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Milwaukee Brewers:
1999 Top 10

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High School

Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams

By Tom Haudricourt

1. Nick Neugebauer, RHP
Age: 19  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 225
Drafted: HS--Riverside, Calif., 1998 (2nd round)  Signed by: Bruce Seid

Top Prospects of the 90s

1990 Greg Vaughn, of
1991 Chris George, rhp
1992 Tyrone Hill, lhp
1993 Tyrone Hill, lhp
1994 Jeff D'Amico, rhp
1995 Antone Williamson, 3b
1996 Jeff D'Amico, rhp
1997 Todd Dunn, of
1998 Valerio De Los Santos, lhp
1999 Ron Belliard, 2b

Background: Neugebauer was projected as a first-round pick in 1998, but questions about his elbow and conditioning prompted teams to back off. Those clubs may be kicking themselves down the road. The Brewers were thrilled to get him in the second round and paid the largest bonus—$ 1 million—ever given by the club to a player taken after the opening round. Neugebauer signed too late to pitch in 1998, but that was fine with the Brewers, who put him on a conditioning program to strengthen his arm. The Brewers sent him to the Class A Midwest League despite his age and inexperience after keeping him a few weeks in extended spring training. Neugebauer suffered bouts of wildness but was more than equal to the task, averaging 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings—best among all minor league starters. He is the most exciting high school prospect the Brewers have had in a very long time.

Strengths: Neugebauer regularly throws his fastball in the high 90s and has a nasty slider that is nearly unhittable when he gets it over the plate. When he needs to, he can reach back and blow the ball past the hitter. He is a physically imposing presence on the mound, capable of pitching out of any situation with the aid of the strikeout. "He’s a bona fide No. 1 (potential starter in the big leagues)," said Brewers scout Russ Bove. "You don’t get that very often."

Weaknesses: Wildness has been Neugebauer’s chief nemesis, mainly due to a tendency to get out of whack mechanically on the mound. When he overthrows, he falls off the mound and loses his release point. When Neugebauer becomes more sound mechanically, his walks will decrease as will the potential of experiencing arm trouble. Neugebauer also needs to watch his body and keep his weight in check.

The Future: It has been a long time since the Brewers had a pitcher with a ceiling this high. "He has Kerry Wood potential," said Bove. The Brewers will be extremely careful with Neugebauer, who is young enough to coddle a bit. He probably will start the 2000 season at Class A Stockton, which will give him the opportunity to strut his stuff in front of family and friends in California.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Beloit (A)        7  5  3.90  18  18   0   0   81  50  80 125

2. Ben Sheets, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 195
Drafted: Northeast Louisiana (1st round)  Signed by: Jonathan Story

Background: Sheets first made a name for himself as the top pitcher in the Cape Cod League in 1998. The Brewers had no thought he’d still be available when they snapped him up with the 10th overall pick in June. After a lengthy holdout, he signed for the largest bonus in club history.

Strengths: Sheets was an advanced college pitcher, thanks to a repertoire that includes a fastball in the 92-96 mph range, an old-fashioned, 12-to-6 curve and a decent changeup. On top of that, Sheets is a fierce competitor, a guy who will do whatever it takes to win a game.

Weaknesses: Sheets’ fastball could use a bit more movement, but lack of pro experience is the biggest weakness evident. His strikeout pitch in college was his curveball, and pro hitters offer more of a challenge.

The Future: Sheets is on the fastest track and is projected as a top-of-the-rotation starter. He will be pushed at every opportunity and could reach Milwaukee in 2000.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Ogden (R)         0  1  5.63   2   2   0   0    8   8   2  12
Stockton (A)      1  0  3.58   5   5   0   0   28  23  13  28

3. Kevin Barker, 1B
Age: 24  B-T: L-L  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 210
Drafted: Virginia Tech, 1996 (3rd round)  Signed by: Jeff Brookens

Background: The Brewers didn’t plan to look at Barker until the 2000 season, but free agent Sean Berry flopped so badly that Barker got the call in mid-August. He was used almost exclusively against righthanders and must prove he is more than a platoon player.

Strengths: Barker is fiercely determined and isn’t afraid to work, which is why he has improved with each season. He has a knack for putting the ball in play when an RBI can be had. Barker has good power but is a click shy of being a true power hitter.

Weaknesses: Barker must prove he can hit lefthanded pitching, which he failed to do consistently in the minors. His swing can get long, and he needs more plate discipline. With no speed to speak of, he is susceptible to grounding into double plays.

The Future: Barker will be given a chance to at least win a platoon role at first base in spring training. If he shows he can hold his own against lefties, he could win the job outright.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Louisville (AAA)   .278  442  89 123  27   5  23   87  59  94   2
Milwaukee          .282  117  13  33   3   0   3   23   9  19   1

4. Allen Levrault, RHP
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 230
Drafted: CC of Rhode Island 1996 (13th round)  Signed by: Ron Rizzi/Tommy Tanous

Background: Levrault appeared on his way to a dynamite season until a batting-practice smash hit him in the face and broke his nose just before midseason. After the injury and a promotion from Double-A Huntsville to Triple-A Louisville, he never settled back into a groove.

Strengths: Levrault has a strong arm and bulldog mentality. He throws his fastball consistently in the low 90s with an excellent changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Once he takes the mound, it’s difficult to get the ball away from him.

Weaknesses: Because he often struggles with command of his curveball, Levrault gets caught in big innings that ruin otherwise solid performances. He gets stubborn at times with his fastball and gets hurt with it.

The Future: Levrault will be given the chance to open 2000 back at Triple-A. Some in the organization believe he could be a successful set-up man or closer in the majors, but he will start for now to work on his repertoire.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Huntsville (AA)   9  2  3.43  16  16   2   0  100  77  33  82
Louisville (AAA)  1  3  8.65   9   5   0   0   34  48  16  33

5. J.M. Gold, RHP
Age: 19  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-5  Wt: 225
Drafted: HS--Toms River, N.J., 1998 (1st round)  Signed by: Danny Garcia

Background: The Brewers figured Gold, then 18, might struggle when they sent him to the Class A Midwest League to start 1999—and he did. Gold showed no signs of breaking down mentally, however, so the Brewers let him take his lumps and get a lesson in making adjustments.

Strengths: In an organization starving for power pitching, Gold provides exactly that with a fastball in the low to mid-90s and a hard, sharp-breaking curve. He closed the season strong, an indication he was making the proper adjustments.

Weaknesses: Gold has a soft body and gets mechanically out of whack at times, which may have contributed to a bout of elbow soreness that sidelined him for a few weeks. Concerns about those mechanics prompted some clubs to pass on him in the 1998 draft. Gold was home run prone and gave up 16 in 1999.

The Future: The Brewers don’t want to rush Gold too much, so he’ll probably open 2000 at Class A Stockton. But don’t be surprised if he’s pitching in Double-A before the year is out.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
Beloit (A)        6 10  5.40  21  21   2   0  112 120  54  93

6. Chad Green, OF
Age: 24  B-T: B-R  Ht: 5-10  Wt: 180
Drafted: Kentucky, 1996 (1st round)  Signed by: Mike Gibbons

Background: Green was in danger of falling off this list until he finally got healthy and got his act together in the Arizona Fall League. He hit .291-5-19 with six steals. Before that effort, he had developed a reputation as an injury-prone underachiever.

Strengths: Speed is Green’s calling card and the reason the Brewers drafted the 1996 Olympian. Green can go get the ball in the gaps with the best of them and has a decent arm. He is learning that putting the ball on the ground is the key to his success.

Weaknesses: Green has had trouble keeping his legs healthy, which has rendered him useless for long periods of time. At times he gets long with his swing, resulting in easy fly-ball outs. He must improve his bunting and be more selective at the plate.

The Future: Green is in position to open 2000 as the starting center fielder at Triple-A Indianapolis. He has some lost time to make up for, and Green will go as far as his legs will take him.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Huntsville (AA)    .246  422  56 104  22   3  10   46  46 109  28

7. Jose Garcia, RHP
Age: 21  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-3  Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Baldwin Park, Calif., 1996 (2nd round)  Signed by: Corey Rodriguez

Background: Garcia suffered a mysterious elbow injury in spring training. It never recovered sufficiently to allow him to get on the mound in 1999. Club officials say he has recovered now, but there is cause for concern until he proves there are no lingering effects.

Strengths: Prior to the elbow ailment, Garcia had one of the best arms in the organization. He throws his fastball in the low 90s and has a knee-bending curveball to go with it. He knows the value of pitching inside and had all the makings of a workhorse pitcher before getting hurt.

Weaknesses: At times, Garcia lost his poise and concentration on the mound. He also struggled with his command, falling behind in the count too often and getting hurt as a result. He also must watch his conditioning.

The Future: Had he not gotten hurt, Garcia would have been at Triple-A in 2000 with a chance to move into the big league rotation later in the year. Now he must reestablish himself and prove he is 100 percent physically.

1999 Club         W  L   ERA   G  GS  CG  SV   IP   H  BB  SO
                  Did Not Play—Injured

8. Santiago Perez, SS
Age: 24  B-T: B-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 170
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1993  Signed by: Ramon Pena (Tigers)

Background: Had Perez played as well in Triple-A as he did at Double-A El Paso in 1998, the Brewers would feel a lot better about their future at shortstop. Instead, Perez took a step backward. His ability to make adjustments in 2000 will be closely monitored.

Strengths: Perez has the tools necessary to play shortstop in the majors—good arm, impressive range and soft hands. At times, he can be spectacular in the field. He also has above-average speed, making him a threat on the basepaths.

Weaknesses: Perez is a free swinger who strikes out too often and seldom draws walks, leading to low on-base percentages. He also gets lazy in the field at times and makes sloppy throws, resulting in foolish errors on what should be routine plays.

The Future: The Brewers fear Perez’ big year in 1998 was one of those Texas League-enhanced performances. If Perez is going to work his way into the Brewers’ plans, he must bounce back with a strong showing in Triple-A in 2000.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Louisville (AAA)   .263  407  57 107  23   8   7   38  31  94  21

9. Soctt Kirby, 3B
Age: 22  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-2  Wt: 190
Drafted: HS--Lakeland, Fla., 1995 (30th round)  Signed by: Alex Morales/Russ Bove

Background: No player made a bigger leap forward in 1999 than Kirby, who played more like a third-round pick than a 30th-rounder. He returned to Class A Beloit to start the season but earned a promotion to Stockton at midseason.

Strengths: Kirby led the entire organization with 27 home runs, the result of increased strength from the ’98 season. He did not sacrifice batting average by boosting his power numbers, a sign of he was making the proper adjustments. He also showed improvement in the field.

Weaknesses: Kirby struggles with his footwork in the field and at times becomes erratic. He also gets defensive occasionally at the plate on two-strike counts. He is a guess hitter who can be fooled.

The Future: Kirby appeared to have no future after a .203-8-40 season at Beloit in 1998 but wasn’t the same player this year. He’ll move to Double-A in 2000 and get the chance to prove he was not a one-season fluke.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Beloit (A)         .304  247  54  75  14   1  17   47  47  59   3
Stockton (A)       .287  202  35  58  15   3  10   36  25  59   3

10. Cristian Guerrero, OF
Age: 18  B-T: R-R  Ht: 6-4  Wt: 198
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997  Signed by: Epy Guerrero

Background: The bloodlines are there. Guerrero is a cousin of the Expos’ Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero. Nobody knew much about him until he showed up in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and started taking pitchers apart.

Strengths: Guerrero has the rare combination of speed and power scouts crave. He also has a plus arm, giving him five-tool potential, making him more like Vladimir than Wilton. Guerrero’s lean frame is sure to fill out some, which could boost his power even more.

Weaknesses: Guerrero needs to mature physically and mentally. He needs to avoid worrying about hitting home runs at this stage and continue to fully use all of his tools. For as long as he can, it would serve him well to avoid being compared to someone as good as Vladimir.

The Future: Guerrero is young, strong, eager and talented. What’s not to like? He’ll probably move up to Beloit next season, where again he’ll be one of the youngest players in the league.

1999 Club           AVG   AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO  SB
Ogden (R)          .310  226  51  70   7   3   5   28  23  59  26

Rest of the Best:

11. Jose Mieses, rhp
12. Paul Stewart, rhp
13. Derry Hammond, of
14. Chris Rowan, ss
15. Jeff Robinson, rhp

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