Milwaukee Brewers

Original Published Date: October 14, 2016

brewersTwo years ago, the Brewers had one of the worst farm systems in the game.  But after multiple trades, that is no longer true.  The system is deep, particularly with positional players, and much of that talent is very close to helping the big league club.

Lewis Brinson heads the list and is one of the best prospects in the game.  He struggled in Double-A, but has speed, power and is an elite center fielder.  When it comes together, it’s going to be special.  Brett Phillips, who was acquired for Carlos Gomez, is in Double-A and despite a down year, is one of our favorite prospects in the game.  A little further away is 2016 first round draft pick Corey Ray and 2015 first round draft pick, Trent Clark.  Both have All-star potential and are Top 100 prospects in the game.

The top pitching prospect is Josh Hader.  While the stuff is flat out nasty, the delivery is problematic and I see him as reliever, a potential closer.  The Brewers will continue to develop him as a starter, which is the right thing to do.

While it’s always good to have balance between your top pitching and hitters in your farm system, it’s not mandatory.  Look at what the Cubs and Mets have done?  The Cubs developed a cadre of positional bats and the Mets developed some of the best young pitching talent in the game; and then they traded from their strength.  The Brewers could follow a very similar path.

Lewis Brinson (OF)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Outfielder

I went all in on Lewis Brinson last spring, ranking him as the number nine overall prospect in the game.  How did he reward my faith?  He posted a .711 OPS in 77 games in Double-A, and then got shipped to the Brewers in a deadline deal for Jonathan Lucroy.  He did play well in the hitters paradise of Colorado Springs, increasing his OPS by 200 points before hitting the DL with a hamstring strain in mid-August.

So the question you should be asking me…”is Lewis Brinson as good as you thought or were you a little over optimistic.”  I still maintain that he’s as good as I thought and will be the starting center fielder for the Brewers sometime in 2017 unless you feel Keon Broxton has finally figured it out (I do not).

Scouting Report:  Brinson has continued to be a work-in-progress since the Rangers selected him in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft.  He’s solved major contact issues 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 his 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 needs 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 continues to mature, 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.  As he continues to mature as a hitter, I also do not believe his batting average will be a liability long-term.  Therefore, 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.

Corey Ray (OF)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 Outfielder

Corey Ray and Jason Groome were my two top players coming into the 2016 MLB Draft.  Both lasted longer than I thought with Groome dropping to 12th and Ray taken with the fifth pick by the Brewers.  I thought Ray had the best combination of tools of any offensive player in the draft with a floor of a solid-regular in the big leagues.  Of course that was before I got a chance to see Nick Senzel but that’s a story for another day.

The Brewers were so impressed by the maturity of Ray’s game that they shipped the 21-year-old Louisville alumni off to Brevard County in the Florida State League shortly after he was drafted.  While the aggressive assignment showed the confidence the Brewers had in Ray, he struggled immediately.  In his first month, he batted .221 with a 5 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  As he got more comfortable, things started to improve and he ended the season, batting .247 with five home runs, nine stolen bases, and a 2.5 to 1, strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Scouting Report: Ray has solid-average tools in each category but does not have a true carrying tool.  He has good bat speed and plus raw strength that should allow him to hit 15 to 20 home runs at the highest level.  He’s an above-average runner with excellent instincts on the base paths that enabled him to steal 44 bags in his junior year in Louisville.  He also has the ability to control the strike zone and that should allow him to post a .270 plus batting average.

Fantasy Impact:  I keep thinking of Derek Fisher as I write this capsule. I’m a huge fan of the Astros outfielder but he gets very little love, yet there is power and speed in the profile with the ability to hit.  I see the same in Ray.  Will he be an elite fantasy player?  I don’t think so, but he’ll be a solid contributor with 20 HR/20 SB upside.

Brett Phillips (OF)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 outfielder

I make no bones about it, I’m a huge fan of Brett Phillips.  I’ve seen him play multiple times and while there is no true carrying tool, the kid plays hard and gets the most out of his tools.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have a good season.  The strikeouts went way up as it looked like he tried to equal the kind of power he experienced in Lancaster by muscling up.  The results were a 64% contact rate and the entire season spent in beautiful Biloxi Mississippi.  If you’ve never been to Biloxi, think of oppressive humidity while you stick your head in an oven.

Scouting Report: While the season was a disappointment, Phillips is the kind of kid that can bounce back.  The makeup is off the chart but adjustments do need to be made.  He’s best when he’s making hard contact, getting on base, and using his speed.  While he’s a plus runner, he’s never been aggressive on the base paths and therefore he’s never had those gaudy SB stats.  I do think he has 20 stolen base potential.

What he doesn’t have is 20 home run power, but instead he should be happy with 30 to 35 doubles and 10 to 12 home runs.  If he does that, he has a chance to be a solid .270/.350/.425 offensive player who’s superior defense will always keep him in the lineup.  If that sounds a lot like Kevin Keirmaier with a slightly better hit tool, then you are thinking what I am, although the addition of Brinson to the mix will likely move Phillips to right field where his plus arm can really shine.

Fantasy Impact:  Phillips is going to be a nice contributor to your fantasy team but will not be a star.  The ceiling is a top 40 outfielder with batting average and runs being his biggest area of strength.  That will make him a good roto-league contributor but Points League owners might want to look elsewhere.

Luis Ortiz (RHP)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30-35 SP

We liked everything about Luis Ortiz when we ranked him number 75 on our 2016 Top 100 prospect list but were worried that a barking elbow might slow him down.  Fortunately, he stayed healthy and pitched very well before being sent with Lewis Brinson in a deadline deal for Jonathan Lucroy.

While with the Rangers, he showed the ability to miss plenty of bats, posting an 8.3 K/9 rate.  He also threw strikes, walking only 13 in 67.1 innings.  However, he also gave up seven home runs which was the only blemish on his resume.  The Brewers moved him to their Double-A squad where he continued to pitch very well.

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.  Where he excels is in his control, which is already plus and he shows excellent fastball command, particularly for someone so young.

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.  Given his ability to throw strikes, that should be good enough to give him a ceiling of a number two starter.

Fantasy Impact: There’s a lot to like with Ortiz.  He throws strikes and can miss bats.  The combination is fantasy goodness.  He does pitch up in the zone, so he’ll likely be homer prone; pushing his ERA to a 3.50 plus.  Assuming he stays healthy, he profiles to be a number two fantasy starter.

Josh Hader (LHP)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Elite Closer

The much traveled Josh Hader appears to have found a home in the Brewers organization.  Drafted by his home town team, the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 in the 19th round, he was traded to the Astros for Bud Norris in 2013 and then to the Brewers in the Carlos Gomez deal last season.  Both times, the teams requested that he be included in the trade.  Why?  If you’ve seen him pitch, you’ll know why.  He’s got some of the nastiest stuff this side of Chris Sale in baseball.

Hader dominated Double-A to begin the 2016 season with a sub 1.00 ERA with 11.53 strikeouts per nine in 11 starts.  He ran into problems upon his promotion to Triple-A, but it had to do more with his control than his stuff.  He was still striking out over 11 per nine but was also walking well over five.  That led to an ugly stat line and the decision by the Brewers brass that he needed more time.

Scouting Report:  I’ve been fairly consistent on my view with Josh Hader.  I think he’s a reliever, a potentially dominate closer.  The stuff is nasty with a low 90’s fastball and a slider that has tremendous breaking action.  His delivery is the key to his success.  It’s a low three-quarters delivery, where he throws across his body. Lefties just don’t have a chance and are constantly bailing out.  However, it’s the same delivery that makes me worry for him as a starter.  Sure, Chris Sale has developed into one of the best starters in the game, but I believe he’s an outlier.  Could Hader be another outlier?  Sure, but I’m betting the under.

Fantasy Impact: While Hader has struggled in Triple-A, he’s nearly ready to make his major league debut.  It will likely come as a starter and he could have early success.  However, the delivery and the risk of injury lead me to believe he’s a bullpen arm with the ceiling of a potential closer.

Trent Clark (OF)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 Outfielder

Trent Clark missed considerable time in his first full season in professional ball.  First, the Brewers elected to have him start the year in extended spring training where he injured his hamstring.  He also spent four weeks on the DL after running head first into the wall in a late June game.   In between the injuries he played well, despite his surface stats not looking great.

In 59 games, he batted .231 but controlled the strike zone very well with a 1.8-to-1, strikeout to walk ratio.  While he showed his plus speed in 2015, he just didn’t run much last year.  It could have been as a result of his hamstring injury.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Clark is not your typical gangly teenager and in fact has the body of a more mature player.  He has plus bat speed with natural strength that should allow him to hit for solid-average future power.  While the swing can get a little long, he does make good contact with an excellent understanding of the strike zone.  To round out the tools, he has current plus foot speed but most evaluators feel that he’ll only be an average to above-average runner once he matures.

Fantasy Impact:  With his bat speed, contactability, and strike zone awareness, Clark has a chance to be a plus hitter with good, but not spectacular secondary skills.  Those skills should make him an ideal leadoff or number two-hole hitter, resulting in plenty of runs scored.  The ceiling is a .280 plus hitter with 12 to 15 home runs and 25 plus stolen bases.

Isan Diaz (SS)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 Shortstop

Selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the supplemental second round of the 2014 MLB Draft, Isan Diaz was one of the pieces in the DBacks acquisition of Jean Segura.  As the Brewers received Chase Anderson and Aaron Hill as the other two pieces, the trade looks very much favorable for the DBacks but Diaz might change all that in a few years.

He had a strong campaign as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League, slashing .264/.358/.469 with 20 home runs and 11 stolen bases.   While he only produced a 72% contact rate, he also walked 11% of the time.  The Brewers were very happy with this production and should start him in High-A to begin the 2017 season.

Scouting Report:  At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Isan Diaz reminds me of Aaron Hill, one of the players he was traded for.  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 and his 58% stolen base percentage bears that out. 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.

Diaz’s defense has been his biggest obstacle.  While he primarily played shortstop this past year, he committed 25 errors in 95 games and in late July, the Brewers started working him at second base more.  That’s his likely position going forward, but that will put more pressure on his bat.

Fantasy Impact:  Diaz was one of the sexy names during the 2016 season for a Dynasty League waiver wire pickup.  The ceiling is a solid fantasy contributor in the mold of…Aaron Hill; although I doubt he will have the peak that Hill did as he doesn’t make enough contact.  But, there is 20 home run potential with a .250 to .260 batting average.

Jacob Nottingham (C)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 catcher

Jacob Nottingham was moved twice in 2015; first for Scott Kazmir that sent him from the Astros to the A’s and then for Khris Davis that landed him Milwaukee.  It’s always disconcerting to see players moved multiple times as it begs the question…”What’s wrong this player?”

Nottingham’s a big kid with plus raw power that showed up in a big way when he was in the Midwest League.  In 59 games, he hit 10 home runs and many of those games were played in the cold of early spring. The problem is his power hasn’t played since then.   In 112 games this year in Double-A, he slugged .347 and hit 11 home runs.  Throw-in a .642 OPS and it was year that saw him back-up.

Scouting Report:  The fact is the plus raw power that Nottingham possesses has not materialized in-game.  Part of that can be attributed to him being moved very quickly through High-A as well as getting traded twice.  Each team has different approaches for players; some might tweak a player’s swing, others might move their hands while some teams will change their setup.  The bottom line is that he just needs time to develop and I believe that will happen.  Milwaukee has a long history of developing positional players.

His carrying tool will continue to be his plus raw power.  He has quick hands and plenty of loft in his swing.  While the swing can get long, I don’t think he’ll be a huge strikeout guy as his hands will bail him out.  The baseline is a 20 home run bat with a .260 to .270 batting average.

Another question around Nottingham is will he stay at catching.  He’s still very raw behind the plate and while that’s ok in Rookie Ball, it does get disconcerting when the player has spent an entire year in Double-A.  If the bat continues to develop, the Brewers could move him to first, or the outfield to accelerate his time to the big leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  I wrote last year that Nottingham “has a chance to be an impact bat in fantasy”.  Despite his poor showing in Double-A, I still believe that.  What I’m more worried about is his ability to stay behind the plate.

Phil Bickford (RHP)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Reliever

Phil Bickford was added to the Brewers organization at the trade deadline in exchange for lefty Will Smith.  While Bickford was our number one prospect in the Giants organization, he is not that in the Brewers organization.  There are two reasons:  the first is just the impressive depth in their system and the relative weakness in the Giants system.  But secondly and more importantly, Bickford’s stock is down after a noticeable drop in his velocity.  In college, Bickford would routinely hit the upper 90’s, even reportedly hitting triple-digits.  However, he only hit 92 MPH during the Futures Game in July and that was when he should have been letting it air-out in a one-inning outing.

Despite the velocity drop, he had no problem with the Sally and California League, striking out well over a batter an inning with a 2.70 ERA.  He lost the strike zone after the trade but that was in a limited sample size.

The Brewers will likely start Bickford in Double-A to begin the 2017 season with a chance to see Milwaukee sometime in 2017.

Scouting Report:  Last year, we wrote about the concern in the industry about Bickford’s ability to maintain velocity deep into games.  Now, he’s having trouble just throwing premium velocity.  I have no idea what to make of it but it’s a red flag for sure.  That said, pitchers can get their velocity back as apparently Bickford’s former teammate Tyler Beede has.  However, the Brewers have never demonstrated the ability to consistently develop quality pitchers throughout their system.

His slider continues to be his best secondary pitch with questions surrounding his feel for a change-up.  Without a quality change-up and reduced velocity, he could be a target for a bullpen role in the future.

Fantasy Impact: I re-read my capsule from last year and was torn about Bickford.  Based on what I saw in the Futures Game and discussions I’ve had with others who have seen him, I’m turning decidedly bearish.  I have the upside at a number four starter and that is reflected in my rankings.

Gilbert Lara (SS)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder

The Brewers spent $3.1 million dollars to sign Gilbert Lara on J2 Day in 2014.  They brought him to Arizona and put him the AZL in 2015 where he put up pedestrian numbers.  This year, he was promoted to the Pioneer League and continued to put up less than impressive numbers.  In 59 games, he batted .249 with a 24% strikeout rate.

Scouting Report:  So why is he on this list?  Is it simply because he was a high priced international-sign or is there something more?  It’s actually both.  While teams make poor decisions, Lara was considered an elite talent and few 16-year-old players command a $3 million dollar signing bonus.  Secondly, he’s a big kid with big power potential.  He has good bat speed that he combines with tremendous leverage to hit impressive bombs in batting practice.  It hasn’t translated into in-game production, but that’s because of his ability to make consistent contact.  While it’s an open question, the Brewers are banking on his ability to shorten his swing and cut down on his strikeouts.

While he’s currently playing shortstop, I don’t see that lasting.  He’s a big kid now and should only get bigger as he continues to add bulk.  His arm is strong enough to play third but the question will be centered around his ability to maintain enough athleticism for the position.  If not, he’ll need to move to first.

Fantasy Impact:  Lara is three, maybe four years away from helping your fantasy team.  He’s also at least a year or two from being considered a top prospect, which at least gives owners leverage in making a Dynasty League trades.  While the upside is high, there’s enough risk that Lara should only be owned in very deep leagues.

Monte Harrison (OF)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 OF with extreme risk

I had a chance to see Monte Harrison play shortly after the Brewers drafted him in the 2014 MLB Draft.  The tools were impressive.  He has size, great bat speed, double-plus foot speed, with a cannon for an arm.   I was giddy with excitement and wrote:  “Harrison has the talent to go from relative obscurity to one of the more talked about and hyped prospect in the minors.

Two years later, it just hasn’t come together.  Part of the problem has been injuries.  Last year he lost time when he broke his ankle (which is actually hard to do) and this year, he broke his hamate bone and missed most of the second half of the season.  It’s a shame, because he finally started to make better contact before the injury, adding 50 points to his batting average in the process.

Scouting Report:  Harrison is still a lottery pick.  The tools are still there, although one source indicated that he’s no longer a double-plus runner (probably due to his ankle issue) but the real question is will he hit enough.  I honestly don’t know.  His pitch selection is poor and his swing can get out of control.  Plus, he’s missed so much playing time that he enters next season as a 21-year-old and should probably start back in Low-A.  However, if he learns to hit, the upside is tremendous.

Fantasy Impact: Harrison is owned in a lot of Dynasty Leagues and really shouldn’t be.  He’s a lottery pick and if you have room and the time to wait, by all means, add him to your roster.  Just know, the path will be long.

2017 Emerging Prospect

Mario Feliciano (C)

The Brewers drafted Mario Feliciano in the supplemental second round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of the Carlos Beltran Academy in Puerto Rico.   He had a solid season in the AZL as a 17-year-old slashing .265/.307/.359 with a 90% contact rate.  He didn’t hit any home run but has good bat speed and enough physicality to eventually hit 15 plus home runs at the highest level.  As a teenage catcher, it’s going to take a while, perhaps five to six years to develop.  However, he has pop and is already showing a feel for hitting, so he’s somebody that could become a relevant prospect over the next year or two.

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