While Brewers fans undoubtedly learned to follow the minor league box scores during last year’s rough MLB campaign, turning increasingly more attention to prospects and future value, there’s no better time to summarize fan prospect gazing than the All-Star Break. Our beloved Milwaukee Nine won’t play until Friday, so BPMilwaukee is running an extended “Three Up / Three Down” prospect series to dig deep into the farm system. This list can potentially accompany the recent BaseballProspectus midseason list by highlighting Brewers system depth alongside its most elite prospects. Assistant Editor & Staff Writer Kyle Lesniewski and BaseballProspectus scout James Fisher joined to provide their picks.
Minor League Statistics Context
The trouble with writing about prospects is that while fans enjoy looking at stats they know and understand, Minor League stats do not provide the same insights that MLB stats can share. First and foremost, given player assignments from the player development department, there are aspects of a prospect’s performance that escape statistics and therefore must be quantified via scouting reports that highlight physical traits and approaches. If a prospect is working on a particular aspect of their game, their statistics may not necessarily reflect their value. Furthermore, each player’s age, assignment, and other contextual factors impact the judgment of their performance. Batting .275 does not carry the same weight in the Pacific Coast League as the Florida Southern League, nor does it carry the same weight for, say, a 23 year old AA prospect as it might for a 20 year old AA prospect.
Since this installment of this feature will focus on several batters, I have outlined the number of “regular” players in each minor league from Milwaukee’s A to AAA affiliates, and I have also shown the progression in “opposing difficulty.” Since BaseballProspectus showcases the opposingOPS and opposingTAv for minor league players, one can add to the context of their performances by understanding the difficulty of their competition (via opposing OPS, or OPS allowed by the pitchers each batter faced).
|Batting Prospects 200+ PA OppOPS
|200+ PA Players (Teams)
The goal of this chart is to serve as a backdrop for reading BaseballProspectus minor league statistics, and to add contextual information that can round out a player’s age, developmental profile, assignment, and scouting reports. One can dig into each Brewers prospect’s BaseballProspectus player page, or leaguewide minor league stats, and understand the range of competition for each player (which adds context to their performance).
Jacob Nottingham, AA Biloxi (James Fisher): There is an argument to be made that Jacob Nottingham could rise to become the top positional prospect in Milwaukee’s system by providing above average power from behind the plate. While the main calling card is Nottingham’s power, the 21 year old catching prospect is improving his defensive game during his first career pass through AA. James noted that Nottingham “has really transformed his defensive game into a near average package. [Nottingham] really put in the time and has dedicated himself to the defensive side of the ball.” This observation echoes previous BaseballProspectus reports highlighting Nottingham’s athleticism on the defensive end of the game. Even if one is ready to criticize Nottingham’s batting line of .245 / .309 / .355, his .251 TAv matches the average Southern League catcher, and he has faced average competition for Southern League regulars.
Brett Phillips, AA Biloxi (Kyle Lesniewski): If Nottingham does not emerge as the system’s most valuable positional prospect, chances are Brett Phillips had something to say about it. The potential five tool centerfielder has really gone after his in-game power during his second pass at AA Biloxi. Phillips smacked 10 homerless extra base hits for the 2015 Shuckers in 98 PA; now, he can claim 30 extra base hits in 320 PA, including 11 home runs. One might wonder whether Phillips’s plate approach is an outgrowth (or cause) of the home run surge, as a previous moderate strike out (19 percent) / moderate walk (8 percent) profile in Advanced A has morphed into a high walk (11 percent) / high strike out (32 percent) approach with AA Biloxi. This is not necessarily problematic, as one might look for Phillips to morph his power-hungry approach and previous moderate contact approach as he becomes a more seasoned hitter (he remains young for AA at 22 years old). Notably, Phillips has faced slightly below average competition, but his .281 TAv trails only Garrett Cooper among Shuckers starters.
BaseballProspectus edged Phillips into their midseason Top 50 list, ranking the centerfield prospect at #49.
Jake Gatewood, A Wisconsin (Nicholas Zettel): Rummaging through game logs last year, Jake Gatewood caught my eye during his second stint at Rookie Helena (following a multi-level, Wisconsin / Helena double header on July 13, 2015). Gatewood’s power showed up in a big way: the infield prospect smacked six extra base hits in his first 10 games back at Helena, en route to a .292 / .361 / .523 performance over 147 PA (which included a massive plate discipline shift, to 34 K / 13 BB). James Fisher scouted Gatewood at A Wisconsin earlier this spring, noting that “much of his improvement has come this year from an adjustment in his starting position. He has lowered his hands slightly and that has led to a much shorter and direct path to the ball. While his plate discipline is still suspect, he has been making harder and more consistent contact.” Playing at third base, Gatewood slumped during June, but has turned another corner in July, posting five extra base hits and five walks in 47 PA thus far. Fans inclined to give up on Gatewood should consider his position change and mechanical adjustment during his age 20 season, and keep in mind that the power prospect is a work in progress that is also making progress.
Ariel Pena, AAA Colorado Springs (James Fisher): In a season thin with silver linings, Ariel Pena emerged as late value from the 2012 Zack Greinke trade. Pena performed well in a brief swingman role, leading one to question whether the rookie would be able to further establish a big league niche for himself during the rebuilding campaign. Unfortunately, Pena has been hit hard all year, including a 22 K / 21 BB / 6 HR / 23 R stretch as a reliever for the Sky Sox. Pena is currently on the seven-day DL.
Monte Harrison, A Wisconsin (Kyle Lesniewski): Some Brewers fans questioned whether Gatewood and Monte Harrison would ever be separated by Brewers fans, given their adjacent draft rounds in the 2014 draft, and the fact that both players signaled a sea change for previous Scouting Director Bruce Seid. While Gatewood turned a corner with his major tool in 2016, the athletic and prime positioned Harrison also was burning up A Wisconsin before breaking his ankle. Fans can only dream on his .321 / .377 / .679 June, as one must question how this injury will impact his player development outlook for 2017.
Karsen Lindell, R Helena (Nicholas Zettel): Perhaps my rating of Karsen Lindell is my own fault, given that my main opinion of Lindell entering the season was formed on a collage of scouting reports, YouTube, and K / BB / HR and GB:FB numbers in Arizona Rookie ball. When there is little information on a depth prospect, or extremely young prospect, I often fall back on strike zone numbers and groundball numbers as a way to “paint” that pitcher’s approach. From an intriguing 29 K / 13 BB / 3 HR mark (and 51 percent groundball rate) against 147 batters in 2015, thus far Lindell is posting 5 K / 11 BB and 41 percent groundball rates in Helena Rookie ball. We must wait for the reports to see what Lindell has been working on, but thus far this sleeper pick looks premature on my part.