The Milwaukee Brewers System

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After trading hyped prospects Brett Lawrie and Jake Odorizzi away, the Brewers took a relatively unimpressive farm system and turned it into what most experts cite as the most barren in baseball.

Is that right, though, or are there enough sleepers here to give Brewer fans some hope?

System Overview:

With the trade of Odorizzi, the Brewers lost their only Top 100 prospect on my list (I find Lawrie to be one of the more overrated minor leaguers, but that’s just me).

Still, though, I’m not sure I buy this talk of doom and gloom.

Every position offensively has at least someone with potential. There aren’t any black holes, and the outfield depth is actually quite good. Scooter Gennett is a solid second base prospect, and Tyler Roberts is an intriguing catcher. Even shortstop and the corner infield spots aren’t complete black holes.

And the pitching? Less than thrilling, but I don’t find it particularly poor, and I’m not even a big believer in the guy that most rank as Milwaukee’s #1 prospect, Mark Rogers. There aren’t a whole lot of interesting bullpen arms, but that’s hardly the biggest of problems.

Overall, while Milwaukee’s system is fairly thin on high-upside players, there are really quite a few guys who could not only play in the majors, but hold some fairly important roles. I’m not nearly as down on this system as most. It’s certainly better than, say, Florida’s.

The main thing that I think will raise some eyebrows with my selections is the pitching. I’ve got the guy usually considered the Brewers’ fourth-best pitching prospect first, with the first guy fourth. I’ve also really soured on Wily Peralta in the past year, and don’t rank him as highly as most. But other than that? I think these are pretty much the players one would expect to read about.

Catcher: Tyler Roberts. Roberts has excellent power for a catcher, ripping six homers and 17 doubles in 42 games in Rookie ball last season. The tenth-round pick in 2009 has yet to be tested above the AZL, but scouts do like his offensive ability and don’t believe it’s a fluke–Roberts has a compact swing and makes good contact as well. However, receiving is a major problem for the 20-year-old, as he has committed 24 passed balls in 64 career games behind the dish. That needs to improve. One thing that did improve in 2010 was Roberts’ throwing, however, as he increased his caught-stealing percentage from 19% in 2009 to 31% in 2010. He’s got a long way to go to Milwaukee, but the offensive upside here is considerable if Roberts can stay at catcher.

Upside: 8.4, Downside: 2.3

First base: Chris Dennis. A 13th-round pick in 2007, Dennis has moved at a glacial pace, but he followed up a .312/.409/.529 2009 with a solid .270/.362/.497 performance in his first full year. Drafted as an outfielder, Dennis has good athleticism for a first baseman and managed to swipe 11 bases last season. Cutting down on his strikeouts (143 last year) will be important for the 22-year-old, but he’s a nice sleeper who has a legitimate shot to man first down the line if Prince Fielder leaves town.

Upside: 8.2, Downside: 3.5

Second base: Scooter Gennett. Gennett is undersized, but his bat packs a punch. He hit .309/.354/.463 at age 20 in Low-A without any prior pro experience, showing a knack for contact and doubles power. It’ll be extremely important for Gennett to draw more walks (31) and cut down on his errors (21) as he moves up, but considering his youth and inexperience, Gennett’s 2010 was mighty impressive.

Upside: 8.6, Downside: 3.2

Shortstop: Zelous Wheeler. Built similarly to Juan Uribe, Wheeler, like Uribe, offers good power for a shortstop, reaching double digits in homers last year. Unlike Uribe, he has a good grasp of the strike zone, with a 77/70 K/BB last year in Double-A. The 24-year-old made 32 errors last year at short, however; while he has a cannon arm, the accuracy isn’t always there, and Wheeler’s thick body doesn’t lend itself to great range. Of course, his .275/.382/.395 line doesn’t look anywhere near as good in right field or even third base, so it’d help Wheeler’s stock if he can cut down on the errors and stay at short; if not, he’ll probably have to add some pop to grab an MLB gig.

Upside: 7.5, Downside: 4.5

Third base: Taylor Green. Once a top prospect for Milwaukee, Green is now an afterthought at 24, but it’s not like he bombed in Double-A last year, hitting .260/.336/.438. He doesn’t whiff much (67 times) for a guy with solid power, and repeating Double-A did wonders for his power, as Green pulled his slugging percentage up 82 points from 2009. He’s a solid-average defender at third who will definitely be able to stay there. If Green can keep his power at solid levels, he could become a solid MLB player, although his performance against opposite-side pitchers in 2010 (.188/.277/.323) crosses “platoon guy” off the list of potential careers.

Upside: 7.8, Downside: 4.6

Outfielder #1: Kentrail Davis. Davis tore apart Low-A (.335/.421/.518), ripping 26 doubles in 64 games and posting a 36/31 K/BB. However, he was 22, and High-A didn’t go nearly as well (.244/.380/.341, 28 K in 33 G). With just three homers and eleven steals between the two levels, combined with his relatively advanced age, Davis isn’t really a premium prospect, but the 39th pick in 2009 should be a solid corner outfielder with good on-base ability and defense. David DeJesus is a reasonable idea of what to expect if Davis develops normally.

Upside: 8.8, Downside: 3.6

Outfielder #2: Erik Komatsu. At age 22, Komatsu hit .323/.413/.442 in an unforgiving High-A environment, also swiping 28 bases in 37 attempts. One of the most underrated pure hitters in the minors, Komatsu put up a 61/68 K/BB. Fairly undersized, he has good gap power, and the Florida State League fences weren’t easy to clear, but it’s difficult to project him as more than a 10-15 HR guy down the line, meaning he’ll have to be exceptional in the OBP department or stick in center field to project as an above-average regular. Both are possible, but far from givens.

Upside: 8.5, Downside: 4.5

Outfielder #3: Khris Davis. Like the other outfield K. Davis, Khris was old for Low-A at 22, but hit enough to get noticed, putting up a .280/.398/.499 line with 22 homers. Athletic for a slugger, Davis stole 17 bases, but he was caught ten times and isn’t thought of as a premium defender even in left field. He’ll need to move quickly, but Davis clearly has power and knows how to draw a walk. There’s a bit of Nick Swisher potential here.

Upside: 8.7, Downside: 4.0

Starting Pitcher #1: Kyle Heckathorn. I don’t go on “gut feel” about prospects that often; I usually let the stats and scouting reports speak for themselves. But I just have a feeling about Heckathorn. He’s got a big, durable frame, a mid-90’s fastball, and a wipeout slider. Despite all that, he doesn’t get great strikeout numbers, with just 90 in 124 innings last year across the two A-ball levels. Some look at that and see a pitcher not maximizing his stuff. I look at that, and his 56% groundball rate, and his 30 walks, and see a pitcher who is using his stuff in constructive non-strikeout ways, much like Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. I really think this guy is going to pick up strikeouts, or at least not lose any as he moves up the ladder, as he figures out the balance between throwing strikes and getting hitters to chase. The 22-year-old has legitimate front-of-the-rotation potential if his changeup comes around and he learns how to strike that balance. And no, I’m not a Brewers fan.

Upside: 9.4, Downside: 4.8

Starting Pitcher #2: Cody Scarpetta. Scarpetta whiffed 142 batters in 128 High-A innings and only allowed four homers, thanks to a plus fastball/curveball combination. Scarpetta does walk too many (67) and doesn’t have very good mechanics, but his stuff and big frame give him the chance to be a mid-rotation rock. How well Double-A hitters can pick up his big curve could dictate his future.

Upside: 8.8, Downside: 4.0

Starting Pitcher #3: Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg is a bigtime sleeper prospect who racked up 38 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings in Rookie ball. It’s not surprising that the 22-year-old overpowered low-minors hitters, because they’ve likely never seen anyone like Thornburg. A short righty, he has an extremely deceptive delivery and incredibly high release point. That straightens out his low-90’s fastball, but gives him leverage that few short pitchers have. Thornburg’s huge slow curve and deceptive changeup are both potential out pitches, and nobody in Rookie ball had a chance against either. Upper-minors hitters will likely catch on better, but Thornburg has mid-rotation potential with his excellent three-pitch mix.

Upside: 9.0, Downside: 2.5

Starting Pitcher #4: Mark Rogers. Rogers recovered from a seemingly endless string of arm problems to top 100 innings for the first time in 2010, putting up a 3.71 ERA in Double-A while striking out nearly a batter per inning. One Triple-A start and ten innings in Milwaukee also went well. Rogers still walks far too many hitters, but his fastball still sits at 93 mph and his slider and curve still rate highly. The fifth overall pick in 2004, Rogers is already 25, so the time for him to seize a job is now. There’s a bit of Brandon Morrow here; like Morrow, Rogers will need to prove his durability, figure out a pitch to lefties, and throw strikes if he’s going to reach his considerable potential.

Upside: 8.4, Downside: 6.0

Starting Pitcher #5: Wily Peralta. Peralta’s got a nice fastball/slider combination and workable changeup, but his strikeout rate has slid precipitously from its 2009 heights, going from 10.2 K/9 in 2009 to 6.4 in 2010. His K/BB slid from 2.57 in Low-A to 1.88 in High-A to 1.21 in Double-A, also a bad sign. The stuff is still there, but the command isn’t. Peralta just turns 22 in May, so he has time to figure it out, but one has to wonder if he’d fit better in relief.

Upside: 7.6, Downside: 5.0

Relief Pitcher #1: Jimmy Nelson. Nelson could well wind up as a starter, but he worked exclusively in relief in 2010, with a 33/13 K/BB across 26 innings. Milwaukee’s second-round pick in 2010, the 21-year-old is mainly a fastball/slider guy. He’s got a big, durable frame and is hell on righties with the fastball and slider, pitching downhill and getting great groundball numbers in addition to the strikeouts. He could be an impact reliever or, if his changeup comes around, a durable back-of-the-rotation starter, if Milwaukee elects to move him to the rotation.

Upside: 8.7, Downside: 2.4

Relief Pitcher #2: Jonathan Pokorny. This big lefty doesn’t have intimidating stuff, but Low-A hitters couldn’t touch him in 2010, striking out 87 times in 60 1/3 innings. Pokorny did walk 26, which isn’t going to cut it for a guy throwing an 88 mph fastball when he gets to higher levels. With a deceptive delivery and two good offspeed pitches, Pokorny may actually fit better as a starter, but the 2009 ninth-rounder could also be valuable as a multiple-inning lefty a la Craig Breslow. At 23 and without High-A experience, he will need to move quickly, regardless of role, and prove he can deceive upper-level hitters.

Upside: 7.6, Downside: 3.7

Tags: Chris Dennis Cody Scarpetta Erik Komatsu Jimmy Nelson Jonathan Pokorny Kentrail Davis Khris Davis Kyle Heckathorn Mark Rogers Milwaukee Brewers Scooter Gennett Taylor Green Tyler Roberts Tyler Thornburg Wily Peralta Zelous Wheeler

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