2018 Milwaukee Brewers Midseason Top 10 Prospects
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When the Brewers signed free-agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain and traded for Miami outfielder Christian Yelich within hours of each other on Jan. 25, what had been a slow offseason received a significant jumpstart. And that’s exactly what that duo did to the Brewers’ offense, as anticipated.
On most days, manager Craig Counsell bats Cain and Yelich 1-2 in the batting order, respectively. Their on-base capabilities made them a perfect fit atop the order, providing some balance to what had been a swing-and-miss attack, and their defensive skills transformed the Brewers’ outfield into a run-saving unit.
Getting Yelich at age 26 and Cain, 32, at the top of his game, with five years of control for each, allowed the Brewers to trade two of their top outfield prospects to the Marlins – Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison – as well as slugging infielder Isan Diaz.
The Brewers heard all winter they needed to add a premier starting pitcher but they resisted the price tags and settled for adding unsung veteran Jhoulys Chacín, who became one of their more dependable rotation members during the first half. Considering Chase Anderson fell off his 2017 form and Zach Davies spent much of the half on the DL with shoulder issues, the rotation did a commendable job of holding its own.
The strength of the team was a bullpen led by strikeout sensation Josh Hader, a budding rock star who posted fantasy-league strikeout numbers (80 through his first 40 innings). The former starting pitcher has been used a la Andrew Miller(^) with games on the line after the sixth inning, going multiple innings more than any other reliever in the majors.
The biggest puzzler was a significant offensive regression by shortstop Orlando Arcia, a situation compounded when the top middle infield prospect, Mauricio Dubon, suffered a torn ACL at Class AAA Colorado Springs.
The Brewers still feel good about their farm system, especially a group of promising arms led by right-hander Freddy Peralta, who had a sensational 13-strikeout debut on Mother’s Day in Colorado.
At or near the top of the NL Central the entire first half, the Brewers are definite buyers as the trade deadline approaches, with both arms and bats in play.
1. Keston Hiura, 2B
When the Brewers selected Hiura ninth overall in the 2017 draft out of UC-Irvine, they considered him an advanced hitter who might move through their system quickly. After getting off to a strong start at Class A Carolina (.911 OPS in 50 games), the compact right-handed hitter was promoted to Biloxi, where he continued to torment pitchers. The only question from the outset was whether Hiura’s throwing elbow would stay healthy enough to allow him to continue playing in the field. A partial UCL tear confined Hiura to DH duties as a college junior but the Brewers loved his bat so much they drafted him with the understanding he would have to come along slowly at second base. The current focus is getting him as much action in the field as possible while assuring his elbow can handle it. He’s been playing second base regularly since late May and has handled the heavier workload.
2. Corbin Burnes, RHP
In late June, the Brewers moved Burnes from the Sky Sox’s starting rotation to the bullpen, with a definite goal in mind: perhaps helping the big-league club in relief during the second half if needed. That’s how highly the decision makers consider his talent. At the time, Burnes was 3-4 with a 4.96 ERA, his numbers inflated by a 6.30 ERA at home in the tough pitching environment there. Burnes has worked on improving his changeup and putting away hitters with his slider and curveball, working the edges of the plate. The Brewers love the tenacity he takes to the mound in every start. He’s been promoted to the big league bullpen to try to help the playoff push.
3. Freddy Peralta, RHP
Peralta made a huge leap forward in 2017, soaring through the high Class A and AA levels, and continued that momentum this year at Class AAA Colorado Springs, ignoring the difficult pitching environment. That showing put him in line for his MLB debut and he was sensational in a Mother’s Day start in Colorado, pitching no-hit ball into the sixth inning and striking out 13, a club record in a first game. Peralta throws mostly fastballs in the 91-93 mph range and the key to his success has been pitching up in the strike zone. He mixes in enough curveballs to keep hitters honest.
4. Luis Ortiz, RHP
It’s pretty much the same question each season for Ortiz: Can he stay healthy? Sure enough, he missed time in April with a hamstring strain. When Ortiz is on the mound, however, he remains promising with a good feel for pitching at a young age and electric stuff. He is a power pitcher who is still working on his off-speed stuff to expand his repertoire. Ortiz’s biggest challenge will be keeping his big body in decent shape but his solid command and repeatable, clean delivery should keep him on track to the big leagues. Building innings this season is top priority.
5. Corey Ray, OF
After suffering a knee injury in instructional league in 2016, Ray became a mess mechanically at the plate last year and didn’t look anything (156 strikeouts in 449 ABs) like the impact hitter he was at Louisville when the Brewers made him the fifth overall pick in the ’16 draft. To his credit, Ray regrouped this spring, found a routine that worked for him and began getting results again. His at-bats have improved, with more hard contact and has used his above-average speed on the bases and in center. He’s hit 16 home runs this season by the MLB all-star break, more than doubling his 2017 home run production. Ray continues to work on lowering his strikeout rate.
6. Brett Phillips, OF
In the early weeks of the season, Phillips was on the shuttle between Colorado Springs and Milwaukee. He didn’t play much for the Brewers or succeed (2 for 14 with nine strikeouts) and it kept him from getting consistent at-bats at Triple-A. Phillips has pop in his bat but still battles his swing-and-miss tendencies and must cut down on his strikeouts. He does work counts and gets on base enough to make an impact with his speed. Those who run on his arm in the outfield usually pay a price. Phillips is back with the big league club and will serve in a fourth outfielder role for now.
7. Mauricio Dubon, SS/2B
Triple-A Colorado Springs
Dubon, who made big strides in 2016 to get to the Triple-A level, was off to a fantastic start this season, putting together a 23-game hitting streak right out of the chute while showing better ball-strike recognition. Then, in a very unfortunate incident, he tore the ACL in his right knee trying to escape a rundown and was lost for the season. Dubon certainly would have played in the majors this season, especially with Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia struggling mightily at the plate.
8. Lucas Erceg, 3B
Erceg has struggled more at the plate at the Double-A level than expected, considering his bat-to-ball skills and raw power. He has worked on hitting more line drives and not being so pull conscious, and was making progress after a slow start. An excellent athlete with good footwork and a strong arm, Erceg – who has battled a minor back issue -- has been a bit error prone at times but still profiles as an above-average third baseman. Consistency is his major goal at this stage.
9. Tristen Lutz, OF
The Brewers weren’t going to let Lutz slip through their fingers as a CBA pick in the 2017 draft and signed him for $2.352 million, well over slot. After making an impressive pro debut in rookie ball (.957 OPS), he was pushed to Class A Wisconsin as a teenager, realizing it would be stiffer competition, and tough weather for a kid out of Texas. As with most young hitters, he needs work on plate discipline but makes hard contact with budding power, a skill set that has the Brewers excited.
10. Jacob Nottingham, C
Triple-A Colorado Springs
It took a while for Nottingham to find his footing, both offensively and defensively, since coming in a trade from Oakland in February 2016. But after two years of struggling at the Double-A level, he finally gained traction in a big way this season at Class AAA Colorado Springs. Nottingham made such strides defensively, particularly in blocking balls and calling games, the Brewers gave him his first taste of MLB life early in the season. After non-stop work, the 6-3, 230-pounder finally has found his power stroke and has begun driving the ball with regularity.
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- RHP Zack Brown was bumped up to Class AA Biloxi after a brief stay at Class A Carolina at the end of 2017 and has dominated hitters in the Southern League, going unbeaten through his first 14 starts and showing why he was highly rated before struggling as a junior at Kentucky in 2016.
- LHP Quintin Torres-Costa, a 35th round draft pick in 2015 out of the University of Hawaii, ws promoted to Class AAA Colorado Springs after posting a 1.16 ERA at Biloxi with 44 strikeouts in 31 innings.
- RHP Cam Roegner suddenly became the best pitcher in a group of more highly regarded prospects at high Class A Carolina, ranking among the league leaders in many categories.
- The No. 8 international prospect in a stacked 2017 class, OF Carlos Rodriguez has come as advertised, ranking among the Dominican Summer League leaders in hitting. Rodriguez doesn't have much power yet, but he has great hand-eye coordination and a knack for finding the barrel.
- OF Trent Grisham, a first-round pick in 2015, has struggled to stay healthy and produce but is young (21) for the Double-A level and still has time to get going.
- C K.J. Harrison, a third-round pick in 2017 out of Oregon State, crushed it in rookie ball but has struggled mightily at the plate at Class A Wisconsin. He also is playing more first base than catcher as the season has worn on and has thrown out only 2 of 28 basestealers (7 percent).
- INF Mauricio Dubon probably would be in the big leagues now if he hadn’t torn his ACL in April at Class AAA Colorado Springs.
- 1B Jake Gatewood missed the Southern League midseason All-Star Game as well as the Home Run Derby because of a bruised wrist when hit by a pitch but it was a short-term situation.
- RHP Devin Williams was held back in extended spring training while recovering from Tommy John surgery but finally was sent to Class A Carolina in May to return to action.
- RHP Brandon Woodruff has gone up and down with the big league club serving as a true swingman who has both started and relieved.