As the Brewers wind down their spectacular run in 2011, the Brewers’ farm system has all but completed its work for the year. As usual, Milwaukee’s future stars had a tremendous year and proved that talent runs deep in this organization.
While the names might not be recognizable and the stats might not be as sexy as those of a Braun or a Fielder, it seems like an appropriate time to take a trip down for a minor league assignment and check up on the little guys, team by team.
OK, so it’s not really team-by-team since I’m skipping over the Dominican League, Arizona League, and Helena Rookie Brewers, but it’s pretty close. We’ll start from the bottom up.
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers – A, Midwest League (29-40, 7th)
The T-Rats of Appleton hung close for the first part of the season, but the better part of their talent moved on to bigger things and left the team in a lurch. This is not a bad thing, of course, in the grand scheme of things but I’m sure it left the Wisconsin faithful with a bitter taste in their mouth. There were more than a few bright spots in this dismal season, however.
Attendance was up in Appleton (Star Wars Night and Ladies’ Night certainly helped), and always the team welcomed fans with open arms. On the field, First Baseman Cody Hawn and Left Fielder T.J. Mittelstaedt ended in the top ten in the league in batting average. Mittelstaedt also ended the 2011 campaign with a .410 OBP, good for second overall in the Midwest League. Third Baseman Michael Walker led the Timber Rattlers in Home Runs, knocking 15 dingers in 2011.
The team may not have fared so well in the standings, but they have a solid core that should be returning, including manager Matt Erickson. That, coupled with the fact that most of the top-tier prospects route through Appleton on their way to the Show, might make the Timber Rattlers a hot Single-A ticket next year.
Brevard County Manatees – Advanced A, Florida State League (35-33, 4th)
Well, “Fear the Sea Cow” might not have been as effective a phrase as the team intended, but the Manatees did put on a quite a show this year. Brevard County ended the season with a five game winning streak, and went 8-2 in their last ten but could not overcome the deficit to make it into the playoffs. That being said, they did garner a ton of transitory talent and look like a team full of future Major League players.
A handful of Manatees stick out this season as being either great future Brewers, or excellent trade bait as they move up the system. If you frequent Reviewing the Brew (which I know you all do, right?), you know how high we are on Scooter Gennett and Tyler Thornburg. Gennett kept doing what he does best, ‘tickling balls through the infield’ – if I might borrow a phrase from Tony Plush. Scooter knocked 167 hits for Brevard County this season, which tied a franchise record. That mark led all Brewers minor leaguers, and also helped Gennett finish with a highly respectable .300 average on the year.
Tyler Thornburg came up to the bright lights of the Florida State League after a real impressive start with the Timber Rattlers (7-0, 1.57, 2 CG) but got shaky a few times with the ‘Tees. He finished the season in Brevard County with a 3-6 record and a 3.57 ERA. His numbers still look pretty darn good, though, as he fanned 86 batters in his 12 starts and opponents only managed a measly .186 against him. Next year will undoubtedly prove brighter for the righty.
In other Manatee news, First Baseman Hunter Morris made his case for re-assigment by posting a new Manatee Home Run record, which now stands at 19. He ended the season with a .271 average and 28 doubles. Morris looks to be a promising young power hitter – and oh how we love to drool over big hitting first basemen.
Huntsville Stars – AA Southern League (27-40, 10th)
There was no joy in Huntsville this season, as the Stars finished dead last in the league standings for 2011. There were more than a few bright spots in the field and at the plate, however. Huntsville, like most AA teams tends to be a temporary stop for most players and I think we will be seeing and hearing from a few of the Huntsville players in seasons to come.
One of those players is First Baseman Sean Halton. Halton led the Stars in basically every measure on offense in 2011. He finished the year with a .298 average, seven home runs and 65 RBI’s. Other standout stars include Huntsville pitcher Wily Peralta – who was moved up in August – who ended with the best ERA in the Southern League with 3.46 over 21 starts. He ended his stint in Huntsville with a 9-7 record overall. First year pitcher Dan Merklinger also had a great year, keeping pace with Peralta’s excellent season. Merklinger tallied nine wins of his own, and also led the team in strikeouts (133), and finished second on the team in WHIP with 1.35. Next year looks really good for this kid, and if the offense picks up Huntsville will be in the hunt next season.
Nashville Sounds – AAA Pacific Coast League (71-73, 6th)
The Brewers AAA affiliate is absolutely filled to the brim with talent, but there were numerous off-field issues that kept them from really gelling and making a run this season in the massive Pacific Coast League. Don’t worry, it wasn’t legal issues or anything, just some normal attitude adjustments that come with young kids getting to the next level and Manager and former Brewer Don Money seems to be approaching the team in the right way.
Money’s main concern is coaching up the ‘intangibles’ in some of the bigger prospects playing in Nashville right now. One of them – Mat Gamel – seems to need a little more time according to the Sounds’ skipper. According to the comments Money made to Adam McCalvy, Gamel needs to work on his fundamentals and his attitude if he’s going to make a serious run at a Major League career. The organization moved Gamel over to first base in order to prep for the possible departure of Fielder, and he had a good season – hitting .310 with 28 homers and 96 runs batted in, but he was left off of the September call-up list. It’s no secret that his attitude is a big part of that. If he keeps his numbers up and accepts coaching, it looks like first base might be the ideal spot for him.
In better news from Nashville, both recipients of the Robin Yount Performance Awards came from the Sounds. Infielder and September call-up Taylor Green was named Brewers Minor League player of the year, and Michael Fiers was selected as the organization’s top pitcher. Fiers, you might remember from his gem of a debut earlier last week when he put away a scoreless 9th inning in a loss to the Rockies. Green finished his season in Nashville with a .336 average and 22 home runs, and was also named one of the members of the 2011 All-Pacific Coast League team. Also recieving honors this year was Sounds Second baseman Eric Farris. Farris was named the best defensive second baseman in the Pacific Coast League by Baseball America. Where was his call up, you ask? Although he has great defensive tools, he was caught stealing on nearly one third of his attempts this year, and his .271 average is serviceable, but i think the organization needs to see more on the offensive side as our need for middle infielders seems to be waning in the return of Weeks to the lineup.
All in all the Nashville Sounds seem to have the tools to get it done, they just need to get focused more on the games in front of them than the games in the future.
Remember to check in on your Brewers Minor League players from time to time – Minor League games are always a good time, and knowing about prospects always makes you sound smarter than your friends. If you have a thirst for more minor league knowledge, why not check out our Fansided friends over at Seedlings to Stars? They do a great job and the site is always packed with good reads.