 runs batted in, ranking third only to left-fielder Ryan Braun and right-fielder Corey Hart with 36 total bases. General manager Doug Melvin inked Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 millon 2012 contract with a vesting $4 million option hoping he’d help to shore up Milwaukee’s porous infield from a season ago, though he’s been a shell of his former self defensively this season, garnering just a .969 fielding percent and 4.42 range factor thus far.
It has been announced that the Brewers have selected the contracts of 30-year-old journeyman shortstop Edwin Maysonet and 25-year-old infielding prospect Taylor Green from AAA Nashville to fill the void left behind from Gonzalez’s injury. More details to come regarding the story in the subsequent hours.
When evaluating a minor league prospect, it’s essential for scouts to ask themselves whether or not a player can become an impact player for their team sometime in the near or distant future.
Just what is an “impact player”, you ask? In a nutshell, these are the guys who — more often than not — contribute to a team’s success on a regular basis. Ideally, these players are everyday starters for their respective teams, however that isn’t always the case. Players who have taken on a platoon-type role on their team’s roster can also make an impact despite not being the everyday guy.
Which top Brewers prospects have the best shot at becoming an impact player at the big league level? Lucky for you, we’re here to answer that very question today.
*All statistics through April 3, 2012
15. UTIL Eric Farris
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): .229/.289/.253, 3 RBI, 9 R, 6 SB, .025 ISO, 56 wRC+ (91 PA)
At one point Milwaukee’s most polished infielding prospect, Eric Farris’ path to the big leagues was derailed due to injury in 2010. However, don’t be mistaken — there’s a lot to like about what he brings to the table.
First and foremost, Farris is an unmitigated thief on the basepaths. In 2009, the former 2007 fourth-round pick stole 70 bases in just 124 games in high-A ball. Injury has taken it’s toll, though there’s no doubt that Farris has what it takes to be a base-stealer at the big league level.
The problem is, his bat, particularly the power portion, has been non-existent. In 594 plate appearances in triple-A last season, Farris amassed just a .100 ISO and .309 wOBA. That facet of his game has been the most pressing issue in his development as a prospect.
Now 26 years old, Farris has limited time to shore up that portion of his game. If he’s able to find his power stroke once more, he could turn out to be an impact player for any number of big league organizations.
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): .333/.447/.444, HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 2 SB, .111 ISO, 169 wRC+ (76 PA)
One of the most overlooked positional prospects in Milwaukee’s system, no one has gotten off to a hotter start to 2012 than 24-year-old outfielder Khris Davis.
A late bloomer, Davis tapped into his slugging capabilities in low-A ball in 2010, mashing 22 home runs and 72 RBI on his way to a very solid .224 ISO and .423 wOBA in 128 plate appearances. He followed that up with an 84 RBI 2011 campaign last season between high-A and double-A ball, quickly grabbing attention from scouts through his slugging ways.
This season, Davis is absolutely destroying the ball, so far garnering a career-best .427 wOBA and .465 BABIP in 76 plate appearances against double-A Southern League pitching. It remains to be seen if he’s capable of keeping those number up, however.
At 24, there’s still time for Davis to grow improve and refine his game in preparation for the big leagues. Needless to say, if he continues to rake at this level, he’ll have no trouble finding a spot on a big league roster.
13. RHP Kyle Heckathorn
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): 1-0, 3.18 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 27 K/5 BB, .239 BAA (5 GS)
Widely considered a steal at 47th overall at the 2009 draft, Kyle Heckathorn has hardly performed up to his billing as one of the top collegiate arms of the 2009 class thus far in his pro career. Having said that, there are a lot of things to like about Heckathorn’s game.
For one, his 6’6″, 225-pound build is extremely projectable to the next level. His lanky framework allows him to work on a downward plane and have good command, which is one of the foremost strengths to his game. Unfortunately, his biggest strength is also his biggest weakness. He tends to leave the ball over the plate at a far too concerning rate and hitters have as a consequence lit him up on a consistent basis since he lacks the velocity necessary to blow by hitters.
Improvements to his game have been palpable this season, particularly in lowering his walk rate (4.4%) and elevating his strikeout rate (23.5%). Heckathorn is still a bit of a project, however, he could definitely grow into an impact back of the rotation starter at the next level.
12. SS Yadiel Rivera
Young shortstops who can play exceptional defense are always in high demand at the big league level, and with the Brewers’ shortstop situation where it’s at, Yadiel Rivera has a great shot to grow into a real impact player at the big league level. There’s a real potential for him to be Milwaukee’s shortstop of the future.
Drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 draft as an extremely raw 18 year old, Rivera has always been known for his near elite defensive range at shortstop. In just over two full professional seasons, Rivera boasts a 4.56 range factor comparable to the likes of former Brewers shortstops J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar.
Of course, there’s really no getting around his struggles at the plate. Rivera has averaged a .223/.260/.325 line with a .102 ISO and .264 wOBA per season so far in his professional career. He’s a project in that area, but if he can develop that facet of his game, there’s no doubt he can tremendous upside as an all-around ballplayer.
11. RHP Michael Fiers
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): 0-2, 3.99 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 26 K/11 BB, .268 BAA (6 GS)
Hardly a prospect at this stage of his career, 26-year-old Michael Fiers (he’ll turn 27 in June) was extremely productive both as a starter and relief man at the double-A and triple-A levels last season. In 126 total innings, he punched out 132 batters and walked just 36 for a solid 3.67 K/BB ratio. His performance warranted a promotion, where he made a couple relief appearances for the Brewers in September.
Fiers doesn’t have much velocity to speak of (his fastball typically sits in the high 80s to low 90s), however he does know how to fool batters with a plus-average changeup. He also throws in an occasional get-me-over curveball and below-average slider that doesn’t have much projection.
The Brewers are experimenting with him as a starter at the triple-A level right now, however, it doesn’t look llike he has any plans to become a starter in the bigs. His very good fastball-changeup combo portends he could thrive out of a relief role in a major league bullpen.
2012 Line (single-A Wisconsin): 3-0, 1.02 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 28 K/6 BB, .185 BAA (6 GS)
Overshadowed by Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley at last summer’s draft, Drew Gagnon, Milwaukee’s third round selection, has been equally if not more impressive than any Brewers pitching prospect early this season. He leads all Brewers prospects with a 0.64 ERA and ranks in the top five in WHIP and BAA.
Gagnon was a very productive starter on the collegiate scene thanks to a solid three-pitch repertoire — a mid to low-90s fastball, curve and changeup — allowing roughly seven hits per nine innings pitched during his junior season at Long Beach State. His command was in question though he’s seen dramatic improvements to that facet of his game, conceding under two walks per nine innings on the young season so far.
If Gagnon keeps this up, it won’t be too long until he finds himself pitching at the triple-A level and battling for a spot in Milwaukee’s bullpen.
9. RF, LF Caleb Gindl
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): .189/.232/.356, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 8 R, .161 ISO, 44 wRC+ (95 PA)
A fifth-round draft pick in 2007, Caleb Gindl wasted no time adapting to pitching in the minor league level. The stocky 5’9″, 205 pound outfielder posted a .580 slugging percentage and .208 ISO in 231 plate appearances against Pioneer League pitching during his rookie season. Since then, he’s only continued to impress with his bat.
In his first season in triple-A ball last season, Gindl drove in 60 runs, socked 15 home runs and scored 84 times towards the top of Nashville’s batting order. His power witnessed a decline from his first two seasons, though, posting a .165 ISO and .380 wOBA in 538 plate appearances in 2011. He’s struggled out of the gates to start his 2012 campaign, mostly with respect to his plate discipline.
Still, in a Brewers farm system devoid of any legitimate power threat — save for Hunter Morris — Gindl has staked his claim as arguably Milwaukee’s most MLB-ready positional player with respectable power.
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): .324/.353/.505, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 14 R, .178 ISO, 135 wRC+ (116 PA)
One of the premier offensive talents featured in the 2010 draft, Hunter Morris flew relatively under the radar in his first professional season, though after socking 20 home runs between high-A and double-A ball last season, it seems he’s finally getting the notoriety he’s deserved.
There a lot to like about what the 6’4″, 205 pound Auburn product has to offer from an offensive standpoint. He has a compact, powerful swing that’s allowed him to become a formidable run-producer and legitimate slugger at the plate. Morris’ .505 slugging percentage currently ranks second-best among all Brewers prospects and his .324 batting average comes in at third overall.
Not only that, but he can also hold down the fort at first base with great efficiency. Morris holds true to a career .983 fielding percentage and 8.48 range factor at first base.
With the future of Mat Gamel clearly in question, there’s a very good chance Morris will have his shot at first-base for the Brewers soon if he keeps up his production.
7. CF Logan Schafer
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): .255/.307/.387, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 16 R, 3 SB, .137 ISO, 85 wRC+ (117 PA)
Ever since his scintillating 2008 rookie campaign in the low minors, the Brewers have had Logan Schafer on their radar. Unfortunately, both injury and Milwaukee’s overloaded outfield depth chart have limited his opportunities severely.
Still, the 25-year-old Cal Poly product has proven he can do it all: Hit for minimal power and a high average, play unparalleled defense in center field, flash a strong arm when needed and be a threat on the bases when needed.
If his power were to ever develop into its full potential, he’d be a legitimate five-tool prospect and would be without a shred of doubt Milwaukee’s everyday starting centerfielder. Now 25, those aspirations aren’t completely out of reach, though his situation isn’t exactly ideal. Nevertheless, teams are always on the lookout for outfielders with exceptional range. He could turn out to be an impact player in that regard.
6. 2B Scooter Gennett
The Brewers don’t have a whole lot of infielding talent to speak of on the farm, but Ryan “Scooter” Gennett has clearly separated himself from the pack as Milwaukee’s top infielding prospect — and for a multitude of reasons.
The first and most obvious reason can be attributed to his exceptional hitting efficiency. Despite his somewhat meager 5’9″, 170-pound frame, Gennett has proven he’s can slug, garnering a career .134 ISO and .459 slugging percentage up to this juncture. He’s fairly dependent on singles, though he’s still produced a solid career .371 wOBA.
On top of his surprisingly impressive hitting capacity, Gennett is moreover a respectable base-stealer. The 22-year-old has nabbed 30 stolen bases through roughly two and a half professional seasons for a career 5.4 SPD rating, according to Fan Graphs.
Gennett still maintains a fair amount of skeptics who believe his stature will ultimately become his downfall against tougher competition. Based on the way he continues to produce, though, it looks like he has a real shot to be an impact player at the next level.
5. RHP Tyler Thornburg
2012 Line (AA Huntsville): 3-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 40 K/7 BB, .172 BAA (6 GS)
Weighing in at a smallish 6’0″, 190 pounds, Tyler Thornburg defied the odds that came with being one of the smaller starters in the minors in his first two professional seasons, and so far this season, he’s doing it again. He’s allowed just seven earned runs in 35 total innings against double-A Southern League hitters.
Just what makes Thornburg so effective? Despite his lack of size, Thornburg has tremendous velocity, able to run his four-seam fastball up to 95 MPH on a consistent basis and has a devastating changeup and solid curveball to go along with it. Those three pitches have bestowed him with a tremendous strikeout capacity, striking out exactly 11 batters per nine innings pitched thus far in his career.
Durability has probably been the biggest shortcoming to Thornburg’s game, averaging just under five and a half innings per start thus far in his career, though he’s greatly improved that facet of his game this season, averaging over 5.8 innings per start in double-A ball.
4. RHP Jimmy Nelson
2012 Line (A+ Brevard County): 2-1, 1.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 39 K/13 BB, .192 BAA (6 GS)
One of the most overlooked prospects in Milwaukee’s system, Jimmy Nelson wasn’t exceptionally productive in his first two professional seasons. However, after working to develop his changeup and command this past offseason, he’s finally enjoying the fruits of his labor. Consequently, Nelson is finally developing to the polished starter the Brewers saw when they took him in the second round of the 2010 draft.
At 6’6″, 245 pounds, Nelson just looks the part of a big league starter from a physicality standpoint. He’s proven that he can go deep into many starts and that his command issues are well behind him. Add in the fact that Nelson has three very solid pitches — mid 90s fastball with good sinking action, much improved changeup and a plus-average slider with exceptional movement — and Nelson has the makings of an impact middle to back of the rotation starter at the big league level.
2012 Line (A+ Brevard County): 2-3, 2.72 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 25 K/10 BB, .234 BAA (6 GS)
Winner of the 2011 Dick Howsler Award as college baseball’s top player last season, Taylor Jungmann obviously knows what it takes to succeed as a collegiate pitcher. And for the that reason alone, many scouts see him growing into an impact player at the big league level.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why the statuesque right-hander projects to be an effective starter at the next level. He bears three plus pitches — a mid-90s fastball with good tailing action, a mid-80s “sweeping” curveball and a mid to low-80s changeup — that he throws with great efficiency and command. Jungmann’s lanky yet durable 6’6″, 220 pound frame allows him to go deep into a majority of his starts, additionally.
Jungmann’s first pro season got off to a bit of a shaky start, however, he’s rebounded nicely, allowing just five six runs (five earned) to cross home in 18.2 innings over his last three starts in the Florida State League. The Brewers are hoping he can fly through the system to be their No. 4 starter by the start of 2014.
2. RHP Wily Peralta
2012 Line (AAA Nashville): 1-2, 3.72 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 26 K/12 BB, .180 BAA (5 GS)
After signing on as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic at just 16 years of age, Wily Peralta has swiftly developed into a one of the most MLB-ready pitchers in all of minor league baseball. His size, durability, solid three-pitch repertoire and impressive strikeout capacity are all things to like about his game.
At 6’2″, 240 pounds, Peralta has the build necessary to become an adequate big-league starter. His frame has granted him the durability needed to go deep into a majority of his starts, averaging 5.8 IP over 26 starts between double-A and triple-A ball in 2011.
While his above-average stamina is one of his foremost strengths, his strikeout abilities are probably the most impressive facet to his game. Thanks to a mid-90s fastball with good movement and a hard-breaking slider that many scouts believe to be one of the minors’ best, Peralta has fanned well over nine batters per nine innings pitched in each of his last four seasons. Once he finishes polishing his command a bit more, there’s no doubting Peralta could be an annual 30-plus start hurler at the big league level.
2012 Line (A+ Brevard County): 3-2, 3.34 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 32 K/8 BB, .231 BAA
There were plenty of reasons why Jed Bradley was one of the most coveted arms of last summer’s draft. The Georgie Tech product has three projectable pitches to his repertoire and prototypical frame, was highly successful during his junior season with the Yellow Jackets and is moreover a very personable guy with tremendous baseball IQ.
Bradley’s fastball-curve-changeup combination each grade out as a plus-pitch at the next level. His fastball sits in the low 90s with good but not great movement, his curveball sits in the mid to low 80s with good curve/sliding action and his changeup consistently sits in the mid 80s and produces a low of swings-and-misses. His prototypical frame allows him to hide the ball well and also go deep into ballgames, additionally.
Throw that all together and you’ve got what looks to be a very good middle of the rotation starter who can log at least 200-plus innings and 30-plus starts at the big league level for many years to come. Bradley easily takes the cake over other Brewers prospects with respect to MLB potential.
As hard as it is to imagine, the first full month of the minor league baseball season is in the books. And while much baseball has yet to be played, we can already start to gauge the stock of many of the game’s top young prospects.
In February, we went ahead and ranked the top 20 prospects in the National League Central division. With May already here, how have many of those prospects performed and which youngsters who didn’t manage to crack our preseason list have impressed and disappointed thus far? Let’s find out.
Hot: Jameson Taillon
April Line (A+ Brandenton): 0-1, 1.93 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .176 BAA, .273 BABIP, 1.44 FIP, 11.6 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 5.8 H/9 (4 GS)
Arguably the most prized arm featured in the Pirates’ system, Taillon has looked nothing short of stellar early on in his second full minor league season, showing obvious improvements in command and a real ability to hold hitters in check.
Through his first four starts of the season, the lanky yet still athletic 6’6″, 225 pound righty leads all Florida State League starters in strikeouts per walks (8.00), third in WHIP (0.80) and also comes in as fourth in hits per nine innings pitched (5.8). Additionally, his strikeout rate of 32.7 percent ranks third overall and his impressive 1.44 FIP currently ranks second. If Taillon continues to produce at such a high level across the board, the Pirates will have no choice but to promote him to double-A by season’s end.
April Line (AAA Memphis):.203/.253/.351, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R, .149 ISO, 53 wRC+ (79 PA)
One of the premier offensive talents featured in the 2010 draft, Cox has steadily progressed through the Cardinals’ system since his rookie season as a 21 year old. Now 23, Cox has already made his way to triple-A ball to start this season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t exactly lit up opposing pitching the way the Cardinals would have probably liked to see.
In 79 plate appearances this season, the Arkansas Southern product has seen his strikeout rate spike tremendously from where it was last season. In 2011, Cox garnered a strikeout rate of 16.9 percent between high-A and double-A ball. This season, he’s upped that to a healthy 24.1 percent. Add in his porous .264 wOBA thus far, and it’s clear that he’s labored against upper-echelon minor league pitching.
Hot: Billy Hamilton
April Line (A+ Bakersfield): .398/.481/.591, HR, 10 RBI, 24 R, 29 SB, .202 ISO, 216 wRC+ (104 PA)
The Reds aren’t terribly deep on the farm as far as positional prospects are concerns, but Hamilton clearly stands out as a elite-level talent at all phases of his game.
In his first career go-around against advanced-A pitching this season, the speedy utility infielder has greatly improved his suspect hitting abilities across the board. Last season, Hamilton flashed little to no power against low-A pitching, posting a slugging percentage of .360 and .082 ISO. This season, he’s absolutely crushed the ball while lowering his strikeout rate (17%) by nearly five points and elevating his walk rate (14%) by over five points.
To top it all off, the 21-year-old Mississippi native has nabbed 29 stolen bases in just 23 games. It will be interesting to see if he’ll surpass his 103 stolen base total from last season.
Not: Brett Jackson
April Line (AAA Iowa): .233/.330/.419, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 11 R, 4 SB, .186 ISO, 105 wRC+ (100 PA)
Easily the top positional prospect in the Cubs’ system at this point, Jackson has gotten off to a slow start early in his fourth professional season.
Widely considered as a legitimate five-tool prospect, Jackson has struggled at the plate early on this season. After posting a solid .297 BA and outstanding .254 ISO in 215 plate appearances at the triple-A level last season, Jackson has witnessed a noticeable drop in both categories, posting a .233 BA and .186 ISO in exactly 100 plate appearances this season.
Despite his early struggles this season, a permanent big league promotion doesn’t seem too far off at this juncture. If he doesn’t improve his plate discipline from now until then, however, it will be tough for him to succeed a the top of Chicago’s lineup.
Hot: Anthony Rizzo
April Line (AAA Iowa): .373/.420/.693, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 15 R, SB, .338 ISO, 208 wRC+ (81 PA)
Brought over to Chicago this past winter along with new president of baseball operations Theo Epstien, Rizzo has given the Cubs every reason to believe he’s their first baseman of the future so far this season.
The 6’3″, 220 pound Fort Lauderdale native has absolutely crushed Pacific Coast League pitching this season, showing that he can hit for power as well as for average. His scintillating .693 slugging percentage ranks fifth-best among all PCL hitters and his 1.113 OPS falls just behind Mike Trout for eighth-best.
There were question marks regarding Rizzo’s big-league future after posting a .141 BA and .102 ISO in 153 plate appearances last season with the San Diego Padres. However, if his hot-hitting down on the farm persists, it won’t be long before he make his debut for the Cubs.
April Line (AA Corpus Christi): .207/.258/.264, 7 RBI, 10 R, 11 SB, .059 ISO, 53 wRC+ (91 PA)
One of the handful of prospects the Astros acquired through the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010, Villar has made a name for himself as an elite defensive shortstop with exceptional range. However, the one thing that has been in question thus far in his career has been his inconsistencies at the plate, and they’ve been on full display early this season.
In his first few games in double-A ball, Villar has struggled with strikeouts and his ability to get on base. In 91 plate appearances, the 20-year-old Dominican native has posted a strikeout rate of 26 percent and a walk rate of just 6.6. He’s moreover generated concerns with his power, garnering just a .055 ISO that ranks second-worst among all Texas League shortstops.
There’s no doubting that Villar has tremendous upside as an all-around baseball player. Great defensive range, speed on the bases and adequate hitting abilities all work in his favor. However, he’ll need to right his early-season struggles from a power standpoint if he’s set on breaking through to Houston’s infield.
Hot: Oscar Taveras
April Line (AA Springfield): .330/.358/.659, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 9 R, SB, .307 ISO, 168 wRC+ (90 PA)
Signed by the Cardinals out of the Dominican Republic at just 16 years old, Taveras already has two professional seasons in the low minors under his belt and has produced adequately from an offensive standpoint in each. This season, however, the 6’2, 180 pound outfield has looked nothing short of dominant at the plate.
In 90 plate appearances this season, Taveras has crushed opposing pitching to the tune of a .307 ISO that ranks fourth-best among all Texas League outfielders. He’s also tied for the league lead with six home runs and has also garnered the league’s fifth-best wOBA (.422). You’d be hard-pressed to find another 20-year-old that’s managed to post numbers similar to his 2012 yield.