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December 7, 2008

Future Shock

Brewers Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Four-Star Prospects
1. Alcides Escobar, SS
2. Brett Lawrie, C
3. Mat Gamel, 3B
4. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
5. Angel Salome, C
Three-Star Prospects
6. Lorenzo Cain, CF
7. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
8. Jon Lucroy, C
9. Cutter Dykstra, CF
Two-Star Prospects
10. Wily Peralta, RHP
11. Caleb Gindl, RF

Just Missed: Evan Frederickson, LHP; Taylor Green, 3B; Seth Lintz, RHP

Ranking Challenges: There is no true, classic top prospect in the system, but a set of five very good prospects that are hard to separate, as they all combine much to like with significant issues. The dropoff from the first five is sizeable, as the system's become rather mediocre quickly due to graduations and trades.

1. Alcides Escobar, SS
DOB: 12/16/86
Height/Weight: 6-1/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2003
2008 Stats: .328/.363/.434, .252 EqA at Double-A (131 G); .500/.500/.500, .357 EqA at MLB (9 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: This defensive stalwart made huge strides offensively, finishing third in the minors in hits and in the Southern League's top three in runs and stolen bases.
The Good: While he'll never be confused with Rickey Henderson, Escobar's 31 walks in 2008 represented a career high by more than 50 percent, and the improved patience allowed his bat to come alive. He has excellent plate coverage and gap power, as well as plus speed on the basepaths with a knack for stealing bases. Defensively, he's among the best in the minors, with outstanding initial jumps providing above-average range to both sides, while he also has a very strong arm.
The Bad: Despite Escobar's improved plate discipline, it's still below average, and he'll need to hit .300 in order to stick at the top of the lineup. His ceiling is probably 10 to 12 home runs annually, and he got caught trying to muscle up on balls at times, as opposed to focusing on contact.
Fun Fact: Escobar hit only .259 during the first two innings of games with Huntsville, but a nifty .350 afterwards.
Perfect World Projection: He's a future Gold Glove shortstop and an ideal number two hitter.
Glass Half Empty: His offense doesn't develop enough, leaving him as an everyday shortstop who has to hit at the bottom of the lineup.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Brewers already have a very good young shortstop in J.J. Hardy, but he's been rumored in trade talks this season, and there has also been some discussion of moving him to third in order to create an opening for Escobar.
Timetable: If that opening doesn't occur, Escobar will begin the year at Triple-A, but he should be Milwaukee's starting shortstop in 2010 at the very latest.

2. Brett Lawrie, C
DOB: 1/18/90
Height/Weight: 5-11/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Brookswood SS (BC)
2008 Stats: None
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Canadian slugger's stock rose with nearly every game that the national junior team played, finally landing in Milwaukee with the 16th overall pick.
The Good: Lawrie's calling card is his power; he has the bat speed and leverage to drive the ball out of any part of the park. While on the national traveling team, he's already proven himself against top, often professional competition, and he's an excellent natural hitter. The Brewers announced that he'll be a catcher shortly after signing him, and he has a compact, strong build, and a good arm that should work well there.
The Bad: He is going to be a project defensively. He split time between third base and catching as an amateur, and was raw at both positions. He'll need a lot of work behind the plate and in learning to call games, and his arm is often erratic, as his throws tend to sail. He has a front-foot trigger in his swing that can hamper his adjusting to a pitch as it comes in.
Fun Fact: Lawrie's agent, Dan Lawson, is quickly becoming a major player in Canada, having also represented Seattle first-round pick Phillippe Aumount in the 2007 draft.
Perfect World Projection: He'll become an everyday catcher with plus-plus power; a rare thing indeed.
Glass Half Empty: He doesn't work out at catcher, and his bat has to carry him as a first baseman or corner outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's yet to have a professional at-bat, and learning the toughest position in the game could make him develop a little slower than most first-round picks.
Timetable: Milwaukee is confident that Lawrie can succeed offensively in a full-season league, and they'll be able to keep a close eye on his defense at the Brewers' new, nearby Low-A affiliate in Wisconsin.

3. Mat Gamel, 3B
DOB: 7/26/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2005, Chipola JC (FL)
2008 Stats: .329/.395/.537, .282 EqA at Double-A (127 G); .238/.304/.381, .238 EqA at Triple-A (5 G); .500/.500/1.000, .450 EqA at MLB (2 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: The top hitter in the minor leagues during the first half of the season finished fifth overall with 281 total bases, despite a severe late-season slump.
The Good: Gamel combines good pitch recognition with the right kind of aggressiveness at the plate, and his quick, quiet swing allows him to hit for both average and good power. He should hit .300 in the big leagues with over 25 home runs annually. He's a solid athlete who runs well, especially once he gets going.
The Bad: There's nothing positive to say about Gamel's defense. After making an eye-popping 53 errors in 2007, he reduced that number to 32 in 2008, but one scout classified the progress as, "putting lipstick on a pig." From his hands to his instincts to his arm accuracy, everything about him defensively screams for a move to first base or left field. He hit just .189 after the All-Star break, but Milwaukee officials write that off to a sore elbow and show no concerns about his hitting.
Fun Fact: Gamel's 30 errors at Huntsville came in just 23 games; he had five two-error contests, and one game in which he committed three miscues.
Perfect World Projection: He won't be a third baseman, but he will be a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Glass Half Empty: His good but not great power makes him merely a solid left fielder, not a star.
Path to the Big Leagues: Milwaukee already had one third baseman of the future flame out defensively, so with Ryan Braun in the outfield and Prince Fielder at first, there is no room at the inn, which is a shame, because what they really do need is a third baseman.
Timetable: There's some thought of giving Gamel a real shot at the hot corner and just living with the glove as they did with Braun in 2007, but he's more likely headed to Triple-A for now.

4. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
DOB: 9/21/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/197
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Halifax County Sr. HS (VA)
2008 Stats: 4.08 ERA at High-A (79.1-65-41-102), 6.78 DERA; 5.52 ERA at Double-A (14.2-17-11-13), 6.75 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: The top pitcher in the system missed the first six weeks of the season serving a suspension for marijuana use, but showed amazing raw stuff upon his return, striking out 11.6 batters per nine in the Florida State League.
The Good: Jeffress' fastball is a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, sitting at 95-97 mph and touching triple digits. He also has a plus power curveball that makes hitters look silly at times. Despite his smallish frame, his delivery has little effort in it, and features clean arm action.
The Bad: His overall game is raw, his control is a tick below average, and his command is nearly nonexistent. His changeup is a below-average pitch, and there are concerns about his makeup. He was on his best behavior during the year, if not downright reserved.
Fun Fact: While at Brevard County, Jeffress allowed 16 runs to score in the fifth inning. In every other frame, he had a combined ERA of 2.65.
Perfect World Projection: He has a future as a dominating big-league starter.
Glass Half Empty: Too much work to be done profiles him more as a late-inning power reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: Those 100 mph fastballs tend to clear their own path.
Timetable: The Brewers hope that a full year without distractions will be the key to Jeffress taking a major step forward in the pitchability department. He'll begin the year at Double-A Huntsville.

5. Angel Salome, C
DOB: 6/8/86
Height/Weight: 5-7/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2004, George Washington HS (NY)
2008 Stats: .360/.415/.559, .298 EqA at Double-A (98 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: As a prospect who has always been hard to evaluate, he continued to prove his doubters wrong by winning the Southern League batting title.
The Good: Salome just hits everything, making consistent hard contact to all fields with at least average power, showing no weaknesses by pitcher's hand, pitch type, or location. He's made some strides defensively and threw out 25 percent of opposing basestealers last season, a significant improvement from previous years.
The Bad: Scouts have huge problems assessing Salome's potential, as nearly nothing about him is standard. He might be even shorter and heavier than listed, and both his open setup and his multi-part swing mechanics are highly awkward, yet you can't argue with the results. He's a well-below average defensive catcher who needs to improve his footwork and blocking skills behind the plate, and he runs about as well as you'd expect a human who's built like a bowling ball would.
Fun Fact: While George Washington High is known for its baseball exploits with graduates such as Rod Carew and Manny Ramirez, it's mid-20th century period is more impressive culturally, with alumni including Harry Belafonte, Maria Callas, and Henry Kissinger.
Perfect World Projection: With the way he hits and has always hit, it's hard to see him not being given a shot to be an everyday player.
Glass Half Empty: If he doesn't improve defensively, it will be a huge issue, as there is simply nowhere else to put him.
Path to the Big Leagues: Jason Kendall has one more year on his deal, so it lines up rather perfectly.
Timetable: Salome had to leave the Arizona Fall League with some shoulder soreness, but he'll be 100 percent when he begins the year at Triple-A.

6. Lorenzo Cain, CF
DOB: 4/13/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 17th round, 2004, Madison County HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .287/.358/.448, .260 EqA at High-A (80 G); .277/.363/.486, .266 EqA at Double-A (40 G); .158/.273/.158, .147 EqA at Triple-A (6 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: The toolsy outfielder rebounded from a tough 2007 campaign, making major strides in translating his athletic ability into baseball skills.
The Good: Milwaukee credits Cain's step forward to a more disciplined approach, as he learned to lay off of breaking balls out of the strike zone and wait for pitches that he can drive. This also allowed him to begin to tap into his power, as his 11 home runs represented a career high, and with five more in the Arizona Fall League, the Brewers dream about him hitting 20 or more homers eventually. He has above-average speed, and is a good baserunner and a solid center fielder.
The Bad: Cain's game still needs some refinement. He can fall in love with his power at times, and becomes a bit pull-conscious. He still needs to work on his outfield play, particularly his jumps and reads. There are fears that if he can't stay in center, he'll profile as more of a tweener.
Fun Fact: His high school teammate, Jeremy Haynes, was also drafted in the 17th round of the 2004 draft, nineteen picks after Cain. Haynes is a pitching prospect in the Angels system who suffered through shoulder problems last year.
Perfect World Projection: He's not a huge impact player, but a nice everyday center fielder who can beat you in a variety of ways.
Glass Half Empty: He becomes a fourth outfielder who can play all three spots.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Brewers hope that with another step forward Cain could be lined up nicely with the last year of Mike Cameron's contract.
Timetable: Cain received some glowing scouting reports out of Arizona, and he goes to Triple-A with the opportunity to prove that he's ready for the job next year.

7. Jake Odorizzi, RHP
DOB: 3/27/90
Height/Weight: 6-2/175
Bats/Throws:R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, Highland HS (IL)
2008 Stats: 3.48 ERA at Rookie-level (20.2-18-9-19)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Like Lawrie, Odorizzi was a slow-but-steady climber throughout the spring, and many were shocked that he slid a few picks out of the first round in June.
The Good: There were many scouts in the Midwest who believed that Odorizzi would have had much more acclaim if he had come out of a warm weather environment such as California or Texas. He's ultra-athletic and projectable, with his fastball already sitting effortlessly at 89-92 mph while touching 94. He throws a slider and curve, but the slider has more promise, and will likely be what he focuses on in his first full season.
The Bad: He remains a bit raw past his fastball. His slider only occasionally flashes as a plus pitch, and he often gets around on it and flattens it out. His changeup is rudimentary at best. He had some problems throwing strikes during his pro debut, but his command and control earned high marks prior to the draft.
Fun Fact: On August 3, Odorizzi was rocked for seven hits and five runs by the AZL Padres and failed to get out of the second inning. In his other ten appearances, he gave up just 11 hits in 19 1/3 frames with a 1.86 ERA.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a number three starter.
Glass Half Empty: All of the tools are there, but there's a lot of work to be done, and a lot has to fall into place for him to reach his projection.
Path to the Big Leagues: Worry about that in a couple of years.
Timetable: Odorizzi will stay close to home as he joins Lawrie at Low-A Wisconsin to begin the season.

8. Jon Lucroy, C
DOB: 6/13/86
Height/Weight: 6-0/195
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2007, University of Louisiana, Lafayette
2008 Stats: .310/.391/.510, .243 EqA at Low-A (65 G); .292/.364/.479, .272 EqA at High-A (64 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: He's a solid college catcher from last year's draft who turned himself into an interesting prospect by splitting time between two A-ball teams and smashing 20 home runs.
The Good: Lucroy is an adept hitter with a nice approach at the plate and quick hands that allow him to let the ball sit deep in the zone for him to drive, and he shows surprising power for his size with plenty of loft and backspin. He has a very good arm and a quick release behind the plate.
The Bad: Lucroy is a streaky hitter who can become his own worst enemy by tinkering when things are going bad. Other than the arm strength, the rest of his defensive game is a bit crude. He's not much of an athlete, and he's a below-average runner.
Fun Fact: Lucroy is the second highest pick in Louisiana-Lafayette history; only Ron Guidry (Yankees, 3rd round, 1971) was selected higher.
Perfect World Projection: He's an above-average everyday catcher.
Glass Half Empty: The defense has to get better, because offense-first backup catchers don't really exist these days.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, he's behind Salome on the depth charts.
Timetable: Lucroy is ready to face the big test at Double-A in 2009.

9. Cutter Dykstra, CF
DOB: 6/29/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, Westlake HS (CA)
2008 Stats: .269/.406/.269 at Rookie-level (10 G, AZL); .271/.367/.438 at Rookie-level (38 G, Pioneer)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Lenny's son boosted his stock significantly by moving to center field for his final high school season, and he shined in his pro debut.
The Good: Scouts find it difficult to compare Dykstra to anything but a right-handed version of his own father. He's a pesky hitter who works the count effectively and can surprise you with his power when he gets ahold of a mistake. He's not as fast as his father, but he is a plus runner who can steal bases, and he plays in the same all-out, max-effort style.
The Bad: Dykstra is still a bit rough in the outfield, though the tools are there for him to succeed. He had troubles with some of the more advanced breaking balls he saw as a professional, and he was also guilty of pressing at times in clutch situations.
Fun Fact: Growing up on a country club, Lenny initially tried steering Cutter towards a career in golf, where he excelled as a youth, before giving in and allowing him to focus on baseball.
Perfect World Projection: Like the scouts say: a right-handed version of his father.
Glass Half Empty: If he doesn't make enough adjustments to play center, he might not have enough bat for a corner.
Path to the Big Leagues: Nothing to discuss in this regard for at least three years.
Timetable: The Brewers are rewarding their fans with a pretty interesting roster in the first year at Low-A Wisconsin, as Dykstra will join the other high 2008 draftees there in 2009.

10. Wily Peralta, RHP
DOB: 5/8/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2005
2008 Stats: 3.07 ERA at Rookie-level (29.1-23-8-36); 10.80 ERA at Low-A (5-6-3-3), 16.62 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: This Tommy John survivor earned some of the most impressive scouting reports in the Pioneer League.
The Good: Peralta brings a power frame and pure power stuff to the mound. He gets good leg drive on his delivery and consistently sits in the low to mid-90s with his fastball, touching 98 mph on several occasions this year. He also throws a mid-80s power slider with solid depth and tilt.
The Bad: While the Brewers have cleaned up Peralta's mechanics since the injury, there's still some grunt in his delivery. His changeup is very much a work in progress, and rates as no more than a show-me pitch at this point.
Fun Fact: Look out future Reds-in three games against Billings in 2008, Peralta fired seven shutout innings while allowing just two hits and striking out nine.
Perfect World Projection: Peralta is a big power arm with the body to be a starter if his secondary pitches come around.
Glass Half Empty: He'll be a pure power reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, the Brewers are only concerned with keeping him healthy and finding him innings.
Timetable: Peralta is yet another name to watch at Low-A Wisconsin in 2009.

11. Caleb Gindl, RF
DOB: 8/31/88
Height/Weight: 5-9/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2007, Pace HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .307/.388/.474, .245 EqA at Low-A (137 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 8

Year in Review: The fifth-round pick from '07 built on a fantastic pro debut by finishing among the Sally League's top five in hits, doubles, and on-base percentage.
The Good: Gindl is a favorite within the organization who gets the most out of a limited set of tools with a strong work ethic and a focus on the fundamentals. He's a patient hitter with average power who consistently stings balls into the gaps. He best tool is probably his plus arm, which serves him well in right field.
The Bad: Gindl is small, stocky, and nonathletic, with below-average speed. He has the swing of a power hitter, as well as the strikeouts (144), but his size doesn't allow for a projection of much more than 20 home runs per year.
Fun Fact: Gindl hit .400 (12-for-30) when batting third for Oahu in the Hawaiian Winter League, but just .227 in any other slot in the batting order.
Perfect World Projection: A solid but unspectacular corner outfielder.
Glass Half Empty: He pans out as a bench bat.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Brewers have a crowded outfield in the big leagues, as well as some players ahead of Gindl in the system.
Timetable: He's a one-level-at-a-time type who will play 2009 in the Florida State League.

The Sleeper: Right-handed reliever Omar Aguilar is about as wide as he is tall, but he used a mid- to upper-90s fastball to strike out more than a batter per inning at High- and Double-A. His secondary stuff needs work.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Ryan Braun, OF
2. Prince Fielder, 1B
3. Yovani Gallardo, RHP
4. Alcides Escobar, SS
5. Brett Lawrie, C
6. Mat Gamel, 3B
7. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
8. Angel Salome, C
9. Carlos Villanueva, RHP
10. Lorenzo Cain, CF

The system might be down a bit, but those are three superstar-level players at the top, and don't be surprised if Gallardo ends up ahead of at least one of them. Villanueva has really exceeded expectations, as he's more than just an extra arm who can compete as both a starter or reliever.

Summary: The Brewers don't have the elite prospects like they did earlier in the decade, but they do combine a nice group of near-ready talent to go with some intriguing young players who hardcore Brewers fans will be able to keep an eye on.


Up next: the New York Mets

---

Today on BP Radio, Lorenzo Cain joins Brad Wochomurka, and even helps evaluate some of his fellow prospects who appear on BP's Top 11 list.


Click to download mp3

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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