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The 2017 Milwaukee Brewers Top 10 Prospects

Announcement: Described by Michael Salfino of The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports as “an insightful and often contrarian viewpoint to prospect rankings,” The 2017 Prospect Digest Handbook is now on sale! Check it out here! 

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1. Phil Bickford, RHP                                        
Born: 07/10/95 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Luke Jackson, Jake Thompson, Frank Lopez, Victor Capellan, Jordan Walden
Height: 6-4 Weight: 200 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2016 20 A 60.0 3 4 2.70 2.38 10.35 2.25 28.30% 6.20% 0.30 68.00%
2016 20 A+ 33.0 2 2 2.73 3.99 9.82 3.27 27.90% 9.30% 0.82 81.20%
2016 20 A+ 27.0 2 1 3.67 3.40 10.00 5.00 24.40% 12.20% 0.33 74.50%

Background: Fun Fact Part I: Among all 20-year-old arms with at least 120 innings under their respective belts last season, Bickford posted the second highest strikeout percentage, 27.2%, trailing only St. Louis’ Sandy Alcantara. Fun Fact Part II: Only five other 20-year-old hurlers with 120+ innings last season posted a lower FIP than Bickford’s 3.05: Mitch Keller (Pittsburgh), Jordan Yamamoto (Milwaukee), Francis Martes (Houston), Jose Rodriguez (Los Angeles Angels), and, of course, Alcantara. Milwaukee acquired the budding ace from the Giants in a trade eerily reminiscent of the Carlos Beltran-for-Zack Wheeler swap from several years ago. This time, though, San Francisco let the young power armed right-hander go for veteran lefty reliever Will Smith – a severe price to pay by anyone’s standards.

As you’ll recall, Bickford famously – or infamously – bypassed a chance to join the professional ranks after the Blue Jays selected the then-prep prospect with the 10th overall pick in 2013. Instead, he packed his bags – both literally and figuratively – and headed to Cal State Fullerton to team with a litany of future top prospects including J.D. Davis, Matt Chapman, Thomas Eshelman, and Justin Garza.

His time with the Titans, however, lasted all of one year – albeit one very dominant year. In 20 games for the Big West team, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound hurler tossed 76.0 innings with 74 strikeouts, just 13 walks, and an impressive 2.13 ERA. Bickford, once again, packed his bags and moseyed on over to JuCo powerhouse Southern Nevada where he would put together one of the most dominating stat lines I’ve ever seen. At any level.

In 16 starts under head coach Nick Garritano, Bickford tossed 86.2 innings, a very reasonable workload for a 19-year-old arm, with a mind-bending 166 punch outs and just 21 walks. For those counting at home, that’s an average of more than 17 punch outs every nine innings. The overall total number of hitters he faced isn’t available, but I’d love to see what his strikeout percentage would have been. The Giants happily snagged him with the 18th overall pick in 2015.

And he’s been light’s out since entering pro ball.

After a wildly successful debut in the Arizona Summer League – where he was simply a far superior talent – Bickford split his follow-up campaign evenly between the Sally and High Class A, totaling 120 IP with an impeccable 135-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio en route to tallying a 2.92 ERA.

Projection: If you couldn’t tell, I’ll just come out and say it: I’m completely enamored by his potential on the mound. I ranked him as the Giants’ top prospect and the 34th best among all of baseball in last year’s book. And here’s what I wrote about him prior to the 2015 draft:

“A rare breed, Bickford offers up the perfect trifecta of youth, power, and control. And while his swing-and-miss ability this season puts him in some elite company – he’s averaging a smidge over 17 punch outs per nine innings – it’s important to add some proper context.

Current Chicago Cubs farmhand – and former third round pick – Donn Roach, owner of a fringy upper 80s fastball, fanned 142 in 111.1 innings during his lone season at Southern Nevada. Roach also fanned 22 in just over 40 innings of work at Arizona during his freshman season.

With that being said, Bickford is one of the better, more promising arms in the class – one that could potentially move quickly through the system despite his relative youth. [He’s a] solid #2/#3-type ceiling.”

In doing my research – perhaps prior to the draft or just preparing for last year’s book – I read a story (on MLB.com) about Bickford’s childhood when he would obsessively practice throwing fastball low-and-away during his down time. Well, that work has certainly paid off. He’s showcasing above-average control, a premium ability to miss bats, and maturation well beyond his age. After his dominant showing in 2016, I’d bump up his ceiling slightly higher to true #2 with, perhaps, a chance to develop into a genuine frontline starter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pitching in a Brewers uniform come September.

Ceiling: 4.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

2. Josh Hader, LHP                             
Born: 04/07/94 Age: 23 Bats: L Top CALs: Scott Elbert, Ian Kennedy, Blake Snell, Yordano Ventura, Matt Garza
Height: 6-3 Weight: 185 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 19 A 85.0 3 6 2.65 3.93 8.36 4.45 21.40% 11.40% 0.42 67.60%
2014 20 A+ 103.3 9 2 2.70 4.10 9.75 3.31 26.60% 9.00% 0.78 74.50%
2015 21 AA 65.1 3 3 3.17 3.47 9.51 3.31 24.20% 8.40% 0.69 70.40%
2015 21 AA 38.2 1 4 2.79 2.81 11.64 2.56 32.90% 7.20% 0.70 76.10%
2016 22 AA 57.0 2 1 0.95 2.14 11.53 3.00 32.70% 8.50% 0.16 90.40%
2016 22 AAA 69.0 1 7 5.22 3.81 11.48 4.70 29.30% 12.00% 0.65 63.20%

Background:  There’s a few interesting things going on with the lanky southpaw out of Millersville, Maryland: #1. he’s already been a part of two big deadline deals, originally from Baltimore to Houston in the Bud Norris trade, and then two years later he was shipped to Milwaukee as part of the Carlos Gomez swap; #2 it’s fairly common to see a pitcher’s strikeout rate, no matter how talented they are, decline as they move up the minor league ladder, but Hader’s has inexplicably continued to climb. Consider the following:

Year Level IP K/9
2013 A 107.1 8.0
2014 A+/AA 123.0 10.0
2015 AA 104.0 10.3
2016 AA/AAA 126.0 11.5

Last year the former 19th round pick, who signed for “only” $40,000 by the way, made 11 starts with Biloxi in the Southern League and another 14 starts with Colorado Springs in the PCL. Overall, he finished the year with 126 innings, a whopping 161 strikeouts, 55 walks, and an aggregate 3.29 ERA.

For his career, Hader’s averaging 10.3 punch outs and 3.8 walks per nine innings to go along with a 3.04 ERA.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book:

“At 6-foot-3 and barely a dried plantain slice above 160 pounds, Hader’s consistently missed a whole lot of bats – no more important [than] the 10.3 K/9 he fanned last season in Class AA, the minors’ most important level. The control is subpar, but it’s not too far off from being average. He looks like a solid bet to develop into a #4-type arm. And there’s a chance he takes another step into a legitimate #3. He could be an Erik Bedard if everything breaks the right way.”

He’s definitely a lot closer to that #3-type ceiling after his dominating 2016. He was absolutely brilliant in the first half stretch with Biloxi, hanging a 0.95 ERA across 57.0 innings. And his time in Class AAA is marred by a wonky 5.22 ERA; his 3.81 FIP suggests he wasn’t nearly that bad. I’m still sticking by my original comparison as an Erik Bedard-type ceiling. If the control ever comes around, he’s going to be a perennial All-Star.

Ceiling: 4.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

3. Corey Ray, CF                                          
Born: 09/22/94 Age: 22 Bats: L Top CALs: Brandon Jones, Zach Collier, Dorssys Paulino, Rafael Fernandez, Zoilo Almonte
Height: 5-11 Weight: 185 Throws: L
 

Year Age Level PA H 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2016 21 A+ 254 57 13 2 5 0.247 0.307 0.385 0.139 7.90% 21.30% 101

Background: Because I love them so much, here’s a fun little fact to chew on: during his three-year run at Louisville, the supremely talented center fielder crushed 71 extra-base hits and swiped 82 bags (in only 92 attempts) in just 172 total games. And just as I mentioned in his background information on his pre-draft evaluation, that’s an average of one extra-base knock and a stolen base every other game. That just seems absurd to me. Anyway, Ray was a dynamic, incredibly consistent force to be reckoned with in the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup throughout his tenure, leaving the school with as a career .318/.392/.536 hitter with 36 doubles, eight triples, and 27 homeruns to go along with all those stolen bases. The Brewers secured his services with the fifth overall pick last June, making him the second collegiate bat taken.

And they’re incredibly eager to get him up to Milwaukee.

The front office aggressively – and I mean aggressively ­­– pushed him straight into the Florida State League and Ray hardly missed a beat. He slugged .247/.307/.385 with 13 doubles, a pair of triples, five homeruns, and nine stolen bases en route to posting a near-perfect league average 101 wRC+.

Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about the Cardinals star prior to the draft:

“Let’s continue to the praise, shall we? Between 2011 and 2015, here’s a list of Division I players that have reached the following milestones: 200 AB, .320 average, .390 OBP, .590 SLG, 10 homeruns, and 30 stolen bases: George Springer and Corey Ray. 

Ray is an explosive, quick-twitch hitters: he’s incredibly efficient – and successful – on the base paths, packs a wallop at the plate – something that’s been on display for three seasons. He’s handled – or manhandled – elite competition as he slugged .355/.423/.548 with seven doubles, one triple, one homerun, and 10 stolen bases (in 11 attempts) with Team USA. 

The only concern has been his tendency to swing-and-miss: he fanned in over 20% of his plate appearances last season, but has managed to cut that down to a more reasonable 13.2% in 2016. 

Ray’s easily one of top players – if not the top –in the collegiate ranks.” 

And while his overall numbers from his debut seem a bit underwhelming, just remember that (A) he moved right into the Florida State League after college and (B) after a bit of a slow start he batted .275/.351/.471 over his final 36 games with Brevard County. He ended up tearing the meniscus in his knee after the season, so I’m hoping it won’t slow his development curve down.

One red flag: he struggled a bit against southpaws. So that bears watching in the future. But on the positive side, he strikeout-to-walk ratio was actually better against lefties than righties – small sample size, of course. If he doesn’t show any major platoon issues moving forward, I’d expect him to be a very, very exciting player in Milwaukee for many years to come.

 Ceiling: 4.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

4. Lewis Brinson, CF                                               
Born: 05/08/94 Age: 23 Bats: R Top CALs: Shane Peterson, Zoilo Almonte, Casey Craig, Jake Marisnick, Andrew Lambo
Height: 6-3 Weight: 195 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA H 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2012 18 R 265 67 22 7 7 0.283 0.345 0.523 0.241 7.90% 27.90% 122
2013 19 A 503 106 18 2 21 0.237 0.322 0.427 0.190 9.50% 38.00% 117
2014 20 A 186 55 8 1 10 0.335 0.405 0.579 0.244 9.70% 24.70% 172
2014 20 A+ 199 45 8 1 3 0.246 0.307 0.350 0.104 7.50% 25.10% 87
2015 21 A+ 298 87 22 7 13 0.337 0.416 0.628 0.291 10.40% 21.50% 177
2016 22 AA 326 72 14 6 11 0.237 0.280 0.431 0.194 5.20% 19.60% 101

Background: Chalk it up to hard work. Or maybe discipline. Or perhaps maturation. Or even a miracle – and no small one at that. But Brinson continued to make serious headway when it comes to his once epic strikeout tendencies. Part of Texas’ draft class that added Joey Gallo, Nick Williams, and Alec Asher to the fold – and also some guy named Jameis Winston who, for some reason, chose to not sign as a 15th round pick and pursue a football career – Brinson’s mighty hacks would take down some of the widest California Redwoods around. He punched out in nearly 28% of his plate appearances in rookie ball during his debut. And he upped the bar – by a lot – the following year in the Sally, striking out a whopping 38.0% of the time. But since then those numbers have been slowly, steadily in decline. Last year the then 22-year-old center fielder spent the majority of the season with Texas’ Class AA affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders, hitting a Brett Phillips-like .237/.280/.431 with 14 doubles, six triples, 11 long balls, and 11 stolen bases (in 15 attempts). Following his trade to Milwaukee in the Jonathan Lucroy-swap, Brinson moved directly up to the Brew Crew’s Triple-A affiliate, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, where he – un-like Phillips – rediscovered his stroke, hitting .382/.387/.618 with 13 extra-base hits in 23 games.

Projection: You kind of get the feeling he’s heading down the Adam Jones career path – which, to be honest, is a fantastic one to take. Both toolsy center fielders possess the rare, highly sought after power-speed combination. They showcase solid hit tools. And they both own similar walk rates in the minors: 7.1% (Jones) vs. 8.2% (Brinson). Oh, yeah, here are their respective MiLB triple-slash lines:

  • Brinson: .280/.345/.492
  • Jones: .291/.354/.476

If he looks like All-Star, performs like a (future) All-Star, and has all the tools to be All-Star…well…then he’s got a pretty good shot at developing into a (perennial) All-Star.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

5. Marcos Diplan, RHP                                   
Born: 09/18/96 Age: 20 Bats: R Top CALs: Omar Poveda, Jake Thompson, Randall Delgado, Giovanni Soto, John Lamb
Height: 6-0 Weight: 160 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 17 R 64.3 7 2 1.54 4.05 7.97 5.04 22.40% 14.10% 0.28 79.20%
2015 18 R 50.1 2 2 3.75 4.40 9.66 3.75 25.70% 10.00% 0.72 76.10%
2016 19 A 70.0 6 2 1.80 2.99 11.44 4.11 30.20% 10.90% 0.39 75.20%
2016 19 A+ 43.1 1 2 4.98 3.92 8.31 3.74 20.80% 9.40% 0.83 66.20%

Background: Fun Fact Part I: Among all Low Class A arms with 70+ innings under their belts last season, Diplan finished third in strikeout percentage with a mind-blowing 30.2%. Fun Fact Part II: The two pitchers that posted better strikeout percentages – Joseph Palumbo (30.8%) and Lukas Schiraldi (30.5%) – were at least two years older that the Brewers’ young fire-baller. But wait! There’s more! Fun Fact Part III: The last teenage arm to post a punch out percentage north of 30% was Pittsburgh’s ace-in-waiting Tyler Glasnow in 2013. Finally, Fun Fact Part IV: Outside of Diplan and Glasnow, there have been seven other instances of this since 2006. Those hurlers: the late Jose Fernandez, Cody Buckel, Shelby Miller, Danny Duffy, Clayton Kershaw, Jake McGee, and, yes, former Brewer Will Inman. For those counting at home: Over the last 11 years – and, yes, I want to stress this again – there are just nine total instances were a teenage arm fanned at least 30% of the batters he’s faced in Low Class A (minimum 70 innings). Now of those nine: two turned into once-in-a-generation-type talents in Kershaw and Fernandez, another one posted a 3.4-win season (Miller), two others posted years in which they earned more than 2.5 wins above replacement (Duffy and McGee), another one is among the game’s best prospects (Glasnow), and two turned out to be busts (Buckel, who lost the strike zone completely, and Inman, who succumbed to a variety of arm issues). The last, of course, is Diplan.

Now on to Diplan’s overall numbers from last year between the Midwest and Florida State Leagues: 113.1 innings pitched, 129 K, 50 walks, and a sparkling 3.02 ERA.

Projection: Well, it certainly goes without saying, but I will anyway: that’s a damn good list of players to be listed along with. His control/command still has some ways to go – he walked slightly more than 10% of the batters he faced – but pitchers that can miss that many bats are certainly a rarity (and quite valuable). Finally, one more thing:

Player Age Level IP BB%
Will Inman 19 A 110.2 5.6%
Jose Fernandez 19 A 79.0 6.1%
Cody Buckel 19 A 96.2 6.9%
Shelby Miller 19 A 104.1 7.5%
Danny Duffy 19 A 81.2 7.7%
Marcos Diplan 19 A 70.0 10.9%
Jake McGee 19 A 134.0 11.6%
Clayton Kershaw 19 A 97.1 12.1%
Tyler Glasnow 19 A 111.1 13.5%

 

By this time next season Diplan’s going to be among the most talked about arms in the minors. You’ve been warned. Here’s hoping he can navigate his way through the injury nexus. Fingers firmly crossed…

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

6. Brandon Woodruff, RHP                        
Born: 02/10/93 Age: 24 Bats: R Top CALs: Brad Mills, Andrew Heaney, Steven Matz, Charles Brewer, Adam Conley
Height: 6-4 Weight: 215 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 21 R 46.7 1 2 3.28 4.22 7.14 3.09 17.80% 7.70% 0.39 49.80%
2015 22 A+ 109.2 4 7 3.45 3.09 5.83 2.71 15.50% 7.20% 0.16 68.90%
2016 23 A+ 44.1 4 1 1.83 2.51 9.95 2.03 27.80% 5.70% 0.41 78.70%
2016 23 AA 113.2 10 8 3.01 2.49 9.82 2.38 27.10% 6.60% 0.32 71.30%

Background: One of the great surprises in 2016 – other than all the craptastic news the year has brought us – former Mississippi State University right-hander Brandon Woodruff went from 11th round pick (more on that later) to non-descript first full season to one of the most intriguing hurlers in all of minor leagues. Woodruff, who would bypass a chance at professional ball coming out of high school when the Rangers gambled on him in the fifth round in 2011, succumbed to Tommy John surgery halfway through his sophomore season with the Bulldogs – an injury that would ultimately limit his collegiate workload to just 90 innings over three seasons. And while I was pretty high on the hard-throwing hurler, going so much as to slap a third round grade on him, the Brewers took an 11th round flier on Woodruff.

After a decent showing in the Pioneer League during his debut – he would throw 46.2 innings with 37 punch outs and 16 walks – the front office aggressively pushed him up to High Class A the following season, a bold move considering his lack of experience above…well…high school. And the results were lacking, to put it kindly. In 109.2 innings with Brevard County in the Florida State League, Woodruff barely missed any bats (71 K’s) but did a solid job limiting free base runners and kept the ball in the park exceptionally well.

Then 2016 happened…

The Brewers bounced him back down to High Class A for eight starts, mostly of the dominating variety, before pushing him to the Southern League for another 20 games. When the dust cleared Woodruff fanned 173 and walked just 40 en route to tallying a 2.68 ERA across 158.0 innings of work.

Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote about the big righty prior to the draft in 2014:

“Very similar to that of former Oklahoma State right-hander Jason Hursh, who was nabbed by the Braves in the first round last season despite missing significant time due to Tommy John surgery. Woodruff is another lively armed pitcher that could find his name being called somewhere between rounds 2 and 3.

He’s going to have to be brought up to speed slowly, but there’s some big league rotation potential here. The control will eventually bounce back after this season; granted, it couldn’t get much worse. And in limited time he’s shown a pretty good ability to miss bats.

Complete wild card, though. If everything breaks right, he – maybe – could develop into a #3/#4-type arm. But if his control/command continues to flounder in the below-average range than he’s likely looking at an eighth inning role. Again, health is going to be a concern moving forward.”

How’s that for sound analysis? I know, I know. I’m so humble…

Just to kind of put Woodruff’s dominance into perspective consider the following::

  • Among all qualified arms, he finished second in all of the minors with 173 strikeouts, trailing only Kansas City’s Josh Staumont.
  • Among MiLB pitchers with 150+ innings he led the minors in strikeout percentage (27.3%), strikeout-to-walk percentage (21.0%), and FIP (2.50).

He’s ready to step into the Brewers’ rotation today – though I’d expect him to get a little work in Class AAA before getting the call.

Ceiling: 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

7. Isan Diaz, 2B/SS                                                 
Born: 05/27/96 Age: 21 Bats: L Top CALs: Corey Seager, Jonathan Galvez, Xander Bogaerts, Niko Goodrum, Trevor Story
Height: 5-10 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA H 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 18 R 212 34 7 5 3 0.187 0.289 0.330 0.143 11.80% 26.40% 83
2015 19 R 312 98 25 6 13 0.360 0.436 0.640 0.279 10.90% 20.80% 169
2016 20 A 587 134 34 5 20 0.264 0.358 0.469 0.205 12.30% 25.20% 143
2016 20 A 587 134 34 5 20 0.264 0.358 0.469 0.205 12.30% 25.20% 143

Background: It’s easy to dismiss some – or, hell, most – of the work that the Diamondbacks did under the ill-conceived Tony LaRussa/Dave Stewart Era. ESPN’s Keith Law had a fantastic write-up entitled, Time to End the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Reign of Error. It’s truly one of the most eye-opening, pulls-no-punches articles I’ve read about the sport in a long, long while. Anyway, one of the moves that didn’t turn out to be a complete bust was the five-player swap involving Jean Segura and Tyler Wagner heading to Arizona for Isan Diaz, Chase Anderson, Aaron Hill, and Cash. Very, very few people – including myself – would have never suspected that Segura was capable of putting together a 5.0-win season on the back of a .319/.368/.499 showing at the plate.

And even with Segura’s reemergence as a threat at the plate, Milwaukee still managed to come out in pretty good shape – thanks, of course, to Diaz, a 2014 second round pick out of Springfield High in Massachusetts.

Like his shortstop counterpart, the lefty-swinging Diaz had a massive coming out party as well, proving that his battering of Pioneer League pitching two years ago was no fluke.

Spending the year as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League, Diaz batted an impressive .264/.358/.469 with 34 doubles, five triples, 20 homeruns, and 11 stolen bases (though, it did take 19 attempts) while topping the league average offensive production by a whopping 43%. This, of course, comes on his .360/.436/.640 showing in the advanced rookie leagues in 2015.

Projection: Here’s what I wrote about Diaz and his dominance in the Pioneer League in last year’s book:

“Granted it’s just 68 games in the Pioneer League, but here are those numbers prorated over the course of a 162-game season: 60 doubles, 14 triples, and 31 homeruns. That’s impressive production at any level. And it goes without saying that Diaz likely paved the way straight to the Midwest League.

Here’s the best part of Diaz’s dominance last season: a lot of his underlying skill set should be easily maintained as he moves forward. Here are his peripherals between his disastrous showing in 2014 and his monstrous campaign last year:

Year

League

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

2014

ARIZ

11.80%

26.40%

0.143

0.248

2015

PION

10.90%

20.80%

0.279

0.434

He’s still fairly combustible given that he was 19-years-old and dominating the Pioneer League, but above-average walk rates with no worse than solid-average power at a middle infielder position are very promising. But even as his BABIP normalizes in 2016 he should still be a force to be reckoned with.”

So, yeah, he was still an incredible force to be reckoned with. So much so, in fact, consider the following:

  • Since 2006, Isan Diaz is the only player in either Low Class A league under the age of 21 to slug more than 30 doubles and 20 homeruns in season.

Tremendous, tremendous patience at the plate with surprising pop for his lanky sub-6-foot frame, Diaz’s lone red flag is his tendency to swing-and-miss a bunch. If he can keep that in check, he looks like a future cornerstone at either middle infield position.

Ceiling: 1.5-win player

Risk: Low to Moderate

MLB ETA: 2017

 

 

8. Luis Ortiz, RHP                                         
Born: 09/22/95 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Ariel Jurado, Joe Wieland, Zack Littell, Connor Greene, Jacob Turner
Height: 6-3 Weight: 230 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 19 A 50.0 4 1 1.80 2.50 8.28 1.62 22.90% 4.50% 0.18 80.20%
2016 20 A+ 27.2 3 2 2.60 4.22 9.11 1.95 25.50% 5.50% 1.30 64.10%
2016 20 AA 39.2 1 4 4.08 3.36 7.71 1.59 19.50% 4.00% 0.68 62.00%

Background: After homegrown All-Star backstop Jonathan Lucroy spurned the welcome wagon to Cleveland, Milwaukee General Manager David Stearns turned around and swapped the former third round pick (as well as Jeremy Jeffress) to Texas in exchange for Ortiz, center fielder Lewis Brinson, and outfielder Ryan Cordell. Ortiz, a strapping 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-hander out of Sanger, California, has made an effortless climb through the minor leagues – going from first round pick, 30th overall, to 20-year-old Class AA stud in fewer than three seasons. Last year Ortiz opened up with seven strong appearances in the California League before getting the call to move up to Class AA. Overall, he would throw 90.2 IP, thanks a groin injury, with 78 strikeouts, 23 walks, and an impressive 3.08. For his career, he’s averaged 8.0 punch outs and just 2.1 walks per nine innings.

Projection: And now for the bad news – kind of. Despite heading into his fourth professional season, Ortiz has yet to top 90.0 innings in any year. Of course, his debut was abbreviated to no fault of his own. But he squeezed in just 50.0 innings two years ago thanks to strained flexor muscle and then a groin issue reared its ugly head in 2016.

When he does toe the rubber, however, Ortiz has been nothing short of dominant: he posted a 19-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20.1 innings of work during his debut; he followed that up with another strong showing in the Sally (46-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio); and continued to dominate last season.

Ortiz has the look, build, and production of a solid mid-rotation caliber arm – though he’s going to have to answer durability issues for the next couple years.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

9. Jordan Yamamoto, RHP                       
Born: 05/11/96 Age: 21 Bats: R Top CALs: Joseph Cruz, Casey Meisner, Luis Cruz, Leonel Santiago, Wilking Rodriguez
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level IP W L ERA FIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR/9 LOB%
2015 19 R 62.0 1 6 7.84 6.07 8.56 3.19 19.50% 7.30% 1.74 61.40%
2016 20 A 134.1 7 8 3.82 2.53 10.18 2.08 27.40% 5.60% 0.40 66.00%

Background: It’s pretty very easy to get lost in the sheer depth – it’s an embarrassment of riches, really – of the Brewers’ farm system. After all, there isn’t one but several players with the potential to make an All-Star squad down the line. So it’s not surprising that Yamamoto, a 12th round pick out of a Hawaiian high school, still isn’t garnering many looks outside the organization. But he’s established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers in the all of the minor leagues. Of course, slapping up a (misleading) 7.84 ERA as a 19-year-old in the Pioneer League two years ago definitely didn’t help his cause. But he sure as hell pushed that quickly out of his memory. That and, you know, a wonky homerun rate with an absurdly high .424 BABIP will do that for you.

Yamamoto, who stands 6-foot-nothing and a svelte 185 pounds, made seven appearances for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League last season, throwing a career best 134.1 innings with a whopping 152 punch outs and just 31 walks en route to posting a 3.82 ERA and a downright dominant 2.53 FIP.

And now for the fun…

Projection: Let’s delve into the numbers, shall we?

Among all qualified Midwest League arms, Yamamoto finished second in FIP (2.53), second in strikeout rate (10.18 K/9), second in strikeout percentage (27.4%), eighth in walk rate (2.08 BB/9), tied for seventh in walk percentage (5.6%), and tops in strikeout-to-walk percentage (21.8%).

Among all qualified Low Class A arms (Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues), Yamamoto finished third in FIP, third in strikeout rate, third in strikeout percentage, 20th in walk rate, 20th in walk percentage, and third in strikeout-to-walk percentage.

Now among all MiLB arms at any level with at least 120 innings, Yamamoto finished fourth in FIP, fifth in strikeout rate, sixth in strikeout percentage, and third in strikeout-to-walk percentage.

If that’s not pure dominance, I’m not sure we’ll ever see it then.

His slight frame has the potential to limit him, but assuming he can maneuver his way through the injury nexus, Yamamoto has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation arm.

Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018/2019

 

 

10. Brett Phillips, CF                                      
Born: 05/30/94 Age: 23 Bats: L Top CALs: Aaron Cunningham, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, Domonic Brown, Zoilo Almonte
Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 Throws: R
 

Year Age Level PA H 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 20 A 443 116 21 12 13 0.302 0.362 0.521 0.219 8.10% 17.20% 148
2015 21 A+ 322 93 19 7 15 0.320 0.379 0.588 0.268 6.80% 19.90% 159
2016 22 AA 516 101 14 6 16 0.229 0.332 0.397 0.168 13.00% 29.80% 113

Background: One of the rules Hall of Famer Branch Rickey lived by was that it’s better to deal a player a year too early, rather than a year too late. And I suspect that this is what happened when Cincinnati Reds General Manager – and former Rickey pupil – Bill DeWitt dealt all-time great Frank Robinson to the Orioles for a package, as referenced by Annie Savoy in Bull Durham as: “But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake?” DeWitt, by the way, referred to Robinson as an “old 30” at the time of the deal. Well, it looks like Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin choose the right time to deal away All-Star outfielder Carlos Gomez (and Mike Fiers) for a package of highly touted youngsters: Phillips, Josh Hader, Domingo Santana, and Adrian Houser.

Gomez famously – or infamously – struggled to the tune of .221/.277/.342 in 126 games with Houston before being released by the club and hooking up with the Rangers for the final month-plus of 2016.

Phillips spent last season in Class AA, his second extended stint at the level, hitting a career worst .229/.332/.397 with 14 doubles, six triples, 16 homeruns, and 12 stolen bases. And despite the downturn in production – his career triple-slash line is .278/.360/.464 – the former sixth round pick still managed to top the league average production mark by 13%.

Projection: There’s something going on with the former Seminole High School product – particularly his ballooning strikeout rate since heading to the land of beer and cheese. Phillips has a pretty long track record of strikeout rates hovering in the upper teens, but since the trade he’s fanned 184 times in 147 games in Milwaukee’s system.

And to put that into context: before the trade he fanned 186 times in his last 227 games. The difference in plate appearances:

  • Pre-trade 227 games: 1,038 trips to the plate with a 17.9% K-rate
  • Post trade 147 games: 615 trips to the plate with a 29.9% K-rate

I find it very difficult to believe that Class AA pitchers picked up something immediately following the deal that allowed them to exploit some sort of weakness – especially when he fanned in just 17.9% of his PA in 31 games at the level with Houston. So what else could there be? I suspect maybe a change in hitting philosophy? It’s tough to know but, again, that’s my sneaking suspicion.

The tools are still prevalent: above-average eye, 20- to 25-homerun potential, and a little speed to burn. I hope he can rediscover whatever worked for him so well in Houston’s system.

Ceiling: 3.0-win player

Risk: Moderate to High

MLB ETA: 2018

 

 

Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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