Milwaukee Brewers: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Milwaukee Brewers: Scouting Reports

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, 2008.

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Milwaukee Brewers

No team has advanced more impact players to the major leagues over the last few years than the Brewers.

On any given night in the final weeks of the 2007 season, you could find 21-year-old Yovani Gallardo on the mound, backed by an infield of Prince Fielder (23), Rickie Weeks (25), Ryan Braun (23) and J.J. Hardy (25), with Corey Hart (25) in right field. All except Hart were first- or second-round draft picks, which is how Milwaukee quickly rebuilt a sagging franchise from within.

With that young nucleus of players, the Brewers led the National League Central for most of the season before pitching problems finally caused them to slip to second place. Still, at 83-79 they posted their first winning season since 1992. If not for yet another injury to staff ace Ben Sheets, they might have made their first playoff appearance in 25 years.

A year ago, Gallardo and Braun ranked 1-2 atop our Milwaukee Top 10 Prospects list. When they were summoned to the big leagues, Braun in late May and Gallardo in mid-June, it was easy to see why they held such lofty status.

All Braun did was post the highest slugging percentage (.634) of any rookie in big league history, batting .324 with 34 home runs and 97 RBIs in just 113 games to win BA's Rookie of the Year award. Gallardo settled went 9-5 and posted the lowest ERA in the rotation at 3.67, including a 3-1, 1.36 mark in the heat of the division race in September.

Fielder became the youngest player ever to sock 50 home runs in the majors, knocking legendary Willie Mays from that perch. Hardy was named by his peers to the NL all-star team and totaled 26 homers and 80 RBI. After his surgically repaired right wrist finally healed, Weeks finished with a flourish, socking nine homers in September.

Hart, who has played in the shadow of his more-heralded young teammates, had a breakthrough season. He hit .295 with 24 homers, 81 RBIs and 23 steals.

The Brewers got yet another peek into the future when lefthander Manny Parra bounced back from a couple of injury-plagued years to throw a perfect game at Triple-A Nashville and finally made his big league debut in July. Only a broken left thumb prevented him from making a bigger impact down the stretch.

Graduating so many highly ranked prospects to the majors in such a short time would wipe out most farm systems. But Milwaukee's six U.S.-based affiliates combined for a 387-298 (.565) record, the best among NL organizations, and five of them reached the playoffs. While most of the Brewers' most notable picks were high first-rounders such as Fielder, Weeks and Braun, they've done well in the later rounds and had more than their share of success with the now-defunct draft-and-follow system.

Those trends continued in 2007. The new No. 1 prospect on this list is outfielder Matt LaPorta, taken seventh overall, and the Brewers followed up with three more position players who hit .300 or better in their debuts: catcher Jonathan LuCroy, second baseman Eric Farris and outfielder Caleb Gindl. They also had an impressive final class of draft-and-follows, led by righthander Rob Bryson.

Other teams have taken note of Milwaukee's success. Jack Zduriencik remains as scouting director, but the Brewers have lost a crosschecker after each of the last two seasons. The Diamondbacks hired Tom Allison to be their scouting director in 2006, and the Astros did the same with Bobby Heck in October.

1.  Matt LaPorta, of   Born: Jan. 1, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 215
 Drafted: Florida, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Charlie Aliano
Matt LaPortaBackground: The Brewers pulled the first surprise in the 2007 draft when they called out LaPorta's name with the seventh overall selection in the first round. They already had a young, slugging first baseman by the name of Prince Fielder emerging as a superstar in the majors, and no one figured they'd take another. But they had another plan in mind for LaPorta. Milwaukee believed that his advanced bat was a steal at No. 7 and that he could make the transition to left field. He wasn't even supposed to be available in the 2007 draft. After leading NCAA Division I with 26 homers as a sophomore at Florida, he figured to be a first-round pick in 2006. But when he was bothered that spring by an oblique injury, he hit just .259 with 14 homers and dropped to the Red Sox in the 14th round of the draft. Rather than sign for less than he felt he was worth, LaPorta returned to the Gators and batted .402 with 20 homers, leading Division I with a .582 on-base percentage and 1.399 OPS. The first-ever two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, he signed quickly with the Brewers for $2 million, though he didn't make his pro debut until the end of July because he had an injured quadriceps muscle. LaPorta didn't miss a beat, hitting a homer in his first game at Rookie-level Helena and totaling 12 in 115 at-bats, most in low Class A West Virginia. In an effort to give LaPorta more at-bats and work in left field while also showing confidence he could adapt to advanced competition, Milwaukee sent him to the Arizona Fall League, a rare assignment for a first-year player.

Strengths: LaPorta has game-changing power and doesn't have to pull the ball to get it out of the park. Area scouts who covered him said his approach improved in 2007, and he also kept his hands inside the ball better and made more consistent hard contact. Unlike many sluggers, he also has a good eye at the plate and will take a walk if he doesn't get a pitch to hammer. The Brewers also like his poise and maturity, which is why they weren't nervous about challenging him with the AFL assignment. LaPorta's willingness to move from first base to left field and his work ethic in doing so also impressed club officials. Milwaukee isn't asking LaPorta to be anything more than an average left fielder. After all, they committed to Carlos Lee in left a few years back, and as one club official noted, "This guy's better than Carlos Lee."

Weaknesses: Like most young hitters, LaPorta still has to learn how to handle breaking balls, both quality pitches for strikes and those off the plate. He's a below-average athlete and runner, and his arm strength is fringy. He doesn't have the speed to run down many balls in the gap, but he has shown improved instincts in left field. He still needs to work on getting the ball to the cutoff man more quickly and mastering the other nuances of outfield play. He spent a lot of time in the AFL learning to read balls off the bat.

The Future: LaPorta's AFL experience may allow him to bypass high Class A Brevard County and start 2008 at Double-A Huntsville. As with 2005 first-rounder Ryan Braun, LaPorta shouldn't need much more than a full season in the minors before becoming an impact hitter in Milwaukee. The Brewers are bidding goodbye to Geoff Jenkins as a free agent and likely will turn to a stopgap in left field while they wait for LaPorta to arrive.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Helena (R)
.259 .286 .519 27 4 7 1 0 2 4 1 8 0
West Virginia (Lo A)
.318 .392 .750 88 18 28 8 0 10 27 7 22 0
2.  Manny Parra, lhp   Born: Oct. 30, 1982B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: American River (Calif.) JC, D/F 2001 (26th round)Signed by: Justin McCray
Manny ParraBackground: The highest-priced draft-and-follow in club history at $1.55 million, Parra got sidetracked by surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in August 2005. He re-established himself as a top pitching prospect in 2007, tossing a perfect game in the second Triple-A start of his career and reaching the big leagues a couple of weeks later. He broke into the majors in an unfamiliar relief role, then broke his left thumb trying to bunt in his second start with the Brewers.

Strengths: Parra finally has regained his arm strength and is back throwing his fastball in the low to mid-90s on a regular basis. He mixes in a changeup and curveball to keep hitters off balance, and pounds the strike zone with all of his pitches. The return to health also restored his confidence, and he attacked hitters with a purpose. Parra, who stroked a pair of doubles in the majors, swings the bat well for a pitcher.

Weaknesses: Parra mainly just needs to show he can stay healthy, and took a step in that direction by pitching 137 innings in 2007, two off his career high. He gets in trouble when he loses his aggressiveness and he was a little tentative in the majors, though he also showed an ability to work out of jams. When he trusts his fastball, he's at his best.

The Future: Parra will get the chance to crack Milwaukee's rotation in spring training. If he can't find a spot, the Brewers must decide if it makes more sense to keep him in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A for regular work. He eventually should settle in as the No. 3 starter behind Ben Sheets and Yovani Gallardo.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Huntsville (AA) 7 3 2.68 13 13 0 0 81 70 2 26 81 .234
Nashville (AAA) 3 1 1.73 4 4 1 0 26 15 1 7 25 .172
Milwaukee (MLB) 0 1 3.76 9 2 0 0 26 25
1 12 26 .255
3.  Alcides Escobar, ss   Born: Dec. 16, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 175
 Signed: Venezuela, 2003Signed by: Epy Guerrero
Alcides EscobarBackground: Escobar played the entire 2007 at age 20 and thrived in Double-A during the second half, which says a lot about his skill level and how highly the Brewers think of him. One of the youngest players at every level he has played at, he reversed a two-year trend of declining batting averages by hitting a career-high .306.

Strengths: Milwaukee farm director Reid Nichols says Escobar could play defense in the big leagues right now. He's a smooth shortstop, with nice range, soft hands and a strong throwing arm. He has gotten stronger, which has stopped pitchers from knocking the bat out of his hands, and the Brewers believe he'll have gap power as he continues to develop. He's an above-average runner.

Weaknesses: Though he has matured physically over the past year, Escobar still needs to get stronger. He'll never have a lot of pop, so his offensive ceiling is as a tablesetter at the top of the lineup, but he needs to improve his plate discipline to reach it. He's a free swinger who seldom takes walks, and he settles for merely putting the ball in play too often. He also must work on his basestealing aptitude after getting nailed in 13 of 35 attempts.

The Future: Ticketed to spend 2008 at Triple-A Nashville, Escobar will be difficult to hold back once he shows his bat is ready for the big leagues. Though the Brewers appear set at shortstop, they could move J.J. Hardy to third base and Ryan Braun to the outfield.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (Hi A) .325 .345 .377 268 37 87 8 3 0 25 35 18 2
Huntsville (AA) .283 .314 .354 226 27 64 5 4 1 28 11 36 4
4.  Jeremy Jeffress, rhp   Born: Sept. 21, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—South Boston, Va., 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Tim McIlvaine
Jeremy JeffressBackground: The 16th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Jeffress unquestionably has the best arm in the system, but he drew a 50-game suspension near the end of the 2007 season for testing positive for a drug of abuse. He failed another drug test administered by the team during instructional league, marking the fourth time he has been flagged for marijuana. His off-field problems took the edge off the enthusiasm he created by blowing away low Class A hitters as a teenager.

Strengths: Jeffress is one of the few pitchers who can actually hit triple digits on the radar gun. He regularly throws his fastball from 93-95 mph and has made some progress with his curveball and changeup, making his heater even more devastating. A standout basketball player in high school, he's a good athlete with smooth mechanics and a strong lower body.

Weaknesses: Jeffress' biggest issue is committing to being a professional after failing four drug tests. On the mound, his control is still erratic, in part because he takes too big a stride in his delivery. He still needs to refine his secondary pitches.

The Future: Because his latest infraction came under the purview of the Brewers and not Minor League Baseball, it's up to the team to determine whether Jeffress will receive additional discipline. At the least, he'll miss most of the first two months of the 2008 season as he finished his MiLB suspension. Some believe he profiles best as a closer because of his tremendous velocity, but Milwaukee wants him to remain a starter and develop his curve and changeup.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
West Virginia (Lo A) 9 5 3.13 18 18 0 0 86 62 8 44 95 .201
5.  Cole Gillespie, of   Born: June 20, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 205
 Drafted: Oregon State, 2006 (3rd round)Signed by: Brandon Newell
Cole GillespieBackground: After Gillespie helped Oregon State win the College World Series and he led the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a .464 on-base percentage in his pro debut in 2006, the Brewers believed he could make the jump to high Class A for his first full season. The prevailing winds at Brevard County cut into his production, but he handled himself well and maintained his approach at the plate.

Strengths: Gillespie, who has drawn comparisons to Tim Salmon, works counts until he gets a pitch he likes. Milwaukee projects him as a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers per season. His athleticism, speed and left-field range are all average, and he also shows good defensive instincts and an accurate arm. He's a leader on the field and in the clubhouse.

Weaknesses: His power may be a little light for a big league corner outfielder, so Gillespie will have to make up the difference with doubles and RBI production. His arm isn't strong but doesn't have to be in left field.

The Future: With 2007 first-rounder Matt LaPorta targeted as the franchise's left fielder of the future, Gillespie may not have a long-term role with the Brewers. But they think he'll hit enough to be a big league regular. He'll move up to Double-A in 2008.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (Hi A) .267 .378 .420 438 75
117 25 3 12 62 72 95
6.  Mat Gamel, 3b   Born: July 26, 1985B-T: L-RHt: 6-0Wt: 205
 Drafted: Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds
Mat GamelBackground: While evaluating Chipola (Fla.) JC teammate Darren Ford as a draft-and-follow in 2005, the Brewers locked onto Gamel and took him in the fourth round that June. He put together a 33-game hitting streak in 2007, the longest in the high Class A Florida State League in 56 years, though his defense remains a work in progress. He led the minors with 53 errors in 128 games at third base.

Strengths: Gamel is a professional hitter. He knows the strike zone, sprays balls to all fields and is expected to develop more home run power in the future. He has decent speed, runs the bases well and has the arm strength to play third base.

Weaknesses: His arm isn't as accurate as it is strong, and Gamel makes a lot of throwing errors, which are often related to poor footwork. The constant stream of errors gets in his head at times, and he must stop thinking too much in the field and just react. The Brewers think he'll eventually figure it out.

The Future: Despite his defensive struggles and the presence of Ryan Braun in the majors, Milwaukee has no plans to move Gamel off third base. After working on his defense in Hawaii Winter Baseball, he'll make the jump to Double-A in 2008.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (Hi A) .300 .378 .472 466 78 140 37 8 9 60 58 98 14
7.  Brent Brewer, ss   Born: Dec. 19, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Tyrone, Ga., 2006 (2nd round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds
Brent BrewerBackground: Brewer has the potential to be the best all-around player in the system. He had a scholarship to play wide receiver for Florida State, but gave up football for a $600,000 signing bonus as a second-round pick in 2006. The Brewers pushed him to low Class A for his first full season because they had so much confidence in his athleticism and determination.

Strengths: Brewer has well above-average speed and plus power potential. He has tremendous range at shortstop, getting to ball that others can only dream of, and he has the strong arm to make plays from deep in the hole. Some scouts believe he has all the makings of a center fielder, but Milwaukee thinks he has far too much talent at shortstop to move him at this point. Club officials love his leadership skills and work ethic.

Weaknesses: Lack of baseball experience is Brewer's main shortcoming, and it shows. He topped the South Atlantic League with 170 strikeouts and led all minor league shortstops with 48 errors in 127 games. He needs to improve his discipline at the plate and his footwork in the field. He tries to do too much defensively at times and makes wild throws.

The Future: The more he plays, the better he'll get, though J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar loom as large obstacles ahead of him. Brewer will play in high Class A Brevard County at age 20 in 2008.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
West Virginia (Lo A) .251 .315 .390 518
86 130 25 7 11 49 46 170 42
8.  Angel Salome, c   Born: Oct. 11, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 5-10Wt: 175
 Drafted: HS—New York, 2004 (5th round)Signed by: Tony Blengino
Angel SalomeBackground: Salome's 2007 season was shortened, at the beginning as he recovered from ankle surgery and at the end when he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. In between, he continued to establish himself as the Brewers' top catching prospect and raised his career batting average to .309.

Strengths: Salome has an unorthodox swing yet makes consistent contact and generates solid power, especially from gap to gap. With a compact body with very little body fat, he's much stronger than he looks and has earned the nickname "Pocket Pudge." Milwaukee believes Salome has legitimate power and that he won't use PEDs again. His arm is well above average.

Weaknesses: Despite his arm strength, Salome threw out just six of 46 basestealers (13 percent) in 2007. He still struggles with most aspects of catching, such as making accurate throws, shifting his weight to block balls and calling pitches. He almost makes too much contact for his own good, as he seldom walks. He's a below-average runner.

The Future: In an attempt to make up for lost time, Salome played in instructional league before heading to the Venezuela winter league for more action. Because he missed half the season, he may return to high Class A to open 2008, and he'll have to finish out his suspension first.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (Hi A) .318 .341 .465 258 33 82 20 0 6 53 12 32 1
9.  Lorenzo Cain, of    Born: April 13, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 175
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2004 (17th round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds
Lorenzo CainBackground: When making the jump from hitter-friendly West Virginia to Brevard County, where the breezes almost always blow in, batters invariably struggle. Cain was no different, as his numbers fell off across the board in 2007. A draft-and-follow who won MVP honors in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his 2005 pro debut, he continues to show all-around tools.

Strengths: Once he develops physically and gets more game experience, the Brewers believe Cain could be a special player. His power is mostly to the gaps now but as he gets older and stronger, he should have legitimate home run pop. He's a plus runner who's a threat on the bases and a solid defender in right field with a decent arm. He can play center in a pinch.

Weaknesses: Cain needs to continue working on his plate discipline, so he can draw more walks and also to put himself in position to get pitches he can hammer. He's still wiry and needs to add weight and strength. He didn't play baseball until high school and still is honing his baseball instincts.

The Future: Cain's numbers should rebound at Double-A in 2008. Some Brewers officials liken him to Corey Hart, who had a breakthrough 2007, and think he's on the verge of making a similar move in the minors.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Brevard County (Hi A) .276 .338 .344 482 67 133 21
3 2 44 37 97 24
10.  Caleb Gindl, of   Born: Aug. 31, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 5-9Wt: 185
 Signed: HS—Milton, Fla., 2007 (5th round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds.
Caleb GindlBackground: The Brewers don't often send new high school draft picks to the Pioneer League but they thought Gindl was very advanced for an 18-year-old hitter after they signed him for $144,900 as a fifth-round pick in June. They were right, as Gindl won the league batting title at .372.

Strengths: Gindl has tremendous pitch recognition for a young hitter, enabling him to hit both fastballs and breaking balls. With a stocky build and line-drive power that remind some of Brian Giles, he cranked out 22 doubles in 55 games. Some clubs considered drafting him as a lefthanded pitcher, so his arm plays well in left field. The Brewers like his makeup and maturity, which allowed him to succeed against much older competition.

Weaknesses: Whether Gindl will have enough home run power to play on an outfield corner in the majors remains to be seen. He's close to maxed out physically and limited in terms of speed and athleticism. He came down with elbow tendinitis toward the end of the summer and an MRI revealed a bone chip, but it's not a serious problem

The Future: Gindl has earned a trip to low Class A for 2008. He exceeded expectations in his pro debut, and his full-season performance will give a better indication as to whether he's for real.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Helena (R) .372 .420 .580 207 40 77 22 3 5 42 20 38 4

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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Photo Credits:
Sports On Film (LaPorta, Brewer)
Cliff Welch (Escobar, Gamel, Gillespie)
Bill Mitchell (Jeffress, Gindl)
Steve Moore (Salome)
Jerry Hale (Cain)