Wednesday, December 23, 2009

TEAM #22 – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers have cleared the way for Escobar to open 2010 as the starting SS

The Brewers come in at #22, with an organization that is short on top tier talent, but is extremely deep. The organization’s biggest weakness, lies in its lack of quality pitching prospects. This has evolved from a record of draft futility that is unequalled by any other Major League organization. Over the ten year period between 1998-2007, the Brewers have selected 55 pitchers in the first ten rounds of the draft. Of that group, only two of them--Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo have produced at least 1 Major League season with a positive Wins Above Replacement Value. While the Major League Average for pitchers over the decade has been about 12%, the Brewers have hit on a whopping 3.6%. Over the same time, the Mets, Braves and Giants have succeeded with 15% of their picks. The Dodgers, Athletics and Angels hit on 17%. Even the historically draft inept Pirates, Nationals and Astros have gotten it right more than 10% of the time. But with names like J.M. Gold, Nick Neugebauer, Mark Rogers, Mike Jones and Jeremy Jeffress dotting the record books, the Brewers have hit the mark on less than 4% of their selections. Now given that the Mariners thought enough of Jack Zduriencik to hire him as GM—despite his being responsible for a fair share of the futility, and that Doug Melvin and Reid Nichols have been in place since 2002 and are still employed, I’m still not sure whether it is a scouting issue or a player development issue, but the reason that I bring this up is to urge caution in assessing Jake Odorizzi, Evan Frederickson, Seth Lintz, Eric Arnett and Kyle Heckathorn—the latest Brewer high draft pick pitchers. On the offensive side of the things, things are slightly better. There is not a lot of high-ceiling offense, but there is a group of solid offensive players that score fairly well on the certainty side of things. All things considered, things appear to be on an upswing. I am encouraged by the drafts in the Bruce Seid era. There are players ready to make an impact as early as this year. While I am not as high on the Brewers at the Major League level, but there is some reason for hope on the way.

Grade A

1) Alcides Escobar, SS (2009 Performance Scores – Power 33; First Base Rate 59; Discipline 65; Speed 80)

Few players have been as ballyhooed as Escobar, but have had as many questions about the bat as we have here. While there are ‘defense first’ players, Escobar had long been considered a ‘defense-only’ type player. In six Minor League seasons, Escobar has never posted an .800 OPS, and had a career .650 OPS, prior to his ‘breakout’ 2008 season. That said, he will begin the 2010 season as likely one of the top three SS gloves in the Majors—he is that good. One must remember though, Ozzie Smith put together a hall of fame career with only one season of plus .750 OPS in twenty professional seasons. I am not saying that Escobar is equivalent to Smith, only pointing out that as the SS position, defense matters, and Escobar has exceptional lateral range, soft hands and a solid arm. We are high on Escobar, expecting him to have a lengthy MLB career that consists of many .290/.345/.400 type of seasons with 20-25 SBs.

Grade A-

2) Brett Lawrie, 2B (2009 Performance – Power 74; First Base Rate 58; Discipline 63; Speed 61)

Lawrie rocketed up the charts just before the 2008 draft when he put on a power show when his Canadian National Junior team visited the Dominican Republic. There have been little questions about his bat since then, and 2009 was no exception. He shows plus power, above average contact skills, with above average plate discipline. If the Brewers can find a defensive home for him, his bat should play quite well at the next level. Unfortunately, while the Brewers would like to envision him as a Jeff Kent type of second-basemen, our feeling is that he ends up as an OF corner. That bat will still play there, but his value takes a slight hit. His 2010 assignment will be interesting, after he skipped Hi-A in 2009. We are expecting to see him return to AA, with a shot at seeing Milwaukee before the end of the 2011 season—remember…he doesn’t turn 20yo until January.

Grade B+

3) Mat Gamel, LF/3B (2009 Performance – Power 68; First Base Rate 59; Discipline 21; Speed 35)

Gamel is an excellent example of what happens in the mainstream media with prospects. Entering the 2008 season, we had Gamel higher than most anyone (#146 overall, 4th in the Brewers system behind LaPorta, Salome, and Escobar). In a loaded Huntsville lineup, with LaPorta as protection, Gamel went out and put together a remarkable first half of 2008, and entered last season at #26 by John Sickles, #34 at Baseball America, #58 at Baseball Prospects and #86 by Keith Law. As we compared his 2007 season vs. his respective league, and his 2008 season vs. his respective league, allowing for age, his overall 2008 season was actually no better than his 2007 season—perhaps a tad worse, therefore by Diamond Futures methods, Gamel once again fell outside of the Top 100, coming in at #141. There is a reason that we have developed a metric based approach to prospect evaluation…through repeated research, like Kahneman and Tversky’s 1979 study on Prospect Theory, it has been shown that human bias in cognitive evaluation method’s leads to irrational decision-alternative choices. Essentially, you can’t do this right, if you allow subjectivity. In Gamel’s case, he still has the same defensive negatives that have always been a part of his profile package, he still has strike zone management issues that have always been a part of the package, yet subjective evaluators were swayed enough, by one-half of a season, to overlook these concerns. Don’t get us wrong…Gamel still has above average power and contact skills. The bat is solid enough to perhaps be a league average LF, but more likely Gamel develops into a part time player who is likely to see 300-400 ABs per year at the Big League level with an average Major League club. There is a high degree of certainty that he reaches that level, but that still doesn’t make him a Top 100 prospect.

Grade B

4) Caleb Gindl, OF (2009 Performance – Power 76; First Base Rate 71; Discipline 45; Speed 76)

Unfortunately for Gindl, he suffers from what we like to call the ‘Jaff Decker syndrome’. That is that he just hits and hits but doesn’t look like a Major League hitter. At 5’9”, 185lbs, he doesn’t make the scouts drool, and he has a physical profile that hasn’t produced a lot of historical success. A 5th round pick in 2007, he won the Pioneer League (PIO) batting title in his debut. As a 19yo, in the SAL, in 2008, he finished with the #7 Performance Score. This past season he finished behind only Jesus Montero and Mike Stanton in the FSL—ahead of players like Dominic Brown and Starlin Castro. This is a player that played most of the 2009 season as a 20yo in the FSL and posted a .822 OPS with 17HRs. If he were just a couple of inches taller, people would be speaking of him as a Top 50 prospect. Other than his lack of size, his only negative is a strike out rate that still hovers north of 20%. But this is caused by a tremendously aggressive approach at the plate that is somewhat mitigated by a 13% walk rate. While he isn’t a solid enough defender to play CF—and will therefore be regulated to an OF corner, Gindl has a Nate McLouth or Brian Giles type upside. Look for Gindl to spend the entire 2010 season in AA. He won’t be afforded many second chances, but he has a chance to make an appearance in Milwaukee sometime in 2011.

5) Jonathan Lucroy, C (2009 Performance – Power 61; First Base Rate 69; Discipline 65; Speed 34)

I truly hate doing profiles for players like Lucroy. Most everything that I am going to say from here is going to come off as negative—when the reality is that we feel that Lucroy is a solid prospect. The problem is that when most of the rest of the prospect evaluators get their ‘heads out in front of their skis’ on a player, we end up sounding like we are ‘raining on someone’s parade’. When we have seen lists that have Lucroy rated as high as the #3 catching prospect in the Minor’s…people have gotten a little ahead of themselves. Lucroy possesses above average power, contact and plate discipline skills for a catcher. He also possesses a relatively strong-arm. He has the potential upside of a slightly above average offensive catcher, who might be adequate enough defensively for an everyday job. However…defensively, he still doesn’t call a very good game, and struggles with the receiving skills. Offensively he played in AA, as a 23yo, in 2009; posted a nearly .800 OPS, and walked more than he struck out. If you want a comp, check out the Rays’ John Jaso in his 2007 season. The one where he was a 23yo in AA, walked more than he struck out, and posted an .893 OPS. There is no doubt that his certainty factor is aided by the Lucroy clearly becoming the front office’s ‘Catcher of the Future’. We, however, don’t find much more to like than we do with Salome, and really expect him to top out as a part-time catcher in the Major Leagues.

6) Angel Salome, C (2009 Performance – Power 43; First Base Rate 55; Discipline 50; Speed 31)

With only Jason Kendall in front of him, and a Brewer team that was out of contention for most of the second half of the 2009 season, Salome had the golden opportunity to follow-up his 2008 performance and play his way onto the big league club. Unfortunately Salome battled back issues from the start of the season and had only posted a .640 OPS through the first two months of the season. When you only stand 5’7” and are nearly as wide around, and have one of the Minor’s most unorthodox swings, you aren’t going to see many second chances, and Salome has been clearly passed, by Lucroy, in the minds of the Brewers’ front office. Salome went on to post an .810 OPS from June on, but was limited to only 165 ABs during that time. 2010 becomes a pivotal year. While only 23yo, Salome will have to first prove healthy, then he will have to show improvements in his game calling skills, or the Brewer Fans will never get to see that unusual swing or cannon-like arm.

7) Eric Arnett, RHP (2009 – Dominance 56; Stamina 32; HRrate 49; Control 23)

We saw Arnett pitch a handful of times at Indiana. He seemed to get stronger as the college season wore on, and looked like a true workhorse by the end of the Big 10 season, posting the #9 Performance score among draft eligible collegiate pitchers. Arnett is big (6’5”, 225lbs), and possesses a fastball that sits in the low-90s and hits the mid-90s. If he improves his secondary offerings, his upside is that of a mid-rotation innings eater. His floor is rather high, as his downside looks to be that of a solid middle reliever. While he struggled with his control in his PIO debut, that hadn’t been a significant problem during his junior year. Look for Arnett to make his debut in Lo-A to start 2010, but the Brewers could fast track him in the bullpen to get him to Milwaukee sooner.

8) Zach Braddock, RP (2009 – Dominance 80; Stamina 30; HRrate 48; Control 75)

In 4 professional seasons, mostly as a starter, Braddock has accumulated 198 innings. That sums up the biggest problem with Braddock, who had Tommy John surgery even before he was drafted—he just can’t stay healthy. In 2009, the Brewers placed Braddock in the bullpen on a full-time basis, and he responded with a dominating performance—when he wasn’t on one of his two lengthy DL stints. We love his pure ‘stuff’, that centers around a fastball that sits in the low to mid 90s, and can get as high as 96 or 97 MPH. If he can get his health issues together, this is a guy with Major league closer stuff. Unfortunately, the injury history makes him a huge question mark.

9) Kyle Heckathorn, RHP (2009 – Dominance 31; Stamina 54; HRrate 46; Control 72)

While Heckathorn posted the #7 Performance score by a draft eligible collegiate pitcher, 2009 has to be considered a disappointment for him, as he started the season as Kennesaw State’s ace and was clearly outpitched by the Blue Jays’ Chad Jenkins. Nonetheless, the Brewers got a relative steal when he was still there at the 47th pick. We had Heckathorn at #37 in our pre-draft ratings, seeing a big (6’6”, 235lb) mid-rotation innings eater as his upside. Heckathorn has as good of raw stuff as any college pitcher not named Strasburg, as his fastball sits in the mid-90s and he possesses a slider that has plus pitch potential. That being said, his other secondary offerings are lacking, and at this point Heckathorn is far more thrower than pitcher. We weren’t impressed by his PIO debut, as a pitcher with his stuff should miss more bats. While his ceiling is higher, we fear that the lack of quality secondary offerings will limit him to a bullpen role. Like Arnett above, he could be fast tracked as a bullpen arm, but we expect the Brewers to be more patient with Heckathorn.

10) Jake Odorizzi, RHP (2009 – Dominance 52; Stamina 57; HRrate 48; Control 71)

Easily the best prep player drafted from Illinois in 2008, Odorizzi hasn’t been able to replicate his senior season since becoming a pro. A truly gifted athlete, Odorizzi has all of the ‘stuff’, mechanics, and mindset, to become a front of the rotation starter. While only 19yo, he struck out nearly a batter per inning in the PIO, in 2009, while showing plus command of three pitches. Expect 2010 to be a pivotal year for Odorizzi, as he takes on full-season ball for the first time. We feel there is significant projectability left here, and would not be surprised to see a breakout season.

11) Wily Peralta, RHP (2009 – Dominance 69; Stamina 58; HRrate 49; Control 40)

Peralta missed the 2007 due to Tommy John surgery, and only pitched 34 innings in 2008, so it had to come as a welcome relief to the Brewers to see Peralta’s breakout performance in 2009, after they had signed him to a $450,000 bonus as a 16yo in 2005. Peralta features a mid-90s fastball and a very projectable frame. He used that to fan more than a batter per inning in the SAL—as a 20yo. Peralta’s has the raw ‘stuff’ to match nearly anyone in the organization, and his upside is only going to be limited by his development of his secondary offerings. He fights control issues at times, and will have to become more pitcher than thrower. 2010 should find Peralta in Hi-A. He has one of the higher upsides in the organization, but currently remains a classic ‘boom or bust’ type player.

Grade B-

12) Logan Schafer, OF (2009 Performance – Power 56; First Base Rate 65; Discipline 76; Speed 62)

While the Brewers have been touting Lorenzo Cain as their future CF, our eyes have been focused more on Logan Schaffer, their 3rd round choice in 2008. Schafer possesses plus defense ability, above average speed and contact skills, and can hold his own in Power. Most important to us in 2009, was his reducing his strikeout rate from 21% in his debut season to 10.7%. While Schafer doesn’t have a tremendously high ceiling, he already plays Major League caliber defense and looks likely to have a floor of nothing less than a 4th OF type. Look for him to spend most of his 23yo season in AA, with an outside shot at a September call-up to Milwaukee.

13) Kentrail Davis, CF -

Davis is one of those toolsy, speed-type players that the scouting community loves far more than we do. He is slight, plays only adequate OF defense, and currently gets by on his Speed as his only plus tool. He struggled as a Sophomore-eligible at Tennessee last year and strikes out way too often for our liking. Although the Brewers spent the #39 pick on him, we had Davis as a 3rd/4th round talent. If he can stay in CF, he has a Julio Borbon-like upside. We doubt his defense will be adequate enough, making his power in adequate for a corner, and that makes him likely to be a 4th OF type.

14) Cody Scarpetta, RHP (2009 – Dominance 66; Stamina 61; HRrate 49; Control 31)

Scarpetta is another of those big-bodied (6’3”, 240lbs) RHPs that you have already seen a few times on this list. Definitely a ‘power’ pitcher, Scarpetta fanned more than a batter per inning in the MWL as a 20yo. As he moves up the ladder, Scarpetta will have to improve upon his control, that has led to a 4.4 BB/9IP ratio in two pro seasons. Look for him to start 2010 in Hi-A, and spend at least half of the season there. He appears to have the upside of a mid-rotation innings eater, and perhaps a greater likelihood of staying in the rotation than either Arnett or Heckathorn.

15) Chris Dennis, LF (2009 Performance – Power 79; First Base Rate 65; Discipline 30; Speed 39)

Signed out of Canada by the Brewers in the 13th round of the 2007 draft, Dennis has been regarded as a ‘bat-only’ type of player with prodigious power potential. He posted the #12 Performance score in the AZL in his debut season, and followed that up with a #12 Performance score in the PIO in 2008. Dennis got off to a blistering start to the 2009 season, dominating MWL pitching to the tune of a .947 OPS, before an ankle injury basically ended his season. Hopefully healthy, we would not be surprised if the Brewers’ started him in the FSL in 2010. Dennis will have to continue to mash the ball, as he profiles only as a LF/1B type. Only 21yo, we like his upside potential, but clearly realize that he won’t be afforded many slips.

16) Evan Anundsen, RHP (2009 – Dominance 60; Stamina 72; HRrate 50; Control 58)

While 2009 saw Anundsen take a huge step toward becoming more pitcher than thrower, it also provided some disappointments, as his already fringy fastball took a step backwards, leaving him without much projectability on his high 80s offering. Still his peripherals are strong and that led to his posting the #6 Performance score in the FSL in 2009. Anundsen remains a low-ceiling type player, who should spend 2010 in AA. If all the pieces fall into place, he could become a back of the rotation starter in 2011 or 2012.

17) Jeremy Jeffress, RHP (2009 – Dominance 73; Stamina 62; HRrate 49; Control 20)

We could write a book on the trials and tribulations of Jeffress, as we have been warning of his downside risks since the Brewers made him the 16th overall pick in the 2006 draft. The proverbial ‘billion dollar airport with a ten cent control tower’, Jeffress has the raw ‘stuff’ to match most anyone in baseball. But due to his unwillingness to become anything other than thrower, and his battles with substance abuse, Jeffress now is one strike away from an end to his baseball career. There is upside here that can’t be discounted, but the certainty factor is extremely low. He should return sometime mid-2010, and to call the season pivotal would be understating it.

Grade C+ Prospects –

18) Taylor Green, 3B/2B; 19) Eric Farris, 2B; 20) Lorenzo Cain, OF; 21) Nick Bucci, RHP; 22) Efrain Nieves, LHP; 23) Josh Prince, SS; 24) Mark Rogers, RHP; 25) Max Walla, LF; 26) Jose Pena, OF; 27) D’Vontrey Richardson, OF; 28) Cameron Garfield, C; 29) Zeleous Wheeler, 3B; 30) Brooks Hall, RHP; 31) Hernan Iribarren, 2B; 32) Chuck Lofgren, LHP; 33) Del Howell, LHP; 34) Amaury Rivas, RHP.

Grade C Prospects –

Omar Aguilar; John Axford; Brent Brewer; Josh Butler; Chris Cody; Khris Davis; Tim Dillard; Cutter Dykstra; Evan Frederickson; Scooter Gennett; Erik Komatsu; Maverick Lasker; Seth Lintz; Roque Mercedes; Dan Merklinger; Sergio Miranda; Alex Periard; Tyler Roberts; Rob Wooten.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season. For additional information on our rankings methodology, see our recent Mailbag article here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions

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