Now that the World Series has ended, the baseball offseason can officially begin. This time of year brings with it not only speculation about trades, free agents, and what a team might look like next year, but also plenty of talk about prospects. Indeed, Baseball Prospectus will begin to roll out their updated top prospects lists for each MLB organization during the month of November. With that in mind, let’s take this opportunity to look back on last year’s top-10 prospect list for our own Milwaukee Brewers. Non-linear prospect development is oft-discussed on these pages, so whose stock is up, whose is down, and who held steady during 2017?
2. LHP Josh Hader
Hader was ranked as the Brewers’ #2 prospect entering the 2017 season, and he did not disappoint during his first taste of big league action. The lefty spent the first few months of the season struggling in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but once the projected Super Two cutoff had comfortably passed the Brewers brought Hader up to join a struggling bullpen. He was a revelation in a true fireman role, tossing 47.7 innings of 2.08 ERA baseball covering 35 appearances. He struck out batters in bunches, registering 12.8 K/9, while holding opponents to a .204 TAv. If ERA isn’t enough to illustrate his dominance, he also recorded an 86 cFIP and 80 DRA-. Inconsistent command and secondaries call into question whether or not Hader can eventually become a starter, but he looks to at least have fulfilled his floor of impact reliever.
1. OF Lewis Brinson
The 23 year old outfielder was Milwaukee’s #1 prospect last year, and there’s little doubt that the title will be bestowed upon him once again heading into 2018. In his first extended run at the minors highest level, Brinson pounded opposing pitchers to the tune of a .331/.400/.562 slash with 13 home runs and 11 steals in 76 games. He struggled in his brief MLB debut and suffered (yet another) injury in August that ended his season early, but those issues should do little to dim his long-term outlook.
6. OF Brett Phillips
Like Brinson, Maverick Phillips got his first extended taste of the AAA level in 2017 and thrived. A year after grappling with Southern League pitching, Phillips torched the PCL for a .305/.377/.567 batting line with 19 long balls and 10 steals. Unlike Brinson, Phillips opened up some eyes within the organization during an outstanding September in the big leagues, and ended 2017 with an MLB slash of four big league dingers, five steals, a .293 TAv, and some stellar defensive play in center field (+4.4 FRAA). He’s still got a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but that’s becoming more and more prevalent throughout the league. Phillips appears to be on the inside track for the center field job in Milwaukee next spring.
8. 3B Lucas Erceg
Erceg got off to a slow start in a tough league for hitters down in Carolina, but came on strong once summer officially hit. His .256/.307/.417 slash doesn’t jump off the page, but he did post an .807 OPS after June 1st and only four batters in the Carolina League slugged more than his 15 home runs. Erceg doesn’t look like he’ll be more than an average hitter who doesn’t walk much, but the power could be above-average to plus and Baseball America ranked his as both the top defensive third baseman and the top infield arm in the Carolina League this season.
9. SS/2B Mauricio Dubon
Dubon split the year between AA and AAA and displayed quality bat-to-ball skills and nifty defensive ability at both second base and shortstop. He didn’t brandish the power that he showed during his AA stint in Boston’s organization in 2016, though, but not many people really expected him to. Dubon’s game is built around high contact and speed, and he could contribute at the big league level as soon as this coming season.
10. RHP Cody Ponce
Ponce stayed healthy in 2017, which was one of the more worrisome issues regarding his development previously. He fills the zone and doesn’t walk many hitters, but his velocity hasn’t been quite what it was during his college days. His stuff is inconsistent at times and he didn’t miss a ton of bats this year, registering only 6.7 K/9. But he did throw nearly 140 innings in 2017 between high-A and AA while logging a 3.14 ERA, helping make his projection as a inning-eating back end starter that much more realistic.
3. OF Corey Ray
Ray’s been a pretty big disappointment in the early stages of his career since Milwaukee popped him fifth overall in 2016. He’s struggled adjusting to even average fastball velocity, and was overmatched to the tune of a league-leading 156 strikeouts in 112 games (31 percent K-rate) with Carolina this past season. He’s become a well-regarded defender in center field and has speed to burn, but after batting .238/.311/.367 with 7 homers this season, he’s started getting some grades as a future fourth outfielder.
4. 2B/SS Isan Diaz
Diaz has been lauded as one of the top-hitting middle infield prospects in the game, but that didn’t really come to fruition in 2017. His power was way down as he clubbed 13 home runs in Carolina (from 20 the year before in low-A) and saw a 50+ point drop in his ISO. He also had issues with expanding his strike zone and whiffed in nearly 27 percent of his plate appearances. Given that he’s unlikely to stick at shortstop with his limited range, there’s a lot of pressure on his bat to develop. A .222/.334/.376 slash in A-ball isn’t going to cut it.
5. RHP Luis Ortiz
Ortiz spent the entire year in AA at the age of 21 in 2017 and finished with a respectable 4.01 ERA in 94.3 innings, which was a career-high. But he missed time once again with injury, which is concerning given his reputation for poor conditioning and a “bad body.” For as much talk as there’s been about his advanced stuff, he didn’t get a lot of whiffs against his Southern League competition, registering 7.5 K/9, while also issuing a career-worst 3.5 BB/9. While there’s still hope for an above-average starter, he’s behind the eight-ball when it comes to building an innings base and needs to show that he’s capable of handling a full-season’s workload.
7. OF Trent Clark
Another Ray Montgomery 1st-rounder that has so far failed to live up to expectations. Clark was considered the most advanced high school bat in the 2015 class, but so far in the professional ranks he’s been dinged for being far too passive in the strike zone. His reserved approach helps him get on base at a high clip and draw plenty of walks against low-level pitching, but that won’t be sustainable as he climbs the minor league ladder. He has yet to find any semblance of consistent power, either, as his OBP (.360) was higher than his SLG (.348) in 2017. This purportedly “advanced hitter” could manage only a .223 average in 2017 while striking out at a 24 percent clip. His limited arm strength means that left field is probably the best fit long-term, putting even ore pressure on the bat to start developing.