The depth that Milwaukee currently possesses in their outfield has been oft discussed since at least late January, when Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich joined the fray in the Cream City. With those two in the fold, the franchise can boast about having six MLB-quality outfielders at the upper crust of their system. Outfielders Yelich and Cain joined Domingo Santana and Ryan Braun with the big league Brewers, while prospect Brett Phillips and lightning rod Keon Broxton are down at Class-AAA serving as the first line of depth. But it’s not only that the Brewers are stacked in the outfield at the Major League level. Throughout every level of the minors, the Brewers are loaded with promising outfield talent. This is perhaps most true at the Class-AA level in Biloxi, where two outfielders are tearing the cover off the ball to begin the 2018 minor league season – Corey Ray and Troy Stokes.
The Shuckers are off to a promising 9-4 start this season, and plenty of their success can be attributed to their dynamic duo atop the lineup. With Ray batting leadoff and Stokes right behind him, they rank as #2 and #1 on the squad in OPS and have helped the Shuckers score the league’s second-most runs (at 60). For the 22 year old Stokes, his success is the continuation of his breakout 2017 campaign. Some changes to his swing last year helped Stokes discover his power stroke while suiting up for the Class-A Advanced Mudcats, and the diminutive slugger posted a cumulative .285 TAv with 20 home runs and 30 steals across 100 games with Carolina and 35 games in Biloxi to end the season. He snuck his way into BP’s top-20 Brewers prospects list for the first time as a result and hasn’t stopped hitting so far in 2018. Through his first 13 games, Stokes had produced a .333/.500/.556 slash for a whopping .386 TAv. Seven of his 15 hits have gone for extra bases, including five doubles, a triple, and a home run. He’s swiped three bags already without being caught, and while 18 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances isn’t exactly ideal, he’s also drawn a league-leading 13 walks.
As for Corey Ray, he really has yet to experience much extended success as a professional since getting selected #5 overall in the 2016 MLB Draft. It was a legitimate question whether or not he would get bumped up to Biloxi to start this season or if he would return for a third go-around in Class-A Advanced, but so far it looks like the more aggressive assignment was the proper choice. Ray slumped to a .254 TAv while leading the Carolina League with 156 strikeouts last season, but also got a late start to the year thanks to meniscus surgery that may have had more adverse affect on his game than was originally anticipated. Ray’s work ethic and drive to improve his game have never been in question, and as Brad Ford recently explored for Brew Crew Ball, some mechanical adjustments appear to be the main driver for Corey’s improvements this season.
This season, Ray has raised the position of his hands at setup – sort of the reverse Keon Broxton adjustment – while also working to quiet his leg kick action and get his lower half more involved in the swing. The 23 year old is finally stinging the ball as was hoped when he was drafted, and owns am outstanding .351/.383/.614 slash through his first 13 games and 60 plate appearances in 2018. Like Stokes, he’s been an extra base machine – of his 20 hits, six have been doubles, three have gone for triples, and he’s popped another one over the fence. He’s also successfully nabbed five bases without getting thrown out and has scored 11 times – second-most in the Southern League. John Eschleman wrote for the top prospect list that Ray “[will] require significant adjustments at the plate to stick as a regular” after looking overmatched against Carolina League pitching last season, and it appears as though Corey is well on his way to making those necessary improvements.
It’s obviously still very early on in the season and we should refrain from drawing sweeping conclusions about any player at this point in the year. But it’s hard not to be encouraged out of what we are seeing from Milwaukee’s “next wave” of outfield prospects, especially the early improvements that Corey Ray has shown at the plate. Both players possess plus speed and are capable of manning center field, and we know how much David Stearns loves power/speed threats at premium defensive positions. Truly, there may not have ever been a better time to be a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers than the present, as we are being treated not only with a talented big league club that’s competing for the playoffs but also a stocked minor league system with tons of guys, like Corey Ray and Troy Stokes, who look to have a chance at legitimate MLB roles in the future.