As the All-Star Break closes, it’s time for one last group of Three Up, Three Down prospects from the Brewers system. The first day featured some of the best prospects in the system, while yesterday’s feature looked at depth prospects; today, the topic is mostly Brewers pitching prospects. Once again, the picks include Kyle Lesniewski (Assistant Editor & Staff Writer) and James Fisher (BaseballProspectus Scout).
In order to understand pitching performance of Brewers prospects, I created a general matrix of difficulty for each league and class in which these prospects work from A to AAA. This chart is meant to be read alongside BaseballProspectus opponent difficulty statistics, as it shows the OPS range among regular starters in each league (and how each league compares within its own class). Once again, the Florida State league is extremely unfriendly to hitters, while the Pacific Coast League is extremely tough on pitchers; within both leagues, however, there is a wide range of talent one can face.
|Pitching Prospect 200+ PA OppOPS
|200+ PA Players (Teams)
By looking at the range of competition in each league, one can gain a better understanding of the performance of each minor league pitcher. This chart should hopefully help to place statistics into context.
Jordan Yamamoto, A Wisconsin (Nicholas Zettel): Jordan Yamamoto is one of three recent Milwaukee draftees from a Hawaii scouting pipeline, and the righty is quietly turning a corner in Wisconsin, while facing median competition for the league. Yamamoto was hit hard in R Helena last year, as fellow 2014 draftee Kodi Medeiros cruised to A Wisconsin, but the righty is adjusting during his first full season of professional ball. It’s hard to ignore the 85 K / 18 BB / 1 HR profile against 328 batters, and Yamamoto is also yielding groundballs at a 53 percent clip. During a scouting trip earlier this spring, James Fisher noted:
“The profile is still not prototypical but his glove side command has started to come around. His delivery has been cleaned up a bit, has become more on-line to the plate, and the delayed trunk rotation works for him. The stuff has taken a jump forward along with these improvements in his delivery. The fastball was up to 95 during my last look, and the breaking ball consistently flashed average to slightly above-average. The key for Yamamoto going forward will be the continued refinement of his command and the changeup, which lags behind at present.”
It’s difficult to project Yamamoto heading forward, but it’s impossible to ignore his role as yet another solidly intriguing and potentially valuable organizational arm. If that’s becoming a boring line on the Brewers system, it never gets old recognizing yet another potential pitching contributor. When one tires of this line and the common Mike Fiers citation, consider Jacob Barnes breaking out of the depth into the MLB, or the respective trade values of Tyler Wagner or Cy Sneed.
Cody Ponce, A+ Brevard County (James Fisher): Early in the 2016 season, a forearm injury was reported for Cody Ponce, which seemingly took some air out of the excitement of a fanbase ready to follow the system’s most hype-worthy prospects. Even having only been drafted in 2015, Ponce tore through R Helena and earned a quick promotion, giving some impression that the big righty might indeed fly through the system. Returning from that injury, James noted that Ponce “scuffled early,” but there is “no reason to worry.” James also called Ponce a quality #3 starter (or better), and the strength of the righty’s fastball and cutter combination typically drive these above average assessments.
The timing for this pick could not have been better, as Ponce delivered his signature professional start thus far. Facing Bradenton on the road, Ponce only needed 70 pitches to strike out 12 batters in six innings (including 5:2 groundball : flyball). Looking forward, one might lean on those groundballs as an area of improvement, as Ponce is still generally working as a flyball pitcher thus far in 2016 (although Ponce has also faced strong competition in Brevard County). As the righty refines his delivery and approach, it will be worth seeing if he can nail a power, strike out, and groundout profile.
Isan Diaz, A Wisconsin (Kyle Lesniewski): Two fun facts are worth sharing for Isan Diaz’s 2016 season:
- Among the 64 players with 200 or more plate appearances in the Midwest League, Diaz is one of 17 players that are in their age 20 (or younger) season. He is easily in the youngest 30 percent of Midwest League regulars.
- Diaz leads the entire league in home runs (12), and is tied for fifth with doubles (22).
This is especially fun because of the nearly obscene player comparisons that surfaced when the Diamondbacks traded the young infielder to Milwaukee. While there was some question about how Diaz’s defensive profile might round out, there appeared to be no question about the bat as Diaz’s prized tool. While some early scouting reports lauded Diaz for doubles power, the big power really turned on at the end of May. Beginning with a late May series at Clinton, Diaz is hitting .296 / .368 / .562 in 193 PA. Given Diaz’s age, scouting profile, competition, and development status (first full year of professional ball), it seems worth arguing that this is a case where the statistics are legitimately exciting. The previously unheralded prospect is pushing his way to the top of the Brewers system, and if he fails to rank in the Top Five for 2017, that says more about the strength of this rebuilding campaign than it does Diaz’s weaknesses.
Jorge Lopez, AAA Colorado Springs (Kyle Lesniewski): The “knock” on Jorge Lopez has almost always been his command. The righty surged onto the scene in 2015 by repeating his delivery, polishing his secondary stuff, and generally mitigating some of those concerns about wildness. Unfortunately, Colorado Springs simply has not been kind to Lopez, as the youngster followed up his promising breakout with a 14 percent walk rate. Lopez, like the other Colorado Springs regulars, has also faced relatively easy competition. The silver lining is that although Lopez’s swinging strikes and overall strikes are down in 2016, the righty is improving his groundball profile. If he can stabilize the command once again, Lopez could reclaim his middle rotation potential with a groundball approach.
Damien Magnifico, AAA Colorado Springs (James Fisher): For a flamethrowing closer, Damien Magnifico has a difficult profile to project. PITCHf/x readings from the 2015 Arizona Fall League substantiated expectations that Magnifico dealt in the upper 90s, but the righty still does not pitch a huge strikeout game. In fact, Magnifico does not necessarily work for the swing-and-miss, instead producing a 64% groundball rate at Colorado Springs. With Jacob Barnes and Corey Knebel getting some bullpen chances this year, and a gang of waiver claims ahead of Magnifico to boot, one hopes that Magnifico would get a big league look prior to September call-ups to see how this profile plays on the big stage. Given the noted dissections of Jeremy Jeffress’s rather odd power-closer profile, one might hope Magnifico can serve in the same power groundball role. It’s just a matter of whether that profile will play “up” or “down” in high leverage situations.
Adrian Houser, AA Biloxi (Nicholas Zettel): Those dreaded words appeared as Adrian Houser recently went to the disabled list in Biloxi: forearm injury. Granted, the nature of the injury may end up fine, not unlike Cody Ponce’s early 2016 forearm scare, but the timing of the injury could not be worse. Placing run prevention aside, Houser worked through a tough stretch of four starts in April and May where the groundball:flyball rates were nearly even. The righty broke out on May 9, beginning a six game stretch that included fewer walks and a 69% groundball rate. It looked like Houser would be a silver lining sleeper and overcome his early season struggles, but his last two starts saw the groundballs regress prior to his injury. If you’re looking for good news, Houser has faced the toughest competition of any Shuckers starter, which could help to weigh the strength of his midseason improvements.