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The Brewers pulled the first surprise in the 2007 draft when they called out LaPorta's name with the seventh overall selection in the first round. They already had a young, slugging first baseman by the name of Prince Fielder emerging as a superstar in the majors, and no one figured they'd take another. But they had another plan in mind for LaPorta. Milwaukee believed that his advanced bat was a steal at No. 7 and that he could make the transition to left field, having evaluated him in predraft workouts. He wasn't even supposed to be available in the 2007 draft. After leading NCAA Division I hitters with 26 homers as a sophomore at Florida, he figured to be a first-round pick in 2006. But when he was bothered that spring by an oblique injury, he hit just .259 with 14 homers and dropped to the Red Sox in the 14th round of the draft. LaPorta returned to the Gators and batted .402 with 20 homers as a senior, leading Division I with a .582 on-base percentage and 1.399 on-base plus slugging. The first-ever two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, he signed quickly with the Brewers for $2 million, though he didn't make his pro debut until the end of July because he had an injured quadriceps muscle. LaPorta hit a homer in his first game at Rookie-level Helena and mashed 12 in 115 at-bats overall. Milwaukee sent LaPorta to the Arizona Fall League in an effort to give him more at-bats and work in left field while also showing confidence he could adapt to advanced competition. LaPorta has game-changing power and doesn't have to pull the ball to get it out of the park. Area scouts who covered him said his approach improved in 2007, and he also kept his hands inside the ball better and made more consistent hard contact. He also has a good eye at the plate and will take a walk if he doesn't get a pitch to hammer. The Brewers also like his poise and maturity, which is why they weren't nervous about challenging him with the AFL assignment. LaPorta's willingness to move from first base to left field and his work ethic in doing so also impressed club officials. Milwaukee isn't asking LaPorta to be anything more than an average left fielder. After all, they committed to Carlos Lee in left a few years back, and as one club official noted, "This guy's better than Carlos Lee." LaPorta still has to learn how to handle breaking balls, both quality pitches for strikes and those off the plate. He's a below-average athlete and runner, and his arm strength is fringy. He doesn't have the speed to run down many balls in the gap, but he has shown improved instincts in left field. He still needs to work on getting the ball to the cutoff man quickly and mastering the other nuances of outfield play. He spent a lot of time in the AFL learning to read balls off the bat. LaPorta's AFL experience may allow him to bypass high Class A Brevard County and start 2008 at Double-A Huntsville. As with 2005 first-rounder Ryan Braun, LaPorta shouldn't need much more than a full season in the minors before becoming an impact hitter in Milwaukee.
The highest-priced draft-and-follow in club history at $1.55 million, Parra got sidetracked by surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in August 2005. He re-established himself in 2007, tossing a perfect game in his second Triple-A start and reaching the big leagues. He broke his left thumb trying to bunt in his second start with the Brewers. Parra has regained his arm strength and is back throwing his fastball in the low- to mid-90s on a regular basis. He mixes in a changeup and curveball to keep hitters off balance and pounds the strike zone. His return to health restored his confidence and he pitched with a purpose. Parra mainly needs to show he can stay healthy, and his 137 innings was two shy of his career best. He pitched tentatively at times in the majors; he's at his best when he pitches aggressively off his fastball. Parra will get the chance to crack Milwaukee's rotation in spring training. If he can't find a spot, he could shift to the bullpen or return to Triple-A. He eventually should settle in as a No. 3 starter.
Escobar played the entire 2007 season at age 20 and thrived during the second half. Consistently one of the youngest players at his level, he batted a career-high .306 overall while finishing strong in Double-A. Escobar could play defense in the big leagues right now. He's a smooth shortstop, with nice range, soft hands and a strong throwing arm. He has gotten stronger, which has stopped pitchers from knocking the bat out of his hands, and the Brewers believe he'll have gap power as he continues to develop. He's an above-average runner. Though he has matured physically over the past year, Escobar still needs to get stronger. He'll never have a lot of pop, and he needs to improve his plate discipline to reach his offensive ceiling. He's a free swinger who settles for merely putting the ball in play too often. He must improve his basestealing aptitude after getting caught 13 times in 35 overall attempts. When Escobar's bat is big league ready, he'll be hard to hold back. He's ticketed to spend 2008 at Triple-A Nashville.
Jeffress has the best arm in the system, but he drew a 50-game suspension near the end of the 2007 season for testing positive for a drug of abuse. He failed another drug test administered by the team during instructional league, marking the fourth time he has been flagged for marijuana. Jeffress is one of the few pitchers who can actually hit triple digits on the radar gun. He regularly throws his fastball from 93-95 mph and has made progress with his curveball and changeup, making his heater even more devastating. A standout basketball player in high school, he's a good athlete with smooth mechanics and a strong lower body. Jeffress' biggest issue is committing to being a professional after failing four drug tests. On the mound, his control is still erratic, in part because he overstrides in his delivery. Jeffress will start 2008 serving his Minor League Baseball suspension, and the Brewers could impose further discipline for his latest failed test. He could remain a starter as he refines his curve and change, but many scouts believe his fastball velocity makes him a better fit as a closer down the road.
The Brewers locked onto Gamel while evaluating junior college teammate Darren Ford as a draft-and-follow in 2005. Gamel put together a 33-game hitting streak in 2007, the longest in the high Class A Florida State League in 56 years. He led the minors with 53 errors in 128 games at third base. A professional hitter, Gamel knows the strike zone, sprays balls to all fields and is developing more home run power. His pop was improving rapidly as he challenged for the triple crown in Hawaii Winter Baseball. He has decent speed, runs the bases well and has the arm strength to play third base. Gamel's arm isn't as accurate as it is strong, so he makes a lot of throwing errors, often related to poor footwork. The volume of errors gets in his head at times; he must stop thinking too much in the field and just react. The Brewers think he'll eventually figure it out. He was working on his defense in Hawaii, and Milwaukee has no plans to move Gamel off third base despite his defensive struggles and the presence of Ryan Braun in the majors. He'll make the jump to Double-A in 2008.
After Gillespie helped Oregon State win the College World Series and led the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a .464 on-base percentage in his pro debut in 2006, the Brewers jumped him to high Class A for his first full season. The winds at Brevard County cut into his production but he maintained his polished approach at the plate. Gillespie, who has drawn comparisons to Tim Salmon, works counts until he gets a pitch he likes. Milwaukee projects him as a .300 hitter with 20-plus homers per season. His athleticism, speed and left-field range are all average, and he also shows good defensive instincts and an accurate arm. He's a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. His power may be short for a corner outfielder, so Gillespie will have to make up the difference with doubles and RBI production. His arm isn't strong, but it doesn't have to be in left field. With 2007 first-rounder Matt LaPorta targeted as the franchise's left fielder of the future, Gillespie may not have a long-term role with the Brewers. But they think he'll hit enough to be a big league regular. He'll move up to Double-A in 2008.
Brewer has the potential to be the best all-around player in the system. He had a scholarship to play wide receiver for Florida State, but gave up football for a $600,000 signing bonus in 2006. The Brewers pushed him to low Class A for his first full season because they had confidence in his athleticism and determination. Brewer has well-above- average speed and athleticism, and plus power potential. He has tremendous range at shortstop and the strong arm to make plays from deep in the hole. Some scouts believe he profiles even better as a center fielder. Club officials love his leadership skills and work ethic. Lack of experience is Brewer's main shortcoming, and it shows. He topped the South Atlantic League with 170 strikeouts and led all minor league shortstops with 48 errors in 127 games. He needs to improve his discipline at the plate and his footwork in the field. He tries to do too much defensively at times and makes wild throws. The more he plays, the better he'll get. While J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar loom as large obstacles ahead of him, Brewer will play in high Class A Brevard County at age 20 in 2008.
Salome missed time in 2007 early, as he recovered from ankle surgery, and late, when he was suspended 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. In between, he raised his career batting average to .309. Salome has an unorthodox swing yet makes consistent contact and generates solid power, especially from gap to gap. With a compact body and very little body fat, he's much stronger than he looks and has earned the nickname "Pocket Pudge." Milwaukee believes Salome has legitimate power and that he won't use PEDs again. His arm is well above average. Despite his arm strength, Salome threw out just 6-of-46 basestealers (13 percent) in 2007 due to inaccurate throws. He still struggles with most subtle aspects of catching, such as receiving, blocking balls in the dirt and calling pitches. He's often too aggressive at the plate and is a below-average runner. Salome tried to make up for lost time by going to instructional league and then winter ball in Venezuela. He may return to high Class A to open 2008, after finishing his suspension.
A draft-and-follow who won MVP honors in the Rookie-level Arizona League in his 2005 pro debut, Cain continues to show all-around tools. Like many Brewers prospects, his production suffered going from West Virginia to Brevard County, where prevailing winds hold down offense, but Cain adjusted nicely. Cain's power is mostly to the gaps now, but the Brewers expect him to develop above-average home run pop as he develops physically and gets more game experience. He's a plus runner who's a threat on the bases. A solid defender in right field with a decent arm, he can play center in a pinch. Cain needs to continue working on his plate discipline so he can draw more walks and put himself in position to get pitches he can hammer. He's still wiry and needs to add weight and strength. He didn't play baseball until high school and still is honing his baseball instincts. Cain's numbers should rebound at Double-A in 2008. Some Brewers officials liken him to Corey Hart, who had a breakthrough season in 2007, and think he's on the verge of making a similar move in the minors.
The Brewers don't often send new high school draft picks to the Pioneer League, but they thought Gindl was very advanced for an 18-year-old hitter after they signed him for $144,900 as a fifth-round pick in June. Gindl vindicated the organization's scouting reports as he won the league batting title at .372. Gindl has tremendous pitch recognition for a young hitter, enabling him to hit both fastballs and breaking balls. His stocky build and line-drive power remind some of Brian Giles. Some clubs considered drafting him as a lefthanded pitcher, so his arm plays well in right field. The Brewers like his makeup and maturity. Whether Gindl will have enough home run power to play an outfield corner in the majors remains to be seen. He's close to maxed out physically and limited in terms of speed and athleticism. He came down with elbow tendinitis toward the end of the summer and an MRI revealed a bone chip, though it is not considered a serious problem. Gindl has earned a trip to low Class A for 2008, where the Brewers will get a better indication of his offensive ceiling.
The Brewers have worked the draft-and-follow process extremely well, and they hauled in another strong crop in the final year of the rule's existence. Before the 2007 draft, they signed five of their 2006 draftees. While 12th-round righthander Chad Robinson ($500,000) and 19th-rounder Lee Haydel ($624,000) had higher profiles and bigger bonuses, Bryson shined brighter at Helena in their first pro summer. Signed for $300,000, Bryson was tired after a heavy workload at Seminole (Fla.) CC and spent most of his debut working out of the bullpen. Nevertheless, he nearly led the Pioneer League in strikeouts, logging 70 in 54 innings. Bryson's best pitch is his fastball, which usually sits in the low 90s and hits 95 mph, though his velocity was down slightly in his debut. His 78-82 mph slider got better as the season progressed, though he needs considerable work on his changeup. He liked pitching with games on the line, converting all eight of his save opportunities with an aggressive, attacking mentality. Bryson has some delivery issues to work out, mostly in his rhythm and timing, but he does throw strikes and the ball comes out of his hand with little effort. He's not big and ultimately may wind up as a two-pitch reliever, but the Brewers will give him a chance to start when he's at full strength in 2008. He'll move up to low Class A.
The fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Rogers missed the entire 2007 season after having surgery to repair some fraying and tighten a ligament in his shoulder in January. The Brewers loved his athleticism (he was also a hockey and soccer star in high school) and makeup, and they passed on Homer Bailey to select him--a decision they may rue in the long run. Before hurting his shoulder, Rogers threw his fastball regularly in the mid- to high 90s and had a sharp, over-the-top curveball that kept hitters off balance. He also was making progress with his changeup. But his control and command were highly erratic, as he had trouble repeating his delivery and threw across his body too much. Milwaukee altered his mechanics to correct those flaws, and the tinkering possibly could have caused his shoulder problems. Rogers has kept an upbeat attitude during his long rehab process. Once he returns to the mound, he must realize that it's not enough to just throw his fastball by hitters. He needs to keep his pitch counts down and gain more consistency with his secondary pitches. He's still just 22 and continues to have the upside of a No. 1 starter if he can get healthy and develop as a pitcher. Rogers did some bullpen work during instructional league and should be ready to pitch at the start of the 2008 season. The Brewers could send him to high Class A so he can take advantage of warm weather in the Florida State League.
Some scouts thought Braddock was the best pitcher they saw in the South Atlantic League in the first half of the season. "He had a month and a half that was off the charts," West Virginia pitching coach John Curtis says. But Braddock missed three weeks starting in mid-May with shoulder tendinitis, came back and made two abbreviated starts, then didn't pitch after June 15 because of a shoulder strain. When healthy, Braddock showed an 89-92 mph fastball, a sharp slider and an improving changeup. He demonstrated consistent command and didn't allow more than two runs in any of his 10 outings. Big and strong, Braddock has a smooth, fluid delivery that makes him sneaky fast. Like many young pitchers, he relies too much on his fastball at times but should gain more trust in his secondary pitches with experience. Braddock had Tommy John surgery in high school, so he has bounced back from a more serious injury in the past. He didn't require surgery in 2007, but he also is dealing with emotional issues that are being treated with medication. Braddock has obstacles to overcome, but the Brewers believe he has a very high ceiling. He'll pitch in high Class A this year.
Finally recovered from shoulder surgery that shortened his 2005 and 2006 seasons, Pena flashed the form that had the Brewers excited about him when they signed him out of Venezuela in 1999. He no longer is a starting pitcher, however, having made a successful transition to the bullpen. Pena is all about power, as he regularly throws in the mid-90s with good life on his fastball and backs it up with a sharp, late-breaking 88- 90 mph slider. He has a great pitcher's body that allows him to throw on a downhill plane. No longer having to pace himself or worry about a changeup, Pena just turned the ball loose and reached Double-A for the first time in 2007. He didn't miss a beat in Huntsville, converting 12-of-14 save opportunities and limiting opponents to a .211 average. At times, he struggles with the command of his slider. But he improved his stock so dramatically that he was added to the 40-man roster in November and might find his way into the Milwaukee bullpen as early as this year. He eventually could become a set-up man or possibly a closer.
One of the best Wisconsin high school pitchers to come along in recent years, Seidel dropped to the 16th round of the 2006 draft because of a strong commitment to Arkansas. He signed late in the summer for $415,000, the equivalent of third-round money, and made a solid pro debut in 2007. With a great pitching frame that he's still growing into, Seidel already throws his fastball at 88-91 mph, has good movement and should add velocity as he matures physically. He still needs work on his curveball, but his changeup is advanced for his age and rates as the best in the system. He also has precocious feel for pitching, in part because of the lessons learned from his father Dick, who pitched in the Yankees system in the early 1980s. Seidel is a good athlete who starred in football and basketball in high school. Mostly as a precaution, the Brewers shut him down for much of July with biceps tendinitis, and he wasn't the same pitcher afterward. To make up for some of that lost time, he went to instructional league to get more work and focus on his secondary pitches. Seidel will pitch the entire 2008 season at age 20, so Milwaukee won't rush him. He'll spend the year in low Class A.
The Brewers didn't have a second-round pick in 2007, so they had to wait 94 choices after taking Matt LaPorta seventh overall. They thought Lucroy surely would be gone by then and they were delighted to land him with the No. 101 pick and $340,000. An offensive-minded catcher, he demonstrates good plate coverage, taking outside pitches the other way and handling both fastballs and breaking balls. Lucroy drove the ball well in the gaps during his pro debut, and with strong hands and a good swing path, he should develop some home run power over time. He knows the strike zone well and is aggressive at the plate. Though Lucroy isn't known for his defensive prowess, he did throw out 43 percent of basestealers in the Pioneer League. His arm is average at best, however, and his throws sometimes tail away from the bag. His receiving and game-calling skills are decent, and his best attribute as a catcher may be the leadership he exudes. He's a below-average runner. Milwaukee isn't exactly brimming with catching prospects, so it sent Lucroy to Hawaii Winter Baseball to expedite his development. He could move quickly and see high Class A at some point in 2008.
After the Brewers drafted Green out of Cypress (Calif.) JC in 2005, he returned for his sophomore season and signed as draft-and-follow after improving tremendously. Limited by a foot injury during his 2006 pro debut, he broke out in 2007 and Milwaukee named him its minor league player of the year. His tools aren't impressive, but he has great instincts and knows how to play the game. His maturity and work ethic rate highly. Green has good plate discipline, works the count and takes walks if he doesn't get his pitch. He drives the ball well to the gaps but projects to have average power at best. His speed is slightly below average, and his range and arm strength at third base are just adequate. But as farm director Reid Nichols says, "He catches it and throws it and the guy is out. That's the bottom line." Originally drafted as a second baseman, Green has a Ron Cey-like build and handles himself decently around the bag. He'll have to prove he can stick at third base and hit for the power desired at that position, but he's off to a good start and will advance to high Class A this year.
The Brewers drafted Scarpetta's father Dan in the third round out of an Illinois high school in 1982, and later included him and their current manager, Ned Yost, in a trade for Jim Sundberg. Cody figured to match his dad's draft status until he tore the flexor tendon at the base of his right index finger while pitching in late April. He had the finger operated on in mid-May and wasn't able to pitch again before the Aug. 15 signing deadline. An 11th-rounder, Scarpetta initially signed for $325,000, but the Brewers voided their initial deal and re-signed him for $125,000 when he needed to have the surgery. Before he got hurt, Scarpetta showed a plus fastball every time he took the mound during the spring, usually parking at 92-94 mph. He worked hard in the offseason to get in the best shape of his life, which not only added velocity to his fastball but also helped him turn his breaking ball into a true power curve. He also added a changeup, though it's still in the developmental stages. His two plus pitches and his strong 6-foot-2 build have earned him comparisons to John Wetteland, though Milwaukee plans to deploy him as a starter. He should be 100 percent by spring training, though he figures to begin the season in extended spring training before moving to Helena in June.
Tyson was New Jersey's best two-way prospect in 2006, doubling as a projectable outfielder and righthander. Most teams preferred him on the mound, including the Brewers, who took him in the 32nd round-- one pick after Rob Bryson--and signed him as a draft-and-follow last spring. They thought he threw too many innings at Lake City (Fla.) CC, so they monitored his workload closely in his pro debut. Tyson throws his fastball at 90-92 mph and his velocity could improve as he gets stronger. His sharp curveball--the best in the system--gives him another strikeout pitch. He shows good presence and poise on the mound, as well as command of his pitches. His changeup is a distant third offering and will be a point of emphasis. As with Bryson, Milwaukee is anxious to see what Tyson can do in his first full season, which he'll spend in low Class A. He has improved significantly from high school to junior college to his initial taste of pro ball, and the Brewers believe he'll move steadily through the system.
The Brewers knew it would take Periard time to develop when they drafted him as a 16-year-old out of high school in Canada. He played in the Rookie-level Arizona League for two years before moving up to low Class A and making major strides last season. He touched the mid-90s and pitched regularly in the low 90s with his fastball, backing it up with a curveball and a solid changeup. His velocity has jumped 5-6 mph since he turned pro and his command improved considerably. Periard pitches to contact, keeping the ball down and getting a lot of groundouts. He has strong legs that allow him to drop, drive and keep the ball down in the strike zone. The Brewers also like the aggressiveness and confidence he shows on the mound. The only thing that slowed him down in 2007 was an inner-ear infection that shut him down for a month. By the end of the season, Periard had re-established himself as the No. 1 pitcher in West Virginia's rotation during the South Atlantic League playoffs. Still young and filling out, he could be ready for a breakout this year in high Class A.
Ford has the one tool that can't be taught--blazing speed. The former New Jersey high school track star is one of the fastest runners in the minor leagues, going from the right side of the plate to first base in 3.8 seconds. He stole 67 bases in 83 attempts in 2007. The question is whether Ford can develop the rest of his game to the point where he can become a useful big leaguer. He played very well when he repeated low Class A to start last season but had trouble following a mid-June promotion. He draws walks, but he needs to bunt more often and cut down on his strikeouts. He can turn ordinary groundballs into base hits with his extraordinary speed. "All he has to do," scouting director Jack Zduriencik says, "is make contact." Ford has a little pop in his bat but the Brewers just want him to concentrate on getting on base. An outstanding defender, he could play center field in the big leagues right now. His arm is below average and he must improve his consistency after making 20 errors during the last two seasons. Ford will be 22 all season, so returning to high Class A isn't a setback.
The two fastest players in the system both signed as draft-and-follows. Haydel, who can run the 60-yard dash in 6.35 seconds, intrigued scouts as a Louisiana high schooler in 2006. But his raw bat, desire for a $250,000 bonus and intent to attend Louisiana State rendered him unsignable. The Brewers took a flier on him in the 19th round and caught a break when he opted to attend Delgado (La.) CC after LSU forced out head coach Smoke Laval. Haydel got stronger as a freshman at Delgado, reducing the questions about his bat, and he signed for $624,000 rather than re-entering the 2007 draft, in which he might have gone as high as the supplemental first round. Haydel's hitting is still a work in progress, but he's doing a better job of handling quality fastballs and hanging in against offspeed pitches. He has little power, so he needs to do a better job of controlling the strike zone and getting on base. Haydel has plus range in center field and a solid arm that ranks as above average for his position. He'll need time to develop, but his ceiling is high enough that one scout compared his potential to Jacoby Ellsbury's. Haydel will spend his first full pro season in low Class A.
Farris didn't receive as much attention as Helena teammates such as Matt LaPorta and Caleb Gindl, but the Brewers really liked the way he handled himself at the plate and in the field during his pro debut. A fourth-round pick who signed for $207,000, he earned comparisons to Junior Spivey and Tony Womack by club officials. Scouts saw him perform well in the Cape Cod League, so it didn't surprise them when he easily made the adjustments to wood bats as a first-year pro. Farris doesn't walk or strike out much, preferring to put the ball in play. He hit only one homer at Helena but drives the ball into the gaps on occasion. Though not a blazing runner, he has plus speed, gets good breaks on the bases and swiped 21 bags in 26 attempts. Farris has a strong arm and good instincts in the field. He has good range to both sides, which allowed him to play shortstop at Loyola Marymount without difficulty. He could get some time at shortstop in 2008, and he could reach high Class A before the end of the season.
Brantley played so well in his return to low Class A last year that the Brewers jumped him to Double-A at midseason. He had a .321 career average in pro ball to that point, and though he hit just .251 after the double promotion, he was just 20. Brantley is a patient hitter who has a gameplan at the plate and waits until he gets what he wants. He hits balls where they're pitched and doesn't offer at much out of the strike zone. He's a reliable contact hitter who draws walks and is a threat to steal any time he reaches base. The problem for Brantley is that he doesn't profile well at any position. His plus speed doesn't translate well to his outfield play. He often gets bad breaks on balls and has a below-average arm, which makes him more of a left fielder than a center fielder. With just two homers in three pro seasons, he doesn't have the power to play regularly in left. He also handled himself well around the bag when Milwaukee gave him some exposure to first base in 2007, but more power is required at that position. Ticketed for a return to Double-A, Brantley looks like a fourth outfielder who can be a useful pinch-hitter.
Selected to the inaugural Aflac All-American game in 2003, Chapman turned down Auburn to sign for $159,000 as a sixth-round pick the following June. He didn't make it to full-season ball for good until his fourth year of pro ball, and continued to make steady improvements in 2007 by exceeding his previous career totals with 24 homers and 89 RBIs. Chapman's tools are all average to a tick above, but his bat was slow to develop. He has bat speed and power, though his swing gets long at times and he's sometimes slow to make adjustments. He lacks discipline at the plate and gets himself out too often. He has solid-average speed to go with average range and arm strength in the outfield. Chapman played mostly left field in 2007, though he's capable of playing in right. West Virginia is a haven for hitters, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts at more pitcher-friendly Brevard County this year. He continues to have a high ceiling but still needs a considerable amount of polish.
Iribarren hits everywhere he goes. Owner of a career .324 batting average, he has a compact, line-drive stroke and plus speed. The key for Iribarren will be to develop a more well-rounded game. He can drive the ball into the gaps but doesn't have much power, so he needs to focus on being a table-setter. He hasn't shown the discipline to be a true leadoff man, and he hasn't shown good instincts as a basestealer, getting caught 16 times in 34 attempts last season. He's an effective bunter, forcing defenses to play in at the corners. Though he's a solid second baseman, Iribarren lacks the arm strength to play shortstop. The Brewers are loaded with young infielders in the majors, including Rickie Weeks at second base, so they tried to increase Iribarren's versatility by having him play center field in instructional league. It will be a boost for Iribarren's career if he proves he can handle center this year in Triple-A.
No pitcher in the system slipped more in 2007 than Hammond, who ranked No. 7 on this list a year ago after pitching effectively in Double-A in his first full pro season. According to the Brewers, his slide had a unique cause--Hammond worked too hard. He spent too much time in the weight room, bulking up and slowing down his delivery. He wasn't a power pitcher to begin with, succeeding while throwing 88-92 mph, but his fastball lost some velocity last year. His command wasn't as sharp with his fastball, slider or changeup. His secondary pitches are both average at best and were less consistent than in the past. In an effort to help Hammond sharpen his pitches, the Brewers sent him to the Arizona Fall League, but he got hit hard there as well. It's becoming increasingly likely that Hammond's future will be as a reliever than as a starter. He would have advanced to Triple-A had he put together a strong first half in 2007. Now he must prove in the spring that he belongs at that level to begin this season. He'll turn 26 early in the season, so he needs to regroup quickly.
Fermaint is one of the most gifted athletes in the system. Now it's time for him to do something with those skills. The only time he has truly lived up to his tools came in 2005 with a torrid stretch when he repeated the Pioneer League. Unhappy about being sent to high Class A for the second straight season in 2007, he performed so poorly that he was demoted to low Class A, where he continued to struggle. His production fell off so sharply from 2006 that the Brewers aren't sure what to make of him, making 2008 a critical year for Fermaint. He has a quick bat but hasn't tapped into the power potential Milwaukee expected. If he's not going to hit for power, he has to get on base more and make things happen. Fermaint still strikes out far too often and doesn't walk enough, which negates his speed factor. And even with plus speed, he gets caught stealing too often (12 times in 39 tries last year), exposing his lack of instincts. He gets inconsistent jumps in center field and made 12 errors in 2007, though he did continue to show a solid-average arm. Other outfield prospects in the system are passing him by, so it's time for Fermaint to apply himself and get the Brewers excited about him again. He'll probably open his third consecutive year at Brevard County.
Errecart had a disappointing junior season at California, enabling the Brewers to get him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. He led the Pioneer League with 61 RBIs and finished second with 13 homers that summer, so Milwaukee felt comfortable advancing him to high Class A for his first full season. Errecart has legitimate power that should continue to develop. That aspect of his game was thwarted somewhat last year by the incoming breezes at Brevard County. He needs to work on his plate discipline and draw more walks. He gets pull-happy and is susceptible to breaking balls, but he will punish pitchers if they make a mistake inside with a fastball. He's also tough to back off the plate, as he got hit by 13 pitches in 2007. Possessing no speed to speak of, he's prone to grounding into double plays. With a glut of outfielders in the system, the Brewers moved him to first base full-time last year after he played more in the outfield in his debut. First base is a better fit for him. He won't win any Gold Gloves but handles himself well enough around the bag and isn't a liability. Milwaukee had hoped to accelerate his development by sending Errecart to Hawaii Winter Baseball, but he was hit by a pitch in his second game and broke his right wrist. The Brewers hope he'll be ready for spring training and an assignment to Double-A.
Katin has more raw power than any hitter in the system, with the exception of Matt LaPorta. The problem is that he has shown little else to get excited about and has been an all-or-nothing player. A teammate of Ryan Braun at Miami, Katin has similar pop but lags far behind in plate coverage and pitch selection. He's particularly susceptible to breaking balls because of his long swing, and his lack of discipline resulted in a Double-A Southern League-leading 163 strikeouts last year. He has to revise his two-strike approach, cut down his swing and put the ball in play more often. Katin is a good athlete for his size. He has decent speed to go with average range and arm strength in right field. The Brewers don't have many true power prospects, so they'll keep giving Katin the chance to show that he can do more than hit homers and strike out. He should get his first taste of Triple-A in 2008.
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