Timber Rattler Bats

If the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are popular among Brewers fans in 2016, it is likely due to the break out season posted by infielder Isan Diaz. Diaz was an “industry prospect” when Milwaukee acquired him, meaning that scouts and baseball operations personnel praised the youngster without that praise resulting in prospect press hype. That’s all changed after Diaz stormed Wisconsin during his age 20 season, arguably serving as the Most Valuable Player of the Midwest League. Indeed, a quick glance this morning finds Diaz atop his league with a 4.67 WARP, although one will also find that the league is dominated by its youngest in 2016 (a good thing!).

Related Reading:
Timber Rattler Arms
Making the Transition: Trent Clark
Lucas Erceg and Third Base Futures

Once fans come to Wisconsin for Isan Diaz, they can stay for other intriguing positional prospects, as the club is beginning to shape out its 2014 and 2015 draft legacies. At this turn, the low minors arms may be ahead of the low minors bats in the Brewers system, and Wisconsin arguably reflects that balance. Prospects such as Diaz, Trent Clark, Monte Harrison, Jake Gatewood, Lucas Erceg, and Troy Stokes, Jr., have a collection of solid tools, but their profiles thus far grade slightly behind their pitching teammates in terms of impact. Beyond these well-recognized names, one might even dig for some sleepers at Wisconsin, although the caveat about leaping to the next levels to define or change a ceiling apply here, too.

The lack of clearly-defined ceilings for several Wisconsin bats is not necessarily a concern at Class-A, since these players must advance through the next A-level club and make the leap into the upper minors before the probability of their respective ceilings becomes even clearer. Below, BaseballProspectus scout and writer James Fisher notes that a couple of Timber Rattlers have defensive profiles that are awaiting a step forward from the bat; there are even some prospects that need additional looks. In this sense, the 2016 Timber Rattlers effectively define (and headline) the Brewers loaded organizational depth even where they fail to define better than average MLB 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. League statistics were compiled for the first installment of this series, August 20-22, 2016:

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 90th percentile is most elite, meaning that a player facing .661 opposingOPS pitchers is facing tougher competition than 90 percentof 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 percent 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 percent 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 Batters Scouted
The following entries are built from BP James Fisher’s scouting notes, which were compiled during an early August series in Appleton. All statistics compiled on August 24, 2016.

Max McDowell (80th percentile TAv, 50th percentile age, 50th percentile competition): McDowell is a large framed catcher with strength throughout. At the plate, he starts with an even stance and rests the bat on his shoulder before moving his hands up to his ear. Has slightly below average batspeed and doesn’t recognize spin. Behind the plate, McDowell has a low seat with a quiet frame. He struggles to handle quality stuff, with changeups especially giving him fits. Boxes plenty of balls as well as passed balls through the wickets. Throws well with 1.93-1.98 pop times, and the footwork helps the arm play up a touch. AA/AAA Ceiling. Wisconsin Note: McDowell has produced an excellent TAv at a median age, and against median competition.

Natanael Mejia (below 20th percentile TAv, 20th percentile age, 90th percentile competition): Large, soft bodied catcher. Mejia starts from a slightly open stance and high hands. Below average batspeed and limited contact ability. Defensively, he moves ok behind the plate, but lacks the ability to handle quality stuff. A Ceiling. Wisconsin Note: As a notably old player, Mejia faced the most difficult competition and produced a poor TAv.

Luis Aviles (50th percentile TAv, 60th percentile age, 30th percentile competition): Aviles has a lean athletic frame with wiry strength throughout. From an even, upright stance in the box with his hands at his shoulder, Aviles has average batspeed but struggles with pitch recognition at present. Aviles can really pick it in the field. He moves side-to-side well and has body control for short. The arm is a 6, with true carry through the bag and ability to make throws from different angles. At this point, Aviles is a defensive specialist that lacks bat to ball. AA/AAA ceiling unless light comes on with bat. Wisconsin Note: Aviles is a slightly younger than median player with a median TAv against relatively weak competition.

Isan Diaz (80th percentile TAv, 90th percentile age, 40th percentile competition): Athletic, medium framed second baseman with premium offensive toolset. At the plate, Diaz combines a quality bat path with a slight uppercut. It’s a loose, easy swing with above average batspeed and barrel awareness. Diaz understands his weight transfer, at times making hitting look easy, and he really lets his hands do the work. The ceiling is a 6 hitter with at least average pop. In the field he is just a step short for shortstop and has trouble going right. At second his feet will be average and the arm will play.
MLB Role: First division regular with all-star potential.
Wisconsin Note: Diaz is among the youngest players in the Midwest League, and produced a notably above average TAv against near-median competition.

Lucas Erceg (90th percentile TAv, 60th percentile age, 30th percentile competition): Tall, lean framed third baseman with feel to hit and plus arm. There is room for strength projection here. At the plate, Erceg starts tall with slightly open stance and hands at his ear, combining 6 bat speed with hands that work and a loose swing. Can get long at times, but makes adjustments. In the field, he has soft hands and enough range for third. Erceg’s arm is a weapon.
MLB Role: Regular at 3B.
Wisconsin Note: As a relatively young player facing relatively weak competition, Erceg is producing an elite TAv.

Jake Gatewood (30th percentile TAv, 80th percentile age, 40th percentile competition): Gatewood is a tall, lean framed infielder with plus power and arm strength. At the plate, he starts from an even stance with his hands at his shoulder, and has average bat speed. However, Gatewood struggles to make adjustments, and spin will always give him trouble. The raw power is a 7, but he lacks enough contact to get there. Gatewood is mixing time between third and first at present with enough range and arm for third, but he needs to hit. AA/AAA ceiling unless bat takes big jump forward. Wisconsin Note: Gatewood remains notably young at Class-A, and is producing a below average TAv against near-median competition.

Jonathan Oquendo (below 20th percentile TAv, 80th percentile age, 80th percentile competition): Tall, lean frame with athleticism. Oquendo starts at the plate with an even stance and his hands at his shoulder. The bat path is inconsistent, but he does have average batspeed. Oquendo doesn’t like spin and is susceptible to it on outer half. With long lanky strides, he is a slightly below average runner. DH’ed in my look. Hold on ceiling until further looks. Wisconsin Note: Oquendo is a notably young player facing very tough competition, and is producing a poor TAv.

Alan Sharkey (below 20th percentile TAv, 50th percentile age, 50th percentile competition): Medium, strong framed first baseman with strong lower half. At the plate Sharkey’s bat speed and pitch recognition are lacking. There is power potential from strength in frame, but he won’t make enough contact to reach it. Average at best at first base. Has reached ceiling. Wisconsin Note: As a median age player against median competition, Sharkey posted a poor TAv.

Carlos Belonis (below 20th percentile TAv, 60th percentile age, below 20th percentile competition): Tall, lean framed outfielder with athleticism. Belonis starts with a closed front foot and his hands above his head at the plate, and he strides closed. He has average bat speed, but an inconsistent swing path and approach leave him behind. He often guesses on pitches and huntsfor fastballs because he struggles with spin. In the field Belonis has an average arm and enough athleticism to handle a corner outfield spot. A/AA ceiling at best. Wisconsin Note: Belonis faced weak competition and was relatively young for Midwest League, and he posted a poor TAv.

Trent Clark (60th percentile TAv, 90th percentile age, 40th percentile competition): Strong, medium framed, athletic outfielder with plus tools at the plate and the field. Starting at the plate with a slightly open stance and his funky hands at shoulder, Clark’s plus batspeed and a consistent bat path lead to loft. The power will come as the plate discipline does for Clark; there is plenty of strength and batspeed to project average power. In the field he is still recovering from leg issues, but is running okay (4.10, 4.12, 4.38, 4.12, 4.44). Handles center at present with solid jumps and routes, but most likely a corner outfielder with enough arm for right.
MLB Role: 4th OF/Regular.
Wisconsin Note: Clark is among the youngest players, and posted a slightly better than average TAv against near-median competition.

Brandon Diaz (below 20th percentile TAv, 60th percentile age, below 20th percentile competition): Diaz is a small framed, athletic outfielder with batspeed and defensive tools. Starting at the plate with open stance and hands at shoulder, Diaz has average batspeed and some feel for the barrel. Runs okay in left and has an average arm. Only 3 AB’s. Need more of a look. Wisconsin Note: Diaz has a poor TAv at a relatively young age facing weak competition.

Troy Stokes Jr (80th percentile TAv, 80th percentile age, 30th percentile competition): Stokes is a small framed athletic outfielder with strength throughout. Physically maxed out. At the plate he starts with an even stance and his hands at his shoulder, and gets into a slight bat wrap at times and messes up his timing. Stokes has average bat speed but struggles with pitch recognition. Isn’t a burner with 55 run times. Interesting routes in LF at times but is solid. Tweener 4th outfielder type when all is said and done. AA/AAA ceiling. Wisconsin Note: Stokes is notably young and facing relatively weak competition, and is posting a notably above average TAv.

Tucker Neuhaus (90th percentile TAv, 60th percentile age, below 20th percentile competition); Juan Ortiz (below 20th percentile TAv, 60th percentile age, below 20th percentile competition); Monte Harrison (20th percentile TAv, 80th percentile age, 50th percentile competition)


James Fisher is a BaseballProspectus scout and author.

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