Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
It has been an impressive last few weeks for the Brewers farm system. All three of the most advanced affiliates have shown that there is real quality in the lower echelons of the franchise. A special mention needs to be given to the dominant AA Huntsville Stars, who have gone 25-9 in the Southern League since my last review.
Triple-A – Nashville Sounds
The Sounds have had a successful last month, moving above .500 for the season. At 28-26 they lead a tight Pacific Coast League American Southern by 1.5 games from the New Orleans Zephyrs. Further, the Sounds have boosted the Brewers major league squad lately, sending up Elian Herrera, Rob Wooten and over the weekend, Jimmy Nelson and Irving Falu.
Impressively, Nashville have Eugenio Velez, along with Herrera batting over .340. Top prospect Hunter Morris has pulled his average up to .296 with 12 doubles and 7 homers. However, he still strikes out far too often at that level, 42K’s in 50 games.
The bulk of the Sounds success can be attributed to the quality of starting pitching. Mike Fiers, Brad Mills and recent Brewers spot starter Nelson have dominated, all holding down ERA’s under 2.50. Nelson has struck out 58 in as many innings, while Mills dominated allowing a miserly 5 hits across 19 innings in 3 starts early in May.
A vast improvement on that 57-87, 2013 record and in Nelson and Fiers, MLB ready starting pitching should the worst happen.
Double-A – Huntsville Stars
A fantastic streak over the last month has seen the Stars build a 9.5 game lead over the Tennessee Smokies. There have been a number of impressive performances. Culminating in Drew Gagnon winning the Southern League pitcher of the week for 7 2/3 scoreless innings on the 16th May.
Forming part of a dominant starting rotation, Gagnon is one of five starters holding down an ERA under 2.80. The farm system demonstrating the current strength of starting pitching. Best of the bunch for the Stars, Tyler Cravy at 7-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 11 starts. Issuing just 10 walks in 55 innings and 5 earned runs in his last 8 starts.
On the other hand the Huntsville batting line-up has been at best mediocre in 2014. Especially for a team 19 games over .500. However, two names stand out. Jason Rogers holds a .279 BA with 20 extra base hits in 52 games, while catcher Shawn Zarraga has a .464 OBP through 39 games.
Nashville are following the Brewers footsteps of late. Ensuring they win the majority of their close games. The last three games have ended in the Stars favour, by the way of a one run walk-off win. Building that important never say die attitude for the future.
High Single-A – Brevard County Manatees
The ‘Tees have the weakest record of top three farm teams during the last month, but still hold a record above .500, at 26-25. Good enough for third in the Florida State League North. 10.5 games behind the dominant Dunedin Blue Jays. The worst damage done last week, losing five in a row including a four game sweep at the hands of the Palm Beach Cardinals.
In a common theme of Brewers system, it has been pitching that has shined. Four of the starting rotation have an ERA under 3.00, but they have lacked run support. Damien Magnifico (2.28 ERA) and Hobbs Johnson (2.95 ERA), both have records below .500, despite their outstanding numbers. However, it is worth mentioning Magnifico’s complete game, two hit shutout in a 1-0 win over the Jupiter Hammerheads. While, Jed Bradley was twice Florida State League pitcher of the week before his promotion to Huntsville.
Unfortunately, the batting line up, despite a number of top Brewers prospects has shown little production. Victor Roache in particular is struggling below the Mendoza Line hitting just .211 with 7 home runs. However, Michael Reed holds an excellent .470 OBP, through his 36 games. He leads all ‘Tees in average, walks and stolen bases, despite currently being on the 7-day DL.
A lot of promise and optimism remains in the Brewers farm system, especially throughout the starting rotations. However, with the MLB draft just a week away, I would expect to see the Brewers looking to pick up position players to bolster the apparent lack of depth at the current time.