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December 12, 2006

Future Shock

Milwaukee Brewers Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Ryan Braun, 3b
2. Yovani Gallardo, rhp
Very Good Prospects
3. Jeremy Jeffress, rhp
4. Will Inman, rhp
5. Mark Rogers, rhp
Good Prospects
None
Average Prospects
6. Lorenzo Cain, rf/cf
7. Cole Gillespie, of
8. Mat Gamel, 3b
9. Hernan Irrabarren, 2b
10. Chris Errecart, of

1. Ryan Braun, 3b
DOB: 11/17/83
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2005, University of Miami
What He Did In 2006:: .274/.346/.438 at High A (260 PA); .303/.367/.589 at AA (257 PA)
The Good:: One of the more advanced hitters in the minors. Very good pitch recognition and tremendous bat speed allows him to use all fields with natural power. Does not need to fully square a ball to get it out of the park, with half of his Double-A hits going for extra-bases. A very good athlete with all of the tools to be a solid third baseman.
The Bad:: Despite the tools, Braun is still inadequate at the hot corner. His footwork is bad, and while he has plus arm strength, his throws lack accuracy. His bat is nearly major league ready, so if the glove doesn't catch up fast enough, he could be moved to right field. The bat will play anywhere.
The Irrelevant If you want to make a list of the Top 10 Jewish prospects, Braun is No. 1, and it's not even close.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-of-the-order All-Star third baseman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Braun is ticketed to begin the year at Triple-A, but the Brewers think there is a significant possibility of him bashing his way to the big leagues in short order. What position he'll be at when he gets there is still to be determined.

2. Yovani Gallardo, rhp
DOB: 2/27/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2004, Texas HS
What He Did In 2006:: 2.09 ERA at High A (77.2-54-23-103), 1.63 ERA at AA (77.1-50-28-85)
The Good:: Very good stuff plus excellent command equals outstanding pitching prospect. Pitches off a heavy 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96, as well as two plus breaking pitches - a hard-sweeping slider and a downer curveball. Throws strikes and has advanced polish well beyond his years.
The Bad:: Changeup is an average pitch, but that's nitpicking. Body doesn't offer the same projection as other top pitching prospects. That's nitpicking as well.
The Irrelevant: Are groundball ratios fluky? Gallardo was nearly 2 to 1 (83-43) in the Florida State League, yet gave up more flyballs (79) than grounders (61) at Double-A.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter and occasional All-Star.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low - Gallardo will turn 21 in Spring Training, yet he's ready for Triple-A, and the Brewers don't think he'll need a full season there in preparation for the big leagues.

3. Jeremy Jeffress, rhp
DOB: 9/21/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, Virginia HS
What He Did In 2006:: 5.88 ERA at Rookie-Level (33.2-30-25-37)
The Good:: The best raw arm among high school players in this year's draft, Jeffress touched 100 mph as an 18-year-old and he does it with smooth, clean mechanics. Over the top delivery and good sinking action generates plenty of ground balls when hitters are able to make contact. Excellent athlete who also starred at basketball, fields his position well.
The Bad:: Breaking ball is still a work in progress - he's experimented with a curveball and slider as a amateur, but the Brewers want him to focus on just one, and the slider has more potential. His changeup is well behind his other offerings, as he never needed one in high school. Struggles with command, size bothers some.
The Irrelevant: With the bases-loaded, Jeffress retired all nine batters he faced with a pair of strikeouts, six ground balls and a flyout.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An ace or top-notch closer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very high. Jeffress is nothing more than a raw arm right now, but it's one of the best in all of the minor leagues. Patience will be a virtue.

4. Will Inman, rhp
DOB: 2/6/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 3rd round, 2005, Virginia HS
What He Did In 2006:: 1.71 ERA at Low A (110.2-75-24-134)
The Good:: Put up ridiculous numbers in the Sally League thanks to plus-plus control and command of an 88-91 mph fastball than touches 93, as well as hard curveball. Locates all of his offerings seemingly at will and earns praise for his aggressive demeanor.
The Bad:: A mismatch in terms of stats and stuff. Scouts wonder if arsenal will work at the upper levels, and smallish frame is also a concern. Missed a month with a sore shoulder and was on limited pitch count throughout year.
The Irrelevant: Inman's ERA was a perfect 0.00 in the second inning in 2006. In 20 total second inning frames, he allowed 11 hits and four walks while striking out 28.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid No. 3 or 4 starter.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average, yet confusing. Inman's performance on a per inning basis ranks with anyone in baseball, but there's more than a few people who feel he's accomplishing it with smoke and mirrors a la Yusmiero Petit. We probably won't know until late 2007 or early 2008 when he hits Double-A.

5. Mark Rogers, rhp
DOB: 1/30/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2004, Maine HS
What He Did In 2006:: 5.07 ERA at High A (71-68-53-96); 2.25 ERA at Rookie level (4-5-2-5)
The Good:: To say Rogers has great stuff is doing him a disservice, because it deserves more credit than that. With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and devastating breaking ball, Rogers possesses two plus-plus major league pitches right now and can be utterly dominant at times.
The Bad:: Control has always been Rogers' bugaboo as evidenced by a career rate of over six walks per nine innings. Most of his struggles have been attributed to poor mechanics; in particular a tendency to throw across his body, which now has led to shoulder problems, which cost him most of the 2006 season's second half.
The Irrelevant: Maine is not exactly a baseball hotbed, so if Rogers makes it, he'll need just 768 strikeouts to overtake Bill Swift as the all-time leader for players born in the state.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A dominating big league pitcher.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Very high - Rogers' shoulder pain never subsided and he's expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery over the next few days in order to find the cause. Keep your fingers crossed, Brewers fans.

6. Lorenzo Cain, rf/cf
DOB: 4/13/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/165
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 17th round, 2004, Florida JUCO (DFE)
What He Did In 2006:: 307/384/425 at Low A (605 PA)
The Good:: Athletic outfielder proved 2005 Arizona League MVP campaign was no fluke will solid full-season debut. Tools grade at least average across the board with many projecting increased power once he fills out. Has a good approach, is a plus runner, and some of the quickest wrists in the organization.
The Bad:: Few are convinced that Cain can play center field, and he might lack that over-the-top offensive tool to be an every day corner player.
The Irrelevant Just call him the igniter - when leading off an inning, Cain hit a cool .400 (30-for-75).
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting big league outfielder, but one that has far more value if he can play center in the end.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High - Cain has quickly turned himself into a very real prospect, but there's still a lot of projection that needs to become reality in order for him to move up these rankings. The Florida State League will be a tough test in 2007.

7. Cole Gillespie, lf/cf
DOB: 6/20/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 3rd round, 2006, Oregon State
What He Did In 2006:: .344/.464/.548 at Rookie Level (233 PA)
The Good:: Offensive leader of College World Series champs stepped into pro ball without missing a beat, finishing among the Pioneer League top five in all three triple-slash categories. Smooth swing, no platoon problems and patient approach mean high OBPs should be maintainable as he moves up. Average runner with excellent instincts that help him both on the basepaths and in the field, where some scouts feel he can hold his own in center.
The Bad:: Gillespie's line-drive swing leaves his power potential as no more than average, and weak arm rules out right field, so if he's forced to left. In other words, the bat will have to be awfully special.
The Irrelevant: Among his favorite hobbies, Cole lists "taking naps."
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting big league outfielder who hits .300+ with a near .400 OBP.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - The Brewers feel they got a steal in nabbing Gillespie with their 3rd round pick and feel he could move quickly. He might skip a level and start the year in the Florida State League.

8. Matt Gamel, 3b
DOB: 7/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/205
Bats/Throws: L/R
Signed: 4th round, 2005, Florida JUCO
What He Did In 2006:: 288/359/469 at Low A (555 PA)
The Good:: Left-handed bat with plus power and contact skills, as well as ability to take a walk - projects to hit for average and plus power. Very good arm at the hot corner.
The Bad:: Other than arm, defensive abilities are poor, with bad hands and sloppy footwork. Power is streaky thanks to tendency to become pull conscious. Below average athlete and runner.
The Irrelevant: After hitting eight home runs in 109 May at-bats, Gamel didn't go deep in any of his 25 June games.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A big league starter at third base.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Above average. Gamel's future will depend mostly on his glove work, as after making 34 errors last year, many think a move is necessary and wonder if he'll hit enough to play first base. He'll stay at third for now as he moves up to High A.

9. Hernan Iribarren, 2b
DOB: 6/29/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/160
Bats/Throws: L/R
Signed: Venezuela, 2002
What He Did In 2006:: 319/376/384 at High A (455 PA)
The Good:: Excellent hand-eye coordination and quick wrists has led to career batting average of .330 as Iribarran finished third in the Florida State League batting race in 2006. Good idea at the plate as he makes consistent contact while also working the count. Above-average defensive skills at second base.
The Bad:: Doesn't have power and never will have power, so he'll need to get on base at a good clip to have value, as an inability to play on the left side of the infield limits and future utility possibilities. Needs to learn how to use his speed better, having been caught stealing 30 times in the last two years.
The Irrelevant: The model of consistency, Iribarren had back-to-back hitless games just six times in 2006.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting second baseman who hits at the top of the order.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Coming up as a second baseman is a tough haul, as it's starter or bust without utility options for a player like Iribarren. Double-A will be the big test.

10. Chris Errecart, lf/rf/1b
DOB: 2/11/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: S/L
Draft: 5th round, 2006, University of California
What He Did In 2006:: 316/406/518 at Rookie Level (313 PA)
The Good:: Highly regarded bat entering the season suffered through case of draft-itis and fell to the fifth round. Hit .128 in first ten pro games but .348 with 13 home runs in 60 games thereafter. Good bat speed with plus power and decent pitch recognition.
The Bad:: Defensively limited to first base or left field, so bat will have to carry him. Power-focused approach leads to high strikeout rate.
The Irrelevant: Along with teammate Brennan Boesch and Stanford righthander Greg Reynolds, three of the Pac-10s top players were represented by Creative Artists Agency (yes, they do sports too). In January, they were expected to be drafted Errecart, Boesch, Reynolds, but in the end it turned out to be the opposite.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-of-the-order run producer.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average - Like Gillespie, the Brewers feel they found a polished college bat in Errecart whose talent well eclipsed where he was selected. And like Gillespie, Errecart might skip the Sally League.

The Sleeper

A 40th-round draft-and-follow who signed in 2004, righthander Robert Hinton has pitched in nearly complete obscurity, but has 222 strikeouts in 215 career innings thanks to plus command of a low 90s fastball and a sweeping slider that opponents have a tough time picking up. He'll pitch out of the Double-A bullpen this year, so he's getting close.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Prince Fielder, 1b
2. Rickie Weeks, 2b
3. Ryan Braun, 3b
4. Yovani Gallardo, rhp
5. Jeremy Jeffress, rhp
6. Corey Hart, of
7. Will Inman, rhp
8. Mark Rogers, rhp
9. J.J. Hardy, ss
10. Carlos Villanueva, lhp

While the system might lack the depth of some previous years, it also just delivered an All-Star right side of the infield that will be there for quite a while, and Bruan and Gallardo are also both elite-level prospects. It's hard to see star potential for Hart, but he should be a solid contributor. Injuries have severely stunted Hardy's young career, but Villanueva has come out of nowhere to establish himself as a solid back-of-the-rotation starter. The Fielder/Weeks/Braun/Gallardo quartet is a top four that's hard to beat in all of baseball, and one of the reasons there's still plenty room for optimism in Milwaukee.

Next: The New York Mets

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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