Milwaukee Brewers Pioneer League Standouts


The 2015 minor league baseball regular season has officially come to an end, with the rookie level Pioneer League completing play during this past week. The Pioneer League is considered a step up from the Arizona League, and is often times the first stop for players drafted out of the collegiate ranks. The league consists of eight teams that play in Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah. It’s a short season league that fits about 75 games in between mid-June and the beginning of September. The average age of hitters in the league this year was 20.8 years, and the average age of pitchers was 21.3 years.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ affiliate in the Pioneer League plays in Helena, Montana. Playing in the league’s North Division, the Helena Brewers finished at 32-42, last place in both their division and the league. Featuring the youngest collection of hitters in the league at 20.4 years, the Brewers finished ranked sixth in both runs per game (5.51) and OPS (.735). On the pitching side, the Brewers fared even worse: their collective 5.28 ERA ranked second worst in the league while the staff (the league’s third youngest with an average age of 21.0) allowed 78 home runs, most in the league. The Brewers were outscored by 39 runs on the season, and failed to match their Pythagorean W-L record of 34-40.

In spite of the rough season, the Helena Brewers had several players enjoy terrific campaigns. This group includes players selected in this year’s draft, as well as some international talent and notable draftees from 2014. Here are the Brewers’ Pioneer League standouts for this season:

OF Monte Harrison
Age: 19 || B/T: R/R

The Brewers’ aggressively promoted Harrison to low-A to start the year rather than keep him in extended Spring Training, but he struggled mightily before being reassigned to Helena. Once he was among more age appropriate competition, Harrison’s bat came alive. He hit .299/.410./474 with three home runs, 14 steals, and 14 walks in 119 plate appearances before suffering a season ending broken ankle in late July. Harrison should be ready in time to start next season, but it will be interesting to see if the ankle injury affects his stolen base totals or defense in centerfield during his second go-around the Midwest League.

OF Malik Collymore
Age: 20 || B/T: R/R

Collymore was the Brewers’ return from St. Louis in this summer’s Jonathan Broxton trade. Viewed as a lottery ticket type prospect, Collymore delivered some nice early returns in Helena. In 29 games after the deal went down, Malik hit .311/.373/.434 with eight doubles, two triples, and a home run. Collymore is a good athlete with a solid ability for drawing walks, but he is still a very raw prospect.

SS Jake Gatewood
Age: 19 || B/T: R/R

Like Harrison, Gatewood struggled with an assignment in Appleton before tearing up the Pioneer League. In 238 plate appearances for Helena, Gatewood slashed .274/.331/.476 with six home runs and 23 doubles in 238 plate appearances. Jake still needs to cut down on his big strikeout totals, but it’s a big step to see his immense raw power start to show itself in games. Gatewood played well enough to earn a promotion back to the Timber Rattlers to finish out the season.

OF Troy Stokes
Age: 19 || B/T: R/R

Stokes had already shown a keen eye at the plate and blazing speed last season in the AZL after being a 4th round draft pick, but this season he added some power to his tool belt, as well. “Playboy Troy” (as he calls himself on Twitter) hit .270/.384/.407 in 62 games for the Brewers, slugging 19 extra base hits, walking 33 times (12.2%!), and swiping 26 bases. It’s becoming easy to see why Milwaukee went over-slot to sign the speedster after last year’s draft.

1B David Denson
Age: 20 || B/T: L/R

In what’s becoming a common theme among Brewers’ prospects, Denson struggled during his early season audition in the Midwest League before finding his stride in Helena. Denson, who came out as affiliated baseball’s first openly gay active player earlier this summer, slashed .242/.340/.412 with six home runs in 51 games en route to capturing the Pioneer League All-Star Game MVP award. For his strong efforts, the hulking first baseman was also promoted back to Appleton to finish the year.

1B Steven Karkenny
Age: 22 || B/T: R/R

Karkenny was the Brewers’ selection in the 19th round of this year’s draft, and while he was older than league average, he still put together a notably solid debut campaign. Leading the team with 72 games played and 324 plate appearances, Karkenny slashed .244/.330/.421 with eight home runs among his 29 extra base hits and stole eight bases in nine attempts, as well. He also walked in more than 10% of his plate appearances. Karkenny will be a player to keep an eye on next season to see if his numbers translate against more age-appropriate competition.

3B Jose Cuas
Age: 21 || B/T: R/R

Cuas, the Brewers’ 11th round pick this past June, had a solid debut in the same vein as Karkenny. In 68 games, the University of Maryland product hit .260/.319/.430 with seven home runs, two triples, and 19 doubles. He added six steals and walked at a 7.4% clip, and also demonstrated solid utility by appearing at second and shortstop in addition to his primary position at the hot corner.

OF Carlos Belonis
Age: 20 || B/T: R/R

Known mostly for his blazing speed, the former international signee put together his best all-around offensive season this year, his fourth in the Brewers’ system. Belonis slashed .252/.335/.410 in 238 plate appearances for Helena, adding 16 extra base hits and 21 steals in 61 games. His walk rate of 10.1% this season nearly doubled his previous career rate, as well.

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RHP Jon Olczak
Age: 21 || B/T: R/R

A late round pick from NC State in this year’s draft, Olczak has been simply dominant since coming into the system. He made eight appearances for the Brewers, pitching to a 2.45 ERA in 18.1 innings. He walked just two batters while striking out a whopping 30 hitters. Combined with his AZL numbers, Olczak led the system with a 14.0 K/9 mark this year.

RHP Joshua Torres
Age: 21 || B/T: R/R

Torres was an international signee back in 2012, and he struggled in the Midwest League this year before being reassigned to the Brewers when Pioneer League play started in June. With Helena, Torres made 15 appearances (seven starts) and pitched an even 55.0 innings while allowing a 3.27 ERA. He struck out 43 batters while walking just 13 and allowed only three home runs on the season.

LHP Jake Drossner
Age: 21 || B/T: R/L

The Brewers convinced Drossner to leave Maryland a year early after being chosen in the 10th round in this June’s draft, and he joined his collegiate teammate Jose Cuas at Helena. Drossner posted solid numbers in a hitter friendly environment in the Pioneer League, pitching to a 3.64 ERA in 47.0 innings covering 14 games (seven starts). Drossner dealt with a lot of poor defense behind him, as he gave up 15 unearned runs this year, but he posted a 52.4% ground ball rate, only allowed one home run, and stuck out 46 hitters against 19 walks.

RHP Marcos Diplan
Age: 18 || B/T: R/R

Diplan came over from the Rangers in the Gallardo trade last winter. After a stellar 2014 campaign in the DSL, the Brewers aggressively assigned the young righty to Helena, where he was the team’s youngest hurler. In 50.1 innings, Diplan posted a 3.75 ERA while allowing 47 hits and four home runs. His control was below average as he walked 21 hitters (10% of batters faced), but he also showed promising swing-and-miss potential with 54 strikeouts.

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