Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Tom Haudricourt
1. Nick Neugebauer, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 225. Drafted: HSRiverside, Calif., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Bruce Seid.
Background: The Brewers hoped to get Neugebauer to the big leagues in 2001, and that mission was accomplished with a September callup. A wonderful debut was overshadowed, however, by shoulder problems that were diagnosed as slight tears of his labrum and rotator cuff. The injuries were repaired with arthroscopic surgery. Doctors saw no reason Neugebauer would lose his chief assetthe ability to throw very hardbut whether hell be back to 100 percent by spring training is in question. Because Neugebauer is a horse with a solid work ethic, theres every reason to believe hell work to regain the form that made him one of the most feared pitchers in the minors. Neugebauer spun his wheels for a while at Double-A in 2001 but was dominating at Triple-A when the Brewers summoned him.
Strengths: The ability to throw hard cant be taught, and thats what sets Neugebauer apart. He once threw consistently in the high 90s but didnt always know where the ball was going. Instructors taught him the value of throwing 95 mph in the strike zone as opposed to 98 mph to the backstop. He made big strides in that department in 2001, more than doubling his strikeout-walk ratio from the year before. On days when he gets his slurve over the plate, Neugebauer is nearly unhittable. He has the frame of a power pitcher and can be an intimidating presence on the mound.
Weaknesses: Neugebauer doesnt overthrow as often as he once did, but when he does his mechanics get out of whack and leave him prone to injury. Now hell have to prove he can stay healthy and consistent enough to warrant a spot in the Brewers rotation. Health is the only real roadblock to a solid major league career. Hes working to become more consistent with his changeup.
The Future: If Neugebauer is healthy in spring training, look for him to win a spot in Milwaukees rotation. If not, hell have to regroup. One way or the other, Neugebauer should spend most of 2002 in a Brewers uniform. Ben Sheets and Neugebauer would give them a legitimate 1-2 pitching punch.
2. Bill Hall, ss
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HSNettleton, Miss., 1998 (6th round). Signed by: Jonathan Story.
Background: No player in the organization moved up more than Hall did in 2001. Ranked as the clubs No. 21 prospect a year ago, he was named the Brewers minor league player of the year. He showed the offensive capabilities to be something special at shortstop, though he found the going a lot tougher at Double-A Huntsville.
Strengths: Few shortstops can hit like Hall. Not only did he hit for average at high Class A High Desert, but he also showed previously untapped power. Hall also runs well and has great range in the field.
Weaknesses: Hall often gets too cute on defense, resulting in needless errors. He had a combined 45 errors in 2001, a career high. He gets to balls other shortstops dont, but he has to learn when to eat the ball and when to attempt a fabulous play. He also must work on plate discipline, as shown by his .279 on-base percentage in Double-A.
The Future: If Halls defense catches up to his offense, look out. One member of the organization compares him to Miguel Tejada at the same stage of their careers. Tejadas defense once was considered a possible roadblock to the majors as well.
3. David Krynzel, of
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSHenderson, Nev., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Bruce Seid.
Background: The Brewers challenged Krynzel in 2001 and liked the way he responded. After he got off to a nice start at Beloit, they bumped him up to High Desert, realizing he would be the youngest player in the California League and would struggle. Thats what happened, but by seasons end Krynzel held his own.
Strengths: Speed is what will get Krynzel to the big leagues. Because he can make things happen on the bases and go get the ball in the outfield, hes a prototype leadoff hitter in the mold of Kenny Lofton. The Brewers also expect him to get stronger and drive the ball more, which he began doing at High Desert. He has passed the mental toughness test.
Weaknesses: Krynzel must make contact more consistently than he did in 2001. On-base percentage is critical for a leadoff hitter, and he also has to do better in that department. Bunting more often for hits would be a good start.
The Future: Krynzel was playing so well at High Desert at the end of 2001 that hell probably get the chance to play at Huntsville this spring. That would be quite a leap for a 20-year-old.
4. Mike Jones, rhp
Age: 18. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSPhoenix, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Ric Wilson/Brian Johnson.
Background: The Brewers were thrilled when Jones was still on the board when the 12th overall pick came around in the 2001 draft. He was expected to go higher, but concerns about shoulder problems during his senior year made some teams back off. Milwaukee didnt hesitate and projects him as a bona fide No. 1 starter.
Strengths: The Brewers love three things above all else about Jones: his large frame, his blazing fastball and his smooth delivery. It isnt easy to find high school pitchers so mechanically sound, or who can throw 93-94 mph with ease. Beyond that, he has demonstrated considerable poise and focus on the mound. Jones was a multisport athlete who played shortstop when he didnt pitch in high school.
Weaknesses: Because Jones can blow away hitters with his fastball, he hasnt always concentrated on improving his curveball and changeup. If he continues to work on his breaking ball, theres every reason to think he could move quickly through the system.
The Future: Jones was ranked as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and is probably ready to take on Class A in 2002. Hes still a teenager but is mature for his age.
5. Cristian Guerrero, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1997. Signed by: Epy Guerrero.
Background: The Brewers are still waiting for Vladimir Guerreros cousin to approach his potential, but because Cristian is just 21 theyre far from panicking. He missed six weeks at High Desert with a broken foot, so he didnt make as much progress as club officials had hoped.
Strengths: Guerrero still has the tools to become a star player. He hits for average, shows flashes of power and has a solid arm in the outfield. Guerrero isnt a great runner but gets the job done in the field. With four tools, he can be an impact player in the majors if he gets the most out of all of them.
Weaknesses: Guerrero must continue to work on his defense. He also needs to add strength, which should increase his power numbers. Hes a free swinger who doesnt draw many walks. "He has so much ability," one member of the organization said. "Were just waiting for it all to come together."
The Future: Guerrero is still young, so the Brewers wont rush him. If they can get him to the Double-A level at some point in 2002, theyll be pleased.
6. Ben Hendrickson, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Drafted: HSEden Prairie, Minn., 1999 (10th round). Signed by: Harvey Kuenn Jr.
Background: After a so-so year in Rookie ball in 2000, Hendrickson had a superb season at Beloit. He took a regular turn in the rotation and pitched well more often than not, and suddenly the Brewers think theyre on to something. They didnt have much luck in the middle to late rounds of the draft in the 1990s, so perhaps Hendrickson will be an exception.
Strengths: Hendrickson can get his fastball into the 93-94 mph range at times, but he more regularly pitches at 90-91. What sets him apart is a killer curveball. That combination allowed him to average a strikeout per inning at Beloit, and Hendrickson also kept the ball down and in the ballpark.
Weaknesses: With only 50 innings of pro experience prior to 2001, Hendrickson simply needs to pitch. And it wouldnt hurt to add muscle to his lanky frame, which should provide more strength and the ability to go deeper into games. The Brewers were careful with his pitch counts in 2001.
The Future: Hendrickson handled himself so well that he might be able to jump right past High Desert and go directly to Huntsville. Either way, he figures to be in Double-A before the year is out.
7. J.J. Hardy, ss
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HSTucson, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by: Ric Wilson.
Background: Hardy has such a good arm that some teams considered drafting him as a pitcher out of high school. The Brewers believe he can be a shortstop, however, with the skills of a Robin Yount. Though they got him in the second round, they consider Hardy a first-round talent. He has good genes, as his father Mark played professional tennis and his mother Susan golfed on the LPGA tour.
Strengths: Hardy has superior instincts and skills on defense, including a great arm and range. He has soft hands and is fundamentally sound beyond his years. The Brewers also believe hell develop into a good hitter one day, and he walked more than he struck out in his first pro summer.
Weaknesses: Hardys defense is far ahead of his offense at this point, but many believe he merely needs more experience with a wood bat. He doesnt have much foot speed to speak of but gets good jumps on the ball and makes plays other shortstops dont.
The Future: Hardys career is just starting, but the Brewers see a big league shortstop in the making. The next step for him is Beloit in 2002.
8. Jose Mieses, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 175. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1996. Signed by: Epy Guerrero.
Background: The Brewers had every reason to believe Mieses would pitch in the major leagues in 2001. And he would have, if not for a back problem midway through the season, followed by a shoulder injury near the end that required surgery. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery by spring training or shortly thereafter.
Strengths: Mieses has a nasty palmball that befuddles hitters and poise on the mound. Those advantages, and the ability to put his pitches where he wants them, allow him to get away with an average fastball and curveball.
Weaknesses: When youre not an overpowering pitcher, you have to hit your spots. Hitters who lay off Mieses palmball cause him problems. This year, doctors discovered he has a back condition that will have to be monitored regularly.
The Future: If Mieses comes back from his injury, theres no reason to think he cant pitch for the Brewers in 2002. Whether hell ever be more than an end-of-the-rotation pitcher is debatable.
9. J.M. Gold
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HSToms River, N.J., 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Danny Garcia.
Background: Gold fell completely off the organization radar screen after having Tommy John surgery in 2000. Scouts were anxious to see if he would regain the stuff that made him a first-round draft pick, and after the long recovery he showed his arm was sound again.
Strengths: Gold was taken a round ahead of Neugebauer in 1998, which tells you how highly the Brewers regarded him. He could throw 95 mph consistently with a sharp-breaking curve, and showed flashes of that after returning this season. Gold has learned a lot about conditioning and dedication along the way, and is hungrier after losing a season.
Weaknesses: Because he had mechanical flaws in his delivery, Gold was a prime candidate to break down. Having gone through the grueling recovery from Tommy John surgery, he now understands the importance of staying fundamentally sound. It was a big wakeup call.
The Future: Barring any recurrences of elbow problems, Gold should get back on the fast track. Assuming he can stay healthy, he has the upside of a No. 2 or 3 starter in the majors.
10. Matt Childers, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 195. Drafted: HSAugusta, Ga., 1997 (9th round). Signed by: Edward Whitsett.
Background: His older brother Jason has a career 30-31, 2.92 record in the Brewers system, while Matt has gone 27-45, 5.06 and got lit up at High Desert for much of 2001. Yet Matt is considered a far better prospect. He made a lot of progress this season, pitching better after he moved up to Huntsville.
Strengths: Childers is a big, strong guy who can get his fastball into the 95 mph neighborhood. He doesnt lose his cool often and bounces back from tough outings better than most pitchers. Its mainly a matter of trusting his stuff and not giving in to hitters.
Weaknesses: Childers is inconsistent with his curveball and gets the ball up too much, resulting in too many home runs. He also gets mechanically out of whack at times. He spent most of four years in Class A but appears finally ready to make a move.
The Future: The Brewers showed Childers what they thought of him by sending him to the Arizona Fall League for more seasoning. If he pitches as well in Triple-A as he did in Double-A, he could be in the majors before 2002 is over. But the underachieving must end.
Rest of the Best:
11. Matt Yeatman, rhp
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