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Milwaukee Brewers

Original Published Date: October 13, 2017

The Brewers are one of the more exciting teams in baseball.  Not only did they surprise the league by competing until the last week of the year for a playoff berth, many of their young players saw success in the big leagues.

Down on the farm, Lewis Brinson continues to show tantalizing, if inconsistent potential.  Corbin Burnes emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in the game and last year’s number one draft pick, Keston Hiura exploded onto the scene.  It wasn’t perfect as 2016 number one draft pick, Corey Ray had a down year and might not be the player we thought.  He’s still young and full of talent, but 2018 will be a pivotal year for him.

The Brewers are in a tough division but their talent is top notch and they should be able to compete for the next five years.  Are they good enough to go all the way?  Not without some help and that ultimately means they will have to complement their internally developed players with some key strategic free agents or well-placed trades.

Lewis Brinson (OF)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 OF

I’ve long been a huge fan of Lewis Brinson.  The tools are off the charts and the makeup is double-plus.  If he can just hit a little more, he has a chance to be a star.

Brinson was drafted by the Rangers in 2012 and made his way to the Brewers as the principal piece in the 2016 deadline deal for Jonathan Lucroy.  While Lucroy did not work out for the Rangers, the misery of the deal will only worsen as Brinson starts to establish himself in the big leagues.  “Establish” is the keyword.  As talented as he is, the hit-tool is still not there and will take another couple of years of development before he starts to reach his potential.

Scouting Report:  Brinson continues to be work-in-progress since the Rangers selected him in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft.  He’s solved major contact issues that he had in 2013 after striking out an alarming 194 times in 122 games.  He has plus raw power, but while working on making better contact, the in-game power has yet to show.

What Brinson has shown since the beginning is defensive ability.  He’s a gold glove caliber center fielder whose glove is ready for the major leagues today.  However, his inconsistencies at the plate still need work.  He has plus bat speed with 25 home run potential once it all comes together.  He’s also a current plus runner, who should lose a grade as he matures, but until then, should be able to steal 20 bases annually.  The profile is still an all-star center fielder but it does come with risk as he’s never shown the ability to hit consistently.  Will he?  I still think he will.

Fantasy Impact:  Brinson’s ceiling is still that of a first-round draft pick in a fantasy league.  Currently, he reminds me a lot of his chief competitor for playing time, Keon Broxton.  I do believe Brinson’s upside is higher as he has better natural bat-to-ball skills, but for now, the hit-tool has a way to go.  Fantasy owners need to stay patient over the next year or two as there will be a lot of ups-and-downs as Brinson learns to hit in the major leagues.  Long-term, I’m still signing up for 25 to 30 home runs, 20 stolen bases, and a .280 batting average.  Sure there’s risk, but the upside is significant.

Corbin Burnes (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP

I missed on Corbin Burnes last season.  I’m embarrassed to say, he was only sitting at number 14.  In my defense, he lasted to pick number 111 in the 2016 Draft and didn’t pitch very effectively after pitching 28.2 innings in Low-A.  2017 was a different story.

Burnes started the year in the Carolina League and shoved it.  In 10 starts, he posted a 1.05 ERA while striking out 8.4 batters per nine and walking only 2.4 per nine.  Upon his mid-season promotion to Double-A, he continued to pitch extremely well.  Perhaps the most impressive stat was in 85.2 innings, he only gave up two home runs.

Scouting Report: Burnes stuff and control took a big step forward this past season.  He’s routinely sitting 93 to 95 MPH and scraping higher in each outing.  His secondary pitches have gotten much sharper with his slider now being a true weapon.  However, the real difference maker is his ability to throw strikes and to command his fastball to both sides of the plate.  If you throw in that he keeps the ball in the ballpark, there is just a lot to like.

Fantasy Impact:  So I missed on Burnes and didn’t get him on any of my Dynasty Leagues.  Don’t let that happen to you.  The upside is a number two starter and I don’t think that Triple-A will provide much resistance for him.   He could easily be up in the second half and with his strike-throwing ability, he could be effective immediately.

Brandon Woodruff (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP

While a 4.30 ERA in Triple-A and a 4.81 ERA in the Major Leagues might not look all that appealing, if you dig under the surface stats, Brandon Woodruff put up a terrific season.  In 16 starts in Colorado Springs, one of the most difficult parks in which to pitch, he struck out 8.4 batters per nine while walking three per nine.  He did give up eight home runs, but the combination of a tough home park and a tough league can be partial to blame.

He was pitching very well in his major league debut until his last start.  With the Brewers pushing to overtake the Rockies, Woodruff pitched a dud, giving up six earned runs in 2.1 innings.  The bad outing blew up his ERA by a run.

Scouting Report: Woodruff has your classic mid-rotation starter size and stuff.  He’s 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds with a fastball that he can run up to 95 MPH with a plus slider.  His change-up is still developing and consequently he only occasionally throws it.

He does pitch up in the zone with his fastball and if he doesn’t locate it well, it will get hit.  As with many pitchers, I believe he needs to add a two-seamer to the mix to keep batters more at bay.

Fantasy Impact:  I think Woodruff is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. While I have his ceiling pegged at a number three starter, I do think there is upside, particularly once his changeup improves.

Keston Hiura (2B)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B

Keston Hiura was one of the more challenging players to predict where he would go in the 2017 MLB Draft.  Based on his offensive chops, he had a Top 10 rating, maybe more, but he also hasn’t played in the field for over a year because of an elbow injury.  In fact, it was never clear whether he had a torn UCL, but most teams believed he would need elbow surgery.  In the end, the Brewers decided the bat was worth the gamble and selected him number nine overall.

As the old saying goes…so far so good.  He easily handled the AZL and Low-A gave him little resistance.   In 42 games, he slashed .371/.422/.611 with four home runs.  What he didn’t do was play the field.  So, we are still left with whether he will need TJ Surgery.  The good news is that he’s not a pitcher and the recovery period is more likely 8 to 10 months, instead of 12 to 16.  Assuming he needs surgery, he could be back in May, missing only the first few weeks of the 2018 season.

Scouting Report: Hiura hit in college and now he’s hitting in professional ball.  His exceptional bat-to-ball skills combined with an excellent understanding of the strike zone should allow him to post a batting average near .300 or better.  He’s not just a contact hitter though as he has good bat speed and enough strength to hit for at least average if not more in-game power (15 to 18 home runs).  His wrist are so strong that it looks like he’s simply flipping the bat at the ball.

He’s also a solid-average runner who should be able to add double-digit stolen bases annually.  If you add it all up, he should be a solid major league regular with a chance for a few all-star games.  But first, he needs to deal with his elbow.

Fantasy Impact: With the way the fantasy game is going, where everyone seemingly hits 20 home runs with a .250 batting average, Hiura could an extremely valuable asset, particularly in a roto-league format.  While Anthony Rendon has developed plus power, I think the skill set might be similar – a high batting average, lots of runs scored with some pop and speed to complete the package.

Corey Ray (OF)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF

A college positional player taken number four in the draft from a big-time college program should not struggle in A-Ball.  Sure, there might be an adjustment period, but the stat line that Corey Ray posted in 2017 was disconcerting.   In 112 games in Brevard County, Ray posted a .685 OPS which was accompanied by a 31% strikeout rate.  If he would have popped 20 plus home runs, you might have felt ok, but he only hit seven.  To pile on, his numbers in High-A that he posted in 2016 were similar if not worse.

Scouting Report: So what happened?  There was always concern about Ray’s long swing but it clearly manifested itself more quickly than the Brewers had anticipated.  Plus, Brevard County and the Florida State League, in general, is a difficult offensive environment.  Therefore, his slugging was likely impacted.  However, not the strikeout rate.

Some swing adjustments are clearly needed.  Maybe Joey Gallo can get away with a 30% strikeout rate, although I’m not sure he will, Ray will not.  His power ceiling is more modest at 18 to 20 home runs annually.  He still demonstrated his ability to run, stealing 24 of 34 bases. While he’s not a speedster, he should be able to steal 20 bases annually and assuming he hits his power ceiling, there’s still a lot to like.  However, he’s got to cut down on his strikeouts and that means cutting down his load and getting shorter to the ball.

Fantasy Impact:  Ray’s stock has clearly taken a hit but the athleticism and upside are still there.  Since many Dynasty League owners invested heavily in him last season, now is not the time to give up on him.  In fact, if I could get him for a pop-up pitcher in A-Ball, I might make that offer.  That said, Ray needs to make some changes and while there’s a non-zero chance he becomes a fourth outfielder, I’m betting he still becomes a regular contributor at the highest level.

Lucas Erceg (3B)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 3B

The Brewers drafted Lucas Erceg in the second round of the 2016 Draft and assigned him to the Carolina League after he handled Low-A quite easily in his draft year.  However, the young third baseman found the going much tougher and struggled at times.  In 127 games, he posted a .307 on-base percentage but did manage to pop 15 home runs.  While he showed good contact, he was also very aggressive at the plate, posting a 6.5% walk rate.  Throw in a .287 BABIP, and it’s pretty easy to see why he only hit .256.  However, the Reds did send him to Triple-A to get some experience as the Sky Sox were making a late push to make the playoffs.

Scouting Report:  Despite his poor showing in High-A, there’s still a lot to like with Erceg.  He shows plus power in batting practice, so it’s not hard to dream on a 20 home run bat in the future.  Also, he does make good contact but given he’s a below average runner, will need to learn to work counts better to improve his on-base percentage and overall batting average.

He’s a solid defensive third baseman with good reactions and a strong enough arm to make all routine plays.

Fantasy Impact: I would be buying low on Erceg.  Play up the poor batting average and modest home run totals he posted last season, knowing he made good contact and there is likely more power in the tank.  While the approach definitely needs to improve, by all accounts, he’s a hard worker so the odds are better than average that he can improve enough to hit his ceiling of a Top 15 to 20 third baseman.

Maurico Dubon (SS)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20SS

Maurico Dubon grew up in the Boston organization but was moved during the 2016 off-season in a package that brought Travis Shaw to the Brewers.  Given the year that Shaw had and the solid play of Dubon in the upper minors, the trade is definitely leaning towards the Brewers.

Dubon split his season between Double and Triple-A and showed what he does best – make contact, get on base and then wreak havoc on the base paths.  In 129 games, he hit .274 while stealing 38 bases.  The problem, as was the problem he had in Boston is he’s blocked at shortstop.  Recognizing this, the Brewers had him play a lot of second base in the second half and even a handful of games at third.  Given the uneven play of Jonathan Villar, don’t be surprised if Dubon passes him on the depth chart in 2018 and becomes the full-time second baseman.  He’s a better defender, a much better hitter with nearly as much speed as Villar.

Scouting Report: I had a chance to see Dubon in the Arizona Fall League in 2016 and he does a lot of things well.  The swing is simple and made for contact.  He has strong hands and enough physicality to handle inside velocity.  However, at 160 pounds, he lacks both the strength and loft to ever be a power threat.  In fact, I think it will be hard for him to replicate his lifetime .403 slugging once he is promoted to the majors.  He is a good baserunner but is not a burner.  He reads pitchers well and that is the primary reason for his significant stolen base totals throughout his career.

Fantasy Impact:  The likely ceiling for Dubon is a utility player but he’s in the right situation to really push Villar for playing time next season.  He lacks power but has legitimate 25 plus stolen base potential and enough hit tool to hit .270 with a .320 on-base percentage.  That would be a significant upgrade over what Villar contributor last season.

Luis Ortiz (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP

With his barking elbow apparently in the rearview mirror, Luis Ortiz had a solid season in Double-A.  In 20 starts, he posted a 4.01 ERA, striking out over eight batters per nine while walking nearly 3.5 batters per nine.  Because he pitches up in the zone (GO/AO rate of .53), he also gave up 12 home runs in 94.1 innings.

Scouting Report:  Ortiz has a dynamic three pitch arsenal with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH (T96).  His slider continues to improve and gets plenty of swings and misses.  Before being traded to Milwaukee, he demonstrated excellent control.  However, while in Biloxi, his control has taken a step backward, now walking almost twice as many batters as he did prior.

At 6-foot-3 and a listed 230 pounds, there isn’t a whole lot of physical projection remaining and with solid mechanics, the fastball will likely tap out at 92 to 94 MPH.  Assuming Ortiz is not hurt and he can re-find his release point, the upside is a mid-rotation starter.

Fantasy Impact: I continue to like Ortiz as a nice mid-rotation starter in Dynasty Leagues.  He does pitch up in the zone, so he’ll likely be homer prone; pushing his ERA to a 3.50 plus.  His solid arsenal should allow him to provide plenty of strikeouts to your fantasy team.

Isan Diaz (SS)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder

Isan Diaz was one of the sexy picks last offseason in Dynasty Leagues re-drafts and rewarded owners by having a very poor season in the Carolina League.  Hey, it happens and why playing fantasy baseball is so much fun…err, well…hmmm….

If we look a little deeper into his season, there were actually some things to get excited about.  First the bad news.  He only hit .222 in 110 games and went through long stretches of futility, including batting .129 in June.  Driving his low batting average was a 26% strikeout rate and a low .286 BABIP.  The strikeouts are a concern as it was nearly a duplicate of what he did in 2016 but was bailed out a .338 BABIP.

On the positive side, he did show a little pop by hitting 13 home runs and also showed some speed on the base paths by swiping nine bases.

Scouting Report:  At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Isan Diaz reminds me of Aaron Hill, one of the players he was traded for in 2016.  He has very good bat speed with a leveraged swing that should allow him to hit for above-average future power.  He also has good speed but is far from a burner.  In the end, I believe the ceiling is a solid regular contributor with 15 to 20 home runs, 5 to 10 stolen bases with a .260 average.

Fantasy Impact:  Diaz doesn’t have the skill set to be a star fantasy contributor but instead his ceiling is more of a middle infielder on a 15-team fantasy league.  The ceiling is 20 home run potential with a .250 to .260 batting average but he needs to get his strikeouts under control on the risk increases for him hitting his ceiling.

Tristen Lutz (OF)

Highest Level: Short-Season, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF

After selecting one of the most polished college bats in the 2017 Draft with Keston Hiura, the Brewers selected Tristen Lutz, a big strong Texan high-schooler in the supplemental first round.  He got right to work and made the Brewers look very smart as he quickly tore through the AZL with an OPS of .906 before finishing the season in the Pioneer League in a similar fashion.  In 24 games, he slashed .333/.432/.559 with six home runs.

It will be interesting to see if the Brewers challenge Lutz in 2018 by starting him in the full-season Midwest League or hold him back in the Complex League before starting him back in the Pioneer League.  He just turned 19 in August, so he’ll play most of 2018 as a teenager regardless of where he begins.

Scouting Report: Standing 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Lutz is a big kid with huge raw power.  The power is not just born out of strength but he also adds quality bat speed.  The swing is long and his size will create holes, so he’ll likely need to shorten up the stroke or be content on a sub .250 batting average. There weren’t enough at-bats in 2017 to determine how well he understands the strike zone.  He did appear fairly aggressive at the plate.

Fantasy Impact: Lutz’s calling card is double-plus power that could translate into 30 plus home runs.  He’s very raw and three to four years away from seeing the big leagues.  While there’s a lot to like, he should only be considered in leagues that roster at least 350 minor leaguers.

2018 Emerging Prospect

Freddy Peralta (RHP)

Freddy Peralta had a terrific 2017 season posting a 2.63 ERA across 120 innings in High-A and Double-A.  Most impressively, he struck out 12.7 batters per nine but did show poor control while walking 4.7 per nine.  Peralta is not a physically imposing pitcher, standing 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.  Given his size and poor control, he’ll likely be moved to the bullpen where his stuff could play very well as a high-leverage reliever.

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One comment on “Milwaukee Brewers

  1. I just realized Trent Clark fell off this list. he had a tough year. He was on your January Top 100. What are you hearing and seeing?

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