Pitching is definitely the strength of the Milwaukee Brewers system. The organization has amassed an impressive group of arms in just the past two seasons. The club scored on two pitchers – Tyler Thornburg and Jimmy Nelson – in 2010 that many thought would crash and burn as starters in pro ball after flip-flopping between the rotation and bullpen in college. They then used two first round picks in 2011 to grab two of the more impressive college arms available to them in the 12-15 pick range. One knock on the system is the serious lack of high-ceiling bats.
1. Taylor Jungmann, RHP
BORN: Dec. 18, 1989
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (12th overall), U of Texas
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA
SCOUTING REPORT: Jungmann has the makings of a solid No. 2 or 3 starter at the Major League level if he can improve his secondary pitches: a slider and changeup. The right-hander’s main weapon is a heavy fastball that sits in the low 90s and touches the mid 90s. With a big, strong frame he has the potential to develop into an innings-eater but there is a little effort in his delivery that might need to be smoothed out.
YEAR IN REVIEW: The Texas alum didn’t play pro ball after signing, even though fellow first rounder Jed Bradley pitched in the Arizona Fall League. Jungmann had an impressive season in college, posting a 1.60 ERA in 141 innings of work.
YEAR AHEAD: Jungmann will likely be assigned to high-A ball where he’ll look to improve the command of his secondary offerings. He could reach double-A at some point in 2012.
CAREER OUTLOOK: It won’t be long before Jungmann joins fellow young hurlers Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo in the Milwaukee starting rotation. He should secure a permanent spot by 2013 and could have a long career with the Brewers.
2. Tyler Thornburg, RHP
BORN: Sept. 29, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, Charleston Southern University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 9th
SCOUTING REPORT: I was pretty high on Thornburg on last year’s list, ranking him ninth overall after his initial pro effort. His value skyrocketed in 2011, showing that he definitely has what it takes to stick as a starter in pro ball despite his smallish statue. Thornburg has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a potentially-plus changeup. His curveball is inconsistent but his arm slot is too high to give him the option of switching to a slider. The right-hander’s command and control both need work.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Thornburg split the season between low-A and high-A, dominating the lower level. Opposing batters had difficulties getting good wood on the right-hander; he posted a hit rate of just 6.42 H/9 and a FIP of 2.82 (1.57 ERA). Moved up to high-A, his FIP rose a bit and his walk rate jumped from 3.28 to 4.47 BB/9. His strikeout rate, though, also rose from 9.96 to 11.12 K/9.
YEAR AHEAD: Although he struggled with his control at high-A ball, Thornburg is probably headed to double-A for 2012, unless Milwaukee wants to keep him with 2011 first rounders Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley. He’ll pitch at double-A at some point in 2012 and even has an outside shot of reaching the Majors.
CAREER OUTLOOK: Thornburg’s size will always be cause for concern while he’s in the starting rotation but it’s hard to argue with his stuff and results so far. At worst, he should be a solid No. 3 starter capable of providing 180-200 innings a season.
3. Wily Peralta, RHP
BORN: May 8, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2005 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 5th
SCOUTING REPORT: I’m a little more cautious in my ranking of Peralta than some; I’m just not sold on him being anything more than a No. 3 starter (which isn’t a bad thing at all). The right-hander has a 90-95 mph fastball, which is his best pitch, as well as a slider and changeup. He’s made strides in the development of his secondary pitches but neither is a plus pitch. Peralta’s conditioning is a bit of an issue but he should be an innings-eater.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Peralta spent the majority of 2011 in double-A where he posted a 3.53 FIP (3.46 ERA) in 119.2 innings of work. His control is decent but it’s still a little inconsistent. His strikeout rate of 8.80 K/9 was good to see – especially coupled with a solid ground-ball rate. Peralta made five starts in triple-A, as well, and produced very good numbers, including 40 Ks in 31 innings of work.
YEAR AHEAD: There doesn’t appear to be any room at the inn for Peralta, which means a return to triple-A to begin the 2012 season. However, the Brewers starting rotation is a little brittle so the young pitcher should get an opportunity to make his MLB debut sooner rather than later next season.
CAREER OUTLOOK: As mentioned, I see Peralta as more of a reliable, workhorse No. 3 pitcher – who might pitch like a No. 2 starter for a few seasons. The youngster reminds me a little bit of Bartolo Colon.
4. Jed Bradley, LHP
BORN: June 12, 1990
EXPERIENCE: Arizona Fall League
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (15th overall), Georgia Tech
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA
SCOUTING REPORT: Bradley is a solid pitcher but doesn’t have the same ceiling as some of the other pitchers on this list. He has a solid fastball that ranges from 88-93 mph and occasionally touches 95 mph. His slider is his second-best pitch, while his changeup needs some fine tuning. Bradley is still a work in progress and he improved significantly in each of his three seasons at Georgia Tech, lowering his ERA from 6.65 to 4.83 to 3.49.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Unlike Taylor Jungmann, Bradley did not surpass the 100-inning mark in 2011 during the college season so Milwaukee sent him to the Arizona Fall League for his pro debut. He scuffled, though, allowing nine hits and four walks in 8.1 innings.
YEAR AHEAD: Even though he stumbled a bit in his debut, Bradley is likely ticketed for high-A to pitch with Jungmann (and possibly Thornburg). His control is a head of his command right now so he’ll look to work on that in 2012.
CAREER OUTLOOK: Bradley has a more modest ceiling than his draft mate and looks like a potential No. 3 or 4 starter. He has an excellent pitcher’s frame and should provide plenty of innings once he sharpens up his secondary pitches.
5. Taylor Green, 3B
BORN: Nov. 2, 1986
EXPERIENCE: 6 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2005 25th round, California community college
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off
SCOUTING REPORT: Green has worked his butt off to get to where he is today. A former low ranked draft pick, the infielder was almost traded to Cleveland in the C.C. Sabathia deal although the Indians ultimately chose outfielder Michael Brantley instead. Green also stagnated in double-A for parts of three seasons before jump-starting his bat again in 2011. He doesn’t have a huge ceiling – especially for a natural third baseman – and there is no clear path to playing time in Milwaukee with the recent acquisition of Aramis Ramirez.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Green found the Pacific Coast League to his liking in 2011. He hit a career high .336 and also posted career best power numbers (22 homers, .248 ISO). The British Columbia native also has a good eye at the plate, having struck out less than 20% throughout his career while maintaining +10% walk rates. A left-handed hitter, Green holds his own against southpaws but performed much better against right-handers in 2011 (.741 vs 1.078 OPS).
YEAR AHEAD: Green should be done riding the buses. He’s proven himself and is deserving of a big league role. As it stands now Green’s best hope for playing time in 2012 is to out-perform fellow youngster Mat Gamel for playing time at first base, assuming Prince Fielder is not re-signed (which is looking extremely unlikely) or another veteran first baseman is not brought in.
CAREER OUTLOOK: In the future, Green will likely end up as a solid utility player and pinch hitter. He doesn’t have the power that teams look for in corner infielders but he does a lot of other things well and is similar to former Kansas City Royal Joe Randa.
6. Scooter Gennett, 2B
BORN: May 1, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 16th round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off
SCOUTING REPORT: As time passes, and after leaving the second baseman off Milwaukee’s list last year, I’m warming up to Gennett. He has shown the ability to consistently hit for average thanks to a solid swing at the plate. He’s overly aggressive, though, and doesn’t hit for much power or steal many bases so he doesn’t have a lot of offensive weapons. On defense he’s currently ranked as a below-average fielder, although there is a general feeling that he should develop into an average second baseman.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Gennett just missed hitting .300 in 2011. He also struck out 11.5% of the time, showing excellent bat control – but the walk rate of 4.5% is disappointing. He also needs to work on his approach against southpaws. After the regular season Gennett headed to the Arizona Fall League where he caught fire, hitting .411 with seven doubles in 90 at-bats.
YEAR AHEAD: The infielder should move up to double-A in 2012 and it will be interesting to see if he’s over-powered by better pitching or is able to adapt. He has an outside shot of playing in the Majors later on in 2012 but there is no rush with Rickie Weeks entrenched at the keystone.
CAREER OUTLOOK: Gennett has the potential to be an average second baseman at the MLB level. Aside from his ability to make contact and hit for average he doesn’t really offer anything that suggests future stardom. He could be a solid No. 2 hitter in the lineup where his ability to make contact would be extremely valuable.
7. Jimmy Nelson, RHP
BORN: June 5, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, University of Alabama
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th
SCOUTING REPORT: Nelson is a big, strong pitcher who profiles best as an innings-eater starter with the ceiling of a No. 3 starter. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball that can touch 96-97 mph and a potentially-plus slider. His changeup is still in the ‘development’ stages. He induces a ton of ground-ball outs. If he cannot improve the command of his secondary pitches, Nelson could develop into a eighth-inning guy.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Nelson spent the year in low-A ball learning to take the ball every fifth day. He made significant strides by the end of the season, as witnessed by his ERA splits (5.20 in the first half, 3.76 in the second half).
YEAR AHEAD: The right-hander will move up to high-A in 2012 and, if all goes well, he should reach double-A before the year is out. He succeeded against left-handed hitters in 2011 but he’ll need the changeup to improve if he’s going to have a consistent weapon against them as he moves up the chain.
CAREER OUTLOOK: Nelson’s future hinges on his secondary pitches. He has the body and the fastball to succeed as an innings-eater in the starting rotation but he needs a weapon against good left-handers and he needs the slider to become more consistent against the right-handers. Still just 22, youth is on his side.
8. Jorge Lopez, RHP
BORN: Feb. 10, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, Puerto Rico HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA
SCOUTING REPORT: A high draft pick out of Puerto Rico, Lopez is fairly new to pitching so he’s a project. The right-hander has a solid pitcher’s frame and has room to fill out, which could help his 88-93 mph fastball get even better. His best pitch could eventually be his curveball, which already flashes plus potential. Lopez’ changeup is in the nascent stage. Also he struggles with consistency, there are signs that he could develop above-average control.
YEAR IN REVIEW: The former second round draft pick made just four appearances after signing but he pitched well. He showed decent control but struggled with his command – especially within the strike zone.
YEAR AHEAD: Lopez will turn 19 in February so Milwaukee will be cautious with him. He’ll likely open 2012 in extended spring training with an assignment to a rookie level club in June.
CAREER OUTLOOK: The pitcher has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter but he’s four to five years away from the Majors at this point. Because he has a strong athletic background, I fully expect Lopez to master a changeup in due time.
9. Caleb Gindl, OF
BORN: Aug. 31, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 5th round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 10th
SCOUTING REPORT: Gindl bounced around the Top 15 list before I finally settled on the ninth hole for him. He’s produced outstanding offensive numbers in his pro career but he looses value because of his size (5’9”) and the fact that he plays a corner outfield spot that requires above-average power to be an everyday player on a first division club. Gindl plays his heart out but he’s a No. 4 outfielder with average defensive tools but slightly-below-average range in center field.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Gindl hit .307 at triple-A in 2011, while also showing good gap power and the ability to get on base consistently (.390 OBP, 11.7 BB%). He’s not hopeless against southpaws but the left-handed batter should mostly face right-handers at the MLB level.
YEAR AHEAD: The diminutive outfielder has hit everywhere that he’s played and he really has nothing left the prove at the minor league level. Gindl has a good shot at breaking camp with the Brewers, unless the club ultimately signs Japanese veteran outfielder Norichika Aoki, for whom they recently won the rights to negotiate with. Gindl could play somewhat regularly if Ryan Braun misses the first 50 games of the season.
CAREER OUTLOOK: As mentioned, Gindl will likely top out as a No. 4 starter, although he could spend a few seasons playing everyday for a second division club. He has the skill set and apparent drive to have an extended career as a part-time player.
10. Hunter Morris, 1B
BORN: Oct. 7, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 4th round, Auburn University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 7th
SCOUTING REPORT: Morris has been on the prospect landscape for quite some time, even though he just turned pro two years ago. He made what may have been an ill-advised choice to walk away from the Red Sox for Auburn University after being drafted in the second round out of high school. His bat didn’t develop as much as hoped and he ended up going to the Brewers as a fourth rounder after his junior season of college. Morris could develop into an average first baseman, although he’s too aggressive at the plate and his power output will likely top out in the 15-20 home run range.
YEAR IN REVIEW: Morris spent the majority of 2011 in high-A ball but he received a brief mid-season taste of double-A while on temporary assignment. He hit .271 in high-A but his on-base percentage of .299 left a lot to be desired. The left-handed batter actually hit better against southpaws than right-handers but that might have been a small-sample-size aberration (.841 vs .731 OPS).
YEAR AHEAD: Morris should spend much of 2012 in double-A but first base in Milwaukee is suddenly unoccupied. He’ll never threaten to fully replace Prince Fielder, but Morris could keep the spot warm for a few seasons until the Brewers find another offensive star for the position.
CAREER OUTLOOK: The first baseman may get stuck as a quad-A hitter if he cannot tone down his aggressiveness at the plate. He needs to get on base on a decent clip because he doesn’t have a ton of power and his defensive value is close to zero.
11. Cody Scarpetta, RHP: Scarpetta has been hanging around the Brewers’ group of top prospects since he was drafted but his results have never really matched the scouting reports. The right-hander has two good pitches: an 89-94 mph fastball and a hard-breaking curveball. His changeup is below average and I don’t see him sticking in the starting rotation at the MLB level. He has the potential to be a solid eighth-inning reliever.
12. David Goforth, RHP: A 2011 seventh rounder out of the University of Mississippi, Goforth has the makings of a high-leverage reliever who could move swiftly through the system. His fastball ranges from 91-96 mph and he also recently added a cutter that has developed quickly. The right-hander struggles with his control and command at times but he could be a fast riser in 2012.
13. Nick Bucci, RHP: A young, raw pitcher from Canada who grew up not far from me, Bucci has made a lot of strides in the past two seasons, moving from thrower to more of a pitcher. He has a three-pitch mix that includes an 88-93 mph fastball, curveball and changeup. He has a good pitcher’s frame and improved his control significantly in 2011, seeing his walk rate go from 5.07 BB/9 in 2010 to 3.06 in ’11.
14. Logan Schafer, OF: Schafer’s career was derailed by a string of injuries in 2010 but he bounced back nicely in 2011. He’s shown the ability to hit for average from the left side but he doesn’t offer much else offensively. Schafer is a plus defender and would make an excellent fourth outfielder but his skills as shy for a regular role on a playoff contender.
15. Michael Fiers, RHP: Already 26, Fiers doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he’s coming off a solid season where he made his MLB debut (two innings of work). The right-hander has below-average fastball velocity but he does a good job of commanding his three-pitch arsenal (fastball, cutter, changeup). A starter in the minors, he’ll likely be a swing man in the Majors.
SLEEPER ALERT: Santo Manzanillo, RHP: Manzanillo has seemingly survived every pitfall that can befell a young, hard-throwing pitcher, including Tommy John surgery and a serious case of control issues. The right-hander’s repertoire is enticing with a 95-100 mph fastball, hard slider and potentially-average changeup. Watch for him in 2012. Manzanillo was in a car accident during the off-season in which he was ejected from his vehicle. He suffered a shoulder separation and a fractured scapula but it’s expected to fully heal through rest and rehab. Even so, he’ll be behind the eight ball for the beginning of the 2012 season.