Brewers Farm Update

Midseason 2017 #3: 3 Up 3 Down

The Brewers have graduated four of their 2017 Baseball Prospectus Top Ten prospects to the MLB. Along with that group, rookie Jorge Lopez, a former Baseball Prospectus Top Ten member, also returned to the MLB. If one were to rank the Brewers Top 30, these five would certainly fit within that group, and depending on MLB playing time could become ineligible for the 2018 Top Prospect cycle. Here are their scouting roles, based in-part on the 2017 Top Ten reports:

MLB Graduates Ceiling (OFP) Floor (OFP)
CF Lewis Brinson All-Star CF (70) Starting CF (55)
LHP Josh Hader Mid-Rotation (60) High Leverage Relief (55)
OF Brett Phillips Above Average OF (55) Quality Platoon/4th OF (45)
RHP Brandon Woodruff Mid-Back Rotation (45-50) Bullpen (45)
RHP Jorge Lopez Back Rotation (45) Bullpen (45)

So where does one move from here?

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Part 2: Familia / Feliciano / Ramirez
Part 1: Cooper / Gatewood / Hiura
Prospective 2018

Following the introductory words to the first installment of Midseason 3 Up 3 Down, one could conceive of the Brewers’ farm system as a system of tiers based on percentile and role. This is what is tough about ranking prospects: it is easy to be excited about many minor leaguers, but it is difficult to pin down specific role preferences for future value in a ranking. For example, catcher Mario Feliciano could easily take five years to reach his MLB debut, especially if he retains his defensive position behind the dish. But he could also be one of the most valuable future roles for the system, despite that length of development (potential starting catchers don’t grow on trees). Compare Feliciano to my favorite pitcher, Cody Ponce, or an intriguing utility/depth player like Ryan Cordell. Cordell has a much more certain path to the MLB (he’ll probably arrive within a year if he’s truly on the 40-man roster as an MLB asset) and a much clearer role (Cordell’s defensive flexibility and batting profile almost assure he’ll slide in to create another Hernan Perez). It’s incredibly fun to imagine a bench including Cordell, Perez, Jonathan Villar, and Mauricio Dubon, both due to positional flexibility and the ideal that each of these players could step in for an extended absence and probably hold their own. Ponce might be spinning wheels a bit in 2017, but he remains a quality pitching prospect for the Brewers with a relatively clear path to the MLB (there can never be enough quality pitching depth within a system).

While both Ponce and Cordell are closer to the MLB and have much clearer roles to boot, Feliciano is probably the better Overall Future Potential (OFP) pick for the system. This is just one such comparison, but comparisons like this could be made across the Milwaukee system.

Splitting the system into tiers, it’s crucial to note that a player without a potentially elite or better than average role is not necessarily a bad prospect, especially if they are ticketed for MLB as a depth option. The fact of the matter is, very few prospects will become 70 OFP star profiles (like Carlos Correa, for example), or 60 OFP first-division potential profiles (like Orlando Arcia). Here’s how that reality might look in the Brewers’ system:

Top Tier Roles (Top 1%) Ceiling (OFP) Floor (OFP)
2B Isan Diaz First Division 2B (60) Bat first 2B (50)
RHP Luis Ortiz No. 3 Starter (60) No. 4 Starter (50)
C Mario Feliciano Starting Catcher (55-60) Starting 3B (50)
Average or Better Roles (Next 5%) Ceiling (OFP) Floor (OFP)
CF Monte Harrison First Division CF (55-60) Really Interesting (47.5)
OF Corey Ray Starting CF (55-60) ‘Tweener LF (40-50)
3B Lucas Erceg First Division 3B (60) Bench Bat (40)
RHP Cody Ponce Average Starter / Set Up Relief (50) Back End Rotation (45)
RF Demi Orimoloye All-around RF (50-55) Really Interesting (47.5)
C Jacob Nottingham Starting Catcher (50-55) Back Up C (45+)
2B Keston Hiura Bat First 2B (50-55) Roaming Bat (45)
RHP Marcos Diplan High Leverage Relief (50+) Relief (45)
OF Trent Clark CF (50-55) ‘Tweener OF (40-50)

Aside from focusing on potential MLB roles, there ought to be a set of classifications that recognizes prospects working in relatively clear organizational depth positions, and prospects that are clearly projection plays. Consider the 2017 MLB Draft, in which the Brewers made considerable gambles with their picks in order to secure long development plays. Caden Lemons is my favorite example of this, a 6’6″ pitcher with considerable room to grow into his frame and therefore become a future power pitcher projection; of course, there is a scenario in which Lemons does not make it to Advanced Affiliates, or suffers an injury through what will almost certainly be a five year development period. This adds risk to Lemons’s profile, and although his MLB ceiling is not yet known, one can recognize future potential in the projection gamble.

Quality Depth (Next 5%) Ceiling (OFP) Floor (OFP)
RHP Trey Supak Mid-to-Low Rotation (50+) Quality Relief (45-50)
OF Michael Reed Discipline-Glove 4th OF (45) Organizational Depth
UTIL Jake Gatewood Powerful Corner Bat (50+) Power / flexibility depth (45+)
RHP Freddy Peralta Mid-to-Low Rotation (50+) Quality Relief (45-50)
RHP Corbin Burnes Quality Rotation Depth (50+) Quality Relief (45-50)
IF Mauricio Dubon Glove-first 2B (50) Quality Utility (45)
UTIL Ryan Cordell High Floor Utility (45+) Organizational Depth
RHP Taylor Williams Power reliever (45+) Organizational Depth
IF Chad McClanahan Bat-first 3B (45-50) Corner Depth (40-45)
RHP Bowdien Derby Reliever (45) Organizational Depth
Projection Plays Ceiling (OFP) Floor (OFP)
RHP Devin Williams Mid-Rotation (50+) Injury casualty
RHP Josh Pennington Mid-Rotation (50+) Organizational Depth
RHP Adrian Houser Reliever (45) Injury casualty
RHP Zack Brown Projection Starter (50+) Organizational Depth
RHP Carlos Herrera Projection Starter (50+) Make it to advanced ball?
RHP Caden Lemons Impact Power Pitcher (50+) Make it to advanced ball?
OF Troy Stokes Tools LF (45+) Organizational Depth
OF Zach Clark Starting OF (50+) Organizational Depth
LHP Nathan Kirby Quality Rotation Depth (50+) Injury Casualty
RHP Braden Webb Power Pitcher (45-50) Organizational Depth (40)
IF Gilbert Lara Power 3B (45+) Make it to advanced ball?
RHP Luke Barker Reliever (45) Make it to advanced ball?
IF Yeison Coca Glove-first SS Make it to advanced ball?

There are plenty of prospects excluded from this list, so it should not be taken as a ranking; Franly Mallen, Phil Bickford, Blake Lillis, Jose Sibrian, Joantgel Segovia, Quintin Torres-Costa, and Jordan Yamamoto are just some of the players I excluded from this list. By this point, we’re so far into the system that one can see how a ranking system loses it’s efficacy. Outside of front offices with proprietary modeling systems for scouting and statistical information, I’m not certain there is value in fans knowing who is the #24 prospect or who is the #38 prospect in the Brewers system.


 

For this installment, BPMilwaukee Editorial Staff (Nicholas Zettel and Kyle Lesniewski) were joined by Craig Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus Prospect Team).

3 UP (and one bonus!)
CF Monte Harrison, Advanced A Carolina (picked by Craig Goldstein): Two freak injuries sidelined Monte Harrison in both 2015 and 2016, dampening the 60 OFP first division center fielder tag in the 2015 Baseball Prospectus Top Ten. Although the 2016 Baseball Prospectus list dropped Harrison to an excellent defensive right fielder role, the prospect’s injury issues have not kept the Brewers from giving him development time in center field. As Harrison advances through the system in center field, a more realistic potential MLB ceiling at that position should materialize. Now that Harrison is healthy, his transition from elite athlete to elite athlete as ballplayer is translating into highly regarded bat speed, leading to a hit tool that solves some of the puzzles that materialized even in his first Top Ten Brewers list. Perhaps the best part is (besides Harrison remaining healthy thus far and having a chance to truly form his ballgame) that even though it feels like Harrison has been around forever, he’s still only in his age-21 season and is younger than 80 percent of the 2017 Carolina League.

Goldstein on Harrison: Long on tools and short on [development] time, Harrison’s mostly healthy season has finally yielded bountiful results.

RHP Corbin Burnes, AA Biloxi (picked by Craig Goldstein): Corbin Burnes exemplifies the split between how fans follow the minor leagues and how scouts follow the minor leagues. The righty has posted phenomenal statistics since the Brewers selected him in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. Reports throughout the breakout 2017 campaign for Burnes have underscored the fastball and slider combination for the 6’3″ righty, while also raising questions about additional off-speed offerings (which would round out a starter’s profile) and delivery (which some suggest may be too high effort to repeat as a starter). Yet, here we are, with Burnes giving Brewers box score hawks fireworks every fifth day, which is unfortunately turning the righty into perhaps the system’s biggest hype case. I say unfortunately because it is clear that Burnes has an MLB ceiling, and it is clear that he needs work to get there (for example, Burnes might reach 150 innings in 2017, which means that the righty may need another year of seasoning in order to build up that true mid rotation workload). Burnes may be one of the best arguments in favor of turning prospect coverage fully away from statistics and toward scouting grades and reports, as there is a good chance those Brewers box score hawks hyping up “could Burnes be the next ace?” will be the first to turn on him should he reach the MLB at his realistic ceiling. None of this should take away from the righty, and obviously actual MLB runs prevention performances from year to year feature strong performances from non-aces (see Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson in 2017, and Zach Davies and Junior Guerra in 2016, as just two sets of examples). In this sense, even scouting roles and actual MLB performances diverge. A better line would be that “aces don’t exist,” and allow Burnes the developmental space necessary to turn him into the valuable MLB pitcher that he can be for the Brewers.

Goldstein on Burnes: I’m not convinced he’s not a reliever in the end, but the fastball/slider combo is legit. Waiting on that third pitch.

C Jacob Nottingham, AA Biloxi (picked by Kyle Lesniewski): Nottingham, the centerpiece of the trade that sent Khrush Davis to the Athletics, was one of the more disappointing prospects in the system last season, and an ice cold start to 2017 only further dampened his stock. But the 22 year old appears to have finally started to put things together over the last several weeks. He’s hitting .352/.426/.593 over his last four week’s worth of games, bringing his season-long slash line to .253/.349/.407 with three home runs, which translates to a nifty .279 TAv in the pitcher-friendly Southern League. Nottingham’s bat was supposed to be what carried him to the big leagues, but his defense has been much improved since joining the org as well. A 43 percent caught stealing rate, +3.3 framing runs, and decent blocking numbers (along with a huge reduction in passed balls) should help quell some of the “can he stick at catcher?” concerns.

RHP Carlos Herrera, Rookie Helena (picked by Nicholas Zettel): When the Brewers traded Adam Lind to the Mariners, David Stearns orchestrated a nifty return that amounted to a complete gamble in his new front office’s abilities to develop low minors arms into players that could reach their MLB ceilings (or simply reach the MLB for that matter) and a tiered acquisition approach that ensured each level of the minors would be populated with projection arms. Now, the fruits of that trade suggest Freddy Peralta is the best asset, having recently been promoted to Class-AA Biloxi in his age-21 season. But, Carlos Herrera was perhaps the most projection-worthy starter on the day of that Lind deal, and it is arguable that that fact has not changed even as Peralta climbs through the minors. Herrera is notably taller than Peralta, which adds intrigue to early reports of velocity and ability to spin breaking pitches. One would almost expect that should the righty continue to ascend into a true starting rotation ceiling, he will not resemble the 6’2″, 150 lb., low-90s arm that made it over to Milwaukee on trade day. Of course it’s a long way from “6’2″ with low-90s fastball and spin” to “filled out starter’s frame with a fastball that reaches or sits in the mid-90s and an average or better off-speed offering,” but there are little checkpoints along the way (like a commanding 20 K / 3 BB / 3 HR in his first 16 innings in Helena).

3 DOWN
LHP Nathan Kirby, Injury Rehabilitation (picked by Nicholas Zettel): This should not be viewed as piling on to the lefty, who has experienced tough luck since Milwaukee selected him as a supplemental first round pick in 2015. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Kirby had an additional elbow procedure completed in 2017, which shortens his potential workload to the end of August (maybe) and developmental ball (also maybe). When drafted, Kirby was viewed as a two-headed beast, one that could potentially flash three above average pitches or serve as a polished, high floor rotational depth guy, or one that could have his ceiling derailed by command and delivery issues. Now, neither of those aspects of the gamble seem pertinent as the Brewers face another long injury rehabilitation in their pitching ranks (see most notably, Taylor Williams, Devin Williams, Daniel Missaki, and Adrian Houser). This was a system where, after 2016, one might have said with confidence that the lower tier pitching ceilings and projection plays were more impactful than the batting profiles, but it’s tough to double down on that statement given the injured impact profiles. If Kirby must wait until 2018 to gain innings once again, the southpaw will be in his age-24 season with 12.7 professional innings under his belt. It is difficult to see a starting profile emerging from this developmental pattern, but injured southpaws have proven to be ageless in the past, meaning it’s time to brush up on bios and profiles like Al Leiter (who like Kirby was listed as a 6’2″, 200 lb. lefty).

OF Trent Clark, Advanced A Carolina (picked by Craig Goldstein): In this iteration of the development cycle, the good becomes the problematic: that strong hit tool that earned rave reviews for Ray Montgomery’s first draft, clearly signalling a shift away from the gambles of the 2014 draft, that strong hit tool that was profiled as leading the way for a center field prospect, is now facing more scouting scrutiny in the prospect’s second ¬†year in full-season ball. It is worth noting that behind Gilbert Lara, Clark is facing the harshest aging curve among regular minor league players in Milwaukee’s system. In the worst case scenario, perhaps Clark repeats at Advanced A Carolina to begin 2018, which could have the benefit of smoothing that curve, giving Clark more chances to sharpen that hit tool, and find separation with the system’s other highly regarded outfielders (which could have the benefit of allowing Clark to solidify that center field role rather than that ‘tweener OFP). Establishing something of a Brinson / Keon Broxton (MLB) | Phillips / Reed (AAA) | Harrison / Ray (AA) | Clark (A+) center field pipeline would provide quite an organizational structure in the middle of the diamond.

Goldstein on Clark: He looked lost at the plate in my viewing, and has been playing LF when Ray is healthy and playing, which puts even more pressure on a bat that was going to be average-dependent in the first place.

RHP Jorge Lopez, AA Biloxi (picked by Kyle Lesniewski): It wasn’t too long ago that Lopez was considered to be the top pitching prospect that Milwaukee had, winning the org’s minor league pitcher of the year after posting a 2.26 ERA in the Southern League in 2015. Last year in Colorado Springs was a disaster, though, and Lopez was returned to AA to begin the 2017 season. His 5.04 ERA in 69.2 innings appears rather underwhelming, though both FIP (3.41) and DRA (4.29) were a bit more bullish on Lopez’s work with the Shuckers this year. An improved K/BB rate after lowering his arm slot apparently wasn’t enough to convince Brewers’ brass he could stick in the rotation. From farm director Tom Flanagan on Jorge’s recent role change, via Adam McCalvy’s most recent mailbag.”The starting rotation at Biloxi is filled with some pitchers that have really thrown well, and Jorge hasn’t been able to show the consistency that we wanted to see in that role….Jorge has all the weapons to become a successful Major League starting pitcher, and we are not closing any doors on that. But by moving Jorge to the ‘pen, and getting him on the mound more often, we feel it will be helpful step in his development.” Lopez was just recently recalled to and demoted from the big leagues, and his profile suggests that he should have the chance to become an impact reliever. Still, that result would be a far cry from the “future #2 or #3 starter” labels that were being slapped on Lopez after his outstanding season two years ago.

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