Milwaukee Brewers: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Milwaukee Brewers

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, 2007.

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Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers were so upbeat about building around young infielders Prince Fielder, Bill Hall, J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks that they put them on the cover of their 2006 media guide. That promising foursome was supposed to help the club reach the next level after snapping a 12-year losing streak with an 81-81 record in 2005.

Instead, Milwaukee took a step back and won only 75 games in a year where 84 would have meant a National League Central title. But that doesn't mean the club's optimism was misplaced. Instead, the 2006 Brewers succumbed to a series of damaging injuries as well as down years from some veterans.

The slope became slippery in May, when starting pitchers Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka got hurt with injuries. Milwaukee tried a variety of minor leaguers in their place, including Ben Hendrickson and Dana Eveland, who flopped badly. The Brewers went 6-17 in those two spots in the rotation until Sheets and Ohka returned in the second half.

Then the infielders began to go down. Hardy was lost in mid-May with an ankle injury that later required surgery. Just when Weeks began to take off as a leadoff hitter, he hurt his wrist in late July and also needed an operation. Veteran third baseman Corey Koskie missed the entire second half with post-concussion syndrome, leaving Fielder as the last man standing from the Opening Day infield.

The lone positive aspect of all the infield injuries was the emergence of Hall, who became the everyday shortstop when Hardy went out. Hall had a breakout season, leading Milwaukee with 35 homers and 85 RBIs and guaranteeing himself a regular job in 2007, possibly in the outfield.

The outfield picture became clouded when impending free agent Carlos Lee was traded in late July after turning down a $48 million contract extension, and Geoff Jenkins declined so precipitously that he was benched for a time in August. Corey Hart finally got a chance to play in the everyday lineup and performed well enough to put himself squarely in the club's plans.

A more surprising development was the emergence of Carlos Villanueva, who began the year in Double-A and found himself in the big league rotation for the final weeks. Showing poise and command not normally associated with a 22-year-old rookie, not to mention a devastating changeup, Villanueva gave the Brewers the confidence to trade Doug Davis to the Diamondbacks in an offseason move that filled their catching void with Johnny Estrada.

Having advanced several solid everyday players to the majors in recent years, Milwaukee is developing some impressive arms to join them. Yovani Gallardo pitched himself into blue-chip prospect status in 2006, and Steve Hammond and Tim Dillard should be on the verge of the majors this season. Another wave loaded with dazzling potential is still a couple of years off, featuring high school draftees Will Inman, Jeremy Jeffress and Mark Rogers.

If they can stay relatively healthy, the Brewers should contend in a weakened NL Central in 2007. With the division's best combination of young talent and payroll flexibility, they should challenge for the postseason for the immediate future.

1. Yovani Gallardo, rhp   Born: Feb. 27, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS--Fort Worth, Texas, 2004 (2nd round)Signed by: Jim Stevenson
Yovani GallardoBackground: The Brewers thought they had something special when they made Gallardo a second-round pick and signed him for $725,000 in 2004, but he has exceeded expectations with his meteoric rise through the system. In 2006, he established himself as one of the game's elite pitching prospects. He began the season in the high Class A Florida State League and spent the second half dealing in the Double-A Southern League, ranking as the No. 2 prospect in both circuits behind Reds righthander Homer Bailey. Gallardo led the minor leagues in strikeouts (188), finished third in ERA (1.86) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.9) and pitched a scoreless inning for the World Team in the Futures Game. Gallardo has Mexican ancestry but grew up in Texas and signed out of Trimble Tech High in Fort Worth. He struck out 25 in an 11-inning game as a senior, and scouts weren't happy that his coach left him in for 148 pitches, but he has been healthy and durable in pro ball. With so many of their best pitching prospects breaking down or failing in the majors in recent years, Gallardo gives the Brewers something to get excited about.

Strengths: Gallardo features a fastball that he consistently throws at 90-94 mph with armside run and sink, and he can reach back and get a little extra juice when he needs it. His sharp-breaking curveball is the best in the system, and his 85-89 mph slide became a plus pitch in 2006. His changeup has cutting action and continues to improve, and he'll throw it in any count. Beyond his impressive pure stuff, Gallardo shows savvy by adding and subtracting from his pitches and varying their looks to keep hitters off balance. He'll change arm slots at times to give hitters yet something else to think about and repeats his delivery easily, giving him strong command of his pitches. His poise on and off the field is something that can't be taught, especially considering his youth.

Weaknesses: There's not much not to like about Gallardo. His frame might look a little soft, but he has a loose, easy delivery. Some observers think he can be too laid-back, but the Brewers say he's just quiet by nature and competes well without making a big show of it. Pitchers who use a drop-and-drive delivery like Gallardo does can elevate their pitches if they don't stay on top of them, but that's not an issue with him. He keeps the ball down in the zone and gave up just six homers in 155 innings last year.

The Future: After Gallardo moved up to Double-A Huntsville and had no problems making the adjustment, the Brewers began speculating about his arrival in the majors. He's likely to start 2007 with Triple-A Nashville, though it's not completely out of the question that he could make the big league rotation with a strong showing in spring training. Already ahead of schedule, he's young enough to allow more time to mature. Barring injury, it's going to be difficult to hold him back for long. Gallardo will challenge Ben Sheets for the designation as Milwaukee's No. 1 starter in the near future.
Brevard County (Hi A)632.091313007854423103.196
Huntsville (AA)521.63131300775022885.187
2. Ryan Braun, 3b   Born: Nov. 17, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: Miami, 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Larry Pardo
Ryan BraunBackground: Like Yovani Gallardo, Braun earned a trip to the Futures Game and a promotion to Double-A, where he stepped up his performance in the second half. The fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft, he rated as the top position prospect in the Florida State League.

Strengths: A rare five-tool corner infielder, Braun has tremendous bat speed and profiles as an impact hitter for average and power. He stays back on offspeed pitches and uses the entire field. His speed and arm strength are plus tools as well. He took yoga classes with Mike Lieberthal last offseason to improve his balance.

Weaknesses: After making 31 errors last season, Braun must improve his footwork at third base. Some scouts believe he'll eventually need to move to the outfield, but Milwaukee believes he'll be a sound defender at the hot corner. He doesn't have the most textbook swing, but it works for him.

The Future: After hitting .326 in the Arizona Fall League, Braun definitely is ready for Triple-A. The Brewers expect him to complete their homegrown infield by 2008, though he could accelerate his timetable and arrive by the all-star break.
Brevard County (Hi A).274.346.4382263462122737235414
Huntsville (AA).303.367.58923142701911540214612
3. Will Inman, rhp   Born: Feb. 6, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS--Dry Fork, Va., 2005 (3rd round)Signed by: Grant Brittain
Will InmanBackground: After leading Tunstall High to back-to-back Virginia state titles and setting the state record for strikeouts, Inman spurned an Auburn commitment to sign for $500,000. He followed a strong pro debut in 2005 by posting the second-best ERA in the minors. He didn't give up a run in 15 of his 23 outings at low Class A West Virginia.

Strengths: Inman isn't overpowering, but he can consistently command his 89-92 mph fastball for strikes in any part of the zone. He stays ahead in the count and complements his fastball with a two-plane slurve that he's trying to develop into a more conventional curveball. He began using his changeup more last season. He is a fiery competitor.

Weaknesses: Inman missed a month last season with a sore shoulder, perhaps because he three too many breaking balls. He has eliminated much of the effort in his delivery and stayed on a straighter line to the plate, mechanical adjustments the Brewers hope will relieve some stress on his arm. He's not projectable and probably won't develop plus velocity, and he needs to refine his secondary pitches.

The Future: Any worries Milwaukee had about Inman's sore shoulder were quieted when he didn't allow an earned run in his first five outings after coming off the disabled list. He has the stuff and aggressiveness to move quickly, and he'll pitch at high Class A Brevard County as a 20-year-old.
West Virginia (Lo A)1021.7123200011175324134.190
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: Jeffress had more sheer velocity than any pitcher in the 2006 draft. The Brewers hoped for a quality college arm with the 16th overall pick, but changed gears and took Jeffress, who signed for $1.55 million. Despite control struggles in his pro debut, he rated as the top pitching prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League.

Strengths: Jeffress regularly throws his fastball in the high 90s, hit 98 mph throughout 2006 and topped out at 102. He's an excellent athlete with smooth mechanics and utilizes his lower half well. He flashes a hard slider, but the pitch is a work in progress. He showed encouraging signs of progress with his offspeed stuff in instructional league.

Weaknesses: It's hard to succeed as a one-pitch pitcher, and Jeffress will have to refine his slider and changeup. His control is erratic and he wore down by the end of the summer.

The Future: He's a project and his development will require patience. The long-term payoff could be huge, however, as scouts compare Jeffress to Dwight Gooden for his velocity, athleticism and easy delivery. He should see low Class A at some point this season.
AZL Brewers (R)255.8813400343002537.227
5. Mark Rogers, rhp   Born: Jan. 30, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 205
 Drafted: HS--Mount Ararat, Maine, 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Tony Blengino
Mark RogersBackground: Two years after selecting Rogers with the fifth overall pick ahead of Jeremy Sowers and Homer Bailey, the Brewers still aren't quite sure what they have. Injuries and control issues have plagued the Maine's first-ever high school first-rounder, yet he has averaged 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro.

Strengths: Rogers has two pitches that make him devastating when he commands them, a mid- to high-90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curveball. He's working on a changeup, and it works because hitters have to watch out for his fastball and curve. A standout hockey and soccer player in high school, he has tremendous athleticism.

Weaknesses: The Brewers altered Rogers' mechanics because he threw across his body in high school. He still struggles at times to repeat his delivery, which leads to control and command difficulties. The inability to smooth out his mechanics led to shoulder problems in July, effectively ending his season. He needs more consistency with his fastball and curve, and his changeup has a lot of room for improvement.

The Future: Rogers' shoulder continued to bother him during the offseason, and he had arthroscopic surgery to pinpoint the cause. The surgery found that he had a SLAP lesion in his shoulder and the resulting repair will likely sideline him for most or all of the 2007 season.
Brevard County (Hi A)125.07161600716865396.253
AZL Brewers (R)002.25330045025.294
6. Lorenzo Cain, of   Born: April 13, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 170
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2004 (17th round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds
Lorenzo CainBackground: After signing as a draft-and-follow before the 2005 draft, Cain claimed Arizona League MVP honors in his pro debut. He followed up by leading the low Class A South Atlantic League in hits in 2006, setting a West Virginia franchise record in the process.

Strengths: As his wiry frame continues to fill out, Cain shows flashes of five-tool potential. He has a quick bat with projectable power potential, though his pop primarily comes to the gaps right now. He's a plus runner and a solid defensive outfielder with average arm strength. He shifted from center to right field last year.

Weaknesses: A bit of a free swinger, Cain is prone to strikeouts at times and still is learning the nuances of hitting. He tends to be pull-conscious and has worked with West Virginia hitting coach Mike Lum to use the whole field. Cain didn't play baseball until he was in high school and remains raw in all phases of the game.

The Future: Once Cain develops physically and gains experience, the Brewers believe he could be something special. He'll move up to high Class A in 2007.
West Virginia (Lo A).307.384.425527911623646605810434
7. Steve Hammond, lhp   Born: April 30, 1982B-T: R-LHt: 6-2Wt: 205
 Drafted: Long Beach State, 2005 (6th round)Signed by: Bruce Seid
Steve HammondBackground: Hammond began his college career at Sacramento CC in 2001, but had bone spurs removed from his elbow and didn't pitch for Sac City again until 2004. He worked just 24 innings after transferring to Long Beach State in 2005, but he caught the eye of the Brewers, who signed him for $30,000 as a sixth-rounder. Put in the rotation to get innings, he has thrived as a starter, reaching Double-A in his first full season.

Strengths: Hammond's fastball sits at 88-92 mph and tops out at 94, and he has maintained his velocity while moving from reliever to starter. He spots his fastball well and complements it with an improving changeup. He throws strikes and pitches with poise.

Weaknesses: Hammond's slider is average at best. Milwaukee wants him to continue starting, so he'll need three reliable pitches to continue to move through the system. He got a late start by signing at age 23, though concerns about his age were mitigated when he pitched well in Double-A.

The Future: Hammond will continue to work out of the rotation this year in Triple-A and projects as a No. 4 starter. He also could be an asset in the bullpen, which would get him to the majors more quickly. He could make his big league debut late in 2007.
Brevard County (Hi A)652.53141400856872370.215
Huntsville (AA)562.93131310746372558.229
8. 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: Undrafted as a sophomore-eligible in 2005, Gillespie won a College World Series championship and the Pacific-10 Conference player of the year award last spring. After signing for $417,500 as a third-round pick, he led the Rookie-level Pioneer League in on-base percentage.

Strengths: Gillespie is an advanced hitter with bat speed and tremendous balance at the plate. He exercises patience in working the count and makes adjustments easily. He should hit for average, and Milwaukee thinks he can produce 15-20 homers per year. He's a good athlete, with solid-average speed and outfield range as well as the instincts to steal bases. He also exhibits strong leadership skills.

Weaknesses: Gillespie missed time with shoulder problems during his college career, leaving the former pitching recruit with a below-average arm. He's limited to left field and doesn't quite fit the power profile for that position.

The Future: The Brewers believe they got a steal with Gillespie as a third-rounder. His advanced hitting approach and strong makeup will allow him to skip a level and start his first full season in high Class A. His emergence and that of Lorenzo Cain bolsters the outfield depth the system had lacked.
Helena (R).344.464.5481864964121831403418
9. Alcides Escobar, ss   Born: Dec. 16, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 165
 Signed: Venezuela, 2003Signed by: Epy Guerrero
Alcides EscobarBackground: The youngest regular in the Florida State League last season, Escobar broke his finger in mid-April. He missed three weeks and it continued to bother him after he returned. A rough year at the plate got worse in the final two months, when he hit .234 with just four extra-base hits.

Strengths: Escobar's defensive tools are far ahead of his bat at this point. He boats fluid actions, soft hands and a plus arm. As he continues to fill out and gain strength, he has a chance to grow into gap power. He makes contact with a slashing line-drive swing. He's an above-average runner with basestealing potential.

Weaknesses: Lean and wiry, Escobar lacks strength in his game, especially at the plate. He doesn't drive the ball and is overaggressive. His injury didn't help, but he didn't make many strides or adjustments after a promising 2005.

The Future: Escobar was impressive in instructional league, and the Brewers were toying with the idea of promoting him to Double-A in 2007. Considering how much he struggled offensively last year, returning him to high Class A might make more sense. He'll have to hit if he's going to challenge J.J. Hardy for Milwaukee's shortstop job in the future.
Brevard County (Hi A).257.296.306350479091233195628
10. Mat Gamel, 3b   Born: July 26, 1985B-T: L-RHt: 6-0Wt: 205
 Signed: Chipola (Fla.) JC, 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds
Mat GamelBackground: Undrafted out of high school, Gamel spent a year Daytona Beach (Fla.) CC before transferring to Chipola (Fla.) JC, where the Brewers spotted him while scouting teammate Darren Ford, a draft-and-follow. In his first full pro season, Gamel was named MVP of the South Atlantic League all-star game. He wowed the crowd by hitting 15 bombs in the second round of the home run derby, which he lost in the finals.

Strengths: Gamel can hit for average and power. He has a sound lefthanded stroke, hits balls from gap to gap and can pull a pitch out of the park if a pitcher challenges him inside. He's not intimidated by southpaws and peppered them for a .325 average in 2006. A former pitcher, he has plus arm strength to go with decent speed and agility.

Weaknesses: His swing can get long at times, but Gamel doesn't strike out excessively. After making 52 errors in 157 pro games at third base, he must improve his footwork to reduce his wayward throws. With Ryan Braun ahead of him, he could move to the outfield in the future.

The Future: There are no plans to shift Gamel off the hot corner this year. He'll make the jump to high Class A and could be big league-ready by the end of 2008.
West Virginia (Lo A).288.359.46949365142285178852819

Photo Credits:
Gallardo: Jerry Hale
Braun, Rogers, Escobar: Steve Moore
Inman: Sports On Film
Jeffress, Gillespie: Bill Mitchell
Cain, Gamel: Rich Abel