Last year at BP Milwaukee, we introduced the “3 Up, 3 Down” feature to take a look at how the prospects down on the farm are trending throughout the regular season. With more than two weeks worth of minor league games now in the books, let’s take a look at who has stepped up during the beginning of the MiLB season, and the players that are looking for answers after a poor start.
CF Lewis Brinson, Class-AAA Colorado Springs
With Keon Broxton struggling at the big league level, the clamoring has already begun for Milwaukee’s #1 prospect to make his debut at Miller Park. Brinson’s blistering start for the Sky Sox has only made the cries louder. He missed a few games after jamming a finger sliding into second base, but the center fielder is batting .355/.412/.649 with two home runs and three doubles in 34 plate appearances for a ridiculous .371 TAv. Unless Broxton starts to figure things out at the plate in short order, expect to see Brinson up sometime around the end of May or beginning of June. From BP’s Steve Givarz:
“We’ve talked a lot about Brinson, and rightfully so. He has tools and impact potential in center field, plus he has also cut down on his strikeouts. All of this could force Milwaukee’s hand sooner rather than later.”
C Mario Feliciano, Class-A Wisconsin
The Brewers picked Feliciano as a 17-year old prep player in the Competitive Balance Round B of last summer’s draft. The young backstop had an unimpressive debut statistically in the Arizona League, but Milwaukee’s front office saw enough to give him an aggressive assignment all the way to full-season ball to start the 2017 season. Feliciano has responded by pounding the ball to the tune of a .378/.425/.622 slash with a homer, a triple, and four doubles in 40 plate appearances for a .385 TAv. There’s work to be done defensively, as there usually is with high school catchers, but the bat might be able to play at other positions if a move out from behind the plate is needed. From BP’s Steve Givarz:
“Taken in the Competitive Balance “B” Round in 2016, Feliciano has been one of the hottest hitters in the Midwest League thus far. He offers power, bat speed, and feel to hit at the plate with an advanced approach. He’s athletic behind the plate—enough so that he could handle being moved off catcher—but is a project defensively. His receiving is raw and his transfers can be sloppy, but the bat looks pretty special.”
IF Jake Gatewood, Class-Advanced A Carolina
The Brewers signed Gatewood to an overslot deal after picking him 41st overall in 2014, hoping that his hitting skills would develop to match his plus raw power. It’s taken a few years, but it appears the 21 year old might finally be coming around. After hitting .240/.268/.391 with 14 home runs and 18 walks in 126 games at Wisconsin last year, Gatewood revamped his stance and approach at the plate. From last season:
And now in 2017:
— Brewers Prospects (@BrewerProspect) April 14, 2017
Gatewood is now more crouched at the plate and has lowered his hand positioning pretty significantly, and the early results are extremely encouraging. Through 50 plate appearances, Gatewood is slashing .310/.420/.476 with a home run, four doubles, and perhaps most importantly, eight base on balls. Lucas Erceg’s presence in Zebulon has pushed Gatewood mostly to first base, but he retains a solid corner utility profile overall defensively. If he can sustain the improvements in his approach, Gatewood may finally be on his way to fulfilling the tremendous potential scouts placed on him when he was drafted.
SS Gilbert Lara, Class-A Wisconsin
Three years after signing for a $3.2 mil bonus, Gilbert Lara still has yet to look like much more than a cautionary tale for handing out big checks to 16 year olds. Lara managed only a .220 TAv last season in Helena, but the Brewers still advanced him to full season ball in Wisconsin to start 2017. Thus far in 33 plate appearances, he’s batting an anemic .125/.152/.250 with a single long ball. He’s struck out 11 times versus drawing just one walk. Lara’s calling card when he was signed was his incredible power potential, but scouts have panned both his approach and swing mechanics, which haven’t allowed Lara to tap into the power with any sort of regularity. Once considered one of Milwaukee’s top prospects, Lara looks to be little more than a wild card at this point. At just 19 years old, however, time is still very much on Lara’s side.
Gilbert Lara is hitting .125/.152/.250 (and not starting every game), if you're wondering if his swing or plate discipline have improved.
— J.P. Breen (@JP_Breen) April 20, 2017
OF Trent Clark, Class-Advanced A Carolina
Clark was Milwaukee’s first round pick back in 2015 and has dealt with some unfortunate injuries that have robbed him of critical development time during his first two years as a professional. Healthy coming into this season, he was assigned to Carolina to be featured as a part of the Mudcats’ loaded roster. Clark’s hit tool was considered to be very advanced when he was drafted, but thus far the lefty-swinger is batting just .200/.348/.343 with a 32 percent strikeout rate in 47 plate appearances in 2017. That, after posting a .231 average and 26 percent punchout rate in 59 games at low-A Wisconsin last year. Clark has middling power and his lackluster arm will likely push him to left field if he can’t stick in center, so the fact that his purported carrying tool has yet to really show through as a professional is no doubt discouraging. With so many other talented outfielders in the system, Clark may soon get lost in the shuffle. From Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser:
“Clark let multiple balls drop playing both right field and center field, earning derision from scouts in attendance who criticized his motor and effort.”
OF Clint Coulter, Class-AA Biloxi
One of Milwaukee’s two first-rounders in 2012 (along with Victor Roache), it looked like the club might have had something special in Coulter after he captured the org’s Minor League Player of the Year award in 2014. Things haven’t worked out that way in the few years since then, however. Coulter was forced to move off of catcher to right field and struggled offensively in the harsh environs of the Florida State League for 2015 and most of 2016, though a .306 TAv in 102 late-season plate appearances for Biloxi last year offered a glimmer of hope. That success hasn’t carried over into 2017, however, as Coulter is off to a .169/.219/.200 start with seven strikeouts and one walk through his first 32 plate appearances. Coulter lacks a good feel for hitting and can struggle to recognize breaking stuff, which will allow more advanced pitchers to continue to exploit him. Combine that with reportedly below-average defense in the outfield and you have the makings of a first-round bust.