December 3, 2015
Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: What a difference a couple of years can make. A system that was once devoid of top-tier talent now has impressive offensive depth, intriguing pitching and talent to makes several teams quite jealous.
The Top Ten
1. Orlando Arcia, SS
Every scout I spoke to about Arcia over the course of the 2015 season used the word improved, or some variation on it, and more than one source called him the most improved offensive player they saw. He has always had solid bat control and the ability to make contact, but he incorporated more of his lower half, and the added strength now allows him to make quality contact to all parts of the field. The swing path is more conducive to line drives, but there’s enough loft and extension for him to hit a handful of homers and put the ball into the opposite-field gap. He’s also a plus runner capable of stealing 30 bases a year if he gets on base enough, which he should.
As good as the offensive profile is, the defense is even better. Arcia has a howitzer of an arm with plenty of carry, and his range and instincts make him one of the best defensive shortstop prospects in baseball. Francisco Lindor he is not, but he’s right there with the next tier of defenders.
This is your rare high-floor, high-ceiling player, and Arcia should be hitting near the top of the Milwaukee lineup and providing stellar defense as soon as this summer.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The profile isn’t the sexiest in dynasty leagues, but with his strong 2015 campaign, Arcia has raised his fantasy floor. Being in Milwaukee, the offensive comps to good Jean Segura are both a little too easy and somewhat apt—though Arcia likely won’t have stolen base numbers that good. The realistic fantasy ceiling here is a .280 hitter with 10 homers (given the attractive home park) and 25-30 steals. And that’s a top-10 option these days.
Major league ETA: 2016
2. Brett Phillips, OF
Phillips burst onto the scene in 2014, and in 2015 proved his breakout wasn’t a fluke. Always a terrific athlete, he has seen his feel for hitting improve the past two years thanks to a toned-down swing and improved approach. Like many young hitters he’ll get pull-happy, but when he’s at his best he’ll go with the pitch and spray line drives to left and left-center fields. His power numbers dwindled upon leaving the California League (one homer in 224 at-bats at the Double-A level), but one could reasonably expect average power in the future due to his natural strength and a modicum of loft.
There might be some questions about Phillips’ bat, but there aren’t many with the glove. He’s a plus runner who, like Arcia, possesses a huge, accurate arm, so even if he is forced to move to a corner he’ll be a plus defender in right. If he shows the power he showed in the Cal League, this is a potential All-Star. Even without it, he’s an above-average player who will get on base and provide above-average defense at a premium position.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Similar to Arcia above, Phillips has the potential to be a pretty strong across-the-board contributor, but is unlikely to be impactful—and it will also manifest itself in steals more than homers. He’s neither the power force he showed in the Cal League or the opposite that he showed in the Southern League (even though he did have a .150 ISO). A strong OF3 with 15/25 upside is in play here.
Major league ETA: 2017
3. Jorge Lopez, RHP
Good things come to those who wait. It took a few years, but Lopez finally showed his electric stuff over a full season, earning a deserved call-up at the end of the season. He’s always shown quality arm strength, but his four-seam fastball now sits 92-94 mph with late life, and he’ll occasionally jump into the high 90s. The curveball bumped up to plus thanks to its improved shape and his ability to locate it for a strike more often, and it is now his best off-speed pitch. His change is a competent third pitch and shows some late fade, as well as deception from his arm speed.
Lopez also saw his command tick up this year, and while he will suffer some self-inflicted damage from walks, his control is good enough that he’ll remain a starter. If everything goes right, he’s a no. 2, with mid-rotation starter a more likely landing spot. He should be a part of the Brewers rotation at some point in 2016.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In fantasy leagues, Lopez is going to be a WHIP risk given his propensity for the free pass, but his strikeouts should make most owners forget about that shortcoming. There’s more risk than usual here with a pitcher who’s already debuted due to previous inconsistencies and struggles with his third pitch, but Lopez could put up league-average ERAs with 180 strikeouts in time.
Major league ETA: Already debuted
4. Trent Clark, OF
Clark was a nice value selection with the 15th pick last June, as more than one scouting director believed this was the best hitting prospect in the 2015 draft. His batting style is unorthodox, as he grips the bat more like you would grip a three iron, but it works for him, as he stays through the zone with a line-drive stroke and above-average bat speed that projects to a plus hit tool. There’s very little loft, but because he squares everything up, he can turn on middle-in fastballs, making average corner-outfield power projection a possibility. His approach is advanced for any prospect—much less a teenager—and he’s the type of player who should draw 60 to 70 walks per season.
We mention a “corner-outfield” projection, but there is a chance Clark can play center field as a professional. He’s an above-average runner, and though the arm is below average he takes good enough routes that he might not have to move. Because of the lack of arm strength left field is the most likely landing spot if he does, but the bat should play there. If he can stick in center field, there’s first-division regular upside.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Clark is going to be a pretty popular name in dynasty drafts this offseason, and while he’s not the toolsiest of the prep hitters available, he may be one of the better investments. If he’s still there in the first half of the second round, gamble on his power/speed combination playing up due to his hit tool.
Major league ETA: 2018
5. Gilbert Lara, SS
Not only was Lara given the highest bonus of any Brewer international free agent ever, he quadrupled the previous record ($800,000). High bonuses come with lofty expectations, and most of what scouts saw this summer suggested those expectations can be met. The big sell here is Lara’s power, as he generates huge bat speed with strong wrists and big hip rotation. In order to tap into that power, Lara is going to have to tone down the swing, as he is rarely in control and the length leads to significant contact issues. Still, the ball jumps off the bat and he’s shown a willingness to work counts. An average hit tool is certainly feasible.
What might not be is staying at short. He’s an average runner but his footwork and instincts are suboptimal. Third base is the most likely landing spot, and his plus arm plays well there.
It’s tough to define a role for a player with as high a ceiling and as low of a floor as Lara has, but right now it’s easy to project Lara as a third baseman—one who could hit 30 homers at his peak with quality defense. How he responds in his first full professional season will give us a lot more answers, but the talent is immense.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There isn’t another hitter in the Brewers’ system who can match Lara’s fantasy potential, but he’s way too far away to know what he is going to be yet. Of course, we dynasty owners love a bit of a gamble, which is what makes Lara a Top 100 fantasy prospect right now even before he leaves rookie ball. Mmm...power.
Major league ETA: 2019
6. Devin Williams, RHP
Williams drew the widest array of opinions of any Brewers prospect by a significant margin; one front-office member believed he was the best pitching prospect in the system because of his athleticism and arm strength, while several scouts believed he didn’t belong in the top 10.
There’s still projection left in Williams’ frame, so his plus four-seam fastball sitting 92-94 could become plus-plus. It plays up because of how little effort there is in the delivery. That easy arm action also helps his change, as it comes from the same arm speed and slot with just enough tumble to cause swings and misses. The breaking ball has always been an issue dating back to his days as a highly touted prep. When he’s at his best his slider will show hard downward tilt, but he struggles to repeat his arm slot, and it often ends up flat and in the zone. Those issues also mean Williams’ command is well below average, and there are also some question marks about his poise on the mound. The arm strength and two borderline plus pitches make Williams a potential no. 3 starter, but there’s more volatility here than with any other Brewer pitching prospect.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While dynasty owners may not be afraid of risk when it comes to hitting prospects with high upside, pitchers aren’t quite treated with the same dignity. It’s not difficult to envision the path that leads Williams to a strong SP3 future with strong ratio and strikeout totals, but with a few steps left to get there, he still lingers as a flier. He should not be unowned in leagues where 200 prospects or more are rostered.
Major league ETA: 2017
7. Monte Harrison, OF
Harrison struggled in Wisconsin, and right when he appeared to be figuring things out for Helena (.400/.493/.545 in July), a broken ankle ended his season prematurely. (It does appear he’ll be ready for for the 2016 season.)
Harrison is a terrific athlete (he was a wide receiver commit for the University of Nebraska), and his plus speed and right arm make him a potential stalwart in right field. For now though, the Brewers will give him a chance to play center. The bat plays better there anyway, as Harrison’s bat speed and strength are undercut by an awful approach and a long swing that creates contact issues.
Assuming the ankle injury isn’t debilitating, he’s a potential 20-20 player who could be among the best defensive right fielders in baseball. If the approach doesn’t improve—or if the lost developmental time takes a toll—he projects as more of a fourth outfielder, albeit one who can make a difference with the glove and on the bases.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Again, the upside is tantalizing with Harrison and it’s worth the investment risk in just about all dynasty formats. He’s unlikely to make the Top 100, but the fact that he’d likely make a Top 150 should speak to the power/speed combination that resides somewhere deep inside of him. In leagues with deep farm teams, he’s a fun trade target this offseason.
Major league ETA: 2018
8. Zach Davies, RHP
If you’re looking for a pitcher with huge upside and projection, Davies is going to be well below your eye line. He’ll throw a two- and four-seam fastball, neither of which breaks 91, neither of which has plane, neither of which is better than a 45 offering. (They play slightly higher due to his command.) The out pitch here is the change, a pitch with late tumble that will make left-handed hitters look foolish because of his ability to pull the string. He also mixes in a solid-average curveball that features predominantly vertical action, which he can either locate for strikes or bury out of the zone, and is effective against batters of both persuasions. He repeats his delivery well, and though he did battle some control fits in Milwaukee, there’s reason to believe he can throw enough strikes to start at the big-league level.
What you see is what you get, but what you get is pretty good: a back-end starter who can give you 170 innings of solid—if unspectacular—results in your rotation.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In any league with 14 or fewer teams, you can pretty safely ignore Davies at this point. His strikeout numbers will likely be below average for a starting pitcher and his ratios won’t be helped by Miller Park. He’s likely to be worth a $2-3 investment in NL-only leagues in 2016 as he has a good shot at a rotation spot, but the upside isn’t much better year-to-year.
Major league ETA: Already debuted
9. Cody Ponce, RHP
Ponce was one of several “consistent in his inconsistency” pitchers in the 2015 draft class; once a lock for the top half of the first round, he saw his stock fall badly. That loss was Milwaukee’s gain, however, as Ponce was outstanding upon entering the professional ranks. His four-seam fastball sits 92-94 mph and will touch 98, and he’ll mix in a cutter with slider-like action that will break the bats of left-handed hitters. His curveball wasn’t reliable at Cal Poly Pomona, but it was much firmer as a pro, showing good spin and less slurvy action. He’ll also mix in a change that’s straight, but there’s enough deception from his arm speed to make it a competent fourth offering—including his cutter. He’ll throw all four pitches for strikes, and though the delivery has some effort, he repeats it well enough to project average command.
Because the sample size is so small, it’s tough to project him. If he can show the same secondary stuff next season, he’ll shoot up this list as a right-hander with durable size and a feel for missing bats. Because of the lack of consistency in college, there’s a little more volatility than the stuff/size might suggest.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: When a starting pitcher might just be more valuable as a reliever, that speaks to the type of limited fantasy upside they have in the rotation—though it also speaks to how good Ponce could be in short bursts. If he makes it through the starting pitcher gauntlet, you’re looking at a SP5 in mixed leagues who is pretty meh across the board, but won’t kill you anywhere.
Major league ETA: 2018
10. Tyrone Taylor, OF
Taylor isn’t far removed from being one of the best prospects in the system, but with all due respect to his skills, that had more to do with the system than with Taylor. That’s not to say he doesn’t have ability, as he possesses solid bat speed from the right side, and he controls his short, compact swing to punch line drives to the opposite field. He doesn’t incorporate his lower half at all, and his lack of strength means that expecting more than a handful of homers is expecting too much. His approach regressed in 2015, and though his bat-to-barrel skills allow him to make consistent contact, it’s often weak contact when he swings at pitches outside of the zone. He’s a competent center fielder thanks to good range and a solid-average throwing arm, and he’s athletic enough to stay there long term.
There’s still some upside left, but he projects best as a fourth outfielder who can steal a base and provide defensive value. It’s not out of the question he ends up a regular, but he’s been usurped by some of the other prospects in the system.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This was a more fun blurb to write last year when dynasty leaguers wanted to own Taylor. It looks like it will be an uphill battle to be a mixed league profile at this point, but Taylor could still surface as a 10-homer, 15-steal outfielder without much contribution in batting average.
Major league ETA: 2016
Five who are just interesting
Jacob Gatewood, SS – Gatewood is the ultimate boom-or-bust player. He has the tools to be a star, but he hasn’t proven he can use them on a day-to-day basis. There’s massive power potential from the right side from plus bat speed, but he tries to murder everything he sees to left field. That becomes even more frustrating when you see that he has the extension to hit the ball hard to the opposite field. He’s highly unlikely to stay at shortstop because of his lack of range, yet he does have a flair for making the spectacular play, and his arm strength is plus. There’s massive upside here; alas, we’ll never get to see it unless the approach improves substantially.
Demi Orimoloye, OF – Orimoloye was one of the most intriguing prep prospects in the 2015 draft, and to say that he impressed in his short time in the Arizona Instructional League is an understatement. There are three 60 tools here in his power, speed, and arm, and he showed more feel for the barrel than scouts anticipated as a professional. He is still quite raw both offensively and defensively, but it’s easy to dream on him becoming an impact bat in right field. You’re just going to have to be very, very patient.
Nathan Kirby, LHP – If the draft was been held in March, Kirby would have been a top-five pick. Unfortunately for Kirby, the draft was not held in March, and Kirby’s stock dropped significantly due to some medical issues, and he underwent Tommy John surgery this fall. When he is healthy he’ll show two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and there’s the makings of a solid-average change to boot. Add in feel for pitching and you get a solid mid-rotation starter, but we’ll have to see how he responds to the surgery before you can start placing him in the Brewers rotation.
Adrian Houser, RHP – Houser came over with Phillips in the trade of Carlos Gomez, and while he doesn’t possess Phillips’ upside or floor, he was still a significant addition. He’ll sit 90-93, touching 96-97 with quality movement on his four-seam fastball, and he’ll miss bats with an above-average curveball as well. He has struggled with control issues in the past, but it was much better upon joining the Brewers (six walks in 37 innings compared to 35 walks in 83 innings), so it’s not impossible for him to throw enough strikes. His ultimate role is likely in the bullpen, and with two plus pitches, he could pitch in the eighth inning or close.
Josh Hader, LHP – Acquired in the Carlos Gomez trade, all Hader has done over the last two years is pitch effectively while missing bats, and all that’s come from it is questions about whether he can do it as a starting pitcher. His four-seamer will get up to 98 MPH with life; sitting comfortably 91-93, and he’ll also show a solid-average curveball and average change. His delivery scares the heck out of many, however, as he’s low three-quarters with effort, and the command isn’t anything to write home about. The Chris Sale comps are fun, but the more likely landing spot for Hader is as a high-leverage reliever who can get both left and right-handed hitters out, but you can’t blame the Brewers for seeing if he can start.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/90 or later)
As with most rebuilding clubs, the vast majority of young talent lies in the minor leagues. The big-league squad does have a handful of interesting players whose age barely disqualifies them for this list—such as Jimmy Nelson, Khris Davis, and Wily Peralta—but the Milwaukee Brewers have an improved farm system and a major-league team that lost 94 games. One would expect prospects to dominate any 25U rankings.
The most pressing question for the organization over the past half-decade has centered around high-end talent. Where was the next impact core? The Brewers squeezed everything they could out of the Braun-Fielder-Weeks-Hart-Hardy-Gallardo core that pushed the club back to MLB relevance. As those players departed and/or aged, the minor-league system wasn’t able to replenish the coffers and provide the team with desperately needed impact talent at little financial cost. The occasional fourth starter or fringe outfielder was helpful, sure, but hardly a pathway to consistent contention.
Recent drafts and well-executed trades have stuffed the farm system with high-upside players, though, and the future is being more clearly defined. Arcia, Phillips, and Lopez are three of the most exciting prospects the club has had in the better part of a decade. The fact that they’re poised to break into the majors at roughly the same time makes it only more special. Furthermore, the infusion of potential stars like Clark and Lara is essential. They’re ages away from cracking a big-league roster, but the duo possess recognizable impact talent. The organization has been dreaming on mid-level prospects for ages. That’s no longer the case.
At the big-league level, a guy like Segura is prized more for their potential trade value than their long-term benefit on the diamond. The same goes for Gennett, though in his case it will require him to reestablish some modicum of trade value first. That’s ultimately the state of the Brewers organization. Young assets reaching arbitration have more value to other clubs—and they’re likely to be shopped heavily over the next 12 months. Those types of moves will only further populate this 25U list with more prospects and rookies, rather than established big-league players.
The encouraging thing for Brewers fans, though, is that new general manager David Stearns has already shown a willingness to be creative and not just focus on prospects. Moving a fringe big-leaguer like Cy Sneed for Jonathan Villar is good business. It’s all part of The Process and it’s bringing more assets into the fold that could be part of the next competitive team in Milwaukee. — J.P. Breen
President of Baseball Operations: Doug Melvin
Stearns' reputation focuses on his analytical tilt, but he has also spent time in the scouting and player-development departments. If the recent Francisco Rodriguez for Javier Betancourt trade tells us anything, it’s that he’s might be a GM who values a high floor relative to others. Then again, it is only one data point in what will be hundreds or thousands. Matt Arnold’s acquisition was also met with acclaim, as he had plenty of fans from his work with Tampa Bay, and he could be a General Manager candidate in the coming seasons. The removal of Reid Nichols is noteworthy, as he was one of the lynchpins of the Melvin era.
The addition of Montgomery from Arizona last November was a big one. He’s one of the best scouting directors in baseball—responsible for the quality Arizona classes that saw them draft Archie Bradley, Aaron Blair, Touki Toussaint, etc., and it’s no coincidence that the Brewers had one of the best drafts—on paper, anyway—of any club this June. He has always taken a best-player-available approach without huge bias toward college, prep, positional or pitcher, and that attitude will serve them well, as Milwaukee needs a lot of everything to rebuild itself into a contender in a daunting NL Central.