Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Tom Haudricourt
1. Ben Sheets, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Northeast-Louisiana, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Jonathan Story.
Background: Sheets was projected to go well before Milwaukee exercised the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft, but he fell into the Brewers lap. As soon as they selected him, the plan was to fast-track him to the big leagues. And by all appearances, thats exactly what will happen. Sheets removed any doubts about his readiness with his remarkable performance for Team USA in the Sydney Olympics. Immediately tabbed as the team ace, Sheets lived up to that billing and then some with a shutout of favored Cuba in the gold-medal game. The Brewers decision to allow Sheets to play in the Olympics rather than come to the major leagues for a few meaningless starts was an astute one. The poised righthander showed he could handle the top two rungs of the minor league ladder, compiling a 2.40 ERA in 27 starts. "He has a burning desire to be a major league player," Brewers farm director Greg Riddoch said. "He rose to the occasion in the biggest game of his life. That tells you all you need to know."
Strengths: Sheets has an above-average fastball that he throws regularly in the 92-95 mph range, but his bread-and-butter pitch is an old-fashioned, 12-to-6 curveball that buckles the knees of hitters. Because he has a good, sinking fastball and a decent changeup, hitters cant sit on his curve. Beyond his repertoire, Sheets is an intense competitor who doesnt lose his cool on the mound. Everyone involved with Team USA raved about how he handled himself on the mound, especially against the intimidating Cuban hitters.
Weaknesses: Lack of professional experience is about all that can be counted against Sheets at this point. And he made up for that shortcoming with his showing in the pressurized atmosphere of the Olympics. He still needs to work on his changeup to avoid becoming a two-pitch pitcher. And he could stand to add a bit of muscle to his frame.
The Future: Nothing short of an injury will keep Sheets from opening 2001 in Milwaukee. Management will put him at the back of the rotation to reduce pressure on him, but hell have the best stuff from the first day of camp. Hes a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Brewers will build around.
2. Nick Neugebauer, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: HSRiverside, Calif., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Bruce Seid.
Background: In an effort to protect the strongest arm in the organization, the Brewers kept Neugebauer on a strict pitch count early in the 2000 season. Because he continued to battle control problems, he rarely qualified for a win. The Brewers then pushed his development after the season by sending Neugebauer to the Arizona Fall League, where he finished with eight hitless innings in his last two outings.
Strengths: Simply put, a blazing fastball. When he rears back, Neugebauer can approach 100 mph, though instructors have tried to show him the value of backing off to achieve better control. He has a nasty slider that makes him nearly unhittable when he gets it over the plate. Neugebauer continues to work on a changeup.
Weaknesses: Neugebauer has averaged a little more than a walk an inning. He has overcome the wildness by allowing few hits and striking out hitters. He has worked hard on his mechanics and release point and must continue to do so. Control is all thats holding him back.
The Future: If Neugebauer gets to Triple-A for at least half a season in 2001, he could be a young, promising pitcher in Milwaukee in 2002.
3. David Krynzel, of
Age: 19. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSHenderson, Nev., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Bruce Seid.
Background: Krynzel is the player the Brewers targeted from the get-go in the June draft, and they were thrilled he still was on the board when they made the 11th pick. He was considered the fastest player in the high school ranks and a prototype leadoff hitter/center fielder, exactly what Milwaukee sought. His $1,950,000 bonus was the second-highest in club history.
Strengths: Speed is Krynzels calling card, but he also is a good defensive player who has all of the tools except power. As he fills out, the Brewers believe hell develop more pop at the plate. Hes also an extremely hard worker with a desire to succeed.
Weaknesses: Other than the aforementioned lack of power, Krynzel has a lot going for him. As is the case with most high school players, he needs to develop more strength, but he has the frame to do so. Hell need to make more consistent contact to be an effective leadoff man.
The Future: Though Krynzel missed the second half of the Rookie-level Pioneer League season with a thumb injury, managers named him the circuits No. 1 prospect. The Brewers will give him the chance to show he can handle Class A Beloit in 2001.
4. Cristian Guerrero, of
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997. Signed by: Epy Guerrero.
Background: Because Guerrero was so young, the Brewers werent discouraged when he failed at Beloit at the outset of 2000 and had to be sent back to Rookie-level Ogden. By the end of the year, he was playing so well that he rejoined Beloit in the playoffs and more than held his own.
Strengths: Guerrero not only has power but also runs very well. In fact, he has five-tool potential along the lines of cousin Vladimir Guerrero. With a lanky frame that should fill out as he gets older, Cristians ceiling is very high.
Weaknesses: Guerreros failure at Beloit, where he was bothered by the cold weather, showed he has work to do mentally. Projected as a right fielder because of his power potential and arm, he must continue to work on his defense to be a complete player. At this stage, comparisons to his cousin are counterproductive.
The Future: If it all comes together, Guerrero could be something special. Hes still a teenager, so the Brewers have no reason to rush him. This time around, he should be ready for Beloit.
5. Allen Levrault, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 250. Drafted: CC of Rhode Island, 1996 (13th round). Signed by: Ron Rizzi/Tommy Tanous.
Background: Levrault had an up-and-down season in his first full year at the Triple-A level, but also got his feet wet with a brief stint with the Brewers. Used sporadically out of the bullpen with Milwaukee, the ultra-confident Levrault showed no fear of big league hitters. However, his inexperience did show at times.
Strengths: An aggressive pitcher who goes right at hitters, Levrault has a low-90s fastball and effective changeup. He seems to pitch better in spurts, which is why theres a movement to convert him to a reliever. He has the bulldog mentality to pitch at the end of games.
Weaknesses: Levrault has had trouble stringing together victories as a starter because he too often is a two-pitch pitcher who struggles with his breaking ball. He can be stubborn at times, throwing too many fastballs. His confidence sometimes crosses the line to cockiness.
The Future: Levrault may be given a chance to win a spot in the Milwaukee bullpen during the spring. He has been primarily a starter in the minors, but his future in the big leagues probably is at the end of games, possibly as a closer.
6. Jose Mieses, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Epy Guerrero.
Background: Mieses has been the biggest winner in the system the past two years, going 27-9, 2.61. He pitched two seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before he was brought to the States for Rookie ball. This is his first appearance in the Top 10 but Mieses could prove to be a real find.
Strengths: With a palmball that throws hitters off balance, plus an average fastball and curveball, Mieses mixes his pitches effectively. He has shown good poise on the mound and appears very mature for his age. His solid strikeout-walk ratios are indicative of his plus command.
Weaknesses: Mieses shelved his palmball in instructional league to concentrate on his fastball and curveball. Hes not an overpowering pitcher, topping out around 89 mph, so he has to hit his spots. Most Midwest League managers felt more advanced hitters would lay off his palmball and take advantage of his other pitches.
The Future: After pitching well at both Class A levels last season, Mieses probably will begin the 2001 season in Double-A. He could make it to the big leagues before the end of 2002.
7. Kade Johnson, c
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Seminole State (Okla.) JC, 1999 (2nd round). Signed by: Ric Wilson.
Background: Johnson was an unknown quantity until the end of the 2000 season. After setting a junior college record with 38 homers in 1999, he signed too late to play professionally, then showed up last spring with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He turned heads with six homers in three playoff games for Ogden.
Strengths: Even before his playoff explosion, Johnson displayed his chief tool by socking 10 homers in just 98 at-bats. It was a welcome sight for an organization hurting for a legitimate power prospect. Prior to his shoulder surgery, he showed good arm strength, and hes a take-charge guy behind the plate.
Weaknesses: Johnson must show he can stay healthy, and he needs to play some games after barely seeing action since turning pro. He was throwing OK in instructional league, so the Brewers hope the shoulder surgery wont make him a liability with the running game.
The Future: Though Johnson has played very little as a pro, the Brewers believe he can handle a Class A assignment to begin the 2001 season. Catching depth is a real problem in the organization, so he could move up fast if he gets the job done.
8. Mike Penney, rhp
Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Southern California, 1998 (8th round). Signed by: Corey Rodriguez.
Background: Penney was a starter for 21Ž2 professional seasons before finding a niche as a reliever in the second half of 2000. After proving he could close games at Huntsville, he was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis and served as a capable set-up man. Penneys Arizona Fall League debut was halted after three outings when he sliced a finger in an off-field accident.
Strengths: Penney has a low- to mid-90s fastball and an above-average curveball. He has the poise and makeup to be a short reliever, and he has the ability to reach back and get a strikeout when he gets into trouble.
Weaknesses: As a starter, Penney habitually lost velocity as the game wore on, which led to his conversion to a short reliever. Hes really a two-pitch pitcher with no reliable slider or changeup.
The Future: Thanks to his new role, Penney now realizes the big leagues are within his grasp. Hell probably start 2001 as the closer at Indy. Getting hurt in Arizona was unfortunate during what otherwise was a breakthrough year.
9. Horacio Estrada, lhp
Age: 25. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 192. Signed: Venezuela, 1992. Signed by: Danny Monzon.
Background: Until last season, Estrada had muddled through his minor league career with the Brewers, going 27-24, 4.47 in 179 games (63 starts). But 2000 was a breakthrough year for Estrada as he pitched Indianapolis to the Triple-A World Series crown and emerged as a legitimate candidate for the rotation in Milwaukee this season.
Strengths: Estrada throws a fastball, curveball and changeup. Hes at his best when hes moving the ball around, inside and out, up and down. With a good move to first, hes very difficult to run on, and he fields his position well.
Weaknesses: Estrada is a painter, which means he has to hit his spots to be effective. His mid- to high-80s fastball isnt quite average, so he cant make mistakes up in the strike zone without consequences. To be successful, he has to get his curveball over when behind in the count.
The Future: Estrada could give the Milwaukee rotation the lefthander it lacked in 2000. Hell get every chance to make the club in spring training.
10. Brandon Kolb, rhp
Age: 27. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: Texas Tech, 1995 (4th round). Signed by: Jim Dreyer (Padres).
Background: Kolb was obtained in a December trade with San Diego for shortstop Santiago Perez, who had been regarded as one of Milwaukees better position-player prospects. After a solid showing as the closer at Triple-A Las Vegas, Kolb got his feet wet in the big leagues with 11 relief outings with the Padres.
Strengths: Kolb is a power pitcher who gets his fastball up to 96 mph at times. He also has a hard, sharp-breaking slider and can mix in a curveball. Lefthanders didnt homer against him in the minors or majors in 2000.
Weaknesses: A starting pitcher at the outset of his pro career, Kolb was moved to short relief because hes primarily a two-pitch pitcher. His control has been erratic in the minors and was even worse in San Diego last season.
The Future: Kolb is the oldest player in the Brewers Top 10, but sometimes power pitchers take a little longer to develop. Hell be given the opportunity to win a spot in the big league bullpen this spring, but has minor league options remaining if needed.
Rest of the Best:
11. Jason Belcher, c
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