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Nice blend of hitters and pitchers.
With Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana established in the majors, Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips on the cusp of the majors and Monte Harrison and Corey Ray not that far behind, the Brewers are stacked with athletic outfielders who have a chance to hit. Tristen Lutz, the 2017 sandwich pick, could be the start of another wave in the lower minors.
The development of Manny Pina into a productive everyday catcher in 2017 was a huge win for the Brewers--and a win that’s fortunate. Andrew Susac has been waylaid by injuries and Jacob Nottingham’s bat isn’t living up to expectations. Because of that, the homegrown options behind Pina are lacking. The Brewers' best catching prospect may be 2017 third-rounder K.J. Harrison. He’s yet to play in full-season ball and he's no sure bet to catch.
Notable Graduations: LHP Josh Hader (2) ascended to the role of the club’s top setup reliever.
Track Record: Brinson had a disjointed 2017 season, beginning with a dislocation of his left pinkie finger on Opening Day at Triple-A Colorado Springs. He had two short stints with the Brewers, getting his first shot at the big leagues, but he didn't hit much and went back down. Slated for a September callup, he suffered a significant hamstring strain in August and was done for the season. Brinson performed for the Sky Sox when healthy (.962 OPS) and the Brewers designated him as the organization's player of the year despite seeing action in just 76 games. Acquired from the Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline as one of three prospects for catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Brinson made an immediate impact and ascended to No. 1 prospect status. He has remained there since in a deep system. The Athletics tried to pry him away during trade negotiations for Sonny Gray, but the Brewers backed off rather than part with Brinson. Scouting Report: Brinson provides the rare combination of power and speed that every team seeks. He showed maturation as a hitter in 2017 by improving his plate discipline (.400 on-base percentage), with a better walk rate than the previous season and a lower strikeout rate. Part of that maturation was learning to lay off breaking balls off the plate and continuing to use the entire field, an improvement that began the previous year. While playing mostly in center field at Colorado Springs but also seeing some action in the corners, he worked on getting better jumps on the ball and taking better routes. Brinson has enough speed to play center in the majors but also has the arm and power to be a right fielder. Brinson hit barely .100 during his two stints with Milwaukee but didn't see regular action and pressed when he got a chance to play. He showed some pop with a couple of home runs, and his skill set bodes well once he gets a chance to be a regular at the top level. He has an even-keeled personality and a confident but not cocky approach to the game. The Future: Brinson turns 24 in 2018 but will have to hit his way into the outfield picture. Left fielder Ryan Braun still has three years remaining on his contract and 25-year-old right fielder Domingo Santana is fresh off a breakthrough season. That leaves center field, where Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips have a foot in the door.
Track Record: Woodruff led the minors with 173 strikeouts in a breakthrough 2016 season, then reached the majors a year later. He pitched effectively at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2017 to earn a mid-June callup, but a hamstring strain delayed his debut by another six weeks. He started hot but recorded a 4.81 ERA in eight starts overall. Scouting Report: When Woodruff is on top of his game, he pounds hard sinkers at hitters in the 93-95 mph range with good movement. He once had issues with tempo and rhythm but worked those out and his command improved markedly. Woodruff has an above-average slider he throws in the mid-80s and also mixes in an average changeup. He needs to work more on locating his changeup down in the zone. A bulldog on the mound, he pitches with confidence. The Future: Woodruff did not change his game plan during a tough Pacific Coast League assignment. Thus the Brewers were confident starting him in the final weeks of 2017 while battling for a playoff spot. He will challenge for a big league rotation spot in 2018 and has No. 3 starter upside.
Track Record: No prospect made a bigger leap in the organization in 2017 than Burnes, who ranked second in the minors with a 1.67 ERA while working at high Class A Carolina and Double-A Biloxi. His meteoric rise left Burnes closer to the big leagues than the Brewers envisioned when making him a fourth-round pick in 2016. Scouting Report: Burnes pounds the strike zone with quality stuff and growing confidence. He modified his delivery in 2017 by squaring up to the plate and allowing his lower half to drive toward the plate. At Biloxi, he even switched to a traditional windup instead of a modified stretch. With quick arm action, Burnes throws a 92-95 mph fastball with natural cut. He has three secondary pitches--a 77-80 mph curveball, a mid-80s slider and a high-80s split changeup--none of which grade much above-average, but he commands all three. His curve is his best secondary offering, but his slider is effective as well. Burnes maintains his stuff deep into starts with above-average control. The Future: With an athletic, repeatable delivery and an aggressive demeanor, Burnes could help the Brewers in 2018 and has a No. 3 or 4 starter ceiling. His first test will be at hitter-friendly Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Track Record: The Brewers selected Hiura ninth overall in 2017 despite the fact he didn't play an inning in the field as a college junior. A partial tear in his right elbow limited him to DH. One of the most productive college hitters of recent memory, he led Division I with a .442 average and signed for a below-slot $4 million. Hiura completed a throwing program while in the Rookie-level Arizona League, then hit .333 at low Class A Wisconsin following a promotion. Scouting Report: Hiura has a short, powerful stroke with tremendous bat speed and a good feel for the strike zone. He has explosive, strong hands with raw power that projects to be above-average. He will hit for average and show power to all fields. He is an average runner albeit not a basestealer. He played the outfield and second base in college, and some evaluators think he is destined for left field. The Brewers plan to give Hiura every chance to play second base, and barring any future elbow issues, he certainly has the arm strength to play the position. The Future: Hiura was throwing without problems by instructional league, and his advanced hitting ability should put him on the fast track to Milwaukee.
Track Record: The Brewers found out what Harrison could do if only he stayed healthy. In a breakthrough 2017 he reached high Class A Carolina, played in 122 games and demonstrated his power-speed potential with 21 home runs and 27 stolen bases. He had missed time in 2015 with a gruesome ankle injury and in 2016 with a broken left hamate. He appears to be back on track after having his mental toughness tested multiple times. Scouting Report: A strong, powerful athlete who could have played college football, Harrison has excellent bat speed with budding power. He sometimes gets long with his swing, resulting in big strikeout numbers but overall has a good approach and is getting better at pitch recognition. Harrison has plus speed, making him a basestealing threat and also an above-average outfielder. He can handle center field but probably projects as a right fielder because of his physical frame. After missing so much time early in his career, Harrison merely needs at-bats to realize his impact potential. The Future: Harrison appears destined for Double-A Biloxi in 2018. One of the more impressive athletes in the system, he requires only maturity and repetitions.
Track Record: After acquiring Ortiz from the Rangers in the 2016 Jonathan Lucroy trade, the Brewers assigned him to Double-A Biloxi at age 21 and he recorded a 1.93 ERA in six starts. Sent back to Biloxi in 2017, he pitched effectively but missed time with a hamstring strain as well as an illness late in the year. Given Ortiz's large, physical frame, conditioning has been an ongoing focus. Scouting Report: Ortiz's low-80s slider has a tight, late break that makes it look like a fastball initially. He throws his fastball in the mid-90s and maintains his velocity throughout his outings, which is a good sign in terms of remaining a starter. Ortiz continues to work on his changeup, an improving pitch that has the chance to be at least average. By working hard on repeating his delivery, he has become a consistent strike-thrower with a high ceiling. Ortiz still makes too many mistakes in the strike zone, so staying healthy to take regular turns is paramount. The Future: If Ortiz proves he has a starter's stamina, he has No. 2 upside and could reach the majors in 2018. The Brewers will wrestle with the decision whether to send him to hitter-happy Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Track Record: After Phillips had a disappointing season at Double-A Biloxi in 2016, the Brewers could have returned him to that club in 2017. Instead, they challenged him by promoting him to hitter-happy Triple-A Colorado Springs. Phillips met the challenge and earned his first big league callup in early June. By September he was playing regularly. Scouting Report: Phillips' swing tends to get long at times, but he produces hard contact when he keeps it compact. He was too pull-conscious in 2016 but got away from that in 2017. Phillips still strikes out frequently, but he became more consistent at hitting mistakes. He has above-average speed, which plays on the bases and in center field. Phillips has a canon for an arm and unleashed a Statcast-record 104 mph throw to the plate in September. His combination of power, speed and arm strength make him a candidate for regular action. The Future: Beyond his physical tools, Phillips is a high-energy player with a desire to improve. He put himself in the Brewers' outfield picture for 2018, with a floor of fourth outfielder and ceiling as a regular contributor with room for growth.
Track Record: The Brewers considered Erceg to be a second-round steal in 2016 after he had transferred from California to tiny Menlo College. He put together a strong first pro season in 2016 (.894 OPS) but struggled for much of 2017 at high Class A Carolina. at times looking too eager at the plate and getting himself out by swinging at bad pitches. Scouting Report: Erceg shows a broad set of tools, but his raw power probably tops the list. He can hit the ball a long way, with tremendous pull power evident when he crushes mistakes. He could benefit by improving his plate discipline and thus his on-base percentage. He runs well for a third baseman, though stolen bases are not a big part of his game. He has good hands and feet at third base and a cannon for an arm (he pitched a little in college). The athletic Erceg has a strong work ethic, with the potential to be a complete player and difference-maker with the bat. The Future: The Brewers have had trouble developing homegrown third basemen, but Erceg should put an end to that drought. He merely has to learn not to force things and let the game come to him. An assignment to Double-A Biloxi looms in 2018.
Track Record: The Brewers considered Diaz the key to the five-player trade that sent shortstop Jean Segura to Arizona after the 2015 season. After a big season at low Class A Wisconsin in 2016, Diaz joined high Class A Carolina in 2017 and was unable to repeat that success. His frustrations often showed, resulting in some bad body language and failure to run balls out. Scouting Report: Diaz's lefthanded bat is what will carry him to the top level. He has plus bat speed and makes hard contact, driving the ball to all fields. He has impressive raw power, and with that comes an elevated strikeout rate. Diaz is aggressive at the plate, sometimes too much so, but also draws walks when being pitched around. He dealt with a broken right hamate for part of the season, which impacted his hitting. He is an average runner but has good instincts and gets decent jumps. The Brewers value versatility in their system, so Diaz made 32 starts at shortstop, but his future is at second base, where his range and average arm will play. The Future: Diaz's ceiling as a power-hitting second baseman should carry him to Double-A Biloxi in 2018. At age 22, he has plenty of time to polish his rough edges.
Track Record: When the Brewers tabbed Ray with the fifth overall pick in 2016 and signed him for a franchise-record $4.125 million, they assumed he would rise quickly through the system as an advanced college hitter. He struggled badly at the plate at high Class A Carolina in 2017, however, looking nothing like the hitter he was at Louisville. Scouting Report: Ray looked completely out of sorts for much of the season, showing signs of frustration. He swung at breaking balls off the plate, got jammed by inside pitches and generally did not make pitchers throw strikes. He had huge holes in his swing, displaying little of the bat speed and budding power he flashed in college. Ray also showed too much head movement at times and will need mechanical adjustments to get back on track. Ray used his plus speed to chase down balls in center field and showed enough arm to remain there. He is a threat to steal when he reaches base, though he needs to improve his jumps. The Future: The Brewers sent Ray to the Arizona Fall League with the hope of salvaging something from 2017. He might have to repeat the Carolina League to reestablish his plate discipline and hitting setup.
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