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, 2009.

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Under former scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who's now the Mariners' general manager, the Brewers focused on hitters in the draft and succeeded in advancing several to the big leagues. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder form the heart of Milwaukee's lineup, and J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks have played strong supporting roles. Another position player, Matt LaPorta, was the key player in a 2008 deal for C.C. Sabathia, who led the club to its first playoff berth in 26 years that season.

However, concentrating on bats came at the expense of developing arms. The Brewers dropped to 80-82 in 2009, finishing with the second-worst starters ERA (5.37) in the majors and the fourth-worst overall mark (4.84).

Of the pitchers who saw regular action with Milwaukee, only three—Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra and Mitch Stetter—were originally drafted by the club. When Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan went on the disabled list for extended periods at midsummer, the system had no suitable replacements.

The Brewers suffered a major setback when righthander Jeremy Jeffress, their top-rated pitching prospect entering the season and one of the hardest throwers in the minors, was suspended for a second time for testing positive for a substance of abuse. Caught with marijuana in his system again, he received a 100-game suspension that carries well into the 2010 season and leaves him one positive test away from a lifetime ban.

Other pitchers took steps forward, though they're all at least a year away from being ready to help Milwaukee. Righthander Mark Rogers, the fifth overall pick in 2004, was back throwing upper-90s fastballs after missing two seasons following multiple shoulder surgeries. Lefty Zach Braddock, who also had been plagued by injuries, advanced to Double-A and prospered after moving to the bullpen with the idea of limiting his workload. Righties Evan Anundsen, Jake Odorizzi and Amaury Rivas also showed promise.

In the first draft conducted by scouting director Bruce Seid, a former crosschecker under Zduriencik, the Brewers moved to address their lack of pitching depth. They took righthander Eric Arnett in the first round and added righty Kyle Heckathorn in the supplemental first round, giving them a pair of big-bodied hard throwers who might advance quickly. Another righty, fourth-rounder Brooks Hall, also has a big arm but will need more time to develop. Lefty Del Howell (15th) and righty Michael Fiers (23rd) are two late-round sleepers who also could hop on the fast track.

Nevertheless, the best prospects in the system are still position players. Alcides Escobar wrested the starting shortstop job away from Hardy, who was traded to the Twins for Carlos Gomez in November. Brett Lawrie moved to second base and reached Double-A as a teenager.

Mat Gamel got his first extended stay in the the majors, though his playing time was sporadic as rookie Casey McGehee grabbed the third-base job. Jonathan Lucroy is close to making a push to become Milwaukee's catcher.

Powered by Braun and Fielder, the most productive pair of teammates with 255 RBIs between them, the Brewers actually scored more runs in 2009 than they did during their wild-card run the year before. With Escobar, Gamel and Lucroy almost ready to step in, Milwaukee has the ammunition to trade bats for arms while waiting for more homegrown pitchers to develop.

1.  Alcides Escobar, ss   Born: Dec. 16, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 185
 Signed: Venezuela, 2003Signed by: Epy Guerrero
Alcides EscobarBackground: In an organization that focused for years on procuring offensive players, Escobar quickly established himself as a defensive whiz while climbing the ranks of the farm system. Signed by legendary scout Epy Guerrero out of Venezuela for a mere $33,000 in 2003, Escobar wowed scouts with eye-popping web gems but many wondered if his bat would come around enough for him to be a regular in the majors. After he hit a soft .269 in his first three pro seasons, he began to quiet those fears by hitting .325 at high Class A Brevard County in the first half of 2007. Last August, he switched jobs with slumping shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was demoted to Triple-A Nashville. While making some rookie mistakes in the field, Escobar showed why he's considered a special defender by making several remarkable plays. He also handled himself quite nicely at the plate while coming within two at-bats of losing his rookie status.

Strengths: Much of Escobar's game revolves around his legs. He uses them for quickness and amazing range to both sides in the field, allowing him to get to balls out of the grasp of most shortstops. At the plate, his speed makes him a threat for a hit every time he smacks a ball on the ground. When he tops a slow roller, even right at an infielder, he's almost impossible to throw out. He's a constant threat to steal bases, swiping 42 in 52 attempts at Nashville, though the Brewers seldom run under manager Ken Macha. Beyond his legs, Escobar owes his defensive prowess to long arms, soft hands, arm strength and natural instincts. In short, he was born to play shortstop. As a hitter, he covers the plate well and generally uses the whole field. Though he won't hit for power, he does have some bat speed and leverage in his stroke. He'll play the entire 2010 season at age 23, so he should only get better with more experience.

Weaknesses: Escobar sometimes gets lazy with throws on routine grounders and makes sloppy errors. He has exercised more patience at the plate in recent seasons but still has a long way to go in that department. He drew just four walks in 134 big league plate appearances last season, and getting on base needs to be his primary offensive goal. If he can't improve his on-base percentage, it will be difficult for Milwaukee to put him in the leadoff spot and take full advantage of his speed. Though he has more pop than his thin frame might suggest, hitting the ball in the air does no good for him. He'll go through bouts where he becomes pull-conscious and tries to hit for power.

The Future: The transition from Hardy to Escobar took place ahead of schedule. Though Hardy had been one of the Brewers' core players during their resurgence, it was evident that Escobar's time had come, prompting a trade of Hardy to the Twins for Carlos Gomez in November. The youngster will start at shortstop for Milwaukee in 2010 and be a prime Rookie of the Year candidate. He likely will bat near the bottom of the order in his first full big league season, with the hope that he'll develop into the club's leadoff man of the future.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Nashville (AAA) .298 .353 .409 430 76 128 24 6 4 34 32 65 42
Milwaukee .304 .333 .368 125 20 38 3 1 1 11 4 18 4
2.  Brett Lawrie, 2b   Born: Jan. 18, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 5-11Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Langley, B.C., 2008 (1st round)Signed by: Marty Lehn
Brett LawrieBackground: After the Brewers signed him for $1.7 million as the 16th pick in the 2008 draft—making him the highest-drafted Canadian hitter ever—Lawrie planned on becoming a full-time catcher. He later changed his mind and asked to move to second base. He didn't make his pro debut in 2008 because he saw action with Canada's junior and Olympic teams. He returned to international play at the World Cup in 2009.

Strengths:  Lawrie is an aggressive hitter with good pop. He made the adjustment to pro ball easily because he used wood bats regularly as an amateur. With strong hands and the quickest bat in the system, he drives the ball to all fields. He's more athletic than his stocky build would indicate, which is why Milwaukee agreed to let him play second base.

Weaknesses: He needs to show more interest in defense if he's going to stay at second base and become a player in the mold of Jeff Kent. Lawrie improved as the season progressed but will have to work to make his hands softer and his footwork smoother.

The Future: Lawrie will get to the big leagues quicker now than he would have as a catcher, but some scouts think he's destined for an outfield corner. He has a potent bat that should profile at just about any position. Though he jumped to Double-A Huntsville last summer to prepare for the World Cup, he could open 2010 in high Class A.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Wisconsin (Lo A) .274 .348 .454 372 48 102 18 5 13 65 41 70 19
Huntsville (AA) .269 .283 .308 52 6 14 0 1 0 0 0 14 0
3.  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: The Brewers figured both they and Gamel would profit from a midseason promotion to the majors, with his primary role as DH in interleague road games. But he had trouble adjusting to irregular playing time, lost his stroke and never got going again, even after returning to Triple-A. He batted .267 in 2009, down 39 points from his previous career average.

Strengths: When he's on his game, Gamel uses a compact stroke to spray the ball to all fields, mainly from gap to gap. He has enough pop in his bat to hit 20 homers annually. He normally hangs in well against lefties, taking breaking balls the other way. He has average speed and plenty of arm strength at third base.

Weaknesses: Gamel made strides defensively in 2009, but scouts still doubt his ability to handle the hot corner in the majors. He's not as bad as he was when he led the minors with 53 errors in 2007, but he still has flawed footwork that leads to erratic throws. He needs a better two-strike approach after whiffing a career-high 143 times last season.

The Future: In an attempt to recapture his stroke, Gamel committed to play winter ball in Venezuela. The Brewers have no plans to move him to first base or the outfield, but his status as their third baseman of the future became clouded when Casey McGehee turned in a strong rookie season in 2009. The 2010 season will determine where Gamel fits in Milwaukee.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Nashville (AAA) .278 .367 .473 273 42 76 18 1 11 48 38 89 1
Milwaukee .242 .338 .422 128 11 31 6 1 5 20 18 54 1
4.  Eric Arnett, rhp   Born: Jan. 25, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 220
 Drafted: Indiana, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Mike Farrell
Eric ArnettBackground: Needing to bolster their stock of pitching prospects, the Brewers were pleasantly surprised Arnett was available with the No. 26 overall pick in June. Just the second first-rounder ever from Indiana University, he came out of nowhere to set Hoosiers records for wins (12) and strikeouts (109) last spring. He signed for $1.197 million.

Strengths: After battling command problems earlier in his college career, Arnett put it all together as a junior. He threw his fastball at 91-94 mph and touched 97, and he tightened a mid-80s slider to give him a second out pitch. He got better at using his big frame to throw on a downhill plane. He showed his athleticism by suiting up for Indiana's basketball practice squad but didn't play in regular games.

Weaknesses: At times, Arnett loses his arm slot and his command. He needs to refine his below-average changeup to give him an offspeed pitch that will keep hitters off balance. His fastball dipped into the high 80s at the end of his short pro outings, though he may just have been tired after a heavy college workload.

The Future: The Brewers would love to move Arnett through their system as quickly as possible, which may mean that he'll start his first full season in high Class A. They want to be careful not to get too ambitious, but they'd be thrilled if he could get to Milwaukee before the end of 2011.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Helena (R) 0 4 4.41 14 9 0 0 35 33 1 21 35 .228
5.  Jonathan Lucroy, c   Born: June 13, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 206
 Drafted: Louisiana-Lafayette, 2007 (3rd round)Signed by: Brian Sankey
Jonathan LucroyBackground: In his third pro season, Lucroy bypassed Angel Salome as the Brewers' top catching prospect. Lucroy ranked second in the Double-A Southern League in walks (78) and throwing out basestealers (41 percent), then headed to the Arizona Fall League to expedite his development.

Strengths: Lucroy's offense has been more advanced than his defense since he turned pro. He has a good approach and a short swing, squares the ball up and has solid gap power. He has a career .380 on-base percentage and walked more than he struck out in 2009. He bolsters his average arm strength with a quick release and has recorded pop times as low as 1.8 seconds.

Weaknesses: Lucroy sometimes struggles behind the plate, boxing balls and losing his release point on throws, causing them to sail. He also needs to improve his game-calling skills. His batting average (.267) and slugging percentage (.418) in 2009 were easily career lows, though he still projects as a good offensive threat for a catcher. He has below-average speed but doesn't clog the bases.

The Future: Scouts are divided over whether Lucroy projects as a regular or backup in the majors. He should hit enough but must continue to polish his overall defensive skills. He'll move up to Triple-A to start 2010 and could see his first big league action later in the year.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Huntsville (AA) .267 .380 .418 419 61 112 32 2 9 66 78 66 1
6.  Kentrail Davis, of   Born: June 29, 1988B-T: L-RHt: 5-9Wt: 195
 Drafted: Tennessee, 2009 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Joe Mason
Kentrail DavisBackground: Davis entered 2009 as a potential top 10 draft pick, but he had a rough sophomore season while trying to do too much for a poor Tennessee team. Remembering his standout play for Team USA the previous summer, the Brewers took him with the 39th overall pick in June and signed him at the Aug. 17 deadline for $1.2 million.

Strengths: Davis' combination of hitting ability, power and speed, not to mention his stocky frame, have drawn comparisons to a lefthanded-hitting Kirby Puckett. He has a short swing with plenty of bat speed. He has plus speed and the potential to become at least a 20-20 player.

Weaknesses: At times, Davis gets pull-happy, his swing gets long and his strikeouts pile up. When he got pitched around with the Volunteers, he got frustrated and chased pitches out of the strike zone. He can run the 60-yard dash in 6.6 seconds, though he has yet to translate that quickness into stolen bases. Though his speed gives him average range in center field, he lacks top-notch instincts and ultimately may fit better in left field. His arm strength is fringe-average.

The Future: The Brewers felt even better about Davis after watching him excel in instructional league. He could make his pro debut in high Class A and prove to be one of the steals of the 2009 draft.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
7.  Zach Braddock, lhp   Born: Aug. 23, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 230
 Drafted: Burlington (N.J.) CC, D/F 2005 (18th round)Signed by: Tony Blengino
Zach BraddockBackground: Braddock had Tommy John surgery in high school, and repeated elbow and shoulder issues made it a struggle for the Brewers to keep him on the mound as a starter. So they moved him to the bullpen in 2009. While he had two monthlong stints on the disabled list, he was dominant when healthy, posting a 62-7 strikeout-walk ratio in 40 innings.

Strengths: Braddock has a live arm, consistently throwing at 91-94 mph while topping out at 96. He also features a sharp slider that gives lefthanders nightmares, and he has dabbled with an improving cutter. He pounds the strike zone, using his size to throw on a steep downward plane. He has an effective changeup, though he doesn't throw it much, especially as a reliever.

Weaknesses: The biggest issue with Braddock is his health. Aside from his surgery in high school, he has pitched just 198 innings in four pro seasons. He also has dealt with emotional issues that required medication, though he seems to have those under control.

The Future: To continue Braddock's transition from starter to reliever and to get him more innings, the Brewers sent him to the Arizona Fall League. If he can avoid more physical setbacks, he could join Milwaukee's bullpen at some point in 2010. It's tempting to think of what he might do as a starter, but he hasn't proven he can hold up in that role.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Brevard County (Hi A) 1 1 1.09 14 0 0 0 25 12 2 4 40 .143
Huntsville (AA) 2 1 2.87 12 0 0 0 16 16 2 3 22 .262
8.  Lorenzo Cain, of   Born: April 13, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 192
 Drafted: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC, D/F 2004 (17th round)Signed by: Doug Reynolds
Lorenzo CainBackground: The Brewers had hoped that Cain would put himself in position to take over from Mike Cameron in center field in 2010. But Cain seriously sprained his left knee diving for a fly ball in April and missed half the 2009 season. He wasn't the same, at the plate or in the field, when he returned in late June.

Strengths: Cain stands out most with his athleticism and speed. Moved from right field to center in 2008, he uses his quickness and long legs to gobble up ground in the field and on the basepaths. Still filling out and getting stronger, he shows flashes of power but is mostly a gap hitter. He has a strong arm, especially for a center fielder.

Weaknesses: Cain still has to work on his plate discipline, though it has improved. He didn't play baseball until high school and therefore lacks advanced instincts, but his athletic ability helps cover him. He could be a more prolific and successful basestealer.

The Future: Cain's lost season left the Brewers in a quandary about what to do in center field for 2010, one they addressed by trading J.J. Hardy to the Twins for Carlos Gomez. Cain has yet to prove himself in Triple-A, and now Gomez could block him for the long term.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Huntsville (AA) .214 .277 .338 145 17 31 6 0 4 15 10 35 3
AZL Brewers (R) .444 .455 .556 9 2 4 1 0 0 1 1 0 0
Wisconsin (Lo A) .192 .311 .269 52 3 10 4 0 0 3 9 15 0
9.  Jake Odorizzi, rhp   Born: March 27, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—Highland, Ill., 2008 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Harvey Kuenn Jr.
Jake OdorizziBackground: The Brewers liked Odorizzi's athleticism—which he put on display as a pitcher, shortstop and all-league wide receiver in high school—before signing him for $1.06 million as the 32nd overall pick in the 2008 draft. Some clubs rated him the best high school pitcher in that draft. Milwaukee has brought him along slowly, limiting him to 68 innings in two years of Rookie ball.

Strengths: Milwaukee believes Odorizzi will fill out and gain velocity as he matures. He currently pitches at 88-91 mph and touches 93 with his fastball, maintaining that zip throughout his outings. His free and easy delivery and good extension allow his heater to get in on hitters quickly, and it features good sink and armside run. He also features a curveball that's a plus pitch at times. He throws strikes and shows good poise and competitiveness.

Weaknesses: Odorizzi needs to continue refining his secondary pitches. His curveball is inconsistent, and his slider and changeup are less reliable. While he's consistently around the plate, he needs to do a better job of locating his pitches in the strike zone.

The Future: If he adds velocity and improves his secondary offerings, Odorizzi could become a No. 2 or 3 starter. He'll probably begin 2010 at low Class A Wisconsin, with a chance for a midseason promotion.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Helena (R) 1 4 4.40 12 10 0 0 47 55 3 9 43 .296
10.  Kyle Heckathorn, rhp   Born: June 17, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-6Wt: 235
 Signed: Kennesaw State, 2009 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Ryan Robinson
Kyle HeckathornBackground: After selecting Eric Arnett in the first round of the 2009 draft, the Brewers tabbed another big-bodied power pitcher in Heckathorn with the 47th overall choice. He would have been the highest pick in Kennesaw State history if the Blue Jays hadn't taken teammate Chad Jenkins 27 selections earlier. After signing  for $776,000, Heckathorn worked on tight pitch counts in his pro debut.

Strengths: His raw stuff is outstanding and rivaled anyone's in the 2009 draft. His fastball sits at 91-94 mph and peaks at 98. His slider also can be devastating, registering in the high 80s. Even with his live arm and big frame, Heckathorn doesn't have any problems throwing strikes.

Weaknesses: Heckathorn is learning how to use his stuff. He doesn't know how to set up batters and actually throws too many hittable strikes at times. He must come up with a reliable changeup so hitters can't sit on his hard stuff, and he'll have to locate his pitches better in the strike zone. He won just 12 games in three college seasons, when he had limited exposure to top-level competition, and got hit hard in his brief introduction to pro ball.

The Future: The Brewers will keep Heckathorn in a starting role for now, though some scouts project him as an overpowering closer. He'll likely begin his first full season in low Class A.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Helena (R) 0 1 7.16 5 5 0 0 16 24 3 4 11 .353

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