The State of the System: This system has everything you want. Top-end impact talent, depth, a mix of pitchers and hitters, youth with upside, guys close to the majors. And Hader even gives you a dude with great hair. Like we said, everything.
The Top Ten
- CF Lewis Brinson
- LHP Josh Hader
- OF Corey Ray
- SS Isan Diaz
- RHP Luis Ortiz
- OF Brett Phillips
- OF Trent Clark
- 3B Lucas Erceg
- SS Mauricio Dubon
- RHP Cody Ponce
The Big Question: And (again) you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
We’ve already covered how to have one of the worst farm systems in the majors, but we should give equal time to the best systems, of which the Brewers certainly are one. Now, you might think that simply a Costanzaesque plan of just doing the opposite of everything Jeffrey Loria and company do in Miami would be the solution here, and yes, that would work just fine. However, that takes a bit of time, good scouting, better development, and of course a dash of luck. And given the steep slope of expected returns in the MLB draft, it might also mean being pretty bad on the major league field for a while.
On this year’s Top 101 prospects—available in the 2017 Baseball Prospectus Annual, natch—a full 30 of them currently play for one of four organizations, the Yankees, Braves, White Sox, or Brewers. The Braves and the Brewers might not be trying to actively win baseball games at the moment, but they haven’t had the bounty of high first-round picks that would boost your system into the top five on their own. The White Sox have been vaguely competitive recently, and the Yankees are the Yankees.
If you are reading these lists, you no doubt have a pretty good idea how all four of those teams got to dominate our Top 101. They did it through high-profile deadline and offseason trades. The Brewers are a particularly noteworthy example of this. Six of their top ten prospects were acquired through trade. They gave up real major-league talent to remake their organization into one of the strongest and deepest in baseball. Jonathan Lucroy was a recent MVP candidate on a very team-friendly contract. Carlos Gomez—when healthy—was a five-tool center fielder on a team-friendly contract. Jean Segura—while not that level of star when dealt—was an everyday up-the-middle player, again, on a team-friendly contract. These weren’t the “fleecing the Diamondbacks for Dansby Swanson” variety of trades either. The Gomez trade comes closest to that in hindsight, but it seemed a perfectly reasonable deal for both sides at the time. And the Rangers and Diamondbacks won’t regret the production they got out of Lucroy and Segura.
The strange thing about this trend is that while teams have been more willing to part with prospect talent in trades in recent years, there is always the lingering doubt about why an organization is willing to part with one prospect but not another. Why Josh Hader and not David Paulino? Why Lewis Brinson and not Nomar Mazara? Why Isan Diaz and not…well okay there aren’t any other Diamondbacks prospects.
This is an offshoot of why “we don’t see prospect-for-prospect deals.” You have to go back to Matt Garza for Delmon Young, which also is Exhibit A for why you don’t see prospect-for-prospect deals. When you are trading for a major-league player, there is much less information asymmetry. Houston will always have a better feel for Brett Phillips than you will, no matter how many crosscheckers and scouting directors saw him in Corpus Christi. Their dossier is longer and deeper. Their staff has lived with him day in and day out.
This is also why you rarely see teams deal for the single best prospect they can get. Maybe Texas would have parted with just Nomar Mazara for Jonathan Lucroy. But if Mazara is just a league-average hitter, then what? The Brewers were on the other side of this, dealing a basket of prospects for Zack Greinke and having the lightly-regarded Lorenzo Cain end up the best of the bunch. This is more art than science, so you want to give yourself as many chances to hit as possible. If Lewis Brinson strikes out 200 times in the majors, maybe Luis Ortiz overshoots his projection and you get a no. 2 starter.
We think the Brewers have a pretty good system. And none of the players in their Top Ten were in the organization on Opening Day 2015. That is an incredibly quick turnaround, but it also may say something about the volatility of the system going forward.
1. Lewis Brinson, CF
Height/Weight: 6’3” 170 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 29th overall by Texas in the 2012 MLB Draft, Coral Springs HS (Coral Springs, FL); signed for $1.625 million. Acquired from Texas in the Jonathan Lucroy deal.
Previous Ranking(s): #15 (Top 101), #3 (Org – Tex)
2016 Stats: 382/.387/.618, 4 HR, 4 SB in 23 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs, .237/.280/.431, 11 HR, 11 SB in 77 games at Double-A Frisco
The Good: If legs are your thing, you’re going to like Brinson. He’s long, lean, and covers large swaths of ground in center, where he’s at least a plus defender and borders on plus-plus. Figuring out his bat is a trickier endeavor; he’s gone through multiple changes to his swing, both in setup and mechanics, in my viewing alone, and who knows what I haven’t seen. The constant tinkering appears to have paid off, as he dropped his strikeout rate from 38 percent in Low-A (higher than Gallo that year) to a more manageable percentage in the low-20s. That contact allowed him to tap into his power in the thinner air of Colorado Springs, and he does have plus raw in the tank. Brinson is a potential five-tool guy if the hit tool plays to its fullest.
The Bad: Prior to his inflated BABIP in Colorado Springs, Brinson had struggled in a return engagement to Frisco (Double-A), and there’s plenty of reasons why. He hasn’t shown the patience in the upper minors that he did early on, and while he has showcased the ability to adjust, his swing can get long and there are exploitable holes. His pitch recognition is still a work in progress.
The Irrelevant: Brinson’s .618 slugging in Colorado Springs was good for fourth on the team. 32-year-old swingman Tim Dillard posted a 1.000 slugging, going 2-5 with a bomb.
OFP 70—Multiple time All-Star center fielder
Likely 55—2016 Leonys Martin
The Risks: There’s a pretty large delta between Brinson’s top- and bottom-end outcomes, with much of that output riding on the success of the hit tool. The glove does elevate the floor, but given the abundance of tools, even a second-division starter would feel like a disappointment.
Major league ETA: 2017 —Craig Goldstein
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Do you feel lucky, punk? If it all clicks for Brinson, we’re talking a fantasy monster capable of challenging for 20 homers and 30 steals with a tolerable average, putting him squarely in OF1/2 territory. But there’s a real risk that Brinson’s hit tool will limit the utility of his fantasy speed and power, as well as drag down your team’s average. Brinson is close to the majors, which helps, but he also strikes me as a player who’ll need a few seasons to reach his fantasy prime. I do think that prime will be special, but I think we’ll need to slog through quite a few OF4/5 years first.
2. Josh Hader, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 19th round of the 2012 MLB draft by Baltimore, Old Mill High School (Millersville, MD), signed for $40,000; Acquired by Milwaukee in the Carlos Gomez deal.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 5.22 ERA, 2.86 DRA, 69 IP, 63 H, 36 BB, 88 K at Triple-A Colorado Springs, 0.95 ERA, 1.57 DRA, 57 IP, 38 H, 19 BB, 73 K at Double-A Biloxi
The Good: Hader’s low arm slot and crossfire delivery create a wildly uncomfortable hitting experience for left-handers, and the combination creates difficult pick-up issues for righties as well. He’s added about 25 pounds of good weight over the last couple seasons to help fill out a frame that can be charitably described as “slender,” and his well-above-average arm speed helps drive his fastball into sitting position in the mid-90s. He pairs it with an out-pitch slider that gained consistency this season. He’ll manipulate shape and take it out of the zone as a true swing-and-miss offering that shows plus projection. Despite some fly-away and volume concerns, Hader’s mane rates as a plus weapon, with ample #flow and advanced marketing potential.
The Bad: His changeup made some strides with its consistency this season, but still lags notably as a third pitch, and right-handers crushed him in the hitter-friendly PCL after a second-half promotion. The length in his crossfire delivery leaves him vulnerable to bouts of control issues, and the fine command is never likely to graduate beyond fringe territory. The stuff is awfully tough to hit when it’s around the zone, but it remains an open question if he’ll be able to repeat well enough to turn over a big-league lineup multiple times. The frame and motion will demand a durability red flag until he proves capable of managing a full-season workload, something he has yet to do with a career high of 126 innings to date.
The Irrelevant: Hader’s 15.5 strikeouts-per-nine in 2012 was the highest rate total by any pitcher with at least 20 innings in the Gulf Coast League since back in 1998, when former Marlins org reliever Davis Campos punched out 41 in 23 1/3 innings—good for a 15.8-per-nine rate.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 55—No. 4 starter/high-leverage relief
The Risks: Hader’s topline numbers took a beating at Colorado Springs, though the stuff remained intact at season’s end and he continued to pile up obscene strikeout totals in his first go against Triple-A hitters. The durability and third-pitch questions remain significant enough that he’s a higher-risk prospect as a starter, and that makes him a pretty damn high-risk prospect overall, since he is, of course, a pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2017 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Do you believe that chance is on your side? Hader has the high strikeout potential and short lead time we covet, but there’s a chance he’s going to be worse for WHIPs than the Sand Snakes. Unfortunately we need pitchers in fantasy so Hader’s upside makes him a worthy dynasty target, but you might need to invest in Tums if you own him early in his career. They’ve taken very different paths to their current levels of prospectdom, but Hader and Sean Newcomb have a lot of similarities for our purposes, if you’re just looking for a quick point of reference.
3. Corey Ray, OF
Height/Weight: 5’11” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 5th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, University of Louisville (Louisville, KY), signed for $4,125,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .247/.307/.385, 5 HR, 9 SB in 57 games at High-A Brevard County
The Good: Ray offers a bit louder athletic tools and a little more upside than you’d normally see in a college corner outfielder. He’s got the kind of physique that gets referred to as a “specimen.” And with that jeans-selling body comes plus speed and average power potential, especially to his pull side. His swing has some length and noise, but he is athletic enough to make it work, and strong enough to generate consistent hard contact. He shows an advanced approach at the plate with solid pitch recognition skills already. His speed is a weapon on the bases.
The Bad: The Brewers moved Ray to center field as a professional after he played mostly right for Louisville. He’s fast enough to theoretically handle the position, but not every plus runner can play center (or stays a plus runner into their mid-20s). There will be contact concerns due to his long, leveraged swing. He might be more of a boom-or-bust type hitter, which—depending on the boom-to-bust ratio—may or may not play in an outfield corner (likely left since the arm is only average).
The Irrelevant: Ray’s favorite restaurant in college was Red Lobster. If he’d asked us, we could have recommended Ed Lee’s 610 Magnolia in Old Louisville.
OFP 60—Above-average outfielder
Likely 50—Average outfielder
The Risks: Ray has been on team radars forever, so it is interesting that there are still a wide variety of opinions on him within the game. Some see him with star-level outfielder potential, while others don’t see more than a good fourth outfielder here. A lot of this will come down to how well the swing works against better arms than those found in the ACC, and whether he remains athletic enough to stick in center field. He also had offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Major league ETA: 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Ray is either the best or second-best fantasy prospect from last year’s draft, depending on how you think Nick Senzel fits on the Reds. Thanks to his plus speed and the potential for a plus hit tool and plus power, Ray has the raw tools fantasy owners dream about. Sure he comes with some risk, but what prospect doesn’t? You should feel good snagging Ray as your league begins to draft and roster newer prospects, and while you’ll need to wait a little while your reward should be a speed-heavy OF 2/3.
4. Isan Diaz, SS
Height/Weight: 5’10” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 70th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2014 MLB Draft, Springfield High School (Springfield, MA), signed for $808,600; Acquired from Arizona in Jean Segura deal.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 264/.358/.469, 20 HR, 11 SB in 135 games for Low-A Wisconsin
The Good: Diaz hit 20 bombs in the chilly confines of the Midwest League while playing most of his games at shortstop. That’s pretty, pretty good. The power is real too, despite not having a traditional power-hitting frame. Diaz shows plus raw to the pull side, and has extra-base power the other way. Although there is some leverage in the swing path, he makes it work due to advanced barrel feel and pitch recognition. He’s a smooth, dependable infield glove despite fringy athletic tools.
The Bad: While he is mostly a shortstop now, his lack of range and only-average arm will force a shift over to second base. He’s a below-average runner. You can beat him up in the zone, although he has a knack for contact everywhere else. The power and hit tools may play closer to average against better arms.
The Irrelevant: Isan is traditionally a Hindi name that translates to "bestower of riches." Hard to argue thus far.
OFP 60—Above-average second baseman
Likely 50—Bat-first regular at the keystone
The Risks: Diaz has a lot of swing-and-miss to go with that 20-home-run power at present. The swing could get exploited further against advanced arms and cut into the offensive production. The power is for real though, and should carry him to a major-league job in some capacity although our role grades may understate the current risk in the profile.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Oh weird, a Brewers fantasy prospect with a high upside and low floor. Diaz has some warts, sure, but you can’t ignore a middle infielder with his power, even if he’s more likely to spend time at second than at short. Diaz is a comfortable top-100 dynasty prospect, just understand that, as a rawer prospect, his MLB ETA and his fantasy impact ETA might be slightly different.
Height/Weight: 6’3” 230 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 30th overall by the Texas Rangers in the 2014 MLB draft, Sanger High School (Sanger, California), signed for $1,750,000; Acquired from Texas in the Jonathan Lucroy deal.
Previous Ranking(s): #68 (Top 101), #5 (Org – Tex)
2016 Stats: 1.93 ERA, 6.44 DRA, 23.1 IP, 26 H, 10 BB, 16 K at Double-A Biloxi; 4.08 ERA, 2.78 DRA, 39.2 IP, 47 H, 7 BB, 34 K at Double-A Frisco; 2.60 ERA, 2.80 DRA, 27.2 IP, 23 H, 6 BB, 28 K at High-A High Desert
The Good: A major portion of the Jonathan Lucroy trade, Ortiz isn’t the most exciting pitching prospect ever, but advanced command of four solid pitches makes him a valuable piece going forward. His best pitch is a plus fastball, which he throws anywhere from 92 to 97 MPH, and one he can deliberately manipulate to show batters vastly variant looks. His slider is his second-best offering, a diving pitch that usually sits in the 83-86 MPH range. He also throws an improving changeup and curveball, both of which he has solid command of. Ortiz is a very strikeout-heavy pitcher, which occasionally gets him into pitch-count trouble, but he’s reliably able to get outs without the ball being put into play.
The Bad: Ortiz has had some arm issues over his short minor league career, and this injury history, paired with his unathletic build, could be a cause for concern going forward. The arm issues are honestly more worrying than his (let’s all be blunt here instead of dancing around the words) weight, especially with, as mentioned above, his tendency to pitch to strikeouts instead of contact.
The Irrelevant: On the internet, there exists somewhere video of Ortiz doing a standing jump into the back of a pickup.
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 50—No. 4 starter
The Risks: His history of arm injuries could limit the amount of starts he's capable of throwing, or even push him to relief. Also, he's a pitcher.
Major League ETA: Late 2017 —Kate Morrison
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you’re going to gamble on back-end starters, you could do worse than to invest in ones who are close to the Majors and who profile as strikeout-heavy assets. Ortiz’s ERA and WHIP might not be elite — especially in Miller Park — but if he’s striking out a batter per inning, you’ll tolerate it. Matt Moore just finished as a top-50 starter by striking out 180 batters, notching a 4.00 ERA and earning 12 wins. Ortiz can do that plenty of times.
6. Brett Phillips, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the sixth round by the Houston Astros in the 2012 MLB draft, Seminole High School (Seminole, FL), signed for $300,000; Acquired from Houston in Carlos Gomez deal.
Previous Ranking(s): #61 (Overall), #2 (Org)
2016 Stats: .229/.332/.397, 16 HR, 12 SB in 124 games at Double-A Biloxi
The Good: Phillips is a dynamic athlete with football pedigree and physicality. He’s a plus runner underway, and his max-effort style helps him finish routes well and turn the ball around quickly in the outfield. He charges and ranges well in center, and his marquee tool—a plus-plus firehose of an arm—features velocity and carry aplenty from anywhere on the grass. He’s a strong kid with average raw power and the chance to get to it in games, and he’ll flash an ability to let the ball travel and drive it to the opposite field. A patient approach helps his on-base profile play above the raw hit tool projection.
The Bad: The on-base profile is important, because Phillips’ hit tool may be hard-pressed to scrape fringe-average. His contact rate fell off a cliff at Double-A for a second consecutive season, as more advanced pitchers exploited his aggressiveness and mechanical inconsistencies in the box. He gets frequently out of sync, with his lower half losing fluidity and compromising his balance. He’ll pull off an outside pitch in one at-bat, then cut himself off inside in the next, and there’s ample in-zone swing-and-miss to boot. He lacks a ton of feel for timing pitchers, so the speed utility plays down on the bases on account of poor jumps. He can struggle at times to read trajectories in center as well, particularly on balls hit over his head.
The Irrelevant: A secondary definition of Phillips’ nickname, “Maverick,” refers to an “unbranded calf or yearling,” with both meanings deriving from the same 19th century Texas rancher and engineer, Samuel A. Maverick. His grandson, Maury Maverick, coined the term “gobbledygook” in 1944.
OFP 55—Above-average regular
Realistic 45—Second-division outfielder
The Risks: There remains a greater variance in potential outcomes here than you’d typically see in a prospect of his pedigree with 750 plate appearances at Double-A under his belt. The significant contact issues and some lingering concern about the glove being ever-so-light for center leave him vulnerable to a tweener tag.
Major league ETA: 2017 —Wilson Karaman
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Phillips is a solid buy-low candidate for fantasy owners because we won’t have to wait forever to learn who he truly is, and because his upside is still that of an OF 3/4. There’s no sugarcoating how disastrous 2016 was for Phillip’s value, though, and while he’ll probably still be a top-100 dynasty league prospect, it’ll be close. Fortunately, his floor is a bit higher in OBP leagues.
7. Trent Clark, OF
Height/Weight: 6’0” 205 LBS
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 15th overall in the 2015 MLB draft, Richland High School (North Richland Hills, TX), signed for $2,700,000.
Previous Ranking(s): #99 (Overall), #4 (Org)
2016 Stats: .231/.346/.344, 2 HR, 5 SB in 59 games at Low-A Wisconsin
The Good: Clark can hit. It’s the reason he was a first round pick last year, and it’s the reason he remains this high on the Brewers list despite an injury-marred 2016. Clark’s swing is unorthodox. Because of his grip and bat path, the swing often gets compared to a golfer’s, and it is easy to see why. But the bat stays in the zone for a long time, and Clark is strong enough to drive pitches to all fields. Despite a short stride and load, Clark still generates above-average bat speed and shows advanced pitch recognition for his age. Although there isn’t another tool to vigorously praise here, there isn’t an obvious weakness in Clark’s game either.
The Bad: The bat will have to carry the profile, as Clark lacks a standout tool otherwise. He is only an average runner and may end up in a corner outfield spot—he does have enough arm for right—although his instincts in center help the profile there. He’s unlikely to end up with much more than average power, and even that is mostly projecting off his present bat speed and betting on his adding strength in his twenties. Could end up as more of a tweener.
The Irrelevant: Clark is already famous enough to merit recognition on North Richaland Hills wikipedia sub-heading of “Notable People.” He clocks in right under Survivor Season 30 winner, Mike Holloway.
OFP 55—Good enough center fielder and two-hitter for a first division team.
Likely 45—Tweener/4th outfielder/second-division starter
The Risks: Despite being one of the most advanced prep hitters in the 2015 draft class, Clark carries a significant amount of profile risk as a potential corner outfielder without much in the way of power projection. He also lacks minor league performance at present, although we don’t ding him too much for struggling at times in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old. He missed time with a hamstring issue this year. Although you wouldn’t expect it to linger, it is worth keeping an eye on given the defensive questions.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you read Clark’s writeup and thought “hmm, sounds like a better fantasy prospect than an IRL prospect,” you are a smart cookie. Clark’s 2016 wasn’t inspiring, but his hit tool is and that’s the type of profile you want to bet on. Another good buy-low candidate, Clark might be a better fantasy prospect than Phillips at this point, despite the lead time. He could have an Adam Eaton-esque future, albeit with a higher average and lower OBP. Worse comes to worse he could be 2016 Cameron Maybin; an unexciting but acceptable OF5.
8. Lucas Erceg, 3B
Height/Weight: 6’3” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 46th overall in the 2016 MLB draft, Menlo College (Atherton, CA), signed for $1,150,000.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .281/.328/.497, 7 HR, 1 SB in 42 games at Low-A Wisconsin, .400/.452/.552, 2 HR, 8 SB in 26 games at rookie ball in Helena
The Good: Erceg has the natural tools and ability to make this ranking look conservative in a year’s time. He boasts a plus-plus arm that unleashed 97-mph fastballs off the mound (and a good curve too), and that plays just fine on the left side of the infield, where he should have an average glove. He’s potent at the plate as well, with the potential for a plus hit/plus power combination thanks to above-average bat speed and extreme balance at the plate.
The Bad: The power is mostly pull-side at present, though given his natural hitting ability, he should make use of all fields eventually. He’s a below-average runner (possibly well below), and any loss of athleticism would be a negative for a left-side-of-the-infield projection.
The Irrelevant: Erceg may hail from rarely-heard-of Menlo College, but he wasn’t the only draftee from the school in 2016, as former teammate Max Dutto was popped by the White Sox in the 10th round.
OFP 60—First-division third baseman in the mold of Matt Carpenter
Likely 40—Fringe regular/top bench bat
The Risks: We have written before about not taking vague makeup concerns seriously, but at the risk of being vague, there are serious makeup concerns here. How those concerns play out are going to have a significant impact on Erceg’s profile, as someone with his raw tools and abilities doesn’t last until the second round, without accompanying baggage.
Major league ETA: 2020 —Craig Goldstein
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Thanks to his bat and the position he plays, Erceg is of some importance to us and is probably one of the 15-20 best fantasy prospects from the last draft. That being said, he won’t sniff the top-100 and wouldn’t be a super safe bet to make the top-150. His risk and his ETA are too much to overcome for us right now.
Height/Weight: 6’0” 160 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted by the Red Sox in the 25th round of the 2013 MLB draft, Capital Christian High School (Sacramento, CA), signed July 12, 2013; Acquired from Boston in the Tyler Thornburg deal.
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .339/.371/.538, 6 HR, 6 SB in 62 games at Double-A Portland, .306/.387/.379, 0 HR, 24 SB in 62 games at High-A Salem.
The Good: As a 26th-round pick in 2013, Dubon already represents a scouting an
d player development acquisition win for the Red Sox Brewers by even making this list, but he also could be a major-league contributor in short order. The offensive profile is slash-and-dash, but his quick wrists and bat control allow him to be an asset at the plate without much in the way of power (well at least until he started mashing in Portland). This was Dubon’s first season as a full-time shortstop and he has the physical tools to handle the position. He is a plus runner with an above-average arm, and his experience at second and third gives him additional defensive flexibility.
The Bad: The power he flashed in Portland isn’t likely to stick around unless he adds more strength to his frame or loft to his plane. Dubon could use some additional strength to generate harder contact generally, as he’s not a very physical player at present. You can get him out on soft stuff even if he may not swing through it. There may not be enough bat here to carry a regular profile even at shortstop, because while he is fine there, it isn’t a plus glove.
The Irrelevant: When Dubon steps foot on a major-league diamond he will be the second Honduran-born player to do so. The first, Gerald Young, spent parts of eight seasons with the Astros, Rockies, and Cardinals in the late 80s and early 90s.
OFP 50—Second-division starter at the six
Likely 45—Fifth infielder who won’t kill you for a month
The Risks: Dubon can handle both middle infield spots, and has enough arm to slide over to third as well. He’s hit in Double-A. He
may did not have an obvious route to a major-league role in Boston, but he should play in the majors somewhere (Milwaukee) for a while. And because I rarely get to note this, there is some positive risk here if even a bit of the power gains in Double-A are real, although you’ll struggle to find people who think they are.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The best reason to own Dubon in a dynasty league is if Matt Collins is also in your league and you want to deprive him of one of the three or four things in life that brings him joy. Barring that, Dubon is probably best left on waivers unless you roster in excess of 150 prospects. The hit tool is solid and he can run a bit, too, but when your ceiling is Chris Owings, you need to be assured of playing time to be of much interest.
10. Cody Ponce, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’6” 240 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd round (55th overall) in the 2015 MLB Draft, Cal Poly Pomona; signed for $1.108 million.
Previous Ranking(s): #9 (Org)
2016 Stats: 5.25 ERA, 2.88 DRA, 72 IP, 84 H, 17 BB, 69 K at High-A Brevard County.
The Good: Ponce is a big galoot with a big fastball he can dial into the upper-90s, but more comfortably sits in the solid-average-to-plus velo band. For a large human, he does a good job repeating his delivery and keeping everything on line towards the plate. His curveball has the potential to miss bats, and his change improved in 2016.
The Bad: After missing the first two months of the season with an arm issue, Ponce struggled down the stretch in Advanced-A. His stuff/command was inconsistent throughout the year. Ponce has yet to show that he can handle a starter’s workload, and the changeup needs to take a grade jump to keep him in the rotation long term.
The Irrelevant: We can’t confirm while at college in Pomona if Ponce ever saw the moon caught high in the branches of the sycamore.
OFP 50—Average starter or late-inning reliever
Likely 45—No. 4/5 starter or solid pen arm
The Risks: Ponce missed time in 2016 with “forearm tightness.” That’s not great, Bob. But that is the chance you take when you draft a pitcher.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: The lack of upside and two-year lead time make Ponce a snoozer, especially in this system. You don’t need to worry about him unless your league flirts with rostersing 250 prospects. I’d be much more interested in Jacob Nottingham, Devin Williams or Monte Harrison for our purposes.
Others of note:
We think one of these guys will break out in 2017, just not sure which
Devin Williams, RHP
The Brewers are sitting on two lottery tickets with their 2013 and 2014 second-round prep picks. Williams, the older of the two, has developed slowly, only reaching the Florida State League late this past season. He’s your classic projectable righty by type, but he pairs the expected “fastball that touches 95” with an unusually advanced change for his age and experience level. He’s heavier now than his listed 165, but still could add good weight and find another tick or two on the fastball. Williams has enough stuff at present to handle A-ball hitters, but the development of a better breaking ball—he throws two at present with the slider being the better and more confident offering—will be the difference between his breaking out, and just being another backend Top 10 candidate this time next year.
Monte Harrison, OF
While Williams 2016 performance for the Timber Rattlers was good, Harrison’s was…uh, not. It was always going to be a volatile profile. Harrison was a three-sport athlete in high school, and while his physical tools are bountiful, he has struggled to make consistently good contact at the plate against professional arms. A broken ankle in 2015 and a broken hamate in 2016 have not helped him get the needed professional reps that might sand down some of the rough edges of the profile either. Still, it’s hard to bet against a premium athlete, and if he gets a full healthy season under his belt, he could develop into a legitimate five-tool centerfield prospect. That’s maybe a bit too lofty a goal, but we’d settle for his making the top ten next year just so we can drop this into his Irrelevant.
The IFA bonus cautionary tale
Gilbert Lara, SS
Lara got over three million from the Brewers as one of the top prospects in the 2014 July 2nd class. In a system this loaded, it’s not a huge deal that he has yet to break into their top ten, but there is some cause for concern here after two mostly anonymous stateside seasons. Slamming an 18-year-old in the Pioneer League is not really our bag, but reports from this Summer were not promising either at the plate—where Lara has yet to find a swing that really works for him—or in the field, where he has already outgrown shortstop. This isn’t unexpected based on his amateur profile. He was always likely to end up in a corner, but third base would have been more palatable than right field, where he looks more likely to end up at present. He is of course only going to be 19, and it wouldn’t have been a big shout to put him up above with the potential breakouts. But as we close the book on a big-spending IFA era, it it is worth noting that more money did not necessarily provide a better hit rate.
There is no such thing as a catching prospect?
Jacob Nottingham, C
2016 was not a kind year to the Sheriff, who struggled mightily and somewhat-predictably as one of the youngest regulars in the Southern League. The whiff rate skyrocketed, the aggressive allergy to free passes remained, and his calling-card offensive production sagged. That’s bad news for a bat-first catching prospect, and Nottingham is nothing if not that. His tight-end frame and hulking physicality leaves him less agile than ideal behind the dish, and he struggled to control the running game despite an above-average arm and technically-sound pop technique. He remains an intriguing name, however, on account of the raw offensive tools, which are highlighted by above-average bat speed and an impressive ability to punish pitches to the opposite field. He’ll get another chance to make some requisite adjustments at Double-A next year, and he shouldn’t get too far lost in the shuffle of this deep system. —Wilson Karaman
The future reliever who Craig made me take out of the Top Ten
Marcos Diplan, RHP
In defense of Craig—I can’t believe I am writing this—this system is also too deep to rank a short, square righty with a fastball that only bumps 94. But I like Diplan, despite him not being my usual type. He gets good extension and better sink on the heater than you’d expect from a pitcher listed at six-foot-even. The slider flashes plus and was a bat-misser for him at both A-ball stops. The change lags behind and he’s a six-foot righty so he is probably a future reliever, but we can be too quick to throw that tag on Latin arms, and Diplan has a fair bit of polish and command for a 19-year-old in A-ball.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
- Jonathan Villar
- Lewis Brinson
- Orlando Arcia
- Zach Davies
- Josh Hader
- Domingo Santana
- Corey Ray
- Isan Diaz
- Corey Knebel
- Luis Ortiz
For a full-fledged rebuilding club, the Brewers possess ample over-25 talent that’s just as interesting, if not more so, than the 25-and-under players listed above. Junior Guerra was a 31-year-old rookie who posted a 2.81 ERA in 2016 and could be one of the hottest arms on the summer market, if he proves to be something other than a flash in the pan. Another rookie, Keon Broxton rode a gargantuan second half, highlighted by nine homers and 23 stolen bases, to be a 1.5-win player in just 75 games. Jimmy Nelson is a post-hype sleeper, Wily Peralta continues to make front offices dream with his 96-mph sinker, and Eric Thames returns to the majors after socking 124 homers in just three seasons in Korea.
For three years, Jonathan Villar couldn’t crack the everyday lineup. He played shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and center field for Houston, but never eclipsed the 300-plate appearance threshold. He was excess fat that needed to be trimmed. Prior to the 2016 season, the Astros excised him from the roster, shipping him to Milwaukee for fringe-prospect Cy Sneed. The Brewers handed him the everyday shortstop role and the one-time utilityman suddenly became a star. His 4.8 WARP in 2016 more than doubled his total WARP in his first 658 plate appearances. Skeptics say his .372 BABIP will crash back to earth; however, his plus speed and his historically sky-high BABIP suggest that we’re not talking about an inevitable declension narrative.
Lewis Brinson probably has a legitimate claim to be number one on this list. Villar’s elite production at the big-league level, though, vaults him above one of the more exciting prospects in the upper minors. The 22-year-old has the tools to be a perennial All-Star. The Brewers have the luxury of patience, which should give him every opportunity to reach that ceiling.
After Villar and Brinson, it’s a bit messy. Orlando Arcia lost much of his luster with a disappointing .249 TAv in what should’ve been a launching pad in Colorado Springs and a .217 TAv in Milwaukee. Still, the raw offensive skillset and the quality defensive package makes him insanely valuable, making him a comfortable number three. Davies gets the nod over Hader due to actual production. The IT-engineer-lookalike had a 3.58 DRA and even had a sub-3.00 ERA over 104.2 innings between May and the beginning of August. Thus, even though Hader is electric, present production should always get the go-ahead.
Domingo Santana mashed 11 homers in just 281 plate appearances and posted an above-average .287 TAv, but his defensive deficiencies detracted from that optimistic story. Corey Ray and Isan Diaz could be special bats if everything clicks. They lack proximity to the majors, though, and both have significant question marks surrounding their respective games. Corey Knebel is A Texan and has the requisite high-octane fastball. He showed an ability to retire both lefties and righties last season and should be the club’s closer in April. Luis Ortiz, on the other hand, is a potential mainstay in the middle of the Brewers’ rotation. —J.P. Breen