One of the toughest aspects of following a rebuilding team like the Brewers, which exaggerates problems with following minor league baseball in general, is the sheer lack of information and nearly complete uncertainty involved with prospects. Fans can watch the box scores, and in some cases even the games, without gaining any particular idea of who is an MLB caliber prospect and who is not; or, if someone has an idea that a player might be more likely than most minor leaguers to reach the MLB, pinning down a role is tough. Fans simply do not have the specific scouting details that are gained by trained observation of baseball day-in and day-out, and so it is obviously natural to resort to other means to assess players. So, fans naturally scout the stat line; Lewis Brinson is not simply an exciting prospect because of his excellent profile across offensive and defensive tools, presenting a full package ready for a very serviceable MLB floor at worst (remember, Baseball Prospectus tagged a Leonys Martin floor on Brinson for his 2017 Top Ten entry), but he’s also a thrilling prospect because of his batting stats and highlights at Class-AAA Colorado Springs.
Part One: Cooper / Gatewood / Hiura
Throughout the season, I’ve attempted to provide contextual statistics that help fans read along with the box scores. If we are going to have to read imperfect information, we might as well know as many things as possible for the league. For example, in Brinson’s case, we have a swirling set of circumstances: although he’s very young for AAA Pacific Coast League, he’s also facing easy competition in an extremely friendly hitting environment. This does not diminish his tools, but it should add some salt to the stat line. To accompany this installment of the Midseason 2017 3 Up 3 Down, here is an attempt to provide a normalized index for the Brewers’ “regular” minor leaguers thus far. This exercise should also be taken with a grain of salt, as there are imperfections even with the information available about minor league players; for example, a player’s youth in a league may not necessarily make the league more difficult depending on their toolbox, or a player’s park environment also might not accurately reflect the impact on player development.
One benefit of normalizing statistics is that players can be compared across levels to some degree. So, I normalized a player’s On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) or OPS-allowed for pitchers by using:
- Individualized Opposing OPS normalized by league context (league median Opposing OPS for regulars).
- Batting and Pitching Park Factors (where available) normalized against median league park factors for regular players.
- Player age normalized by league median age for regular players.
Weighing these elements together, consider the Brewers batting minor leaguers with 100+ PA, and minor leaguer arms with 30+ IP (and available park factors). Tables are pasted below for maximal reading enjoyment. Batters are ranked from high-to-low to showcase the players whose OPS performance occurred against the “lowest” or toughest Opposing OPS, and pitchers are ranked from low-to-high to showcase the arms whose OPS performances occurred against the “highest” or toughest Opposing OPS. Take a grain of salt with this index, as age is highly favored, as is park factor. Park factor may also unduly impact opposing OPS, as there is a good argument to be made that such a number should not be park adjusted (since it already expresses context in a different manner). But, it’s an approximation of a batter or pitcher’s OPS performance against their environment, which may be something to keep in mind alongside scouting reports or other “naked” discussions of their performances.
The BPMilwaukee Editorial Staff (Nicholas Zettel and Kyle Lesniewski) contributed to this feature, as well as Craig Goldstein and John Eshleman from the Baseball Prospectus prospect team.
LHP Nick Ramirez, AA Biloxi (picked by Kyle Lesniewski): The Brewers drafted Ramirez in the 4th round in 2011 out of Cal-State Fullerton to be a power-hitting first baseman. The power has always been there as the left-handed slugger clubbed 95 home runs in 685 minor league games, but his career appeared to have stalled out after a third straight season of hitting under .250 in Class-AA. Last fall, the Brewers asked Ramirez to switch back to the other position he handled during his collegiate career: left-handed reliever. After a six year layoff, Ramirez has shown a surprisingly good feel for mound work while navigating through the Southern League. He’s appeared in 28 games and tossed 42.0 frames, yielding only a minuscule 1.50 ERA. His 29:17 K/BB rate and 3.68 FIP are a bit more pedestrian than the ERA would suggest (though he is generating an absurd amount of infield fly balls at 23.8 percent), but again this guy hadn’t pitched in over a half-decade prior to 2017. Nick has flashed a 90-91 MPH fastball along with a changeup and curveball and has been able to hold opposing lefties to just a .180 batting average against. Oh, and he also has two home runs and a 1.207 OPS in 19 plate appearances as a hitter this year, too. Ramirez is set for minor league free agency this fall if Milwaukee doesn’t add him to the 40 man roster, but a switch to the mound should certainly lengthen what appeared to be a career on life support less than a year ago.
C Mario Feliciano, A Wisconsin (picked by Craig Goldstein): Was it obvious that Lucas Erceg was the better prospect than Mario Feliciano following the 2016 draft? Certainly, Erceg was the more polished ballplayer, and his quick ascent during the 2016 season allowed him to churn the hype machine on his draft position. But, separated within the BaseballAmerica pre-draft Top 500, the two were respectively ranked #72 and #103, which is not an extreme spread and not necessarily as impactful as separating the #5 prospect from the #36 prospect. Both Erceg and Feliciano were drafted in the second round, Feliciano as a Competitive Balance pick. The reports on Feliciano were optimistic about his ability to stick behind the plate from the get go, which also theoretically gives the youngster positional advantage over Erceg. This is not to say that I expect Erceg to drop out of the 2018 Top 10 and Feliciano to leap into the Top 10 (they both could be there!), but simply that there is not a clear chasm of value between Erceg and Feliciano in the long term, and in the grand scheme Feliciano may be the better pure future value prospect.
Goldstein on Feliciano: He’s cooled off of late but he has the athleticism to catch and his bat is potent enough to handle a switch off the position should it come to that.
IF Aaron Familia, Dominican Summer (picked by Nicholas Zettel): Don’t scout the stat line, I know, I know, but if you’re going to scout the stat line there’s not many places better to do so than the Dominican Summer League. These guys are so far from the MLB as to be literal dreams, but there’s still good reason to maybe eye up some peripherals and see how the young guys in the league are performing. Familia is one of the Brewers’ 2016 signings from the July 2 period, and he returned to the Dominican Summer League after a rough first stint during his age-17 season. Now, Familia has found his footing, walking 10 times in 68 PA as of this writing, along with eight extra base hits and a .278 batting average. That walk rate is above average even for the 2017 DSL, as is the extra base hit total (the 2017 DSL has a .238 AVG with five percent of plate appearances resulting in an extra base hit). One ought to keep an eye on Familia, as the Brewers have recently been aggressive in promoting young DSL talent to the USA midseason (Franly Mallen comes to mind, for example). If Familia continues to prove himself, he could add to the bulk of amazing high risk talent at the bottom of the Brewers system.
OF Corey Ray, Advanced A Carolina (picked by Craig Goldstein, Josh Eshleman):
At Baseball Prospectus, Christopher Crawford praised the Corey Ray pick following the 2016 draft: “He can flat out hit, and he has underrated pop from the left side. He’s also a guy who can steal 30-40 bases, and I give him at least a chance to stick at center. The upside is high, but it’s the extremely high floor that makes me love this pick. Good job, Milwaukee.” More measured debate focused on the potential issue of Ray as a ‘tweener (centerfield versus left field), with additional questions arising about how Ray’s offensive profile might play should he become a left fielder. Perhaps that high floor ‘tweener looks pretty solid, although scouting questions are eating at that high ceiling.
Goldstein on Ray: Ray hasn’t had a bad season by any means, but in my viewing he didn’t pop like you’d think a top-five selection would, a sentiment echoed by others I’ve talked to.
Eshleman on Ray: The primary concern among scouts is Ray’s hit tool, and he has struggled with velocity in 2017, a primary reason has k-rate has ballooned over 30%.
RHP Marcos Diplan, Advanced A Carolina (picked by Kyle Lesniewski): Diplan was mentioned as one of the prospects to keep an eye on in the Top 10 Prospects post from the BP main site earlier this year, but he’s struggled mightily to prevent runs ever since a midseason promotion to high-A last season. His fastball can hit the mid-90s and he flashes a plus slider, which has helped him miss bats at a rate of 9.6 K/9 this season. But his control appears to have taken a step in the wrong direction, as he’s issued walks at an 11.5 percent clip this season and has already unleashed nine wild pitches. Diplan’s diminutive stature and still-developing changeup may mean he’s already ultimately ticketed for the bullpen at some point, but a 5.77 ERA/4.82 DRA/4.71 FIP isn’t what you want to see out of a guy who is supposedly considered to be one of the org’s better pitching prospects.
2B Javier Betancourt, AA Biloxi (picked by Nicholas Zettel): What do you do with a prospect like Javier Betancourt in a professional era that fetishizes home runs, strike outs, and walks? Betancourt is exactly the opposite. The advanced ball second baseman is batting approximately 77.8 percent of balls into play for the season, which basically means that Betancourt’s strike outs, walks, and home runs total the basic strikeout rate of the typical 2017 Southern League batter. Granted, there was never a ton to dream on for Betancourt from the day the Brewers traded for him, as he’s a true glove first second baseman without a high ceiling on the bat (ex., the opposite of Isan Diaz, perhaps). Yet, I think there’s something worth looking into for nearly any young batting profile (at age-22, Betancourt is indeed among the small class of younger AA players) that can maintain a median performance for that age group at an advanced level of professional baseball. I also think it’s worth looking at Betancourt precisely because he is such a left turn from the typical Brewers prospect at the moment (all tools, lots of swing and miss, boatloads of speed and power to make up for that). A bit of a wrinkle in Betancourt’s defensive position accompanies a recent slump, but it could be worth stating that if Betancourt continues to play at 2B and 3B, a modified utility profile could escalate the odds that he gets a chance to test this all-contact profile at the MLB level.
Betancourt perhaps is the answer to a question I ask myself from time to time, is there room for “bat control” guys in contemporary MLB? Which is simply to remind everyone that iterations of baseball are subject to professional preferences (and perhaps biases). One could conceivably design an MLB based around guys like Betancourt, which raises another interesting question, namely what would we think about guys like Lewis Brinson or Demi Orimoloye or Keon Broxton if the league was all about the Betancourts? Not that the league should be all about the Betancourts, but rather what value could be found in a seemingly stalled prospect profile that nevertheless is producing at an advanced class.
Minor League Context Tables:
|Brewers Bats||Team||PA||OPS||AgeIndex||Park Index||OPSIndex||Weighted|
|Ivan De Jesus||CSP||260||0.913||1.15||1.16||0.99||0.90|
I cheated and included Corbin Burnes in Class-AA Biloxi because if you can’t cheat a little bit, what’s the fun?