2017 was an important developmental year for Milwaukee’s farm system, especially after what most considered a “down year” in terms of performances across the board in 2016. The Brewers saw the advancement and major league debuts of several notable prospects, including Josh Hader, Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips, and Brandon Woodruff. These players already figure to play key roles for the ball club next season and going forward. Further on down the ladder, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta battled for the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year while other advanced hurlers like Jon Perrin, Aaron Wilkerson, and Cody Ponce helped provide more clarity for their future rotational depth roles; Monte Harrison was finally healthy enough to show off his five-tool potential, Keston Hiura hit the ground running after being selected in June’s amateur draft, and others like Jake Gatewood, Lucas Erceg, and Troy Stokes enjoyed successful campaigns, as well.
Related Reading: 2017 Breakouts
As 2017 draws to a close and we begin to look ahead to what the new year may bring, which under-the-radar prospects could be breakout performers in 2018?
OF Tristen Lutz (2018 age: 19)
Lutz fell to the Brewers in Competitive Balance Round A in this past summer’s draft, getting popped at #34 overall. The Arlington, Texas native was considered to be one of the best prep bats available, with Baseball America praising him as “an easy bat to believe in.” It took a signing bonus of nearly $400,000 above slot to entice Lutz away from his collegiate commitment to Texas, but the early returns on that investment look promising. Lutz played in 40 games between Milwaukee’s two rookie-level affiliates and compiled a stellar .311/.398/.559 slash with nine home runs for a .295 TAv.
Though he was drafted out of high school, Lutz has a man’s body at 6’3″ and 210 pounds. He has plenty of present strength that helps drive his plus raw power from the right side of the plate, power he’s already shown the ability to tap into during in-game settings. For the moment, Lutz is an above-average runner and he spent most of the summer patrolling center field, but the belief among scouts is that he’ll wind up settling into a corner spot. His plus arm strength would help him profile as an above-average defender in right field. Some stiffness and effort in his swing have caused some concern about the future utility of his hit tool, and he did strike out in 22.5 percent of his plate appearances last season.
Scouts have praised Lutz’s makeup and feel for the game, and he ranked in the “next ten” of the BP Top 10 prospects list for the Brewers for 2018. Lutz still has a long ways to go before he’s cranking dingers out of Miller Park, but for now he is a strong candidate to receive a full-season assignment in 2018, likely to Class A Wisconsin.
RHP Jordan Yamamoto (2018 age: 22)
Milwaukee’s scouts must have enjoyed their trips to Hawaii in 2014. Yamamoto garnered some attention by outdueling Kodi Medeiros during a matchup about a month before that year’s draft, and after the Brewers chose Medeiros with their 1st-round selection, they later plucked up Yamamoto in the 12th round. An over-slot $330,000 bonus convinced the right-hander to forgo his commitment to Arizona and join the professional ranks.
After spending his first two seasons in rookie ball, Yamamoto has quietly been excellent the past two years in his two full-season assignments. He spent all of 2016 with Class A Wisconsin, logging 134.3 innings with a 1.90 DRA, 84 DRA-, and 152:31 K/BB ratio. A promotion to Class A-Advanced Carolina in 2017 didn’t slow Yamamoto down, though an injury did limit him to 111.0 innings. They were pretty darn quality, though, as Yamamoto captured the league’s ERA title with a 2.51 total. A DRA- of 63 placed him alongside the most dominant pitchers in the league, and his peripherals remained strong with marks of 9.2 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9.
Yamamoto doesn’t fit the archetypal pitcher’s build, as he stands at an even 6’0″ and weighs 185 lbs. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs called Yamamoto a “spin rate darling” in his write up of the hurler within his recent Top 30 Brewers prospects post, noting that he works from a low three-quarters arm slot with a fastball that sits in the 89-92 MPH range and can touch as high as 94 MPH. He spins his curveball at nearly 2,000 RPM and it grades out as a future plus offering. Longenhagen believes that Jordan’s changeup is below-average and though he’s posted low walk totals at every stop, he gives his command a fringe average grade, as well.
The physical build and repertoire concerns could be enough to eventually relegate Yamamoto to a relief role, but given his prior success there’s little reason to believe that he won’t begin 2018 in the rotation at Class AA Biloxi. If he can continue to limit the walks and perhaps take a step forward with the cambio, an eventual spot in the back end of an MLB rotation is within reach.
Zach Clark: .225/.327/.392, 7 HR, 10 SB in 248 PA with Helena, Wisconsin
Jon Perrin: 2.91 ERA, 64 DRA-, 7.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 in 105.3 IP with Biloxi