Timber Rattler Arms

After the storybook season the Class-AA Biloxi Shuckers provided for the 2015 Brewers farm system, the 2016 minor league season might seem like a drag. On the surface, there are fewer prospects taking leaps forward, and some of the most notable prospects in the system are struggling with maximizing their tools. Yet, if the Shuckers were the cream of the 2015 system, the 2016 Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers arguably feature the largest group of potential impact players and sleepers stepping forward among Milwaukee affiliates. Following the box scores has been quite rewarding with “Isan Diaz Watch,” and the piggyback rotational format often guarantees that two strong prospects are pitching on most nights. If it is a truism that the Milwaukee system’s real impact depth is in the low minors, the Timber Rattlers are the physical locale of those future values.

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Timber Rattler Bats

BPMilwaukee has been lucky to have the watchful eye of BP Scout James Fisher covering the Midwest League. On a recent trip, Fisher extensively scouted some of the Timber Rattlers’ biggest names and sleepers alike. This feature will include a statistical overview of the competitive levels and performance of these prospects, as well as some notes on their respective tools and ceilings.

Midwest League Environment
Judging minor league players by their statistics is a tricky endeavor. First and foremost, since players are developing their tools at the minor league level, their actual performances on the field are not always indicative of their MLB ceiling or potential future value. Furthermore, if a player is honing in on one specific area of their respective toolbox, other areas of their performance may suffer in their statistics. In this case, it is somewhat possible to have a player move forward without necessarily showcasing each of their tools in their statistical record. Age and development levels can also impact a player’s performance; this is especially true in the Midwest League, for instance, where a 19-year-old performing in their first full season of professional play after being drafted out of high school would be expected to perform at a different level than a polished college player working in their age-21 or age-22 season.

With that in mind, one way to consider minor league statistics is by judging each player within their specific context of age, opposition strength, and league strength. For example, the Midwest League is a much more depressed environment than the Class-A counterpart South Atlantic League, which impacts how one can read statistics:

Class A League R / G Median TAv Median FIP
Midwest 4.08 .243 3.415
South Atlantic 4.23 .258 3.53

With this in mind, I developed two charts to judge batting and pitching context for the Midwest League. 218 Midwest League batters have had regular play after the June draft or throughout the season, with a base threshold of 130 PA:

Midwest League Percentile 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
OpposingOPS .678 .675 .673 .671 .669 .667 .664 .661
TAv .225 .236 .246 .252 .261 .271 .279 .300
Age 23 22 22 22 21 21 20 20

The 90% percentile is most elite, meaning that a player facing .661 opposingOPS pitchers is facing tougher competition than 90% of the league, or a .300 TAv is better than 90% of Midwest League regulars (i.e., the other way around, that player would be in the Top 10% of production). In terms of age, the 20th percentile is old for the level, the 90th percentile age is extremely young.

For pitchers, 228 arms have worked 30 innings or more:

Midwest League Percentile 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
OpposingOPS .664 .666 .668 .670 .673 .676 .678 .682
FIP 4.17 3.87 3.66 3.46 3.24 3.06 2.89 2.55
Age 23 23 22 22 22 21 20 20

In this case, a 2.55 FIP is better than 90% of regular hurlers, and a pitcher that faces a .682 opposingOPS is facing tougher competition than 90% of the Midwest League regular arms. One can note that comparing the full Midwest League with “regular players,” regular batters (130+ PA) have posted a much better median TAv than the league median (.252 TAv for regulars, .243 TAv for the full league). So, one might expect a regular batter to have a better performance in this sense (depending on their age and strength of opposition, of course).

Wisconsin Pitchers Scouted
The following entries are built from James Fisher’s scouting notes, the vast majority of which were compiled during an early August series in Appleton. Notes on Zack Brown and Corbin Burnes were added during a recent Beloit series.

Zack Brown – RHP (50th percentile FIP, 70th percentile age, 30th percentile competition): Brown has a tall, lean frame with room for more. Starts from a semi-windup and 3/4 slot, and arm action shows some warts with high back elbow, effort, and head whack out front. Fastball sat 90-94 and touched 95 with sink and finish down in the zone. Showed feel to both sides of the plate with swing and miss. Showed average feel for the curveball with 10/4 shape at 79-82, which is a swing-and-miss pitch, a power breaking ball with bite. Changeup is too firm at 82-85 and lacks true action. Brown can be effective with fastball/curveball combo, but will need third pitch to succeed.
MLB Role: Back end of the bullpen type in big leagues.
Wisconsin Note: Notably young, posting a median FIP against relatively weak competition.

Corbin Burnes – RHP (20th percentile FIP, 70th percentile age, 40th percentile competition): Medium frame with small shoulders. Burnes starts from a semi-windup and 3/4 slot. The arm action in the back is a little floppy and there is some effort throughout. Fastball sat 90-94 and touched 96. Burnes also throws a little cutter at 88-90 with late break. Fastball command limited in this outing, with front shoulder fly open. Most misses were arm side. Curveball sat 74-78, which started off slurvy but firmed up to 11/4 shape with bite and depth as the outing progressed. Showed feel for the pitch. Slider at 80 with short lateral break. It lacked depth in this outing. Changeup was 83-85 with below average fade. Threw enough strikes in this outing to be effective, but needs to reign in command to stay a starter.
MLB Role: 3 or 4 starter at the big league level.
Wisconsin Note: Poor FIP from a notably young pitcher facing slightly below-median competition.

Jordan Desguin – RHP (20th percentile FIP, 50th percentile age, 60th percentile competition) – Stocky, medium framed righty. Desguin starts from a high ¾ slot and a semi-windup. Pitches with a slightly below average fastball at 87-91, with some 2-seam action to it. His curveball sits 75-78 with 11/4 shape but lacks quality rotation and bite to the pitch. Changeup has marginal fade at 81-84, but Desguin keeps arm speed. High A ceiling. In Wisconsin, Desguin is median age, facing slightly stronger than median competition.

Jake Drossner – LHP (below 20th percentile FIP, 50th percentile age, 50th percentile competition): Drossner has a big, pro-style frame with little room remaining. Starts from a semi-windup and has a high ¾ slot. The elbow gets a touch high in the back and he pitches uphill through a high front shoulder. The southpaw pitches with a 6 fastball at present, sitting 90-94 with some late wiggle down in the zone. The Curveball lacks quality spin, but is thrown at 73-76 with 1/7 shape. Drossner can steal a strike call with it early in the count. The changeup sits 81-84 with slight fade when he keeps his arm speed. AA/AAA Roster filler ceiling. In Wisconsin, Drossner is median age, posting a poor FIP against median competition.

Nathan Griep – RHP (80th percentile FIP, 50th percentile age, 60th percentile competition): Large frame with High ¾ slot and funky delivery. Grief has a high, floppy elbow in back with effort throughout. Fastball sits 92-94 with armside run and some sink. Breaking ball is downer with bite, 11/4 shape. Changeup sits at 79 but lacks proper arm speed and authority. Lacks the ability to command the baseball. Thrower, not a pitcher. AA ceiling at best. In Wisconsin, median-aged Griep is posting a notably above average FIP against relatively tough competition.

David Lucroy – RHP (below 20th percentile FIP, 20th percentile age, 30th percentile competition): Pro-style frame with ¾ slot. The righty is short in the back, with a high elbow and stiffness throughout the delivery. Fastball sits 85-90 and is fairly straight. Lucroy’s curve sits 72-78, and he lacks feel for spin with 11/5 shape. High-A at best. In Wisconsin, Lucroy is relatively old, and is posting a poor FIP against relatively weak competition.

Trey Supak – RHP (20th percentile FIP, 80th percentile age, 50th percentile competition): Supak has a large, pro-style frame with strong lower half. Starts from a semi-windup and high ¾ slot. The delivery isn’t smooth, but there aren’t major concerns in the delivery; Supak is a little herky jerky. The fastball is a 6 to a tick above and sits 91-95. It’s a heavy ball with some arm side run. The righty locates the pitch to both sides of the plate, and isn’t afraid to elevate when needed. The curveball sits 87-80 with large 11/5 shape. It has average spin with consistent depth. The changeup sits 80-81 with fade and Supak keeps his armspeed.
MLB Role: Back end of the rotation potential.
Wisconsin Note: Supak is posting a poor FIP, although he is notably younger than the median pitcher, while also facing median competition.

Quintin Torres-Costa – LHP (70th percentile FIP, 70th percentile age, 30th percentile competition) – L3/4 slinger with average fastball and long sweepy breaking ball. Starts from an extremely closed off stance and strides closed creating deception from his arm slot. Left handed hitters don’t see it well out of the hand. Fastball sits 88-92 with run/sink that gets under hitters hands. Commands it armside but often loses the pitch gloveside. Sweepy, slurvy breaking ball that sits 74-76 with 2/8 shape. It has a long break that A-ball hitters struggle with but more advanced hitters will lay off of. At best, with a tighter breaking ball, a LOOGY at the big league level.
MLB Role: Situational relief.
Wisconsin Note: Torres-Costa is relatively young, and he is producing a strong FIP against relatively weak competition.

Devin Williams – RHP (40th percentile FIP, 70th percentile age, 60th percentile competition): Fisher noted, when asked to highlight a specific player, “I think the recently promoted Devin Williams needs some attention, his Changeup is truly fun to watch.” Fisher’s notes bear this fact:

Williams has a lean frame with broad shoulders, and room for more strength. Starts from a step back semi-windup and a high ¾ slot. He has a high leg lift and no major issues on the back side. Strides towards home plate with a flexed landing leg. The fastball is a 6 with 90-94, touching 96 when he needs it. The fastball is fairly straight, but Williams is working on a wrinkle 2-seamer around 87-88 to keep hitters honest. Controls the pitch to both sides of the plate and will elevate at 95 when he wants a K.

Williams’s changeup is a true 6, with quality arm speed and fade. When it’s right, hitters have no chance. Isn’t afraid to double up on the pitch to either side of the plate. Curveball sits 78-81 with inconsistent shape and spin. The curve is at its best when the shape is 11/5 with downer spin. Slider is being thrown more lately at 83-85 with shorter shape that he can get around on. Has some feel for spin, so one of the two breaking balls will get to average. Williams has really taken a step forward this year, and it’s fun to watch.
MLB Role: Back end of the rotation potential.
Wisconsin Note: Williams is posting a slightly below-median FIP, although the righty is relatively young and facing slightly stronger-than-median competition.

Jordan Yamamoto – RHP (80th percentile FIP, 80th percentile age, 40th percentile competition)– 6’0’’ righty with plus fastball and feel for spin. Starts from a ¾ slot and semi-windup. The delivery gets a little soft in the back. Lands flexed and online. FB sits 91-93 T94 with slight armside run. Curveball sits 74-76 with 10/4 shape. Loopier soft breaking ball that lacks bite and depth. Slider sits 82-84 with tighter rotation but still lacks average rotation and bite. Sweepy. Changeup lacks consistent arm speed but when thrown properly flashes fade. Command profile weak at present with side-to-side fastball but softness in back of delivery will keep from becoming average. AA/AAA roster filler ceiling. Wisconsin Note: Yamamoto is extremely young, and posting an excellent FIP against slightly-below median competition.

Did Not See:
Miguel Diaz – RHP (30th percentile FIP, 70th percentile age, below 20th percentile competition); Alex Farina – RHP (40th percentile FIP, 20th percentile age, 30th percentile competition); Scott Grist – RHP (40th percentile FIP, below 20th percentile age, 20th percentile competition); Thomas Jankins – RHP (90th percentile FIP, 80th percentile age, 90th percentile competition [!!!]).

David Burkhalter (60th FIP, 80th age, 20th competition), Conor Harber (80th FIP, 40th age, 30th competition), Drake Owenby (below 20th FIP, 40th age, 70th competition), Chase Williams (80th FIP, 20th age, 90th competition).


James Fisher is a BaseballProspectus scout and author.

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