Clearing out the farm system isn’t usually advised, but the Brewers were in a unique position. Having Prince Fielder for one more season and needing at least two starters, the Brewers cleaned out their top prospect cupboard and added Alcides Escobar. Jake Odirizzi, Brett Lawrie, Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, and Escobar got the Brewers Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and a division championship. That, of course, left the Brewers without any top prospects or possible impact rookies.
It also left them without any real impact prospects. Wily Peralta, however, attempted to disprove that idea by having a strong season, but while he was impressive, it’s hard to see a real high ceiling for him. Tyler Thornburg also added a nice full-season debut, but he still has work to do. The biggest breakout, though, might have been Taylor Green, who looked like the guy before a wrist injury in 2009, but while you got to love what he did, the ceiling on him is also limited, this time by his power output.
Filling out the rest of the system is a lot of bleh, but the Brewers added some talent in the last draft. Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, and Jose Lopez add significant depth to the pitching in the system, and one year after they had maybe one solid pitching prospect, they now have several. Of course, pitching is notoriously risky, but you also need it to compete.
A year after absolutely gutting the farm system, the Brewers’ system remains thin, but it’s no longer barren. Bradley , Thornburg, and Jungmann could be a tier higher by season’s end, and Peralta could be in the rotation at that point. The Brewers will also have the benefit of having two more first-round picks in next year’s draft, as long as Fielder ends up signing elsewhere, and that could add more depth to the system as the team slowly rebuilds the system. But this is what happens when you go all-in. You can’t criticize the Brewers for doing it – they did win a division – but you can’t be surprised by the after-effects, either.
Wily Peralta SP
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 23/AAA
For most of Peralta’s career, the issue has always been his wavering control, but after a season in which he displayed fringe-average control (a substantial improvement) consistently, scouts are beginning to believe that Peralta can remain in the rotation. When he keeps his front shoulder closed, Peralta’s delivery is quite remarkable, but probably in an attempt to overthrow, his front shoulder opens too early, causing his pitches to sail and flatten. Improving on this has let his low-to-mid-90s fastball and average secondary pitches (slider and change-up) play better than they had been. If his slider or change-up were a plus pitch or if his control were average or better, I’d feel better about putting him higher, but he, at least, now looks like a starting pitcher.
Jed Bradley SP
The second 2011 first-round pick by the Brewers, Bradley could end up the better of the two. The low-90s fastball is just an average pitch, but he adds an above-average to plus slider and an average change-up. Bradley’s windup is solid, but he doesn’t get on top of the ball real well. But that shouldn’t hinder his ability to throw strikes. What hurts Bradley is a lack of a high ceiling. Other guys in the system have bigger fastballs, but Bradley remains a solid prospect with a lower floor.
Taylor Green 3B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
It’s unlikely that Green becomes a huge star, but he still looks to contribute substantial value to the major-league club. After finally recovering from a wrist injury, Green put everything back together in 2011. He shows a strong hit tool, a very good approach, and average power at the plate. At the hot corner, he’s certainly nothing special as he doesn’t have a lot of lateral quickness or a particularly strong arm, but he should be better than Casey McGehee there. People seem to think 2011 was out of nowhere, but he was dominating before he hurt his wrist injury in 2009.
Taylor Jungmann SP
Age/Level: 22/High-A or AA
Jungmann’s delivery won’t win him any beauty contests. With a disturbingly short stride, a head whip, and a weird arm action that doesn’t look comfortable, Jungmann’s delivery screams injury risk, but it seems to work for him. As for his stuff, he has a low-to-mid-90s fastball with notable movement, but while his slider is a potential plus pitch, it’s not there yet and combines with a change-up that isn’t even average at this point. If the velocity stays high and the secondary pitches improve, he’s a mid-rotation starter at worst, but I foresee more initial problems than others do. But I’ll allow that the ugly windup influences me maybe a tad more than it should.
Tyler Thornburg SP
Small yet strong, Thorngburg’s size gives scouts pause as to his ability to continue as a starter, but he had a very solid debut throwing almost 140 innings. His stuff is pretty good as his fastball sits in the low-90s (it has hit 98 in short stints), and he adds an above-average to plus change-up and a solid curveball that needs more consistency. Thornburg’s windup has a lot of moving parts and resembles Lincecum’s ever-so-slightly as the back shoulder dips, but he doesn’t follow through as well, which hinders his control and consistency. He had a very impressive debut, and he’ll be looking to build on that as he heads to AA.
Logan Schafer OF
Age/Level: 25/AAA or MLB
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Schafer’s a bit hard for me to peg. On one hand, he is a solid defensive center fielder with good speed and a solid arm. He also makes a lot of contact and has always hit for a good average, even improving his walk totals. On the other hand, he doesn’t have the speed to steal bases, and he has little power. I could see a future in which he starts in center field, but I don’t see him being anything more than average. He’s a pretty excellent option for a 4th outfielder, which every team needs.
Scooter Gennett 2B
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Gennett is the prototype of a scrappy infielder. He’s small, without any standout tools, and a hard-worker. Gennett has a solid hit tool, but he’s too aggressive at times and doesn’t have a lot of power, though he has more than you’d expect from a guy his size. Defensively, he’s moved from shortstop to second base, but he’s still rough at second. While he’s not really athletic, he has the work ethic to get better, but he’ll never be an asset there. I see them trying him around the infield and making him into a utility infielder. He needs to add some secondary skills to make him a starter.
Jorge Lopez SP
Age/Level: 19/Rookie Ball
Lopez is all projection at this point. Currently, his fastball sits in the upper-80s and low-90s, but the lanky frame indicates that he could add significant velocity as he fills out. Currently, his curveball looks like a plus pitch on a fairly frequent basis, and scouts see a real swing-and-miss pitch in the future. Currently, his change-up is non-existent, but considering he hasn’t pitched very long, that’s not a surprise. There are about a billion different scenarios for how Lopez’s career can go, but you can dream big on him.
Cody Scarpetta SP
Projection: 4/5, Relief Ace
Scarpetta’s days as a starter are likely numbered, but they aren’t up quite yet. His fastball sits in the low-90s, and he adds a plus curveball to the mix. But his change-up is still nascent, and his control hasn’t really improved all that much either. With two above-average pitches already, a path to the bullpen seems clear, and shorter stints should add a little velocity to the fastball. Scarpetta’s future looks to be as a reliever, but there’s still some hope he can remain in the rotation.
Mike Fiers SP
Age/Level: 26/MLB or AAA
Projection: 4/5, Middle Reliever
For Fiers, it’s all about being an option. He’s made it through the minors and done a good job, and while the stuff doesn’t scream top-of-the-rotation, he probably has himself a spot in the rotation or the bullpen at the start of 2012. Fiers’ fastball won’t scare anyone in the upper-80s, and his cutter and change-up aren’t “fiers”some (sorry) either. But he controls and commands them well enough to deserve a chance to tangle with major-league lineups for a few innings.
Big Question – Bats
The Brewers unsurprisingly used their 2 2011 first-round picks on pitchers, and I won’t criticize that. But their top 10 features only 3 position players, and only 1 looks like a starter. With no Prince Fielder around and little belief that Mat Gamel will be much more than average-ish, the Brewers will need some bats, and they’ll need them soon. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart is a nice start to a lineup, but they lost a major offensive source in Fielder. The solution isn’t currently in the system.