Just two weeks after I wrote about John Sickels’ optimistic view of the Brewers’ farm system, the head of Minor League Ball has again given Brewers fans hope for the future.
Earlier this week, Sickels revealed his updated top 20 prospects for the Brewers system after the team’s recent trades. And despite a greatly improved system, two of the players picked up in the last two months made it into the team’s top six prospects.
Nottingham exploded onto the prospect scene in 2015 after toiling away in Rookie ball for two seasons. The linebacker-sized backstop hit .316/.372/.505 with 17 homers between Low- and High-A. Nottingham reportedly had significant contact issues in his first two years, while now, according to Sickels, the 20 year old is a “power masher who makes better contact than many young sluggers.”
On the defensive side of things, former FanGraphs scout Kiley McDaniel noted at the trade deadline that Nottingham could “probably stick behind the plate,” while Sickels said “there’s hope for his glove.”
These aren’t glowing recommendations, but scouts are usually harsher if they believe a player can’t play the position long term. For example, I never saw a scout say Clint Coulter would “probably” remain a catcher, just that it was possible.
Nottingham threw out 38 percent of baserunners in 2015, but allowed 19 passed balls in just 89 starts at catcher. The Athletics had a Major League comp in mind for Nottingham’s skillset:
For reference, Mike Napoli was primarily a catcher for his first six seasons, before making a permanent switch to first base as a 31 year old. That sort of switch makes sense for a bulkier, aging catcher whose offense is his defining skill.
For the time being, Baseball America ranked Nottingham the 12th best catching prospect overall, though they also called the catchers prospect class “thin.” BA seems to be lower on Nottingham than Sickels is, giving him a 50 future grade.
He received higher marks from FanGraphs’ KATOH projection system, which ranked him 15th in all of the minors by projected WAR through age 28 season. Of course, the former sixth round pick is immediately the best catching prospect the Brewers have.
Speaking of the best Brewers prospect as his position, Isan Diaz seems destined for second base, which was another of the Brewers thinnest minor league positions at the end of the 2015 season. Presently, Diaz is a shortstop, though the general consensus is that he’ll end up an above-average second baseman.
Like Nottingham, Diaz had an explosive 2015, slashing .360/.436/.640 with 44 extra base hits (13 homers) in just 312 plate appearances in the Rookie Pioneer League. That kind if pop is exciting (and uncommon) for a 19 year old with a slight build.
His skill set was enough for him to garner Robinson Cano comparisons out of high school. I find comparisons to players of that caliber to be utterly irresponsible, but it’s hard to not get excited about a player who could even sniff that sort of potential.