Friday, May 29, 2009

A look at the Minors

Nearly two months into the season, it's time to take a look at how the future stars of the Brewers are faring. I figure this is an appropriate time to get a good feel for how the players are adjusting to their surroundings. Don't get me wrong, there is a ton of baseball left to be played and these guys have plenty of time to turn it around, or vice versa, fall off the map. I'm going to highlight five players whose stock is rising, five players who are underachieving and then highlight some top prospects who fall somewhere in between. 

To clarify, to be considered a prospect, I drew a line in the sand at the 26 year old mark. That leaves them plenty of time in their prime to contribute to the big league club. Any older than that, and you pretty much provide minor league depth, end of career. Also, I tried to focus on players who either A) figure prominently in the Brewers future plans or B) were high draft picks in years past. Let's begin...

Prospects whose stock is rising...
1. Mike Jones, SP, 26, AA Huntsville
Call me a softy, but I reserve a special place in my heart for this pitcher (and the man in the #2 spot, more on that later). Taken 12th overall in the 2001 draft, no one has ever doubted whether or not Mike Jones' stuff was good enough, the question was if his body could keep up. Plagued by injuries throughout his professional career and on the verge of being released by the Brewers, Jones has turned some heads and is showing why the Brewers used their first round pick on him. Between Brevard County and Huntsville, Jones is undefeated with a 5-0 record and a 3.38 ERA. The most encouraging thing about these numbers is that Mike has been able to pitch into the 7th inning with relative ease, showcasing a little durability. For your sake, and ours Mike, I hope this is a sign of things to come. 

2. Mark Rogers, SP, 23, A+ Brevard County
Another first rounder that has been sidetracked by injuries, Mark is back and pitching... sort of. He seems to be on an extremely limited pitch count, never pitching more than 3 innings a start, but for a guy who couldn't stay on the field to save his life, 2 months of injury free baseball is a step in the right direction. Not to mention his 1.50 ERA in 12 innings. His peripheral stats are not too impressive (1.583 WHIP and 8:8 K/BB ratio) however, the young righty should focus on making it through this year and building up arm strength, so he can slide into the top end of the Huntsville rotation in 2010. 

3. Tim Dillard, P, 25, AAA Nashville
Dillard was impressive in spring training, and in my opinion, deserving of a shot at a bullpen spot. However, with the business of options, and big salaries, Tim drew the short straw. Then, in a move that I believed was the end of his chances with the Brewers, they converted him into a starter. With no starting pitching depth in the upper levels of our minor league system, I saw this as the Brewers finding a body to take up a spot every fifth day. Dillard thought otherwise. Seeing his first considerable action as a starter since the 2006 season, Dillard has put up some pretty nice numbers. He's 6-2 with a 3.51 ERA. Peripheral stats are respectable and as a former 34th round pick, I think he's forcing Doug Melvin to make plans for his future with the Brewers.

4. Caleb Gindl, OF, 20, A+ Brevard County
While Gindl was picked in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, he was far from a sure-thing prospect. At 5'9" (I hear that's generous) he doesn't have the "body type" for baseball. However, he proved doubters wrong by showing what his small frame could do with a bat in his hands. In his first pro season, Gindl batted .372 with a 1.000 OPS at rookie ball. He followed that in 2008 with a .307 BA and 81 RBI at single A West Virginia. He's putting up good numbers again in Brevard County. His average has dipped below .300 (.290) but he's still driving in runs and getting on base. At this rate, he figures to be in the Brewers outfield in 2012. 

5. Taylor Green, 3B, 22, AA Huntsville
A 25th round draft pick in 2005 (signed by Jack Z's replacement Bruce Seid), Green burst on to the scene in 2007 when he hit .327 with 86 RBI and a .922 OPS. This netted Green the Organizational Player of the Year award and serious considerations in the Brewers future. He followed that season up with a solid season at advanced A, but suffered a setback when he needed wrist surgery. Hitters make a living with their wrists, so this had the potential to be devastating (see Rickie Weeks). However, Green has put to rest any questions about his hitting ability by posting a .286 average and an .844 OPS between Wisconsin and Huntsville. With a career .942 fielding percentage, he figures to be the Brewers third baseman of the future, with Gamel sliding to first or the outfield. 

Honorable mentions: 
Chris Cody, SP, 25, AA Huntsville
4-1, 2.50 ERA, 42:9 K/BB, and a .934 WHIP. Impressive to say the least.
Evan Anundsen, SP, 21, A+ Brevard County
Threw the only nine inning no-hitter in the minors this year. Big upside.
Hernan Iribarren, 2B, 24, AAA Nashville
Struggled with the Brewers (no playing time), but is showing a little pop in his bat at AAA.

Now, on to the disappointments. I want to put the disclaimer on this, that these are based off of MY expectations for these players. I mean, I don't see why every position player can't bat .400 with a 1.500 OPS and all pitchers should have a sub 1.00 ERA. But in all seriousness, I based these choices off of what I believe they are capable of at their given level.

Players under achieving...
1. Jeremy Jeffress, SP, 21, A+ Brevard County
One word can describe Jeffress' year at Huntsville thus far. Awful. A 1-3 record, paired up with a 7.67 ERA, 33 walks in 27.1 innings and a 2.185 WHIP is inexcusable. Were Jeffress not the first round pick in the 2006 draft, he would have been released and coaching pitching at Helena with Ned Yost IV. The upside is there. His fastball paired with even a mediocre breaking ball is major league ready, but the control is far from where it needs to be. Hopefully, his recent demotion to Brevard County will help him work out the kinks. After all, he is our "top pitching prospect".

2. Jonathan Lucroy, C, 22, AA Huntsville
After putting up big numbers last year (.301 avg with 20 HRs between A and A+) Lucroy has been average at best in 2009. Offensive catchers are hard to come by, so his big season in 2008 had Lucroy's stock skyrocketing, so much so that the Brewers declined the option to take back Rule 5 draft pick Lou Palmisiano from the Astros. With a .239 BA and a .659 OPS, Lucroy is starting to look like any other catcher in the minors. There's plenty of time to turn it around, hopefully these are just growing pains for the young backstop.

3. Cutter Dykstra, 2B, 19, R+ Helena
After struggling in the outfield at Wisconsin, the decision was made to move Cutter to the "more natural" position of second base. There's only two problems, this was combined with a demotion to Helena and it places him behind top prospect Brett Lawrie on the organizational depth chart. In a perfect world, Cutter figures out how to hit with a wood bat and is able to change positions so he and Lawrie can exist on the same team. Time will tell...

4. Evan Frederickson, P, 22, A Wisconsin
The former college closer has struggled since entering pro ball. Command seems to be Evan's issue. He has 61 walks in 66 innings and a 1.939 WHIP in his professional career. He did have a good outing his last time out going 5 innings giving up no runs and striking out four. High draft picks always have a longer leash than others and hopefully he can turn it around. Pitching is the biggest organizational need and we need some of our draft picks to pan out. 

5. Brett Lawrie, 2B, 19, A Wisconsin
I know what you're saying, he was just drafted and this is his first year in pro ball. However, given his involvement with various Canadian national teams, his use of wood bats throughout his career and his bold prediction that he expects to be up with the Brewers in a year and a half; I'll admit that my expectations may have been a little too high. The transition to second base has been a little rough with 9 errors in 44 games and the batting average on the mediocre side at .269. There are some positives however. He has a good slugging percentage at .474 and this is only his first year. After he gets a full year under his belt, he should be able to come into his own as a hitter.

Honorable mentions:
Brent Brewer, SS, 21, A+ Brevard County
Former second round pick is currently batting .203 with a .273 slugging percentage and .928 fielding percentage. Not a lot of good things going on....
Cole Gillespie, OF, 24, AAA Nashville
Limited by injury, Cole's off to a slow start at Nashville. He has 3 months to show the promise displayed in past seasons.

The next several players are meeting my expectations. If they were in my kindergarten class, I'd give them a check or satisfactory grade. 

Meeting Expectations...
1. Alcides Escobar, SS/2B, 22, AAA Nashville
With Mat Gamel up with the Brewers, Escobar is hands down our top prospect, and he's lived up to that title. It's hard to exceed expectations in the minors when many believe you are ready for the big leagues now. Alcides has put up solid numbers with a .290 batting average and 21 stolen bases. For someone who is tabbed as a defensive dynamo, he does have 9 errors in 50 games which is cause for a little concern, but by no means has he been a liability. Brewers fans may see him by the end of the year as he has been asked to transition to second base. With Rickie Weeks down, Alcides may be called up to fill in the void. 

2. Angel Salome, C, 22, AAA Nashville
No one doubts that Angel can hit, and he proved that last year when he batted .360 en route to an all-star season at Huntsville. While the offense has not been there so far this year, Angel has been asked to focus on his defense and game calling ability and early reports are that he's improving in both aspects. With Jason Kendall aging and losing his already fading bat, the catching position in 2010 seems to be Angel's to lose. 

3. Zach Braddock, P, 21, A+ Brevard County
It seems that attempts to make Zach into a starter have been put on hold due to injuries. This year, he has been limited to work out of the bullpen. He has performed admirably however, posting a 1.50 ERA, 22:2 K/BB ratio and a .667 WHIP. If he is able to stay on the field, Zach figures into the Brewers future within the next three years. 

4. Cody Scarpetta, SP, 20, A Wisconsin
Cody has had a couple of rough outings out of the bullpen but as a starter, Cody has been solid. With a 4.68 ERA and 42 Ks in 32.2 innings, Cody is putting up numbers that may merit a promotion by mid-season. If Cody can improve on his command and stays durable, he has the stuff to be a front of the rotation pitcher.

That concludes my first look into the minors, I will continue to monitor their progress and will have one more update before the end of the year. 

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