John Manuel took your Brewers questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
One more win would have been nice. That way, the Brewers could say they
had their first winning season since 1992. Instead, the 2005 team’s
81-81 record meant Milwaukee had its first non-losing season since that
club, snapping a tie with the Pirates for baseball’s longest active
streak of sub-.500 seasons at 12.
Undeniably, the Brewers made progress. They attained the .500 mark
despite a modest $42 million payroll and staff ace Ben Sheets missing
Owner Mark Attanasio, 48, brought a new vibe to the organization, which
finally shed its link to commissioner (and former owner) Bud Selig.
Attanasio increased payroll from $27 million in 2004, and he thanked
fans for their support by giving them free tickets to the season finale.
With success, however modest, comes expectations. The Brewers hope they’re
passing .500 on the way up, not just visiting.
“One of the best things about getting to .500 is we don’t
have to hear about it anymore,” general manager Doug Melvin told
the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “But the biggest thing it creates
is new challenges for us. It raises the bar, which I think we all need
to do . . . But it’s going to be tougher to get to the next level.”
Because of a farm system still stocked with talent, even after graduating
rookie middle infielders J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks to Milwaukee in
2005, the Brewers are poised to get better. Top prospect Prince Fielder,
versatile Corey Hart and pitchers Jose Capellan and Dana Eveland also
got time in the majors and should play larger roles in 2006.
Melvin has some interesting choices to make this offseason. At first
base, he can go with Fielder or Lyle Overbay, a consistent hitter who’s
arbitration-eligible. Hart is blocked on the outfield corners by all-star
Carlos Lee and Geoff Jenkins, but could be in the mix at third base,
where Bill Hall broke through. Eveland could slide into the fifth spot
in the rotation, unless Melvin pursues a free agent.
They’re all good problems to have. The Brewers have talent at
the upper levels of the minors to help now while maintaining some depth.
Scouting director Jack Zduriencik continues to execute a simple philosophy
of drafting the best player available, and Milwaukee continues to pay
the market rate for top talent. The latest example of this came when
the Brewers signed Ryan Braun, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft,
for $2.45 million.
Melvin’s Brewers have excelled at finding talent wherever they
can, from independent leagues to Canadian draftees to the waiver wire,
which has produced closer Derrick Turnbow and center fielder Brady Clark
to name two. Now they’ve decided to become more of a player internationally,
and international scouting director Fernando Arango came through by
signing Rolando Pascual, the most coveted amateur pitcher in the Dominican
Republic, for $710,000.
As the Pascual signing showed, these aren’t the same Brewers anymore.
The best evidence yet would be a season over .500.
21 Ht: 6-0 Wt: 260 B-T: L-R
HS—Melbourne, Fla., 2002 (1st round) Signed
by: Tom McNamara/Jack Zduriencik
Background: Fielder first came to the attention
of BA readers in 1998, our first Baseball For The Ages issue. He wasn’t
the top 14-year-old—that honor went to Braves righthander Kyle Davies—but
he was featured as the prominent son of a big leaguer. His father Cecil
was wrapping up a 319-homer major league career. By then, Prince’s
power already was the talk of his father’s clubhouses, thanks to
batting-practice displays he had put on at Tiger Stadium. Fielder has
since become a major leaguer, like his father, with a June 2005 promotion
so he could DH for the Brewers in interleague play. Between being a pudgy,
shy 14-year-old and a confident, 21-year-old big leaguer, Fielder has
dealt with his share of adversity. Scouts doubted his bulky, overweight
body out of high school, but the Brewers didn’t and drafted him
seventh overall. He arrived in Double-A as a 19-year-old, only after he
had been served with papers stemming from an investigation into his father’s
gambling debts, problems that led to the family’s breakup and Prince’s
estrangement from his father. He left the Arizona Fall League this offseason
when his wife Chanel, whom he wed in June, had medical issues while pregnant
with their second child.
Strengths: Through all his travails, Fielder has hit and hit
for power. He has as much raw power as any hitter in the minors due
to tremendous bat speed and physical, brute strength. He has power to
any part of any park and is at his best when he’s using the whole
field, letting his strength work for him. He homered in his first two
games at Triple-A Nashville before a monthlong slump, and it’s
the adjustments he made to get going again that have the Brewers so
excited. Fielder knows the strike zone well and started picking up on
the steady diet of breaking balls he was seeing. Once he started trusting
his hands to hit breaking balls left in the strike zone, he punished
them. He was productive in a pinch-hitting role in the big leagues due
to his ability to focus during those at-bats, and he carried that improved
concentration with him when he returned to the minors, hitting .349
with 13 homers in his final 39 games.
Weaknesses: Fielder can get pull-conscious, opening his shoulder
and giving away the outer half of the plate. Defense is perhaps Fielder’s
biggest obstacle. He’s more comfortable in the batter’s
box than at first base, and he made 12 errors in 101 games in 2005.
He has good hands for the position and more quickness than he’s
given credit for, but must show more pride in his defense to be rated
The Future: Lyle Overbay has been one of the Brewers’
best hitters the last two seasons. Overbay is arbitration eligible,
however, and his power potential is dwarfed by Fielder’s, making
it likely general manager Doug Melvin will deal Overbay to make room
for Fielder. If Fielder is the Opening Day starter, he’s an instant
favorite to be National League rookie of the year.
HS—Mount Ararat, Maine, 2004 (1st round) Signed
by: Tony Blengino
Background: Rogers had college scholarship offers
in hockey (Dartmouth) and soccer (Duke) and had signed with Miami to play
baseball before becoming the first Maine high schooler ever drafted in
the first round.
Two of Rogers’ pitches could earn 70s on the 20-80 scouting
scale. His fastball tops out at 100 mph and sits at 95-97 mph
with some late cutting action. Rogers’ breaking ball has
improved substantially, as a once-loopy pitch became a hard mid-80s
slider that reaches 90. He’s one of the best athletes in
Rogers put up ugly numbers in the low Class A South Atlantic League
because he’s still trying to control his powerful body and
has been unable to repeat his delivery. He throws across his body,
though he has toned that down, and still needs to get better extension
to keep his pitches down. His fastball straightens out at times.
Rogers’ stuff, tenacity and Northern background have elicited
John Smoltz comparisons from Milwaukee officials. He’ll
go to high Class A Brevard County in 2006. When he harnesses his
body and can command his stuff, he’ll move rapidly.
2005 Club (Class)
West Virginia (Lo A)
22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 200
Miami, 2005 (1st round) Signed by: Larry Pardo
Background: BA’s Freshman of the Year
in 2003, Braun helped Miami to a pair of College World Series berths in
three seasons. He had an All-America season before the Brewers drafted
him fifth overall. An elbow strain ended Braun’s pro debut two weeks
early and limited him to DH duty in instructional league.
Braun has all five tools. He works counts waiting for a pitch
to hit, then has the bat speed—thanks to very quick hands—to
hit for excellent power. His approach and power remind some in
the organization of another former Miami third baseman, Pat Burrell.
Braun is a plus runner, and his average arm strength should be
enough for third base.
Braun has a less-than-textbook swing. He could use more balance
and a more consistent, less exaggerated load. He needs more repetition
at third base, where he’ll have to get used to reacting
quicker than he did at shortstop, his former position.
Braun should reach Double-A Huntsville at some point in 2006.
He has enough athleticism and bat to move to an outfield corner
if he’s not cut out for third base.
HS—Fort Worth, Texas, 2004 (2nd round) Signed by:
Background: Gallardo committed to Texas Christian,
which hoped to use him as a two-way player, but the Brewers and a $725,000
bonus persuaded him to sign. He thrived in the tandem-starter system at
low Class A West Virginia, winning his final eight decisions (all starts).
Strengths: Only Rogers has better stuff in the organization.
Gallardo pounds the strike zone with an 89-93 mph fastball that
touches 96 with boring action and life down in the zone. He repeats
his drop-and-drive delivery well, enabling him to command his
fastball , and he can throw his curveball, slider and changeup
for strikes. His low-80s slider is at times a plus pitch.
Weaknesses: The Brewers describe Gallardo’s demeanor
as quietly intense, while others have chided him as too laid-back.
Drop-and-drive pitchers tend to elevate their stuff at times,
but he has such downward life on his fastball that it hasn’t
been a problem.
The Future: Gallardo’s progress in the second half
and in instructional league has the Brewers projecting him as
a No. 2 starter in the mold of Mike Mussina. He’s more polished
than Rogers and will join him in high Class A in 2006.
HS—Bowling Green, Ky., 2000 (11th round) Signed
by: Mike Gibbons
Background: Hart played first and third base
prior to 2004, earning the Double-A Southern League’s MVP award
in 2003. He has spent the last two seasons as a Triple-A outfielder, and
he made his first big league start as a center fielder.
Strengths: Hart’s athletic ability lends itself
to versatility both offensively and defensively. He can play five
positions, and he ranked third in the system in homers and steals
in 2005. The organization’s best baserunner also ranks near
the top in raw power, as he has good leverage in his swing. He
has average range and arm strength on the outfield corners.
Weaknesses: At his size, Hart inevitably has some length
to his swing and will have periods where he struggles to make
consistent contact. Hart is a below-average defender at third,
where his range is limited and his throwing motion has to be adjusted.
The Future: Hart saw a lot of Arizona Fall League time
at third base, where he’ll have to contend with Bill Hall.
Hart could also be a solid corner outfielder, though he’s
blocked by Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee, or a utilityman.
Background: Escobar was flirting with a .300
average in early August, but sagged as he wore down. He was shaken by
an Aug. 6 incident when his batting-practice line drive hit pitching coach
John Curtis in the head, sending him to the hospital.
Strengths: Escobar has the tools to be an above-average
defender at shortstop, starting with fluid actions, a strong arm
and good hands. HIs wiry strong body produces some pop at the
plate, enough for Brewers officials to project him to hit 10-15
homers annually, and his swing is sound. He’s a plus runner,
getting from home to first in less than 4.2 seconds.
Weaknesses: Escobar’s strike zone is too generous.
He improved at recognizing breaking balls in instructional league,
and that progress will have to continue for him to make more consistent
contact. Escobar’s 41 errors ranked third in the minors,
but Milwaukee isn’t worried about his defense.
The Future: While the Brewers have J.J. Hardy in the big
leagues, Escobar is gaining ground fast. When Hardy couldn’t
play in the Arizona Fall League, Escobar became the league’s
youngest player and acquitted himself well. He’ll start
2006 in high Class A.
JC of the Canyons (Calif.), D/F 2002 (16th round) Signed
by: Corey Rodriguez
Background: Eveland was a draft-and-follow signee
in 2003, one year after the Brewers gave Manny Parra $1.5 million as a
draft-and-follow. Eveland joined Parra in the Huntsville rotation in 2005,
blew past him as a prospect and spent much of the second half in Milwaukee’s
Strengths: Eveland has a build that evokes David Wells
and has some of Wells’ pitchability as well. His fastball
sits at 88-90 mph, touching 94. Eveland adds and subtracts off
his fastball and commands it well. His slider can be a plus pitch,
aided by his deceiving, crossfire delivery. His curveball has
Weaknesses: Like Wells, Eveland has trouble maintaining
his weight. When he became a reliever, his conditioning lagged
as he couldn’t maintain a workout schedule between starts.
His changeup is his fourth pitch, though at times it is average.
The Future: The Brewers hoped Eveland would get back on
a conditioning track in the Arizona Fall League, but a knee injury
ended his stint prematurely. If he’s healthy and in shape,
he could have the inside track on Milwakee’s fifth starter’s
2005 Club (Class)
25 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 175
Dominican Republic, 1998 Signed by: Eddy Toledo (Mets)
Background: After joining the organization in
the offseason Keith Ginter trade with Oakland, Cruz played in the Futures
Game and was Milwaukee’s minor league player of the year. He led
Nashville to the Pacific Coast League title, winning the championship
series MVP award with three homers in a sweep of Tacoma.
Strengths: Cruz’ calling card is well above average
raw power. He uses an aggressive swing, strong wrists and quick
hands to generate a buggy-whip swing with violent bat speed. But
power isn’t his only plus tool. He also has a plus arm in
Weaknesses: Cruz has holes in his swing. Pitchers use his
aggressiveness against him with offspeed stuff in fastball counts.
They’ll also climb the ladder on him because he’ll
chase high heat. The Brewers say they can live with the strikeouts
as long as he makes powerful contact.
The Future: Cruz figures to take another turn through Triple-A
in 2006. He’s behind Corey Hart on the depth chart of corner
outfielders that already includes Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee.
2005 Club (Class)
25 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 235
Dominican Republic, 1998 Signed by: Julian Perez/Rene
Background: After going from Class A to the
Braves in 2004, Capellan was the key player in the Dan Kolb trade. While
Kolb quickly fizzled in Atlanta, Capellan struggled as a starter in Triple-A
before shifting to the bullpen and finishing the season in Milwaukee.
Strengths: Capellan touched 100 mph with his fastball
in 2004, but with the Brewers he worked at 92-94 mph as a starter.
His velocity spiked back to 95-97 as a reliever, a role he enthusiastically
embraced. He generates excellent arm speed, giving his fastball
has late tail and life up in the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Lacking confidence in his loopy downer curveball,
Capellan switched to a slider as a reliever. It’s still
slurvy but he was able to throw it for strikes with some consistency.
His changeup remains a work in progress, and his conditioning
remains a concern.
The Future: Capellan could return to a starting role if
he rediscovers the bite and command on his curve in winter ball
or in spring training. He had a 5.16 ERA as a starter and a 1.44
ERA as a reliever in Triple-A. He’ll probably open 2006
in a setup role in Milwaukee.
2005 Club (Class)
19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 200
HS—Dry Fork, Va., 2005 (3rd round) Signed
by: Grant Brittain
Background: Inman’s stellar pro debut
was a major coup for area scout Grant Brittain, who stayed on Inman after
many other scouts backed off. Inman toned down a maximum-effort delivery
in the spring, and set the Virginia high school career strikeout record
when his fastball crept into the 90s.
Strengths: Inman’s fastball sits at 92-93 and has
big league command of the pitch—rare for a high schooler.
His slurvy curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch that Milwaukee
wants him to tighten into a slider. The club loves his competitiveness,
aptitude and willingness to get better.
Weaknesses: Not much about Inman is typical. His arm action
was likened by one club official to that of a javelin thrower—long
in the front and the back. The Brewers were able to improve his
extension and quiet his delivery. At times he throws too many
breaking balls for someone who throws strikes with a live fastball.
The Future: Inman has the polish and stuff to move quickly,
but the Brewers want to take it slow to make sure he maintains
his improved delivery. He’ll report to low Class A for his
first full season.
2005 Club (Class)
AZL Brewers (R)
Cruz, Gallardo, Inman: Bill Mitchell
Braun, Escobar: Sports On Film
Rogers: Rodger Wood
Fielder: Andrew Woolley