Minor League Transactions: Dec. 13-23
Please see Trade Central for more on the prospects involved in December trades, and please see my Twitter timeline for more on some of the players referenced in this installment. […]
Brewers Prospects 2-10
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSPhoenix, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Ric Wilson/Brian Johnson.
Background: Of all the stats Jones compiled in his first full pro season, one stands out: 27. Thats the number of starts he made at Beloit. Nagging shoulder problems and a reduction in velocity caused some clubs to shy away from Jones early in the 2001 draft, but the Brewers rolled the dice and could be rewarded with a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Strengths: Though he could have blown Midwest League hitters away with a low-90s fastball that touches 96 mph, Jones worked hard to improve his curveball, which he releases from a three-quarters arm angle. Besides velocity, his fastball has life to both sides of the plate. Scouts love his stuff, fluid delivery and athletic ability, but Milwaukee may be most pleased by his makeup. He competes, shows good poise and works hard between starts.
Weaknesses: After the season, Jones went to instructional league to work on his changeup. If it improves as much as his curve, hell move up the system quickly. Hes still refining his command as well.
The Future: Jones will spend this year in high Class A. The Brewers hope hell eventually help form an impressive front three in their big league rotation with Ben Sheets and Nick Neugebauer.
3. Prince Fielder, 1b
Age: 18. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 260. Drafted: HSMelbourne, Fla., 2002 (1st round). Signed by: Tom McNamara/Jack Zduriencik.
Background: Though they already have a potential logjam of first basemen starting with Richie Sexson, the Brewers picked another with the seventh pick last June. Fielder, however, isnt just another first baseman. The son of former home run king Cecil Fielder, Prince has power so rare that scouting director Jack Zduriencik said it was impossible to pass up.
Strengths: Not only was Fielder one of the best power bats in the 2002 draft, but he also has a sweet lefthanded swing, an advanced hitting approach and solid plate discipline. The Brewers werent afraid to promote him to low Class A two months after he left high school. They knew he wouldnt be overwhelmed.
Weaknesses: The question that has dogged Fielder is his weight. After ballooning to more than 300 pounds in high school, he worked with a personal trainer and slimmed down to about 265. He has some agility but doesnt project to be more than an average first baseman.
The Future: The Brewers toyed with the idea of trying Fielder in left field during instructional league, but a groin injury kept him off the field. He should be fine for spring training and will open the year back in Beloit.
4. Ben Hendrickson, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. Drafted: HSBloomington, Minn., 1999 (10th round). Signed by: Harvey Kuenn Jr.
Background: Hendrickson pitched so well in low Class A in 2001 that the Brewers considered jumping him all the way to Double-A Huntsville last year. He started in the hitter-friendly California League instead, pitched well, and didnt skip a beat after a midseason promotion. Of the first eight players on this list, hes the only one who wasnt drafted by Zduriencik.
Strengths: Hendrickson has one of the best curveballs in the minors, a spike curve with a 12-to-6 drop. It reminds many scouts of the late Darryl Kiles bender. He also throws an 89-92 mph fastball with running action. He has a clean delivery and nice arm action.
Weaknesses: Hendricksons changeup needs work. His control also needs tweaking. He has a skinny frame, though he has been durable and pitched a career-high 151 innings last year without missing a start.
The Future: With a new regime in place, its not certain whether Hendrickson will open 2003 in Huntsville or Triple-A Indianapolis. Either way, his future as a middle-of-the-rotation starter looks bright. He could be ready for a callup in September.
5. Corey Hart, 3b/1b
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSBowling Green, Ky., 2000 (11th round). Signed by: Mike Gibbons.
Background: Hart had a breakthrough season in 2002, earning a trip to the Futures Game at Miller Park. He may be a year or two removed from Milwaukee, but he already has a big league nickname. His High Desert teammates started calling the laid-back Kentucky native "Hee Haw."
Strengths: Theres nothing laid back about Harts approach at the plate. Already 6-foot-5 and still growing, hes drawing comparisons to Richie Sexson. Though his arms are long, Hart has a quick, compact stroke and the ability to pull his hands in and hit inside pitches with authority. Power is Harts calling card.
Weaknesses: If Hart continues to improve his pitch selection and recognition, he could be a .300 hitter. The Brewers wealth of first-base prospects grew once they drafted Prince Fielder, so they decided to see if Hart could handle a move to third base. The jury is still out, because his size, footwork and lack of experience work against him.
The Future: A move to the outfield is a possibility for Hart, whose best position may still be first base. Look for him to begin 2003 in Double-A as part of the nucleus of a championship-caliber team.
6. J.J. Hardy, ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSTucson, 2001 (2nd round). Signed by: Ric Wilson.
Background: Forced into a big league exhibition game when the Brewers were shorthanded last spring, the 19-year-old Hardy had three hits and played flawless defense against the Athletics. Despite his youth, Hardy skipped a level and had a solid first half in high Class A, then held his own in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Hardys defensive ability is running considerably ahead of his offense. Though hes not exceptionally quick, his keen instincts allow him to get good jumps on balls. He covers ground with long strides, has soft hands and delivers the ball across the diamond with authority. Offensively, hes a gap-to-gap hitter, though his power will increase as he matures. His work ethic and personality are outstanding.
Weaknesses: Hardy embarked on a weightlifting program designed to increase strength. Learning to draw walks also would help boost his offensive productivity. He also could add some loft to his swing.
The Future: The Brewers consider Hardy their shortstop of the future, and the future is approaching. Though he may return to Double-A to start the year, a September callup isnt out of the question.
7. Dave Krynzel, of
Age: 21. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSHenderson, Nev., 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Bruce Seid.
Background: After watching Krynzel for 2 1/2 seasons, the Brewers arent sure whether they are looking at the next Steve Finley or Kenny Lofton. Either way, they like what they see. Returning to high Class A in 2002, he continued to improve in just about all facets of his game.
Strengths: Though hes being groomed for leadoff duty, Krynzel likes to flex his power muscles and the Brewers havent discouraged him. He realizes working counts, drawing walks and bunting will expedite his trip to the big leagues. He has plus tools as a center fielder (both his range and arm strength) and basestealer.
Weaknesses: For all his physical gifts, Krynzels instincts on the bases and in the outfield are below-average. Like many first-round picks, he seems to put extra pressure on himself at times and tries to force things, rather than letting the game come to him. His mental toughness isnt in question, though.
The Future: Krynzel just needs to increase his grasp of the games subtleties. Slated to play in Double-A this year, hes on track to take over Milwaukees center-field job in 2005, if not sooner.
8. Manny Parra, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: American River (Calif.) JC, 2001 (26th round). Signed by: Justin McCray.
Background: The idea of the budget-conscious Brewers signing a 26th-round pick for $1.55 million may seem far-fetched. Parra, however, represented an exceptional case. In his second junior college season, he blossomed into the premium draft-and-follow prospect and might have been a first-rounder had he gone back into the draft pool.
Strengths: By working diligently with weights, Parra boosted his fastball from the upper 80s in 2001 to a high of 96 mph last year. He throws three different varieties of the pitch: a two-seamer, a four-seamer and a cutter that often is mistaken for a slider. He has plus command of his five-pitch repertoire and a competitive streak. Milwaukee officials praise Parras lanky body, smooth delivery and unflappable mound demeanor.
Weaknesses: The Brewers want Parra to work the inner half of the plate more often, and his reluctance should disappear as he gets used to facing wood bats. His curveball and changeup need refinement.
The Future: Once Parra makes adjustments, he should move quickly through the system. Hell probably start 2003 in low Class A.
9. Ben Diggins, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-7. Wt.: 230. Drafted: Arizona, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Tom Thomas (Dodgers).
Background: Acquiring Diggins and Shane Nance from the Dodgers for Tyler Houston and Brian Mallette last July may go down as one of the highlights of Dean Taylors tenure. Diggins was a supplemental first-round pick of the Cardnals in 1998, but spent two years at Arizona before signing for $2.2 million in 2000.
Strengths: Diggins has an electric arm, throwing in the mid-90s and peaking at 98 mph at Arizona, but his velocity and control have fluctuated as a pro. He has thrown in the low- to mid-90s since signing. Some scouts think hed have more success and velocity in the bullpen.
Weaknesses: Getting hammered during a September callup taught Diggins he cant rely on just his fastball and a mediocre curveball. He has been slow to pick up a changeup or to master his command. If he can refine a slider, that pitch could put him over the top.
The Future: Diggins will have a chance to crack the Brewers rotation but may be better served by time in Triple-A. His future could be as a closer, though there are no immediate plans to change his role.
10. Matt Ford, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 170. Drafted: HSCoral Springs, Fla., 1999 (3rd round). Signed by: Tony Arias (Blue Jays).
Background: The Brewers selected two players in the major league Rule 5 draft, and both Ford and infielder Enrique Cruz have strong chances of sticking with Milwaukee this year. Ford didnt begin his 2002 season until May 7 because of a spring-training illness, but he showed what he could do when healthy by leading the high Class A Florida State League in ERA.
Strengths: Fords best attributes are an 89-92 mph fastball and the wherewithal to use it. He stopped nibbling last year and attacked hitters with his heater, throwing it to both sides of the plate. He also can throw his curveball and changeup for strikes. Ford has gotten stronger over the last couple of years, allowing him to keep his velocity deeper into games.
Weaknesses: Though he commands them well, Ford needs to improve his secondary pitches. His curveball gets slurvy. His durability is in question after last years illness and previous shoulder problems.
The Future: Ford was the top lefty in the Blue Jays system, so theyd undoubtedly want him back if he cant stay on the Brewers roster. He projects as an end-of-the-rotation starter but probably will spend this year as a middle reliever in Milwaukee.
Best of the Rest
In addition to No. 9 prospect Ben Diggins and No. 10 Matt Ford, several more players acquired from other organizations rank among the Brewers best prospects.
Enrique Cruz, the first pick in Decembers major league Rule 5 draft, played mostly third base and shortstop in the Mets system but could see playing time at second base in Milwaukee this year. He has offensive upside and can use as many at-bats as the Brewers can afford to give him.
Righthander Pedro Liriano and second baseman Johnny Raburn came in a five-player trade that sent Alex Ochoa to Anaheim last July. Liriano has the best slider in the system, while the overachieving Raburn has a knack for getting on base. Third baseman Keith Ginter and lefthander Shane Nance have a good chance to win big league jobs. Ginter arrived with Wayne Franklin in an August deal that netted Houston Mark Loretta. Nance, who along with Diggins was part of the Tyler Houston trade with Los Angeles, saw his fastball jump to the low 90s last year. Outfielder Chris Morris came from the Cardinals in an August deal for Jamey Wright, and he has won stolen-base titles in NCAA Division I and in the minors. He has to make better contact, but few players are more exciting once they reach base.
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The Top 10 Prospects lists are based on players' projected long-term worth and on 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 Opening Day 2003.