Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The minor league baseball season is well under way and so it is time to look at progress and performance down on the farm. 2013 was a down year for the Brewers minor league teams, emphasizing the talk about the weakness of the prospects in the system. 2014 on the farm, much like at the major league level has started with a great deal more optimism. Both Double-A, Huntsville and High Single-A Brevard County are several games over .500, whilst Nashville are just one game below.
Triple-A – Nashville Sounds
Nashville finished the Pacific Coast League American Southern in last place in 2013. Their woeful 57-87 record was the worst of any team in all four divisions of the Pacific Coast League.
The current team hold a 9-10 record after 18 games. In particular, several former Brewer pitchers have shown their readiness for a call-up from the minors. Mike Fiers has dominated in winning his three outings, producing quality starts on each occasion. In 20.2 innings, Fiers has recorded 26 strikeouts and given up just a pair of earned runs (0.87 ERA). Jimmy Nelson has made four starts, all turning in at least 6 innings. Impressively he has recorded 25 strikeouts in 25 innings with an 1.80 ERA. Extremely positive news in case of injury in the Brewers starting rotation.
Several of the Sounds batting order have started strongly. In particular, Eugenio Velez (.444/.508/.630) and Pete Orr (.380/.404/.620) have reached base regularly. While, as a team they have crushed 14 homers, despite no one hitting more than a pair.
However, there are underachievers, both Hiram Burgos (5.79 ERA) and Johnny Hellweg (4.95 ERA) have struggled, with Hellweg issuing 15 walks in 20 innings, before news of a UCL injury. Finally, first base prospect Hunter Morris has too many strikeouts and meaning an OBP of just .299. Definitely, a few positives but several well known names with work to do.
Double-A – Huntsville Stars
Huntsville struggled to a 59-79 record in Southern League Northern Division last year. However, similar to Nashville they have represented an improvement in farm system performance. Currently, they top their tight division with an 11-8 record.
It is only a couple of years since many bemoaned the lack of depth of pitching in the Brewers system. However, through 21 games the Brewers have 16 quality starts, whilst Fiers and Nelson dominate for Nashville. Importantly, four of the five members of the Stars rotation have an ERA under 3.50. Special mention to Brent Suter, who is 2-0 with 17K and 1.06 ERA through 3 starts. While Top Ten prospect David Goforth (6 saves in 7 opportunities) has positive strides.
The batting line up unfortunately has been far less prosperous. Of the regular starters with 30 plus at-bats, not one is averaging above .250, while No.3 prospect (according to Baseball America), Mitch Haniger is batting only .209 with 3 homers.
High Single-A – Brevard County Manatees
Finally, time to browse at how the ‘Tees have begun their season. In my visit to Florida and Wisconsin this summer, I am planning visits to the Florida State League and in particular the welcoming confines of Space Coast Stadium. On my last couple of trips, I been lucky enough to see Scooter Gennett legging out extra base hits and getting my first game ball.
The Manatees lie in a tie for second in the North Division, with a 11-7 record, four games back of the Dunedin Blue Jays. Two of the Brewers Top 5 prospects are currently struggling down in eastern Florida. Both Tyrone Taylor and Victor Roache are batting well below .250, although Roache who bats for plenty of power has hit a couple of long home runs.
Brevard County follow the strong pitching trend, especially Tyler Wagner, who has given up just three earned runs in 23 innings. However, it is important to note that 2011 First Round pick Jed Bradley is still struggling to develop as a potential major leaguer. Although, Tuesday’s six inning outing against the Tampa Yankees dropped his ERA to a respectable 3.80.
So, in stark contrast to 2013, the Brewers farm system is winning at present. It seems the feel good feeling from Miller Park is spreading through the organisation, especially amongst the pitching arms.