The Milwaukee Brewers system is loaded with offensive talent – even after the trade for C.C. Sabathia last season, which included top offensive prospect Matt LaPorta. Unfortunately, the pitching depth is thin and the organization has traditionally had a very difficult time keeping top pitching prospects healthy; even current, young MLB pitchers Manny Parra and Yovani Gallardo have had more than their fair share of injuries.
Alcides Escobar could be in the Majors right now, if it were not for the presence of J.J. Hardy at shortstop. Escobar is a gifted fielder who will eventually shift the incumbent shortstop to third base, or possibly out of the city. There have been questions about Escobar’s ability to hit, but he managed a line at Double-A in 2008 of .328/.363/.434 with 34 stolen bases in 546 at-bats. The biggest weakness in his game right now is his lack of patience (5.4 BB%) and lack of power (.106 ISO).
I’ll keep this brief since I wrote a post on Mat Gamel not long ago. He has a chance to be the Brewers’ third baseman by mid-season, but his defense will not allow him to stay there for long. Gamel is likely ticketed for first base or right field.
Current big league catcher Jason Kendall is in the final season of his contract, and prospect Angel Salome could be ready just in time to fill Kendall’s shoes. Had he not been slowed down by injuries, Salome may have already secured a full-time gig. Last season in Double-A, the stout catcher hit .360/.415/.559 with 13 home runs and 83 RBI in just 98 games. It remains to be seen if Salome can show enough defensively to remain behind the plate, which could significantly hurt his future value.
Jeremy Jeffress has had some well-documented issues during his brief pro career. He’ll continue to get chances, though, because of his golden arm. Jeffress can touch the upper 90s with his fastball and also has a curveball that is a plus pitch at times. His change-up is lacking, so he may end up as a late-game reliever. He received a late-season promotion to Double-A in 2008 after spending much of the season in High-A ball where he allowed 65 hits in 79.1 innings, as well as rates of 4.65 BB/9 and 11.57 K/9.
Lorenzo Cain was originally drafted out of high school based on his raw athletic ability. He played in A-ball for much of his first four pro seasons, but he made it to Double-A in the second half of 2008 and even earned a brief, six-game promotion to Triple-A. Cain has 15-20 home run potential and could easily swipe 30 bases. In 2008 at Double-A, he hit .277/.363/.486 with six stolen bases and four homers in 148 at-bats.
Jonathan Lucroy, like Salome, is an offensive-minded catcher who has question marks surrounding his defense. Even though his work behind the plate is iffy and his arm is average, Lucroy threw out 45% of base stealers in 2008. Offensively, Lucroy has shown that he’s ready for Double-A in just his second full season. The former third-round pick split 2008 between A-ball and High-A. At the senior level, he hit .292/.364/.479 with a .186 ISO.
Outfielder Cole Gillespie is likely ready for the Majors after spending 2008 in Double-A and hitting .281/.386/.472 with an ISO of .190 and 17 stolen bases. He also showed good patience with a walk rate of 14 BB%. His strikeout rates have risen each of the past three seasons, from 18.3 to 21.7 to 22.1 K%. Gillespie is a corner outfielder defensively, but his bat profiles better in center, which will likely relegate him to a fourth-outfielder role at the Major League level.
The Cleveland Indians had to choose between infielder Taylor Green and outfielder Michael Brantley as the player-to-be-named-later in the Sabathia trade last season. The AL organization chose Brantley, and the Brewers were no doubt happy to keep Green on the payroll. The third baseman, though, will miss the first four to six weeks of the season after undergoing wrist surgery. Green hit .289/.382/.443 with an ISO of .153 in 418 High-A at-bats.
The club added three quality prospects in the 2008 draft. Prep pitcher Jake Odorizzi (32nd overall) posted a 3.48 ERA in 11 rookie ball games. Canadian Brett Lawrie (16th overall) had arguably the best prep bat in the 2008 draft (after Eric Hosmer) but his ultimate home defensively is up in the air, although he will begin his pro career as a catcher. Lawrie is confident and will move as quickly as his defense will let him. Cutter Dykstra, son of Lenny, (54th overall) had a solid debut and hit .271/.367/.438 with an ISO of .167 in 144 at-bats. He could move quickly for a high school player.
Up Next: The Detroit Tigers
These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.