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Minor League Opening Day

On Tuesday morning, the Brewers’ affiliated minor league rosters were announced, showcasing the roster decisions made by GM David Stearns and the player development staff in perhaps their most important rebuilding season. 2017 is the year that talent acquired in former President Doug Melvin’s 2015 trades, Stearns’s round of moves, and the first Ray Montgomery drafts (2015 and 2016) truly advance through the system on a larger scale. Certainly, some of the players acquired already made the Brewers, from Keon Broxton to Zach Davies, and these players represent the first wave of talent fighting to make their respective careers as impact players in Milwaukee. But the talent that remains in the minors will have large tests in 2017, and it is difficult to argue against the notion that the aggregate preparation of these players will reflect on whether the Brewers can develop a minor league system to cash out MLB wins.

Additional Contributors:
Noah Nofz
Sean Roberts

With the season opening for Milwaukee’s full season affiliates (Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Class-Advacned A Carolina Mudcats, Class-AA Biloxi Shuckers, and Class-AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox), here is how the system’s Baseball Prospectus Top 10 and “just interesting” guys will be distributed throughout the organization:

2017 Brewers Top Prospects Opening Day Assignment
CF Lewis Brinson AAA Colorado Springs
LHP Josh Hader AAA Colorado Springs
OF Corey Ray Currently Injured
2B Isan Diaz Advanced A Carolina
RHP Luis Ortiz AA Biloxi
OF Brett Phillips AAA Colorado Springs
OF Trent Clark Advanced A Carolina
3B Lucas Erceg Advanced A carolina
IF Mauricio Dubon AA Biloxi
RHP Cody Ponce Advanced A Carolina
RHP Devin Williams Currently Injured
OF Monte Harrison A Wisconsin
IF Gilbert Lara A Wisconsin
C Jacob Nottingham AA Biloxi
RHP Marcos Diplan Advanced A Carolina

Each affiliate except the Colorado Springs club is beginning the season on the road:

Opening Series MLB Parent
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers @ Quad City Bandits Houston Astros
Carolina Mudcats @ Frederick Keys Baltimore Orioles
Biloxi Shuckers @ Montgomery Biscuits Tampa Bay Rays
Omaha Storm Chasers @ Colorado Springs Sky Sox Kansas City Royals

Given the fact that the Brewers are rebuilding the MLB roster without necessarily fielding a club expected to be competitive, fans are understandably excited about the assemblage of talent in places like Colorado Springs and Carolina. But there is so much depth in the system that major stories could also emerge from Biloxi and Wisconsin. So, here is a look at a trio of storylines that BPMilwaukee contributors are interested in (myself, Noah Nofz, and Sean Roberts).

Low-A Battery (Noah Nofz)
Like a lot of us, I’ll be watching this year’s Brewers minor league affiliates like a hawk. Intrigue abounds at every level. Setting aside the obvious prospect glut at Class-AAA Colorado and Class-Advanced A Carolina, one particular tandem stands out: Right-handed pitcher Luke Barker and budding catcher Mario Feliciano of the low-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Barker and Feliciano form a fascinating battery. They are a symphony in contrast. Barker, 6’3”, is a 25-year-old hurler who went undrafted out of Chico State despite glittering numbers and a prototypical pitcher’s build. He spent last year with the Traverse City Beach Bums of the independent Frontier League, where he posted a 1.44 ERA and struck out 83 batters over 62.3 innings while only walking ten.

Feliciano, 18, was an early-round draft pick out of high school just last year. His aggressive assignment to full-season ball speaks volumes about the organization’s enthusiasm – and may have contributed to their decision to push another young backstop, Cooper Hummel, from the Pioneer League all the way to High-A Carolina.

They’re blazing entirely different trails, but tracking Barker and Feliciano as they push towards Milwaukee should provide plenty of thrills for Appleton fans.

The Exciting Gilbert Lara (Sean Roberts)
Over 246 plate appearances at rookie league Helena last year, Gilbert Lara slashed just .250/.293/.320 with two home runs, resulting in a TAv of .220. There’s nothing that really stands out in his statistical profile, except maybe the most important number for a prospect- his age. He’ll only be 19 this season, after the Brewers signed him as a 16-year old in 2014. While consistency has eluded him, he flashes tools once in a while that provide insight into Brewer scouts’ $3 million investment in him.

Scouts haven’t been crazy about his defensive ceiling either, suggesting he may be moved off of shortstop sooner rather than later, though he did post 5 FRAA this past season. So while there isn’t a lot to get excited about yet, a big 19-year old shortstop that has real power is something that Brewer fans shouldn’t dismiss as the rest of the farm system has drastically improved around Lara. While it would be foolish to predict a breakout anytime soon, he’s still one of the most intriguing prospects in the system that I’ll have my eye on and am fascinated to see if he can develop and fulfill more of that potential in 2017.

Sneaky Shuckers (Nicholas Zettel)
In terms of expected impact talent, Brewers fans are most thrilled about the collection of well-publicized prospects opening the season in Carolina and Colorado Springs. Yet, the Biloxi Shuckers, the locale of the system’s (arguable) first large step forward in 2015, host a set of intriguing MLB depth for the 2017 season. Fans probably do not read prospect coverage to be reminded that all the big names will not work out in Milwaukee, but that also should not preclude coverage of solid depth options that could expand the Brewers’ replacement options or even provide some out-of-nowhere stars.

In 2017, both members of the Khris Davis trade return open the season in Biloxi. This is a great chance for both Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby to advance their respective careers, and it is a testing ground of one of the more questionable rebuilding trades thus far (after 2016). Nottingham is the better-known prospect among this duo, as the catcher was highly renowned within the Oaklad Athletics system before hitting a slight roadbump as a supremely young catcher entering Class-AA for 2016. The catcher with raw power and a chance to stick behind the plate gets his second go at Biloxi, where he will hopefully feel less pressure to impress this season.

Meanwhile, the peripheral statistics show that Bubba Derby struggled during an arguably aggressive assignment to Class-Advanced A Brevard County last season, but the aggressive assignments continue as Derby will have to improve upon a 4.68 DRA, 45 percent groundball rate, and home run rate in the upper minors. Baseball Prospectus scout Steve Givarz graded Derby’s fastball and change up as potential 55 Overall Future Potential pitches in August, giving Brewers fans something to dream on for the depth righty to emerge as a potential relief pitcher in Milwaukee.

If you are inclined to be excited by the Carolina Mudcats infield of Jake Gatewood, Isan Diaz, Lucas Erceg, Luis Aviles, Weston Wilson and Wendell Rijo, I counter with the Biloxi set of Art Charles and Dustin DeMuth, Javier Betancourt and Blake Allemand, and Mauricio Dubon, George Iskenderian, and Angel Ortega. There’s no one among this set that has Diaz’s ceiling or Erceg’s fast-rising hype, but there are some solid tools that could find their way to Milwaukee to bolster a flexible MLB infield that could use more depth throughout the season. Dubon has a modest 45-50 profile that also does not seem to be particularly risky, and will have to prove in Biloxi’s environment whether his power gains that surfaced in 2016 are sustainable. Javier Betancourt has a glove-first approach at second base, which is a position that now has less depth between Milwaukee and Biloxi. Trent Clark and Nathan Kirby might get the most press from the 2015 draft, but this Shuckers infield also includes potential members of that draft that could graduate into depth roles (Iskenderian and Allemand might fight RHP Jon Perrin to be the first 2015 Brewers draftee to reach the MLB).

Anyway, don’t buy into the hype: or rather, don’t buy fully into the hype without considering the depth. As demonstrated above in Wisconsin, there is some talent in the Class-A club that could help define the identity of the system in coming years. In Biloxi, the prospect hype is considerably less shiny, but the roles are nevertheless important for establishing the staying power of Milwaukee’s rebuild. Don’t sleep on the Shuckers. It cannot be emphasized enough that the future success of the Brewers will depend on the depth of the system as much as star potential at the top.

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1 comment on “Minor League Opening Day”

Robin's Home Town

You are correct. Depth is vitally important to weather injuries, to promote the cream rising to the top and to give the organization the flexibility to make moves at all levels of the system.

Stearns has increased the overall talent level throughout the system. Let’s watch the development and enjoy the results.

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