Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TEAM #29 – Milwaukee Brewers

Why not Caleb Gindl as the Brewers top prospect?

When the eGuide is published, it is quite likely that the Brewers will be team #30—after finishing last year at #22 (TEAM #22 – Milwaukee Brewers). We have always used 130ABs and 50 IPs as our thresholds for inclusion on this list, but with the industry trend being to match Major League rookie levels—which have a service time component, Zach Braddock and his 34 Major League innings no longer qualify. That plus the expected confirmation that Jeremy Jeffress is the player to be named in the Greinke deal, is enough to make up the margin of difference between the Brewers and the White Sox. Now one could make the argument that the Brewers’ Minor League system will be taking the mound in Milwaukee this season in the form of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum…but that is another story.

Doug Melvin has taken the Kenny Williams approach to farm systems this offseason, dealing what some might argue were the top three players in the system. Couple that with failing to sign first round pick Dylan Covey, and you could be scratching your head as to what Melvin is doing to the Brewer Future. A closer look reveals tremendous shrewdness. By not signing Covey, the Brewers will receive the 16th selection in 2011, and are likely to have much more to choose from in what is shaping up to be a considerably deeper draft. While Lawrie and Odorizzi are nice prospects, they both possess enough questions (Lawrie as to his eventual position and Odorizzi on his secondary offerings) to keep them from the elite level of the prospect rankings. Jeffress and Alcides Escobar are players with baggage, and Lorenzo Cain is a low ceiling outfielder—something that the Brewers are extremely deep at. In return they receive two quality Major League starting pitchers—both with two years remaining on their contracts—and now possess a lineup and rotation capable of competing for the N.L. Central title.

Where you have to worry if you’re a Brewers’ fan is Melvin’s ability to rebuild the system. In eight drafts since taking over as Brewer GM, Melvin has made 63 picks in the first seven rounds, twelve of them first-rounders, and ten of them who he has signed to $1 million+ bonuses. The average selection position of the first pick has been 8th. Yet the only significant pitcher produced has been Yovanni Gallardo and the list of hitters that have accumulated 250+ Major League at bats ends at: Rickie Weeks, Tony Gwyyn, jr,, Ryan Braun, Mat Gamel, Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Jonathan Lucroy. The system is fraught with low-ceiling, undersized hitters, and either power pitchers with troublesome control or control pitchers with limited power. Without a significant strategical change in their draft philosophy, it is difficult to see how the situation improves. No system in the game is weaker at the top of the rankings, and it isn’t likely to improve much in the foreseeable future.

Best Pick from 2010 – Given our placement of Gindl, one could argue that his slotting at #4 was the best pick, but since the consensus opinion in the community of experts is still selling him ‘short’ (no pun intended), we will go with the slotting of Wily Peralta at #11.

Worst Pick from 2010 – That’s easy…we believed Angel Salome could overcome his poor mechanics and succeed as a Major League backstop. We never counted on him turning into a complete ‘headcase’ who is now a marginal prospect at best.

Grade B+

1) Caleb Gindl, OF (2010 Performance Scores – Power 56; Discipline 63; First Base Rate 54; Speed 57)

Admittedly, there isn’t a weaker #1 prospect in all of baseball than Gindl, but that would have been said about any player on this list—and someone has to take the top spot. Actually Gindl is a perfect top prospect for the Brewers, because he is the poster boy representative of what this system offers—namely under-sized, under-skilled ‘grinders’. Gindl has an advanced plate-approach that should allow him to make solid contact as he continues to advance. His #9 Performance Score in the Southern League (SOL) ranked just a tick below, then teammate, Brett Lawrie. Most impressively, he held his own as a 21yo in AA—something that he has been able to do at every stop of his professional career; and his once problematic strikeout rate fell to just over 15% in 2010—the lowest in his four seasons. Defensively, he is capable of manning any of the three positions, but likely profiles best as a right-fielder. While Gindl provides a solid across-the-board skill set, none of his skills standout and he is unlikely to put up the kind of power numbers that you would ideally want from a corner outfielder. That said, his offensive upside is higher than that of former Brewer farmhand Michael Brantley, who is likely to carve out a career as a solid fourth/platoon outfielder. When we watch Gindl, we are reminded of Nate McLouth. We believe Gindl is a ‘high-floor’/’low-ceiling’ prospect that should achieve a decent amount of Major League success. With the right opportunity, he could become a league-average everyday player. Expect Gindl to begin 2011 in AAA, and see Milwaukee at some point during the season.

Grade B

2) Ryan ‘Scooter’ Gennett, 2B (2010 – Power 65; Discipline 65; First Base Rate 53; Speed 70)

With above average power and contact skills for a middle infielder, Gennett would rank higher if it weren’t for a 5’9”, 165lb build. More to the point he attacks the game both in the field and at the plate, which makes him a fan favorite. In somewhat of a breakout year, 2010 ended with Gennett posting a top ten Performance Score in the Midwest League (MWL) and 2011 should find him in the Florida State League (FSL). If Gennett is to continue his march toward a potential league average second baseman, he will have to continue to hit—as his defensive skill set and speed are merely average. There isn’t a tremendously high-ceiling with Gennett, but his bat and approach should ensure that he gets the most of his natural abilities.

3) Wily Peralta, RHP (2010 – Dominance 35; Control 38; HRrate 43; Stamina 72)

In the ‘more of the same’ category, Peralta is another player with a limited ‘ceiling’, but a skill set that provides him with a solid shot at maxing out his abilities. Peralta played 2010 as a 21yo in the SOL, where he posted the #17 Performance Score. His out pitch is his low-to-mid 90s fastball, and he complements that with average secondary offerings. While he fights occasional bouts of control issues, there is little in his make-up that suggests he can’t become a solid middle of the rotation Major League starter. Unfortunately, there is little to suggest that he can become much more than that. At 22yo, Peralta is likely to find himself in AAA to begin the 2011 season. While the Brewer rotation appears to be set, he could find time in Milwaukee before the year is out.

4) Mark Rogers, RHP (2010 – Dominance 62; Control 25; HRrate 72; Stamina 64)

The former first round pick (#5 in 2004), Rogers has yet to realize his potential due to an injury-plagued professional career. Finally healthy and pitching over 100 innings for the first time since being drafted, Rogers enjoyed a solid season in the SOL. He even made a couple of starts in Milwaukee, at the end of the season, where he once-again looked solid. Rogers throws a heavy fastball that sits comfortably in the low-to-mid 90s. He complements that with a solid curve. The downside is that he really doesn’t possess a Major League quality third offering and has never really mastered the art of control. It is for these reasons that Rogers doesn’t rank higher on a thin Brewer list. Whereas Peralta looks like a solid bet to remain in the rotation, Rogers looks destined to fill a bullpen role—despite the fact that he will be given every opportunity to remain a starter. Look for Rogers to begin the 2011 in the Nashville rotation. Should the need arise, he is likely the first pitcher to be called up and looks like a certainty to spend some significant time in the Majors—we just don’t see it being in an impact role.

5) Tyler Roberts, C (2010 – Power 79; Discipline 67; First Base Rate 37; Speed 29)

Roberts may be our favorite player on this list—and is likely the player with the highest upside. A ‘beefy’ 6’0”, 230lbs, Roberts is raw in both his offensive and defensive approaches. He possesses excellent power skills and makes surprising contact considering his long, powerful swing. There is somewhat of an all or nothing approach, however, as more than 50% of Roberts hits were for extra bases in 2010 and he possesses what could only be termed ‘base-clogging’ speed. Defensively, he possesses a powerful arm, but is often lost at times with his fundamental receiving skills. With refinement, Roberts could become a power-hitting Major League backstop, but he will be only making his full-season debut in 2011, so there is a long way from here to there.

6) Cody Scarpetta, RHP (2010 – Dominance 64; Control 28; HRrate 67; Stamina 65)

Speaking of ‘beefy’ players, the 22yo Scarpetta can block out the sun with the best of them. His fastball sits comfortably in the low-90s, and sets up his outpitch—a plus-plus curve. In 2010, Scarpetta rode them to a #14 Performance Score in the FSL. The downside is that Scarpetta’s change is still a work-in-process and he has made little improvement on his control that has caused him to allow more than 4.5 base-on-balls per 9IP. While the ‘ceiling’ isn’t extreme, he seems to have the makings of a solid mid-rotation innings eater. Refining that command will be the key to him achieving it. Look for Scarpetta to begin 2011 in the SOL, with a possible rotation shot when Marcum and Greinke’s contracts expire.

7) Kyle Heckathorn, RHP (2010 – Dominance 35; Control 64; HRrate 71; Stamina 69)

While Heckathorn’s 2010 numbers were an improvement over his 2009 debut, they still lacked the sizzle that was expected after his collegiate career. On a pure raw stuff basis, Heckathorn’s stuff was as good as any college pitcher in the 2009 draft that wasn’t named Strasburg. He throws a heavy low-90s sinker and has a slider with plus potential. At 6’6”, he has a durable frame that one can easily envision as a solid #2/#3 Major League starter. But Heckathorn has yet to find away to dominate lower level hitters the way that a 22yo should. His change still needs considerable work and without a dominating out pitch, there are questions about whether he will ever be more than back of the rotation material. 2011 will be a huge year for Heckathorn, as he is likely to return to the FSL to start the year before making a mid-season AA debut. He needs to take a big step forward.

Grade B-

8) Erik Komatsu, OF (2010 – Power 50; Discipline 75; First Base Rate 78; Speed 78)

I easily could have copied Gindl’s write-up into this space as the stories are similar—under-sized and under-skilled. The basic difference is that Komatsu appears to have the speed to play an everyday center field and actually profiles fairly well for the position. His plate discipline skills are first-rate and like most center fielders, he displays only minimal power. Komatsu parlayed all of that into a fine 2010, as he finished with the #6 Performance Score in the FSL. The downside is that Komatsu is already 23yo and doesn’t look to have much in the way of projection remaining, so we are looking at an upside of a league average center fielder. Despite his advanced development and a strong collegiate background, Komatsu will only be getting his first taste of AA in 2011. With a repeat performance of 2010, he will play his when into legitimate prospect notoriety. Without it, we may be looking at a 4th/5th OF type.

9) Khris Davis, LF (2010 – Power 79; Discipline 41; First Base Rate 70; Speed 59)

Khris and Kentrail Davis formed a solid outfield combo at Wisconsin this past summer, with Davis our slight preference of the two. Possessing plus power skills and patience enough to coax 77 walks and post a nearly .400 OBP, Davis established himself as a legitimate prospect. The downside is that Davis fanned 22% of the time—despite being a 22yo in the MWL. We liked Davis coming out of Fullerton, where he posted the #19 Performance Score in 2009. We felt the Brewers received excellent value by tabbing him in the 7th round. But we need to see Davis in a more age appropriate environment. Look for Davis to begin 2011 in the FSL, but he must reach AA by mid-season in order to continue to be viewed as a legitimate prospect. This grade is as much based on what we believe Davis is capable of as it what he has actually shown as a professional.

10) Kentrail Davis, OF (2010 – Power 49; Discipline 66; First Base Rate 69; Speed 51)

Davis is easily the most athletic player on this list, and has the tools to become a potential everyday Major League centerfielder, as he makes excellent contact and possesses average speed. Power is the question mark , for the former supplemental first round pick, as he hit only three home runs in over 400 PAs as a 22yo in A-ball. While Davis currently projects as a centerfielder, there are those that worry that his compact frame (5’9”, 195lbs) will cause him to slow down as he matures—forcing a move to left field. If that happens, there is little reason to believe that he will post the requisite power for an outfield corner, thereby relegating him to a fourth outfielder role. Davis disappointed in his 2009 FSL debut—before being demoted. He will return their to open the 2011 season, as he turns 23yo mid-season, he will need to advance to AA sometime during the year to continue being considered a legitimate prospect.

11) Tyler Thornburg, RHP (2010 – Dominance 79; Control 33; HRrate 48; Stamina 36)

If we felt confident that Thornburg could actually develop a credible off-speed pitch to go with his low-90s fastball and plus-curve, he would rank higher on this list. The Brewers third round pick in June made his professional debut in the Pioneer League where he dominated the way that a 21yo should—fanning 38 in 23 innings while allowing opposing hitters to bat a mere .171 against him. That said, there isn’t a tremendous amount of projection remaining in his 5’11” frame and he currently is a two-pitch pitcher. The upside of a solid mid-rotation is there, but we are more inclined to see him as a back of the bullpen pitcher down the road. In either case, he is likely to begin 2011 in the MWL; with a stop in the FSL, before the season ends, probable.

12) Hunter Morris, 1B (2010 – Power 73; Discipline 62; First Base Rate 30; Speed 57)
Morris’ 23 home runs at Auburn allowed him to post a top 25 Performance Score in 2010. The Brewers then selected him with their fourth round pick this past June. Power is his calling card, as it is easily his only plus-skill. While his speed may be adequate at first base, his defense is a liability almost anywhere. Morris made a solid 2010 MWL debut. While he has a tendency to fall into ruts where he pulls everything, he showed enough to believe that his bat can play at the Major League level. It will have to, as there isn’t much else to recommend. Look for Morris to begin 2011 in the FSL, with a mid-season promotion to AA in the plans.

Other Considerations for the Top 300 - Giveme a break...It was hard enough coming up with these!

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 and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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