|Original Published Date: October 12, 2018|
As the Brewers major league team has improved, it has come at the expense of their minor league system. They have promoted kids to the major leagues and have used other players as trade bait. It all has worked as the Brewers were finally able to climb over the Cubs in the NL Central last season, defeating them in a 163 contest to emphasize the point.
They still have two big chips in their system that should see Milwaukee sometime next year in Keston Hiura and Corey Ray. Hiura is a hitting machine with pop and speed that could become a top five offensive second baseman in the game. Corey Ray has even louder tools but doesn’t have the hit tool of Hiura. After that, the system drops off quickly.
I do like Brice Turang, their first-round pick last June but he currently lacks power and that could slip him to a utility role long-term. Lucas Erceg is another interesting player who I believe has yet to tap into his full potential. There is something there and I have kept my Top 15 third baseman ranking.
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1. Keston Hiura (2B)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 5 2B
Even if you’re not maniacal about prospects like I am, you’ve probably heard of Keston Hiura. When he was drafted last year, everyone talked about his hit-tool. I, unfortunately, had not seen him in college but everyone I spoke with who had, said the hit tool was elite. After 165 games across multiple levels and a .313 batting average and .374 OBP, yeah, he can hit. What has been encouraging is the power and speed he has shown. In those same 165 games, he’s slugged .502 with 17 home runs and 17 stolen bases.
The stolen bases also did come with 13 failed attempts and having now seen him, he’s not a burner. In fact, I clocked him at 4.27 down to first, which is a tick above average. So, the ceiling for me is a .300 hitter with a .360 OBP and 18 to 22 home runs and a handful of stolen bases. That will play just fine for the Brewers and fantasy owners. The bigger question is where will he play?
He’s not a great defender but plays an adequate enough second base to get full-time at-bats. No question. But, the last I checked, the Brewers have a ton of infielders that need to be sorted before he gets the call. While I love Jonathan Schoop, give me Hiura any day of the week. Expect all of that to get sorted in the offseason to open a spot for Hiura sometime after June.
2. Corey Ray (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF with upside
Has Corey Ray turned the corner? After a couple years of poor production, Ray showed the kind of tools that made him the fourth overall player taken in the 2014 Draft. He showed power by slugging .477 in Double-A with 27 home runs and elite speed by stealing 37 bags. The problem is he struck out 29% of the time and hit .237. He did walk 10% of the time which gave him nearly 90 points of lift on his on-base skill.
So, has he turned the corner? Perhaps we are seeing who he really is. A toolsy player who can run anything down in the outfield but will struggle to make enough contact to get to those tools. I thought the same thing about Trevor Story and this year, the contact improved and he’s a legitimate all-star. When I saw Ray last year in the AFL, the swing was bad. He was clearly overthinking things. However, sources have told me that he’s cleaned it up and is much more fluid. That won’t help his long swing, but small steps are important. If he makes more contact, he’ll be a star. If not, he’s Lewis Brinson. Ouch…that one hurt.
3. Brice Turang (SS)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS
The Brewers selected Brice Turang with their 2018 first round pick (pick #21) and immediately assigned him to rookie ball where he had no trouble. After two weeks, they moved him to the Pioneer League for the remainder of the season. Overall, he hit .283 with as many walks as strikeouts, 14 stolen bases, and a home run.
Turang’s scouting profile is interesting. He’s a plus defender who can hit with good speed but needs to develop more strength in order to hit premium velocity. That profile many times spells a utility role in the big leagues. But, I think he’ll be more than that. He’s not going to be a masher, far from it, but he has enough bat speed and with added strength should be able to hit enough doubles to be more than a Mark Belanger type of player. If you’re thinking of where to draft him in rookie drafts, I think about where he was taken by the Brewers – pick 20 to 25.
4. Lucas Erceg (3B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
I wrote last year that Lucas Erceg was a buy-low candidate given his ability to control the strike zone and the raw power he possessed. So, I was indeed disappointed when Erceg put up a nearly identical stat line in 2018. Very good walk rate and strikeout rate, low BABIP, and below expected power. So, what’s going on?
Many times a low BABIP points to either a player who is getting unlucky or in the lower minor leagues, a batter who is rolling over on the ball. In other words, he’s driving the ball into the ground. I think it might be a little of both. If true, Erceg might need to alter his bat plane to ensure he’s lifting the ball more. If you’ve ever heard JD Martinez talk about the tweak that opened up his game, it’s something similar. Therefore, I still think Erceg is a buy-low. I see him as a .270/.350 hitter with above-average power (18 to 22 home runs) while playing very good defense.
5. Mauricio Dubon (SS)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
Former Red Sox farmhand Mauricio Dubon was taking full advantage of the hitter-friendly confines of Colorado Springs when on May 5th he tore his ACL and spent the rest of the season rehabbing. Before the injury, he was hitting .343 with a .574 SLG. He had already hit four home runs and stolen six bases. While he’s always been an aggressive hitter, his two walks were even extreme for him.
If he’s fully healthy, he could challenge Orlando Arcia for playing time next season. Arcia is the better defender but he has yet to hit consistently in the big leagues and that could open the door. From a fantasy standpoint, Dubon will not be a star but should hit in the .260 range with a chance to steal 20 bases annually. I don’t think he’ll add much home run power.
6. Tristen Lutz (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
Tristen Lutz’s calling card is his double-plus raw power and despite the aggressive assignment to Low-A to begin the 2018 season, he performed quite well. In 119 games, he hit .245 with 13 home runs and nine stolen bases. While those numbers will not rival Mike Trout’s performance (he hit .362 with 45 stolen bases in only 81 games), it was still a nice performance for a kid who played the entire year as a 19-year-old.
On the negative, Lutz needs to cut down on the strikeouts. His 28% strikeout rate will not work as he moves through the system. But, again, he’s young and the big power should start to translate over the next year or two.
7. Jacob Nottingham (C)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
Without looking, who did the Brewers trade to get Jacob Nottingham? Answer: Khris Davis. After three straight 40 plus home run seasons, Nottingham is going to have to not only become the Brewers starting catcher but appear in a couple of all-star games to make this trade look fair. Can he do it?
I think it’s fair to say that Nottingham has developed more slowly than the Brewers would have hoped. He’s now 23 and did see some time in the majors at the end of the season, but the offensive punch I thought he would have when he was drafted by the Astros, hasn’t materialized. What has materialized is his defensive chops. His footwork and delivery skills are now good enough for him to stay a catcher long-term. However, he’s striking so much (30% in Triple-A in 2018) that he’s not able to get to his big-time power.
I do think his contact rate will improve. Remember, catchers just take a long time to develop. Therefore, I still maintain we see a .260/.330 hit-tool with 15 to 20 home runs, with some upside in the power department. It comes with risk, but I still think it’s there.
8. Zack Brown (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Zack Brown was the breakout pitcher for the Brewers in 2018. He dominated Double-A, going 9-1 in 21 starts, striking out over eight per nine while keeping his walks at 2.6 per nine. Brown has a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits 92 to 93 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. Because of this, I maintain he stays in the rotation with the ceiling of a number four pitcher, perhaps a little more.
9. Joe Gray (OF)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF with extreme risk
The Brewers selected a bit of project in Joe Gray in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft. His carrying tool is double-plus power but there is real concern about how much he will hit. In his first professional action in rookie ball, the 18-year-old struck out 25.5% of the time but also walked 18% of the time.
Gray will likely stay back after spring training so that the Brewers can continue to work on his swing. He has plenty of bat speed, but it does get long so he needs to find a way to shorten up. While he’s still a teenager, recognizing breaking pitches has been a challenge to-date. If it all comes together, there is big power and at least average speed in a classic right fielders profile.
10. Carlos Rodriguez (OF)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF with extreme risk
The Brewers signed Venezuelan Carlos Rodriguez at the start of the J2 signing period in 2017 for $1.3 million dollars. He spent most of 2018 in the DSL, but the Brewers did bring him to the states to play the last week in the AZL.
There’s a lot to get excited about with Rodriguez as he’s a plus runner with an idea of an approach at the plate. He has plenty of bat speed but his swing lacks loft so the power potential should be minimal. He has demonstrated excellent contactability to-date, striking out only 18 times in 223 plate appearances in the DSL. He’s a long ways from Wisconsin, but if it comes together, he could be a dynamic leadoff asset with a chance to hit for a high average with plenty of stolen bases.
11. Trey Supak (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Trey Supak took a significant step-up in 2018. Across High and Double-A, he pitched to a 2.48 ERA striking out eight per nine while keeping his walks under control (2.9 BB/9). His stuff is not elite but he does have a fastball that will scrape 94 to 95. His best secondary pitch is his curveball that when he has control of it, will get swings and misses.
While Supak will likely fall into a number four starter in the big leagues, he’s an under-the-radar pitcher that could see time in the big leagues next season. Since he’s a strike thrower, he could have some early success which might make him a nice late-round selection for Draft and Hold Leagues.
12. Jake Gatewood (1B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Extra bat
I just don’t know about Jake Gatewood. There’s no denying his physicality and double-plus power, but his strikeout rate has been remarkably consistent over his five-year professional career. It’s ranged between 27% and 30% at each level. If you combine that with his 7% walk rate, and there is significant doubt that he will hit enough to get to his power.
I’ve had several readers ask if Gatewood could have a Jesus Aguilar type of breakout. While anything is possible through the magic of BABIP, Aguilar has always had a better hit tool. While I see Aguilar regressing to a .240 hitter, I question whether Gatewood will ever hit that much.
13. Cam Roegner (LHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 SP
Cam Roegner had a nice 2018 season that saw him start the year in High-A and finish in Triple-A. In 19 starts in High-A, he pitched to a 2.19 ERA but without a ton of swing and miss (5.9 K/9). He did manage to keep his walk rate in check. In limited action in Double and Triple-A, it was a similar strikeout rate but the ERA jumped up as he gave up more home runs.
At 6-foot-6 and a lefty, Roegner could have a long major league career as a low-end innings eater or even a bullpen arm at some point. The arsenal is average as he doesn’t have a true out-pitch. But, he throws strikes and presents plane in delivery.
14. Troy Strokes Jr.
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF – with upside
Troy Strokes Jr. might ultimately be a fourth outfielder in the major leagues, but after repeating his break out in 2017 in 18, it’s time to put him on the list.
In 129 games in Double-A, he might have only hit .233, but his OBP was .343 and more importantly, he went 19/19. That was after 20/30 last year across High and Double-A, but the production was again very high. It’s going to be about contact with Stokes. Last season, he struck out 27% of the time and that is what is driving his fourth outfielder profile, but if he can shorten up his swing, there could be something there. He’s still only 22-years-old, so there is no reason for the Brewers to rush him and another full season, or even two in the minors might help to improve his contactability.
15. Quintin Torres-Costa (LHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Reliever
Quintin Torres-Costa had a solid season as a reliever across Double and High-A. In 55 innings, he struck out 65 but also walked over four per nine. Given his low-slot and slinging action delivery, he’s likely a lefty specialist long-term. In fact, he pitches from the first base side of the rubber and the delivery to a left-handed bat looks like it’s coming from behind his ear. There is a chance he could see some save opportunities but his control would have to improve.