The Milwaukee Brewers enter the 2014 season with what is clearly one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Gone are the days when names like Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Prince Fielder headlined the pages of the “top prospect” lists. Since Doug Melvin took over as General Manager, Milwaukee has seen quite a few of its own draft picks make an impact at the big league level, but as of late having a Brewers prospect develop into someone who will contribute in the Majors is the exception, not the rule. There are some bright spots, however, and what is spring without a little optimism? Here is a look at the best young talent the organization has to offer.
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1. Jimmy Nelson RHP
At age 24, the future is now for Nelson. A September call up last year gave him the opportunity to test his mettle against big league bats, and for the most part it was a successful debut. After moving from AA Huntsville to AAA Nashville midway through the 2013 season, Nelson had a hard time finding the strike zone, seeing his walks/9 increase from 1.96/9 over 69 innings in Double-A to 5.4/9 in 83 innings pitched at Triple-A. Even with giving up that many free passes, Nelsons proclivity for missing bats helped him manage a decent 3.67 ERA pitching for Nashville in the notoriously hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. With the addition of Matt Garza in the off season Nelson is likely to open the year as the ace of the Nashville staff where he will continue to work on developing a changeup. If he can throw it for strikes on a consistent basis it will be a nice complement to his fastball and slider, both of which are plus pitches. Expect to see Nelson get the first call up of the year for the Brewers if another arm is needed.
2. Tyrone Taylor OF
Drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2012 draft, Tyrone Taylor is as athletic as anybody in the Brewers organization. His above average speed and good defensive instincts make him an ideal center fielder. Although accurate, Taylor doesn’t have great arm strength but he makes up for that to a certain extent with his range. Taylor’s bat remains the question mark but the Brewers like what they’ve seen so far out of the 20 year old who has thus far posted a .289 BA over 560 minor league at bats. Taylor has not shown much power as of yet, but he uses the whole field and has the potential to be a doubles machine. The organization is still hoping his power stroke will develop as he continues to get stronger but don’t expect 20+ HR’s out of him. He has a good feel for running the bases and although he doesn’t have blazing speed, he has plenty to contribute in the SB category. Taylor is as close to a 5 tool player as the Brewers have in the minors but he is still a work in progress who should start the year at Hi-A.
3. David Goforth RHP
One of 7 non-roster invites to Spring Training the 25 year old Goforth has an opportunity to help the Major League club this year at some point. The Brewers front office is still saying he can be a starter, but they aren’t showing much to back that up that assertion. At Double-A Huntsville last year Goforth made 4 starts before moving to the bullpen. In the Arizona Fall League he was closing, suggesting the Brewers are looking to develop him as a late inning reliever. Goforth has a good mid-90’s fastball and a cutter that he uses effectively against left handers. Be careful about using the C word though as Goforth does have a few command issues and doesn’t miss a ton of bats. If he shows the ability to limit his walks at Triple-A and increases his K rate slightly his ability to get both righties and lefties out might help his chances at seeing some late game big league action.
4. Devin Williams RHP
The Kyle Lohse signing last year meant the Brewers would not have a first round pick in the 2013 draft, but they were pleased that High School hurler Devin Williams was still available for Crew’s turn in the second round. For a 19 year old, the kid can bring it touching 94 on the radar gun with his four-seam fastball. He projects as a starter and if he reaches his potential he could be a solid number 2 at the big league level. He’s got control issues, which is a bit of a theme in the Brewers organization, but he has the athleticism and foundation to become a really good pitcher. It’s only potential right now but not a bad guy to keep an eye on as he moves up the minor league ranks.
5. Mitch Haniger OF
Taken in the first round of the 2012 supplemental draft, Haniger was another non-roster invite to Spring Training this year. At age 23, the Brewers are hoping he will take a big step forward this year and they still believe in his potential to become a pretty solid power hitter. He has a strong, accurate arm that could play at either corner outfield spot. Haniger showed good plate discipline in college and he makes contact more often than not. It won’t be this year but there will probably still be a position available for him if he’s ready by 2015 as the current third outfield spot isn’t being held with much certainty by Khris Davis.
6. Victor Roache OF
Another guy who the Brewers expect to compete for a starting job in the outfield at some point, Roache missed all of his rookie campaign due to a wrist injury that set the 28th overall pick in the 2012 draft back a year. This is a power hitter, plain and simple. It is not uncommon for a wrist injury to sap some of the power from a hitters bat for a time after a wrist injury, and this appears to be the case with Roache, who bounced back from a shaky first half to hit 16 HR in 277 plate appearances after the all star break for Low-A Wisconsin. No batting titles in his future, but he could keep Bernie Brewer busy going down his home run slide inside Miller Park.
7. Nick Delmonico INF
Acquired from the Orioles in 2013 as part of the K-Rod deal, the 21 year old Delmonico is the type of player who remains marketable to big league clubs year after year because of his defensive versatility. While he isn’t a defensive wizard, he can play all over the infield and many scouts thought he would end up being a catcher coming into the 2011 draft because of his arm strength. He is seen as the “professional hitter” type who will hit for average with some pop and that could have him seeing regular Major League at bats in the not-too-distant future.
8. Orlando Arcia SS
Stop me if you’ve heard this one… Arcia is a 19 year old Venezualen short stop whose ticket to the majors will be punched by his glove. Defensively he’s fun to watch, showing good range and a strong arm. Unfortunately, defense doesn’t win fantasy championships. He has a chance to develop a little power as he matures and he’ll get on base enough to swipe a few bags but with Jean Segura being just 23 there might not be a lot of opportunity here.
9. Johnny Hellweg RHP
I’m putting Johnny Hellweg on this list mainly because the 25 year old will probably get a shot to pitch for the Brewers this year in some capacity. One of the many under-performing pitchers that litter the Brewers system, Hellweg just can’t seem to throw strikes. When he’s on, he’s got the ability to induce ground ball after ground ball. At 6 feet 9 inches tall, Hellweg’s pitches appear to be coming down from the rafters but his control just isn’t there to be an effective big leaguer. Is it possible that could change? Sure, it’s possible. And Chuckie Carr could take ball 3, but that’s not Chuckie’s game. (If you don’t know that reference, Google Chuckie Carr, you won’t be disappointed.)
10. Yirver Gilbert Lara** SS
This one is a bit of a stretch, as Lara is a 16 year old from the Dominican Republic (yes, 16. Is this a dynasty website or what!) who hasn’t even officially signed with the Brewers because he can’t technically do so until July 2nd. Be that as it may, the sides have reportedly agreed to terms on a $3.2 million signing bonus. I repeat, a $3.2 million signing bonus for a 16 year old. That is $2.4 million more than the Brewers have ever given to an international player so they must be pretty high on the kid. Not an easy guy to get a scouting report on, but he’s apparently a real-deal power hitting shortstop who can do it all. What a great country we live in!
*player is not technically on the roster
**indicates I can’t pronounce players name