|Original Published Date: October 11, 2019|
The Brewers had a nice run over the past two years and their window for a playoff berth should remain open for at least another year or two. However, their lack of starting pitching depth is a real problem and given the price to acquire a front-line starter or two, it’s hard to envision a Championship Level Team.
They are not going to get much help in their minor league organization either as there just isn’t any impact talent. Granted, they promoted Keston Hiura and Trent Grisham during the season and both helped the big-league squad, especially Hiura. But that’s it. Brice Turang sits at the top and has a ceiling of a full-time regular, but realistically is a utility player. Tristen Lutz is owned in a lot of Dynasty Leagues, but his strikeout rate is a concern. Ethan Small and Zack Brown are their top pitching prospects. Small’s velocity has yet to return from TJ Surgery and Brown ‘s upside is a back-of-the-rotation arm.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Brice Turang
- Biggest Mover: Mario Feliciano
- Emerging Prospect: Antoine Kelly
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1. Brice Turang (2B/SS)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B/SS
- Tools Summary: Plus speed, good on-base skills but limited power. Poor season on his promotion to High-A.
After taking Keston Hiura with the first pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, the Brewers took another bat-first player in Brice Turang with the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Since being drafted in 2018, Turang has walked nearly as much as he’s struck out while batting .262 with a .375 OBP. He doesn’t have much current power and unless he puts on additional weight, I don’t see that changing. He does have plus speed and shows that on the basepaths stealing 46 bases to-date while only getting caught seven times.
Last season, he played well in Low-A but really struggled after his promotion to High-A in July. Part of his problems could be explained by a low BABIP, but his strikeouts did increase. In order for him to be successful, he needs to make contact, get on base and disrupt the game with his wheels.
The Brewers have played him both at short and second in High-A and he has the arm strength and athleticism to play both. The ceiling is a full-time regular performer in the major league and at worse, he’ll be utility player with significant stolen base and on-base skills.
2. Tristen Lutz (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
- Tools Summary: Big power with a lot of swing and miss.
Tristen Lutz has put up an almost identical year to what he did in 2018. In Low-A, he posted a .742 OPS with 13 home runs and in 2019, he put up a .754 OPS with 13 home runs in the Carolina League. His calling card continues to be his double-plus raw power but contact issues remain. In 112 games, he struck out 137 times or a 29% K/9 ratio.
So, net-net, Lutz is the modern-day player. The big raw power that is starting to translate into plus in-game power with a lot of strikeouts. He’s not overly aggressive at the plate, so he could potentially put up a .240/.340/.500 slash line in the big leagues. The average and on-base percentage will be affected annually by his BABIP. Speed will be minimal, but he could steal a hand full of bases annually.
3. Mario Feliciano (C)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
- Tools Summary: Plus power but very aggressive approach with a lot of strikeouts.
After batting only .205 in a half-season in the Carolina League, the Brewers had Mario Feliciano repeat the level. Things went much better for the 20-year-old backstop as he’s posted a .273/.324/.477 with 19 home runs. While his 19 home runs led the league, he really struggled over the second half with the power nearly disappearing. Regardless, the Brewers gave him a three-game promotion to Double-A to finish the season.
With the power emerging, it’s time to put Feliciano on Dynasty League radars. He’s not yet in the bullseye as he’s not controlling the strike zone very well. In 116 games in the Carolina League, he’s posted a 29% strikeout rate with a 6% walk rate. His .273 average is propped up by an unstainable .351 BABIP. As a backstop, Feliciano is a solid defender with a plus arm that pitchers like to throw to.
I would expect Feliciano to begin the 2020 season in Double-A. Given his inability to control the strike zone, I would not be surprised if he struggles. While the power is real and he should be an adequate defensive catcher, if he can’t control the strike zone better, I’m not optimistic on his upside. However, if he does, he could be a Top 15 fantasy catcher.
4. Ethan Small (LHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP but with upside
- Tools Summary: More pitchability than stuff, but if velocity returns to pre-TJ level, there could be something more there.
The Brewers drafted Ethan Small in the first round (pick 28) of last June’s draft and had him spend most of his time in Low-A after a quick stop in the AZL. In 18 innings, he had little trouble allowing 11 hits, two earned run while striking out 31 and walking only four.
Small had Tommy John Surgery in his sophomore year and wound up spending four years in college. While that’s great for 99% of kids who go to college, for a baseball player who can be draft-eligible in three years, it can be a setback as it makes him an older draftee. He turns 23 in February. Secondly, his velocity has not fully returned and while there is hope at it will, his fastball is sitting in the low 90s. However, he’s a strike-thrower and pounds the zone with command. It allows his fastball to play up as well as his secondary offerings.
If that was the end of the story, Small would project to be a number four pitcher. But, what the Brewers are hoping for is that his fastball returns to pre-surgery level and the number four ceiling moves to a number three or more. Does it happen? I don’t know, but it’s not unprecedented. That said, the Brewers do not have a long history of developing pitchers, so that does give me pause.
5. Zack Brown (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Back of the rotation stuff that didn’t translate well in the PCL.
After a nice step-up year in 2018 at Double-A, Zack Brown was victimized by the MLB Baseball in the difficult PCL and stumbled in 2019. In 23 starts, he pitched to a 5.76 ERA, striking out 7.6 per nine and walking nearly five per nine. How did that compare to his career averages? A strikeout less per nine and over 1.5 walks more per nine.
Brown has a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH with both a curveball and slider. His curveball is the better of his breaking pitches and can get some very ugly swings and misses. The changeup is an average pitch and still needs a little work.
The delivery is what concerns me. He has a high three-quarters arm action which helps him get plane on his pitches but in doing so, there is definitely effort in the delivery. Many times, this will throw off the balance of a pitcher, but with Brown, he is able to repeat his delivery which allows him to keep his line to the plate. There is reliever risk, but for now, I will keep his ceiling as a number four starter with a chance to see the big leagues in 2020.
6. Antoine Kelly (LHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Likely a bullpen arm, but 5% chance he’s a stud TOR arm
- Tools Summary: High-velocity arm, athletic and very raw.
In a very weak system, Antoine Kelly could be a beacon of hope. I first heard about him when AJ Preller tried to draft him in the 13th round in 2018. He was not successful but when the Padres go after a young player, I’m interested.
Kelly is a raw talent. At 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds and athletic, he already has an 80-grade fastball from the left side. Now, he doesn’t always know where it’s going but the velocity and movement are impressive. His secondary pitches are also very raw but the Brewers believe they have a talent that they can mold into a pitcher. While I agree, they got a talent, but their history would suggest that they will struggle with the molding process.
I have no idea what his ceiling really will be. Tall, athletic pitchers that can run it up to 100 from the left side are rare indeed. But, he’s raw and there is a lot of work to be done. In fact, the Brewers didn’t even assign him to an affiliate but instead kept him back at the complex over the summer in the AZL before giving him one start in Midwest League to end the season.
7. Corey Ray (OF)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Lots of tools but it’s just not coming together.
The optimist in me says that Corey Ray poor year can be explained by a finger problem that bothered him most of the year. The pessimist in me says that while Ray is tooled up, he’s just not going to live up to his draft hype. The injury? Just another excuse.
Unfortunately, I’m leaning towards the pessimist side.
It wasn’t a good season for Ray. In 53 games in Triple-A, he hit .188 with a 38% strikeout rate. While the strikeout rate is probably an anomaly (probably???), the fact is in High and Double-A, he struck out 30% of the time and that is just not good enough. Yeah, he’s got tools. In 2018, he hit 24 home runs and stole 37 bases, but if he doesn’t improve his hit tool, the profile reminds me of Lewis Brinson or if I squint, maybe Carlos Gomez.
You see, athletic, toolsy guys are exciting to own in a Fantasy Leagues, but if they can’t hit, they won’t play. If they don’t play…well, you can answer that. Ray was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft and like Bubba Starline found out this year, he’ll see the big leagues. The question is what will he do? I’m having a hard time believing that at age 25, he develops a hit-tool. That said, if you drafted him and own him, you might as well see it through to the end. He should be up sometime in 2020.
8. Eduardo Garcia (SS)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Plus defender with some offensive tools.
If Antoine Kelly is the young, high upside arm in the organization, Eduardo Garcia is the young, high-upside position player. The Brewers signed the Venezuelan shortstop last July and got off to a great start before fracturing his ankle. In the end, he only played in 10 games but showed an approach at the plate and could pick up spin.
He’s more known for his defensive ability as he could be a 70-defender at short but offensively there could be something there as well. He has a nice swing with good bat speed and is a good runner. Since he’s only 16, I’m not going to try and put a projection on him but a solid hitter with double-digit home runs and stolen bases could be in the cards. But first, he needs to get healthy and get back on the field. I expect him to arrive in the US in 2020, spending time in the AZL.
9. Jacob Nottingham (C)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 catcher (second catcher)
- Tools Summary: Athletic with good raw power, but the over-the-fence power has yet to develop.
Jacob Nottingham has become famous for being the lead prospect in two deadline deals. In the 2015 push by the Astros, they traded him along with Daniel Mengden to the Athletics for Scott Kazmir. Before you turn your nose up, Kazmir was having a great season but as we’ve learned and the Astros quickly learned, pitchers seem to pitch better in Oakland than they do in other places. The A’s then flipped him and Bubba Derby for Khris Davis. My analysis of that trade. It was ill-advised by the Brewers.
I’ve always liked Nottingham. He’s athletic with good bat speed, but his penchant for striking out is a problem and the over-the-fence power hasn’t developed. In the power-happy PCL in 2019, he hit five home runs in 83 games. In fact, he stole more bases. He also struck out 28.6% of the time. I still think he’ll hit 15 home runs annually, but based on his strikeout rate, it’s likely to come with a .220 batting average and a .300 on-base percentage. That likely slides him into a backup catcher role unless things improve.
10. Aaron Ashby (LHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Bullpen arm
- Tools Summary: Above-average stuff from the left-side with some funk in the delivery.
Aaron Ashby split time between Low and High-A in 2019 and more than held his own. In 126 innings, he pitched to a 3.50 ERA striking out nearly 10 per nine but also walking 4.3 per nine. He was also hard to hit as he only gave up 7.2 hits per nine.
In looking at his arsenal and delivery, the results seem to match. He has an exaggerated overhead delivery that presents deception but also causes him to lose his arm slot which is likely the reason for his high walk rate. The stuff is headlined by a low 90s fastball and a plus curveball that A-Ball hitters were not able to handle. Overall, it a number four starter ceiling for me or perhaps a bullpen arm.
11. Joe Gray (OF)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Tooled-up, but will he hit enough to make it out of Double-A?
The Brewers like to sign toolsy players and let their development system see what they can do. Historically, they’ve had a lot of success. Joe Gray is one of those players. He looks like he just walked out of central casting, is athletic, is a plus runner with great bat speed. The problem, as with many young players, is he struggles to make consistent contact.
Gray did not play well in 31 games in the Pioneer League last season. He hit .164 with a 28% strikeout rate. He reminds me of former Brewers farmhand Monte Harrison. A tooled-up player that if it all comes together has star potential. It hasn’t for Harrison. Perhaps, it will for Gray. He has a long way to go but again, there are a lot of tools to dream on.
12. Lucas Erceg (3B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Corner Infielder
- Tools Summary: Now an older prospect, he just has never developed. Still some hope, but it’s fading quickly.
I’ve written for the last two years that I believed Lucas Erceg was a buy-low candidate. To date, I’ve not tried to acquire him and in checking the waiver wire for all five of my Dynasty Leagues, he’s available in three. In short, I guess I don’t truly believe.
Erceg just hasn’t developed. I’ve blamed it on a low BABIP in the past, but perhaps, he’s just a low BABIP player. In 2019, he sacrificed contact for power, but even with Triple-A using the MLB Ball, he only slugged .415 with 15 home runs.
He turns 25 in May and it’s time to end the excuses. I still think he hits but with average power and with him splitting time between first and third, I’m not sure that will be enough to make him a full-time regular particularly if he posts a below-average BABIP.
13. Payton Henry (C)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Backup catcher
- Tools Summary: Good power, adequate defender. Strikes out too much and rarely walks.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Payton Henry had a very similar season in 2019 that he had in 2018. In 125 games in the Carolina League, he hit .239 with a .313 OBP and 14 home runs. While he has good raw power, he struck out nearly 30% of the time and walked only 5.4% of the time. That inability to control the strike zone will limit his upside and might ultimately limit him to a very brief Major League career as a backup catcher.
14. Larry Ernesto (OF)
- Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Tooled-up, but needs to cut down his strikeouts to be successful
The Brewers signed Larry Ernesto to a $1.8 million dollar signing bonus in 2017. They skipped him over the DSL and brought him state-side where he has struggled over the past two seasons. He’s a switch hitter that has plus bat speed and plus raw power but is striking out at a frightening rate. In 32 games last season, he struck out 59 times. It really doesn’t matter about anything else. That strikeout rate will just not play. If he solves that, there are enough skills to make him an interesting prospect.
15. Eduarqui Fernandez (OF)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Tooled-up, but needs to cut down his strikeouts to be successful.
Eduardqui Fernandez was the Brewers top international sign in 2018 signing for $1.1 bonus. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, he has good size and has already started to demonstrate both power and speed in the DSL. In 69 games, he’s tied for the lead league in home runs with 11 while adding 12 stolen bases.
The hit tool, particularly his penchant to strike out is where Fernandez to focus. Not only did he lead the DSL in home runs, but he also led in strikeouts posting a 32.5% strikeout rate. But, he has youth on his side and is athletic with an intriguing power-speed combination. With some work, hopefully, he’ll be able to shorten his swing so that his speed and power will play.