2009 Brewers Top Prospects
1) Jeremy Jeffress – 84%
2) Mat Gamel – 83%
3) Angel Salome – 81%
4) Alcides Escobar – 80%
5) Brett Lawrie – 79%
6) Cole Gillespie – 75%
7) Taylor Green – 68%
8) Jon Lucroy – 68%
9) Cody Scarpetta – 67%
10) Lorenzo Cain – 67%
The system is certainly down from where it was over the past several years. While the Brewers have some depth of mid-level prospects, they don’t have any surefire star prospects. Last year, they had Parra and LaPorta, who both ranked higher than anyone this year. Had LaPorta stayed, he would have been the top prospect and ranked 94%. With him the Brewers would have had one of the better systems in baseball. Also, I would have rated Michael Brantley at 77%. The Brewers system really took a dent from the Sabathia trade.
It may surprise some people that I ranked Jeffress as the top prospect. After all, I’ve always been down on the guy, mostly because I hate when the Brewers use a first round pick on a “live high school arm.” Prospectus, Baseball America and John Sickels all ranked him as the fourth best prospect in the system. Jeffress didn’t have a great 2008 season. He sat out the first two months thanks to hitting the bong. He then posted a 4.08 ERA in 79.1 innings in High-A and a 5.52 ERA in 14.2 innings in Double-A. But, he did have a combined 115/52 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s obviously got the stuff to strike people out. I don’t know if he will ever develop enough control or a third pitch to compliment his fastball and curveball, but the potential is there. The thing I like, and the reason I advanced him in the rankings, is because his elbow hasn’t blown up. I hate seeing high school pitchers drafted mainly because of the injury risk. Jeffress has avoided the career threatening injury so far and is getting to the age and minor league level where the risk is becoming less of a concern. The other reason I ranked him highest is because he’s a starting pitcher or at worst a closer. He isn’t blocked at the major league level by any means. There is a premium on pitching prospects, despite their burnout rate, and especially on a team like the Brewers. He’ll spend the season in Double-A and I anticipate he’ll be the top prospect in the system at the end of the season.
Gamel is a good hitter, but he has a number of question marks. First is his defense and position. He’s shown some progress at third base, but that’s not saying much. If he played third for the Brewers in 2009, his glove would cost the team 20+ runs. He’s a good hitter, but not good enough to make up for that like Braun was able to do. The second question is whether last year’s explosive first half performance, where he had about an 1.100 OPS in Double-A, was a fluke. His second half wasn’t very good, and his last 100 AB’s were downright bad. Let’s hope he just ran out of gas. He can’t play third and has never played another corner, where he’d be blocked in the majors anyway. Expect a full season at Triple-A, a September call-up and the Brewers reevaluating his position at the end of the season.
Angel Salome was probably the most pleasant surprise of 2008, batting .360 with a .973 OPS in a full season at Double-A Huntsville. For a catcher, that’s phenomenal. The issue again is defense, and Salome's is a huge question mark. His body doesn’t do him any favors, as he’s basically Prince Fielder version 2.0, but without as much muscle. But you never know. Tony Eusebio and Mike “Spanky” Lavalliere both had memorable major league careers. Salome is the best hitting catcher in the organization and should be on the roster should anything happen to KenDoll or Rivera.
Alcides Escobar is ranked as the top prospect by Prospectus and Baseball America. While he showed great improvement in 2008, I’m still not sold. I just don’t think he’ll ever hit. Yeah, he hit .328 in Huntsville, showing very good defense per usual. But his OPS was .797. He’ll make the majors and probably have a career, but there are a lot of defense-first shortstops floating around. It’s the ones who can hit that become all-stars, and I just don’t see Escobar hitting. There’s a lot of talk about Hardy being traded or moved and making room for Escobar immediately. That would be a huge mistake and detrimental to Escobar’s development.
Lawrie’s stock actually improved in my book when he moved to second base from catcher before ever playing a minor league game for the Brewers. It’s hard to grade someone who never played, but I liked his selection in last year’s draft.
Cole Gillespie has remained the most consistent and overlooked player in the minors. He’s probably the most patient hitter in the system, walking 75 times and striking out 102 times last year. As a corner outfielder, he’s blocked, and he doesn’t have the flashy tools to draw attention. He’s also a bit old for his position – he’ll be 24/25 in 2009. But he posted an .858 OPS in Huntsville last year, stole 17 bases, only being caught once, and hit 14 home runs. If Corey Hart had Gillespie’s approach, he’d be the best right fielder in baseball.
While Gillespie is the most patient hitter in the system, Green has the best plate discipline, walking 61 times and striking out only 59 times. He also can actually play third base. If he develops some more power, he’ll be a very good prospect. Unfortunately, his 2009 season may be disappointing in that he’s got a broken wrist and will be out until May at the earliest. And wrist injuries can warp an entire season’s numbers.
Lucroy is a solid catching prospect. He’s got just enough power, a good enough plate approach and decent enough defensive skills to have a major league career. He should see most of his time in Double-A this year, which will be a very telling jump.
Scarpetta is my breakout pick for 2009. He’s big and has a very lively arm. The 20-year-old had a 58/16 K:BB in 36.1 innings in rookie ball. He’ll be the pitcher I most want to see when I attend Timber Rattlers games this summer.
It was a close call between Lorenzo Cain and Omar Aguilar, but I went with Cain at 10. Cain has the defense and toolset to make him loved by viewers and scouts. Unfortunately, he is still pretty raw and the power potential is just that, potential. He’s done enough to progress and should be starting in Triple-A at age 23 this year. His ranking takes a sizeable hit because I’m not sure if he can play center field.
Omar Aguilar is the runner up. Though he’s not in my top-10, he may be the prospect most likely to contribute to the Brewers in 2009. He has the stuff to close and will be pitching most likely in Triple-A. In all likelihood, he will be better than several of the pitchers the Brewers throw this year. I think we will see him at some point in the season, and if he really develops could be the closer in 2010.
The other “prospect” who, like Aguilar, could contribute meaningfully is Brad Nelson. Nelson was the comeback prospect of the year last year, and I love his 73/77 BB:K ratio. I don’t ever see him being a starter on the Brewers, but he could be the best pinch hitter available on the team.
Labels: Brewers Prospects