Seeing as how the season all but over, I've decided to come out of hibernation and write a post on my favorite subject... the Brewers' future. A fan poll recently conducted over at View From Bernie's Chalet got me thinking, which Brewers pitching prospect would make an impact on the team first? With all the talk about the Brewers lack of pitching depth, there's got to be some hope in the minors. I found that there is, the only problem is that with most of these guys, it's a question of "when" not "if". I compiled a list of ten guys who, between 2009 expectations and 2009 performance, have emerged as the top pitching prospects in the system. They are as follows (in no particular order): Eric Arnett (R), Zach Braddock (AA), Amaury Rivas (A+), Kyle Heckathorn (R), Cody Scarpetta (A), Mark Rogers (A+), Mike Jones (AAA), Rob Wooten (AA), Evan Anundsen (A+) and Josh Butler (AA/AAA).
To answer the question above, I'll give a brief take on their progress and an approximation on when we may see them in a Brewers uni.
Eric Arnett (R) 2009 stats: 0-4 4.97 ERA 25.1 IP 0 HRs 24 Ks 19 BBs.
Arnett was the Brewers first round pick in this year's draft and while his numbers may not stick out, there are some encouraging things to point out. 24 Ks in 25.1 innings pitched is a very respectable rate. When hitters do manage contact, Arnett has been a groundball pitcher to the extreme (0 homers and a 2.47 ground out to fly out ratio). This is not recipe for success for the defense challenged lower minor league levels, evidenced by the 9 unearned runs given up by Arnett. With an off-season to rest an already over-worked arm (Arnett already pitched a full season for Indiana), and improving defense around him as he ascends through the minors, Arnett should prove to be one of the top arms in the Brewers system in short order. One downfall: 19 walks. Maybe Arnett has a tired arm, but improved control of his fastball will lead to good things for the young hurler.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2012. Arnett is only in Rookie ball now, though my guess is he start 2010 in Wisconsin and is on the first flight to Brevard County after a strong start. There's no reason to believe he can't blow through the minors a la Mike Jones (let's just hope he avoids Mike's arm issues)
Zach Braddock (AA) 2009 stats: 3-1 0.93 ERA 38.2 IP 58 Ks 7 BBs (A+ and AA stats)
When you look at these stats, it's hard to not be excited about this kid's future. Once a starter, Braddock has been used solely out of the bullpen this year (mainly to prevent injuries) and he has excelled. 58 Ks vs 7 BBs in only 38.2 innings show a promising future as a closer, however it is my belief he will be treated as a starter in 2010. A big left-hander (6'4" 230 lbs) has more value as a starter and he has the secondary pitches to be extremely effective. Red flags: injury history and battle with bipolar disorder.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2010 (mid-season). I know, he's only pitched a half season at Huntsville, but those numbers don't lie. I predict he starts the season at Huntsville (in the rotation) but a lack of pitching depth is going to force the Brewers to promote him faster than they'd like. I think we'll see him in the bullpen at Miller Park by September at the latest.
Amaury Rivas (A+) 2009 stats: 13-7 2.98 ERA 133 IP 123 Ks 43 BBs
One of the few true power arms in the system, Rivas has been at the front of one of the most dominant starting rotations in the minors. The most encouraging thing about Rivas is he is only getting better. In the month of August, Rivas posted the following line: 5-1 2.10 ERA in six starts. He's one to watch for sure.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2011. Starting at Huntsville next year, with a strong chance of finishing at Nashville could put Amaury on the fast track to Milwaukee.
Kyle Heckathorn (R) 2009 stats: 0-1 7.16 ERA 16.1 IP 11/4 K/BB ratio
A slow start to his pro career will be overlooked considering he just finished carrying Kennesaw St. on his right shoulder. A 2009 supplementary round pick, Heckathorn is another one of the young arms that may cause a log jam in the minors in the next few years. A power fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a power slider would seem to give the Brewers an element they are severely lacking at the pro level.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2012. While he did pitch college ball and they tend to be more advanced than most prep players, word is that Kyle needs to work on control within the zone, learning the difference between throwing a strike and throwing an effective pitch.
Cody Scarpetta (A) 2009 stats: 4-11 3.43 ERA 105 IP 116 Ks
Cody features a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, a power curveball and works in the occasional changeup. Sound like any Brewers in the recent past? While I won't go as far as to say he's going to be as dominant as the Glass Joe of the Brewers rotation for the greater part of this decade, I will say that he seems to be coming into his own after a rough start in Appleton. Another power arm that knows how to miss bats is always welcome.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2012. I see the Brewers taking their time with Cody. Even though he strikes out 2 batters for every walk, when you strike out as many batters as he has, you've got a lot of walks coming with that. When he gets that ratio in the 3 or 4-to-1 range, he'll be blowing down the doors to Miller Park.
Mark Rogers (A+) 2009 stats: 1-3 1.67 ERA 64.2 IP 67 Ks 1.16 WHIP
I could write a novel on Mark Rogers, from the hype that comes with being a first round draft pick, to the adversity that comes with multiple bouts with arm trouble. I'm going to sum it in four words: Good for you, Mark. With the bonus he signed and the surgeries, how many people would be tempted to hang in up? (See Matt Bush). Rogers stuck with it (and the Brewers stuck by him) and it's paid off in spades. While the Brewers monitored his innings/pitch counts, he showed the dominant stuff that lead to his first round pick. Finally being allowed to pitch 5.0+ innings, Rogers is showing no signs of slowing down. Personal note: there is not one player on this list that I would like to see on Opening Day at Miller Park in the near future than Mark Rogers.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2011. His dominance will shoot him through the minors (coupled with his status on the 40-man roster) and the only thing that can slow him down is his body. I see the Brewers taking the next year-plus to stretch out his innings and we'll see him as soon as humanly possible.
Mike Jones (AAA) 2009 stats: 8-7 4.75 ERA 127 IP 87 Ks (A+, AA, and AAA)
What I said for Rogers, goes for Jones. Good investments with his signing bonus left Jones financially set for some time, but instead of accepting his fate of life after baseball, Jones stuck with it and has proven to be one of the more durable starters in the minors. He's hit a snag at AAA, but if the Brewers manage to re-sign him (he's a free agent after the year) he may prove to be one of our best arms in the upper minors.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2011. I think Jones has an opportunity with the club next year, but I think Melvin will want him to prove that he can handle hitters at the AAA level for an entire year. Just how well he pitches may force Doug's hand, but I'm betting on one more year in the minors for Mike.
Rob Wooten (AA) 2009 stats: 1-2 2.72 ERA 29 Saves 12.3 Ks/9 3.5 Ks/BB (A+ and AA)
A 13th round pick, Wooten has skyrocketed to the forefront as one of the premium bullpen arms in the system. With the revolving door that is the Brewers closer position, Wooten may prove to be the mainstay at the end of the game that the Brewers and their fans have been waiting for.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2011. Rob has run in to a little trouble in Huntsville. And when I say trouble, I mean that he actually has an ERA over 2.00. I think the front office will wait to see how he adjusts in the AA and AAA before handing the reigns over to Rob. One more year of Hell's Bells doesn't sound too bad.
Evan Anundsen (A+) 2009 stats: 10-8 2.69 ERA 130.1 ERA 1.09 WHIP
Evan wanted to let Doug Melvin know that he was for real. All he did was shave one and a half runs off his ERA, reduce his WHIP from the 1.32 range, to 1.09 (only six pitchers in the majors have a WHIP better than that: Dan Haren, Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, Javier Vazquez, Zach Greinke and Ted Lilly). Oh, and by the way, he threw a 9 inning no-hitter. The former 4th rounder seems to have realized the talent that Jack Z saw in him.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2012. His innings need to be stretched out a bit and he needs to prove himself against better hitters. But if he continues to improve as he has through his ascent, there's no reason we won't see him every fifth day in 2012.
Josh Butler (AA/AAA) 2009 stats: 9-3 2.97 ERA 118.1 IP 96 Ks (R, A+, AA and AAA)
Acquired for Gabe Gross, he's looking more like a steal every time he takes the mound. Starting the year in Brevard County, injuries and thin pitching depth (sound familiar?) led Butler to be promoted to AAA and the kid held his own. Going 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.067 WHIP, the only thing that could stop Butler was an injury (again, sound familiar?). After a rehab assignment to Arizona, the Brewers seem to have settled him into his ideal level: AA.
ETA to Milwaukee: 2010. Presumably, Butler will begin in the starting rotation in Nashville, and an injury here and a release of Jeff Suppan there (fingers crossed) and we may see Butler replace Mike Burns as that first-guy-called-up in the Brewers rotation role.
So to finally answer the question I initially posed of who will make an impact first, I'm going to have to settle in on Braddock. While Butler may make the team first, he projects as a fourth/fifth starter, not dominant yet steady. Not really an impact player. Braddock's stuff could blow major league batters today, it's going to be scary if this guy manages to put it all together... scary for opposing batters that is.