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The Brewers hoped to get Neugebauer to the big leagues in 2001, and that mission was accomplished with a September callup. A wonderful debut was overshadowed, however, by shoulder problems that were diagnosed as slight tears of his labrum and rotator cuff. The injuries were repaired with arthroscopic surgery. Doctors saw no reason Neugebauer would lose his chief asset--the ability to throw very hard--but whether he'll be back to 100 percent by spring training is in question. Because Neugebauer is a horse with a solid work ethic, there's every reason to believe he'll work to regain the form that made him one of the most feared pitchers in the minors. Neugebauer spun his wheels for a while at Double-A in 2001 but was dominating at Triple-A when the Brewers summoned him. The ability to throw hard can't be taught, and that's what sets Neugebauer apart. He once threw consistently in the high 90s but didn't always know where the ball was going. Instructors taught him the value of throwing 95 mph in the strike zone as opposed to 98 mph to the backstop. He made big strides in that department in 2001, more than doubling his strikeout-walk ratio from the year before. On days when he gets his slurve over the plate, Neugebauer is nearly unhittable. He has the frame of a power pitcher and can be an intimidating presence on the mound. He doesn't overthrow as often as he once did, but when he does his mechanics get out of whack and leave him prone to injury. Now he'll have to prove he can stay healthy and consistent enough to warrant a spot in the Brewers rotation. Health is the only real roadblock to a solid major league career. He's working to become more consistent with his changeup. If Neugebauer is healthy in spring training, look for him to win a spot in Milwaukee's rotation. If not, he'll have to regroup. One way or the other, Neugebauer should spend most of 2002 in a Brewers uniform. Ben Sheets and Neugebauer would give them a legitimate 1-2 pitching punch.
No player in the organization moved up more than Hall did in 2001. Ranked as the club's No. 21 prospect a year ago, he was named the Brewers' minor league player of the year. He showed the offensive capabilities to be something special at shortstop, though he found the going a lot tougher at Double-A Huntsville. Few shortstops can hit like Hall. Not only did he hit for average at high Class A High Desert, but he also showed previously untapped power. Hall also runs well and has great range in the field. He often gets too cute on defense, resulting in needless errors. Hall had a combined 45 errors in 2001, a career high. He gets to balls other shortstops don't, but he has to learn when to eat the ball and when to attempt a fabulous play. He also must work on plate discipline, as shown by his .279 on-base percentage in Double-A. If Hall's defense catches up to his offense, look out. One member of the organization compares him to Miguel Tejada at the same stage of their careers. Tejada's defense once was considered a possible roadblock to the majors as well.
The Brewers challenged Krynzel in 2001 and liked the way he responded. After he got off to a nice start at Beloit, they bumped him up to High Desert, realizing he would be the youngest player in the California League and would struggle. That's what happened at first, but by season's end Krynzel held his own as the second-youngest player in the Cal League. Speed is what will get Krynzel to the big leagues. Because he can make things happen on the bases and go get the ball in the outfield, he's a prototype leadoff hitter in the mold of Kenny Lofton. The Brewers also expect him to get stronger and drive the ball more, which he began doing at High Desert. He has passed the mental toughness test. Krynzel must make contact more consistently than he did in 2001. On-base percentage is critical for a leadoff hitter, and he also has to do better in that department. Bunting more often for hits would be a good start. At High Desert at the end of 2001 Krynzel was playing so well that he'll probably get the chance to play at Huntsville this spring. That would be quite a leap for a 20-year-old.
The Brewers were thrilled when Jones was still on the board when the 12th overall pick came around in the 2001 draft. He was expected to go higher, but concerns about shoulder problems and diminished velocity in his senior year made some teams back off. Milwaukee didn't hesitate and projects him as a bona fide No. 1 starter. The Brewers love three things above all else about Jones: his large frame, his blazing fastball and his smooth delivery. It isn't easy to find high school pitchers so mechanically sound, or who can throw 93-94 mph with ease. Beyond that, he has demonstrated considerable poise and focus on the mound. Jones was a multisport athlete and talented basketball player who played shortstop when he didn't pitch in high school. Because Jones can blow away hitters with his fastball, he hasn't always concentrated on improving his curveball and changeup. If he continues to work on his breaking ball, there's every reason to think he could move quickly through the system. He was ranked as the top prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and is probably ready to take on Class A in 2002. He's still a teenager but is mature for his age.
The Brewers are still waiting for Vladimir Guerrero's cousin to approach his potential. Because Cristian is just 21 they're far from panicking, even though he has shown little evidence of Guerreroesque performance so far. He missed six weeks at High Desert with a broken foot last season, so he didn't make as much progress as club officials had hoped. Guerrero still has the tools to become a star player. He hits for average, shows flashes of power and has a solid arm in the outfield. Guerrero isn't a great runner but gets the job done in the field. With four tools, he can be an impact player in the majors if he gets the most out of all of them. He must continue to work on his defense and also needs to add strength, which should increase his power numbers. He's a free swinger who doesn't draw many walks. "He has so much ability," one member of the organization said. "We're just waiting for it all to come together." Guerrero is still young, so the Brewers won't rush him. If they can get him to the Double-A level at some point in 2002, they'll be pleased.
After a so-so year in Rookie ball in 2000, Hendrickson had a superb season at Beloit. He took a regular turn in the rotation and pitched well more often than not, and suddenly the Brewers think they're on to something. They didn't have much luck in the middle to late rounds of the draft in the 1990s, so perhaps Hendrickson will be an exception. Hendrickson can get his fastball into the 93-94 mph range at times, but he more regularly pitches at 90-91. What sets him apart is a killer curveball. That combination allowed him to average a strikeout per inning at Beloit, and Hendrickson also kept the ball down and in the ballpark. With only 50 innings of pro experience prior to 2001, Hendrickson simply needs to pitch. And it wouldn't hurt to add muscle to his lanky frame, which should provide more strength and the ability to go deeper into games. The Brewers were careful with his pitch counts in 2001. Hendrickson handled himself so well that he might be able to jump right past High Desert and go directly to Huntsville in 2002. Either way, he figures to be in Double-A before the year is out.
Hardy has such a good arm that some teams considered drafting him as a pitcher out of high school. The Brewers believe he can be a shortstop, however, with the skills of a Robin Yount. Though they got him in the second round, they consider Hardy a first-round talent. He has good genes, as his father Mark played professional tennis and his mother Susan golfed on the LPGA tour. Hardy has superior instincts and skills on defense, including a great arm and range. He has soft hands and is fundamentally sound beyond his years. The Brewers also believe he'll develop into a good hitter one day, and he walked more than he struck out in his first pro summer. His defense is far ahead of his offense at this point, but many believe he merely needs more experience with a wood bat. He doesn't have much foot speed to speak of but gets good jumps on the ball and makes plays other shortstops don't. Hardy's career is just starting, but the Brewers see a big league shortstop in the making. The next step for him is Beloit in 2002.
The Brewers had every reason to believe Mieses would pitch in the major leagues in 2001. And he would have, if not for a back problem midway through the season, followed by a shoulder injury near the end that required surgery. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery by spring training or shortly thereafter. Mieses has a nasty palmball that befuddles hitters and poise on the mound. Those advantages, and the ability to put his pitches where he wants them, allow him to get away with an average fastball and curveball. When you're not an overpowering pitcher, you have to hit your spots. Hitters who lay off Mieses' palmball cause him problems. This year, doctors discovered he has a back condition that will have to be monitored regularly. If Mieses comes back from his injury, there's no reason to think he can't pitch for the Brewers in 2002. Whether he'll ever be more than an end-of-the-rotation pitcher is debatable.
After a fast ascent in the organization, Gold fell completely off the Brewers' radar screen after having Tommy John surgery in 2000. Scouts were anxious to see if he would regain the stuff that made him a firstround draft pick, and after the long recovery he showed his arm was sound again. Gold was taken a round ahead of Nick Neugebauer in 1998, which tells you how highly the Brewers regarded him. He could throw 95 mph consistently with a sharp-breaking curve, and showed flashes of that after returning in 2001. He's learned a lot about conditioning and dedication along the way, and is hungrier after losing a season. Because he had mechanical flaws in his delivery, Gold was a prime candidate to break down. Having gone through the grueling recovery from Tommy John surgery, he now understands the importance of staying fundamentally sound. It was a big wakeup call. Barring any recurrences of elbow problems, Gold should get back on the fast track. Assuming he can stay healthy, he has the upside of a No. 2 or 3 starter in the majors.
His older brother Jason has a career 30-31, 2.92 record in the Brewers system, while Matt has gone 27-45, 5.06 and got lit up at High Desert for much of 2001. Yet Matt is considered a far better prospect because of his potential as a power pitcher. He made a lot of progress in 2001, pitching better after he moved up to Huntsville. Childers is a big, strong guy who can get his fastball into the 95 mph neighborhood. He doesn't lose his cool often and bounces back from tough outings better than most pitchers. It's mainly a matter of trusting his stuff and not giving in to hitters. Childers is inconsistent with his curveball and gets the ball up too much, resulting in too many home runs. He also gets mechanically out of whack at times. He spent most of four years in Class A but appears finally ready to make a move. The Brewers showed Childers what they thought of him by sending him to the Arizona Fall League for more seasoning. If he pitches as well in Triple- A as he did in Double-A, he could be in the majors before 2002 is over. But the underachieving must end.
After signing too late to pitch in 2000, Yeatman really opened some eyes in Rookie ball last season with a fastball in the mid-90s and a sharp-breaking curveball. His numbers weren't great but his stuff was electric at times. Used as both a starter and short reliever, he has the stuff to excel in either role. With his two plus pitches and his good frame, he's definitely somebody to watch. "He can be a Kevin Millwood type with better stuff," one Brewers official said. "He has a natural curveball." Yeatman needs to work on his concentration and command, which will come with more experience. He also doesn't have much of a changeup at this point, which won't matter as much if he's used to finish games rather than start them. He should be able to make the jump to full-season ball in 2002 and will open the season in low Class A.
Rated seventh on this list a year ago, Johnson fell because he simply didn't catch enough in 2001. In 101 games at High Desert, he went behind the plate just 62 times while playing 16 games in the outfield and DHing the rest of the time. Nagging injuries and a low pain threshold cost him time as a catcher, and Johnson still must prove he can be counted on defensively. Besides health concerns, he also makes too many errors, though he still shows good arm strength despite shoulder surgery in 2000. Not many catchers can hit with the power that Johnson has displayed, so his best path to the big leagues is at that position. If he can't play behind the plate, his value is significantly diminished. Johnson could be a 20- 25 home run hitter in the majors, but he'll probably always strike out a lot. Catching depth is a problem in the organization, so he'll move up quickly if he gets his game together and stays healthy.
Martinez has split time between starting and relieving in the minor leagues, and he has been hit harder than he should have been, considering his stuff. He throws his fastball in the 92-93 mph range and has a good breaking ball. He has the body frame to get bigger and stronger, and therefore he could pick up even more velocity. Martinez needs to challenge hitters more and make them hit his pitch. He gets a little stubborn at times but has the ability to strike out hitters and has shown fairly good command to this point. Martinez' future in the big leagues could be as a situational lefty, much the way Valerio de los Santos developed for the Brewers before he was injured last season.
Nobody questions Clark's ability to hit and drive in runs. After batting .339 and finishing second in the Pioneer League in homers in his pro debut, he came through again last year as the top run producer at Beloit. It's in the field where Clark leaves himself open to question. He committed a whopping 47 errors in 2001, though Beloit's Pohlman Field is hardly fielder-friendly. The Brewers already have Richie Sexson in the big leagues and enough firstbase types in the system, so it would behoove Clark to prove he can handle the hot corner. He strikes out a lot, though he also draws walks and his lack of contact won't be a huge concern unless he stops hitting. He's expected to move to high Class A in 2002, with the chance to reach Double-A by the end of the year.
Milwaukee officials refer to Hart as a miniature Richie Sexson, which is no small praise in this organization. After all, Sexson tied the franchise record with 45 homers last year and his 125 RBIs fell one short of equaling another. Hart has a similar offensive ceiling, plus the potential to hit for more average, though he also is several steps away from the majors. He had a monster year in his second tour of duty at Ogden and is definitely ready for his shot at Class A this season. Hart runs well enough and has enough athleticism to try the outfield, valuable assets considering the wealth of first basemen in the organization. He has a decent eye at the plate and doesn't strike out excessively, one thing that separates him from Sexson. The Brewers believe Hart has tremendous upside and will move up quickly because of his bat.
The Brewers compare Nelson to a young Sean Casey, and Casey doesn't have the pop that Nelson is expected to display once he gets more experience with a wood bat. His raw power sets him apart from most hitters his age, though he didn't homer in 105 at-bats in Rookie ball. Nelson pitched extensively in high school and showed a low-90s fastball, which gives him a better arm than most players at his position. He has soft hands, but his lack of speed prompted his move from third base to first once he turned pro. Milwaukee is stockpiling first basemen, and Nelson will have to hit his way out of the pack there because he doesn't seem able to handle another position. A good spring training could land him a job in low Class A rather than a return to Rookie ball.
Steitz projected as the first Ivy League first-rounder since Doug Glanville came out of Penn in 1991, but the Brewers were able to grab him in the third round after he didn't show all scouts were looking for in his junior season at Yale. As he matures and grows stronger, scouts believe he'll pick up velocity on his sinking fastball, which already stands at 91-95 mph. He also has a sharp slider but lacks consistency in the strike zone with it. Steitz' numbers weren't impressive in Rookie ball, which the Brewers wrote off to the two-month layoff between the end of his college season and his pro debut. The Brewers wanted him to go to instructional league for further seasoning but he opted to return to Yale to finish his studies. He must commit to baseball to realize his full potential. Not every player has parents who are professors of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, but not every pitcher has Steitz' upside either.
Belcher ranked 11th on this list after his pro debut, mostly because of the prowess he showed with the bat in Rookie ball. He again topped .300 in 2001, but it was in extremely limited action and he made absolutely no progress behind the plate. There are doubts about his ability to be an everyday catcher at higher levels, and he must prove he can handle that duty. Like Kade Johnson, his value will dip if he can't play catcher. He stayed in extended spring to work on his defense and didn't join Beloit until June. With the Snappers, he appeared in just 38 games before he broke his hand. In his 17 games behind the plate, he permitted 42 steals in 47 attempts (90 percent). Belcher is strong and has a good work ethic, and it will be up to him to get better defensively. A lefthanded-hitting catcher with pop would be welcomed in an organization hurting at that position. He has to fit that description in more than name only.
Sosa spent six seasons in the Rockies system without reaching full-season ball, hitting .222 as an outfielder. His best tool by far was his arm, which intrigued the Mariners when they saw him play in the short-season Northwest League. They took him in the 2000 Triple-A Rule 5 draft for $12,000 and immediately converted him into a pitcher. The move was an instant success, as Sosa threw 95-96 mph on a consistent basis and had little trouble throwing strikes. He still needs work on his secondary pitches and wasn't considered close to being ready for the major leagues, so Seattle gambled and left him off its 40-man roster this winter. The Brewers swooped in and claimed Sosa in the major league Rule 5 draft in December, which means they'll have to keep him on their 25-man roster throughout 2002, or expose him to waivers before offering him back to the Mariners for half his $50,000 purchase price. It may be difficult to hold onto Sosa, but his arm makes it worth taking the chance.
His parents must have known something when they named their child Ozzie Smith Chavez. That's a high standard to shoot for, but the Brewers believe the sky's the limit for the slightly built shortstop. Chavez has outstanding tools and natural shortstop actions, including soft hands and good range in the field. Though he has yet to fill out, the ball jumped off his bat when he made his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League last year. As he moves to higher levels, he'll need to tighten his strike zone and learn how to use his speed better on the basepaths. Like most young shortstops, he also must get more consistent in the field. Noted scout Epy Guerrero has signed some spiffy infielders out of the Dominican, and Chavez appears to be another one to add to his list. He'll get the chance to jump to full-season ball at Beloit with a good spring.
Entering 2001, Deardorff had spun his wheels for three seasons at the Class A level, failing to live up to offensive expectations and playing himself off his original position of third base. The switch to the outfield finally allowed him to relax at the plate and develop as a hitter. He turned on the power switch and finally got to Double-A with a midseason promotion. Finally, he's a prospect again, though not a particularly young one. Deardorff continued to hit in the Arizona Fall League and was leading Maryvale with five homers in 18 games when he was selected to play for the silver-medal U.S. team in the World Cup tournament in Taiwan. That experience was a fitting end to a long-awaited breakthrough year. Deardorff's development has been slower than expected but perhaps it's not too late.
Like Jeff Deardorff, Mallette was stuck at the Class A level for three years before finally making the jump to Double-A in 2001. After pitching brilliantly in short relief at Huntsville, he was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis and fared even better. Suddenly Mallette is in the Brewers' picture in 2002, projecting as a middle reliever or setup man. For whatever reason, his velocity improved into the low 90s and his command also sharpened. He quit trying to pick at the corners so much and began challenging hitters, getting ahead in the count. It was the proverbial light bulb going off in a pitcher's head. Mallette caught the notice of club officials, who assigned him to the Arizona Fall League, where he built on his regular-season success. He's hardly flashy but gets the job done.
Scott is yet another Brewers first-base prospect who can hit. In order to advance him to Milwaukee, the club has tried him in the outfield, where he played in college. But he's marginal at best as a left fielder, in part because he has bad throwing mechanics and doesn't cover much ground. He needs a lot of work to be able to handle outfield duties. His bat is far more polished. Scott can hit for average with plenty of gap power, though he needs to be more selective and make more contact. Nevertheless, he led the system with 102 RBIs in his first pro season. A wrist injury in his final season at UCLA--where he set a school record with a career .389 average--had prevented him from playing in 2000. Scott will move up to Double-A this year, and his defense may dictate his future more than his bat.
No Milwaukee farmhand took a bigger step in the wrong direction in 2001 than Penney, who was in the organization top 10 a year ago but proved not able to take the final step in his development. The Brewers expected him to be ready to make the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues if needed. Instead, he pitched poorly and was demoted to Double-A. The club hoped Penney would recover in the Arizona Fall League, but he experienced some shoulder stiffness and was shut down almost immediately. Before the year was done, he was dropped from the 40-man roster. The low-90s fastball and plus curveball that he had shown in 2000 weren't apparent last year. He should be moving forward, not backward, which makes 2002 a make-or-break year.
After three years in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, Villanueva was brought to the United States in 2001. He made a big splash at Ogden with his ability to hit for average and power and to drive in runs. Even more impressive was the versatility he showed while starting games at catcher, second base, third base and the outfield. The Brewers believe his future is behind the plate, where he shows nice instincts and skills for a young player, though he saw more action at the hot corner. He has an infielder's hands and feet and really moves around well. Villanueva threw out 13 of 24 (54 percent) basestealers last year, and the Brewers consider him potentially the best all-around catcher in their system. He likely will get the opportunity to play in low Class A in 2002, though fellow backstop prospect Jason Belcher may also be sent there to work on his defense.
Managers rated West the best defensive shortstop in the low Class A Midwest League last season, as he led the league in putouts (214), assists (374), double plays (72) and fielding percentage (.983). That .983 mark was the best among Class A shortstops, and anyone who has visited Beloit's Pohlman Field understands what an accomplishment that was. Besides his sure hands and accurate arm, he also has above-average range. West's offense is not anywhere close to his defense, however. He gets the bat knocked out of his hands and needs to gain some strength to be considered more of a threat at the plate. On defense alone, he projects as a big leaguer. How far he comes with the bat will determine whether he's an everyday player or utilityman.
Maysonet is part of the corps of young pitchers at the lower levels of the system that give the Brewers hope they can develop a significant number of arms in the future. Following three years in Rookie ball, Maysonet moved up to low Class A last season, when he showed the best raw arm on the Beloit staff. His fastball registers in the mid-90s, but he's still very raw. He needs more consistency with his breaking ball and changeup. His command is also iffy, as he hit 11 batters and uncorked 12 wild pitches in addition to walking 61 batters in 111 innings. Developing a consistent release point would be a good start. While he throws hard, he's not very tall and thus not very projectable. He's going to have to show something more than velocity, though the Brewers are encouraged by what they have to work with.
Reflecting the organization's renewed commitment to scouting Latin America, Plasencia is the only player from Venezuela in the top 30. The Brewers like to dream about what Plasencia might become. He's only 17 and thin as a reed, but he also moves with fluid grace in center field, reminding some of a very young Cesar Geronimo. Plasencia has great instincts and can chase down balls in the gaps with the best of them. He's also fundamentally sound, particularly for a player his age, and made just one error in 49 games in the field last year. As he fills out and becomes stronger, Milwaukee believes he'll be a .300 hitter and a threat on the basepaths. He draws plenty of walks, though he'll have to do a better job of making contact and learn to add at least a little power. Scouts who watched him in the Arizona League loved his tools and upside. He probably won't be ready for full-season ball until 2003 at the earliest.
In his first three years in the organization, Hammond was a flop. He didn't hit for average and he struck out way too often, and some wondered how the Brewers could make such a mistake with a third-round pick. Returning to Class A level for a third year in 2001, Hammond finally began approaching his potential, though his numbers still weren't gaudy. Power is his best tool, though he still has plenty of work to do, as his plate discipline and ability to make consistent contract remain problems. He has little speed to speak of and doesn't offer much defensively, though his arm is average. If he can continue to build on what he showed in 2001, he'll have a chance to reach the majors. He may even get out of Class A ball in 2002.
One of the most unlikely players ever to lead the minors in batting, Rushford hit .354 to edge out better-known prospects Hank Blalock (Rangers) and Lyle Overbay (Diamondbacks) by two points last year. Undrafted after completing his college career as a two-way player at San Diego State in 1995, Rushford hooked on with independent teams, mainly as a pitcher, in 1996 and 1997. He came down with a sore arm, though, and left the game for the better part of two years. He spent much of the time working as a pizza delivery man, a job he still works in the baseball offseason. He might have stayed out of baseball if the independent Northern League hadn't expanded to Schaumburg, Ill., near where Rushford grew up. He made the club as a right fielder in 1999, and hit .314 in two years in the league. Brewers minor league pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein, who had signed him to his first independent contract in 1996, urged Milwaukee to acquire Rushford. Though at 27 he was going to be old for whatever leagues he played in during his Organized Baseball debut, Rushford hit for average and power while walking more than he struck out. His bat is going to be his ticket to the majors because he's not going to offer much in the way of speed or defense. He made himself into a better hitter by working out and getting much stronger. He also learned to turn on the ball after going through life as an inside-out slap hitter. Rushford said when he came back from his baseball sabbatical, something just clicked and he's been hitting ever since. He'll to have to prove himself all over again this year in Triple- A, but he's a good story no matter where he ends up.