Top Ten Prospects: Milwaukee Brewers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Tom Haudricourt
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, 2005.
Background: While he was undrafted and barely recruited out of a Florida high school, Weeks won consecutive NCAA Division I batting titles at Southern and set an NCAA record with a .473 career average. Baseball America’s 2003 College Player of the Year, Weeks went second overall in the draft that June and signed for a club-record $3.6 million bonus, part of a five-year big league contract that guarantees him at least $4.8 million. The Brewers have been very aggressive with his development path. They jumped him to full-season ball at low Class A Beloit after one game in the Rookie-level Arizona League, and last year they sent him to Double-A Huntsville with all of 67 pro at-bats to his credit. As might be expected, he struggled at times, but the Brewers liked the way Weeks competed. He finished 2004 by hitting .382 with six homers in 76 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, ranking as the league’s No. 2 prospect behind Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young -- also the only player picked ahead of him in the 2003 draft.
Strengths: Despite his periodic struggles at the plate in Double-A, Weeks continued to display the skills that made him a No. 2 overall pick. He has a compact swing, and his bat gets through the hitting zone in lightning-quick fashion, giving him surprising pop for his size. He’s able to turn on inside heat, while his quick hands also allow him to cover the outer half of the plate. He also has plus speed to go with his power. Weeks has good patience at the plate, though he must continue to work on his strike-zone discipline. As a sign of his mental toughness, he played much of the season with a hamstring strain, refusing to come out of the lineup. Weeks worked hard to improve his defense, which was considered a weakness in college. The Brewers love his drive and determination. He determinedly stands on top of the plate, which is why he ranked third in the minors by getting hit with 28 pitches last year. His combination of athleticism and work ethic makes Weeks a special player.
Weaknesses: Weeks faced predominantly weak competition at Southern, and given his lack of pro experience, he often was fooled by breaking pitches in Double-A. He sometimes gets impatient and swings at pitcher’s pitches, but improved in that regard over the course of his first full season. Despite his plus speed, he still has a lot to learn on the basepaths after getting caught 12 times in 23 steal attempts last year. For all his effort, Weeks still has a lot of work to do with his glove. He led Southern League second basemen with 17 errors. He sometimes makes fundamental mistakes in the field and throws without getting his feet under him.
The Future: The Brewers knew they were putting a lot of pressure on Weeks by pushing him to Double-A in his first full season but were pleased with the way he handled himself. They feel he’s ready to handle an assignment to their new Triple-A Nashville affiliate this year, with hopes of seeing him in a big league uniform for good in 2006, if not before.
Background: Fielder earned low Class A Midwest League MVP honors in 2003. But if there wasn’t already enough pressure on the seventh overall pick in 2002 and the son of a former big league home run king, things got more difficult when reports of his father Cecil’s seven-figure gambling debts surfaced in October.
Strengths: Fielder has outstanding power to all fields and enhances it by recognizing pitches early. He shows the patience to take a walk and rarely chases bad pitches out of his zone. He employs a compact stroke with tremendous bat speed, making him a constant threat.
Weaknesses: He has worked hard to control his weight, which was a concern in high school, and must remain diligent in that area. Fielder never will be more than adequate at first base, though he’s no longer a liability. He may have limited range, but he has soft hands and good reactions.
The Future: There is little doubt that he’ll rake in the majors. The question is when. With Lyle Overbay busting out last year, there’s no immediate need to rush Fielder to the big leagues, even if he’ll play in Triple-A as a 21-year-old.
Background: Following a 2003 campaign that put him in place to compete for major league playing time, Hardy’s left shoulder popped out of the socket on a swing during spring training. He tore his labrum and tried to play through it before having season-ending surgery in May.
Strengths: Hardy doesn’t have overwhelming tools, but his competitiveness and savvy have allowed him to make up for any perceived weaknesses. He displays a natural feel for hitting, rarely striking out while spraying line drives to all fields. For a middle infielder, he has solid gap power. His instincts serve him well defensively, where he has a plus arm, good hands and range.
Weaknesses: Scouts have questioned Hardy’s bat since his amateur days, and his swing sometimes gets out of whack. He’s an average runner at best, though he plays above his speed on the bases and in the field.
The Future: For most players, losing most of a season would be a significant setback, but the Brewers aren’t concerned because of Hardy’s special makeup. He’ll get a chance to win the big league shortstop job in spring training, where his main competition will be Bill Hall.
Background: The Brewers wouldn’t have traded closer Dan Kolb to the Braves without getting Capellan. While Tommy John surgery limited him to just 80 innings from 2001-03, he dominated at three levels and made his big league debut last year. He struck out two in one Futures Game inning.
Strengths: Capellan not only can hit triple digits with his fastball, but he can maintain his velocity over the course of a game. He’s consistently clocked at 94-97 mph with an effortless delivery. He gave up only one home run last year because he keeps his pitches down in the zone.
Weaknesses: Capellan’s spike curveball and changeup still need a lot of work. Despite urging from Atlanta’s development staff, he rarely used his changeup. He has become very soft around his midsection, so he’ll have to watch his conditioning.
The Future: Because Capellan sometimes has only one consistent pitch, some scouts suggest he’s headed for the bullpen. But he’ll get a shot to pitch in a starting role in Milwaukee this year.
Background: Rogers surfaced as a premier prospect when he pumped 96-97 mph fastballs at the 2003 East Coast Showcase. The first Maine high schooler ever to go in the first round, he signed for $2.2 million as 2004’s fifth overall pick. He was an all-state performer as a pitcher, a hockey forward with legitimate NHL potential and a soccer midfielder.
Strengths: Rogers has a pure power arm, reaching the mid-90s consistently. Even after pitching all spring and summer, he was throwing 91-94 in instructional league. He also has a knee-buckling, 12-6 hammer curveball and a decent changeup. Rogers also attracted scouts with his off-the-charts makeup. He scored higher than any draft prospect on his predraft psychological tests.
Weaknesses: Rogers has some effort to his delivery and throws slightly across his body, flaws Brewers instructors are trying to correct. He has trouble repeating his mechanics, affecting the quality of his command and pitches. An intense competitor, he’ll revert to old habits at times in his quest to get outs.
The Future: Rogers profiles as a frontline starter. He’ll begin his first full season at Milwaukee’s new low Class A West Virginia affiliate.
Background: After signing as a first baseman and winning the 2003 Southern League MVP award as a third baseman, Hart spent last season learning to play right field. A slight shoulder injury limited him to one at-bat in his first big league callup in September.
Strengths: With a long wingspan that generates leverage, Hart is capable of generating tremendous raw power and has drawn comparisons to Richie Sexson since his high school days. He drives the ball into the alleys and still hasn’t tapped into his full home run potential. Hart displays solid average arm strength suitable for right field, and he also has above-average speed for his size.
Weaknesses: Hart has a tendency to get long with his swing and is prone to striking out. Because of his long frame and arms, he gets challenged inside regularly, and he needs a shorter stroke to cope. He’s also susceptible to breaking stuff, and he could afford to be more patient.
The Future: The move to the outfield was a good one for Hart. He will start 2005 back in Triple-A but isn’t far off from forcing his way into Milwaukee’s plans.
Background: Despite bouncing back and forth between Triple-A Indianapolis and Milwaukee last season, Hendrickson was named International League pitcher of the year and topped the league in ERA. He lost his first six decisions in a rough major league debut before beating the Reds.
Strengths: Hendrickson relies on spotting his 88-91 mph fastball to set up a sharp 12-6 curveball. His changeup was much improved last year and helped him to keep hitters off balance. He has clean arm action and good command, though it wandered during his major league trial. He didn’t show any signs of the elbow troubles that hindered him in 2003.
Weaknesses: Sometimes Hendrickson relies on his curveball too much, allowing hitters to sit on it. Because he doesn’t blow the ball by hitters, he can’t afford to work behind in the count, which he did too often in the majors. He’ll need to continue to hone his changeup.
The Future: Hendrickson looked more comfortable in his last few starts with the Brewers. It gave him an idea of what type of adjustments he needs to make in order to make the 2005 rotation in spring training.
Background: Nelson catapulted to the No. 1 spot on this list entering 2003 after leading the minors with 49 doubles and 116 RBIs as a 19-year-old. He was shelved for much of that season with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist, but he made up for lost time with a solid Double-A effort last year. A third baseman/pitcher in high school, he began his pro career at first base before moving to left field in mid-2003.
Strengths: Once he recovered from his wrist injury, Nelson got his smooth, powerful swing back and started driving the ball again. He uses the entire field and hits with power to both gaps. He shows good instincts and an average arm in left field.
Weaknesses: Everybody, including Nelson, knows what he must do to advance to the majors. He must improve his plate discipline and cut down on his excessive strikeouts. Though he tries hard and is a smart defender, he has limited range.
The Future: Nelson is progressing nicely despite missing most of a year of development. He’ll head to Triple-A and likely remain there for the entire season to get at-bats and learn his strike zone.
Background: Iribarren scorched Arizona League pitching in 2004, winning the batting race by 88 points and finishing with the second-highest average in league history. He also led the league in hits, on-base percentage and slugging en route to earning MVP honors. He’s a hit machine who batted .329 in two years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and .373 after a late-season promotion to low Class A.
Strengths: Iribarren puts the ball in play with consistent hard contact that belies his lean, wiry frame. He has very strong wrists and turns on inside pitches while taking offerings away to the opposite field. Iribaren projects to develop more power. He’s an aggressive baserunner with decent range, good hands and arm strength in the field.
Weaknesses: Sometimes Iribarren takes bad at-bats into the field with him. He needs to continue to work on his defense, but should be able to make the necessary adjustments.
The Future: Iribarren didn’t miss a beat after his callup and will open 2005 back in low Class A. A natural hitter, he should move through the system quickly.
Background: Krynzel fouled a ball off his right foot in late April last year, forcing him to miss two months. He recovered nicely and earned his first taste of big league action in September.
Strengths: Krynzel is a superb center fielder, combining range, athleticism and arm strength. His greatest asset is pure speed that can create havoc on the basepaths. He has a line-drive stroke, with more raw power than his numbers suggest.
Weaknesses: Krynzel needs to work counts better and reach base more consistently to hit atop the order. His swing can get long, leading to high strikeout totals. Despite his quickness, he has succeeded on just 66 percent of his pro steal attempts and must learn to read pitchers better.
The Future: With Scott Podsednik gone to the White Sox in the Carlos Lee trade, Brady Clark is all that stands between Krynzel and the center-field job. He’ll get a long look in spring training, but if he doesn’t improve his plate discipline soon, he could get pigeon-holed into reserve-outfielder status.