Fielding an MLB Lineup of Brewers Prospects (Redux)

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Feb 26, 2016; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham (92) poses for photo day at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; Maryvale, AZ, USA; Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jacob Nottingham (92) poses for photo day at Maryvale Baseball Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /
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Last April, I wrote an article about how a Brewers lineup might look in 2020. The wrinkle I put in was that the players in the article had to be prospects at the time of the article’s release. That means that even though Ryan Braun is signed through the 2020 season, he is disqualified. The same goes for young, non-rookie eligible players like Domingo Santana, whose prospect status expired in 2015.

In 2015, the list wasn’t an attractive one, given the team’s poor farm system. Obviously, the Brewers have rocketed up the system rankings since last April, so I decided I take another look at this hypothetical. It’s difficult to state how much better this speculative team got.

Catcher

Jacob Nottingham (previously Adam Weisenburger)

Nottingham at catcher is an immense step up in terms of potential. While not a complete package yet defensively, he threw out 38% of baserunners in 2015, while slashing .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs between Low- and High-A.

Nottingham could be bound for first base eventually, but would ideally be able to stick behind the plate in the Majors for several years before that becomes necessary. The burly catcher will be turning 25 shortly after Opening Day 2020, and could already be a year or more into his time with the Crew by then.

First Base

Garrett Cooper (Previously Jason Rogers)

If I wanted to cheat, I could put someone like Clint Coulter here, because the outfield is stacked with prospects, and he might not cut it as a right fielder defensively. But I don’t think I should be switching players to positions they might be completely unfit for just so that I can make a good lineup. I could also put Nottingham here, but I’ve decided to be optimistic about his defense.

Cooper might be behind both David Denson and Andy Wilkins from a prospect standpoint, but he is coming off of a year where he slashed .294/.356/.436 in the extremely harsh hitting environs of the Florida State League.

That slash made him 42% better than the average hitter in the league. Add to that his absurd performance in 36 plate appearances with AA Biloxi (.552 BA, 7 BBs, 2 Ks), and he was one of the best hitters in the system in 2015. And while he was old for High-A ball at 24, he had only played in around 100 professional games to that point.

The close runner-up for me would be Wilkins, who himself was 42% better than league average, in his case in 2014, before being just OK in 2015. He has a ton of power, hitting 48 homers in AAA over the last two seasons, and he doesn’t strike out like some younger sluggers do but he’ll be 31 in 2020, while Cooper will be a more palatable 29.

Denson collects stikeouts in bunches, and therefore was not in strong consideration in my opinion. Given the recent improvements at catcher and second base, first is probably the weakest position in the Brewers minor leagues.

Second Base

Isan Diaz (Previously Nick Shaw)

More from Reviewing the Brew

Diaz has come in and completely changed the conversation at second, as he slashed .360/.436/.640 with 13 homers in the rookie Pioneer League. He had the third highest wOBA (.465)  and ninth highest wRC+ (169) across every (!) minor league level (min. 300 PA). He mostly plays shortstop now, but many scouts project him as an above-average second basemen going forward.

Full disclosure, I’m not sure why I picked Shaw over super-utilityman Nathan Orf last year.

Third Base

Jake Gatewood (Previously Gilbert Lara)

Lara is still one of the top prospects in the Brewers farm system, and was good enough at shortstop that he might not have to switch to third base, as was previously expected. Unfortunately, he still might not be ready for the Majors as a 22 year old in 2020. Gatewood, however, has seen more minor league success to go with his high ceiling, and is two years older than Lara. Like Lara, Gatewood is currently a shortstop, but is 6’5″, and probably already outgrew the position.

Gatewood has a ton of swing-and-miss to his game, which will need to be remedied if he wants to reach the Bigs. Even in his successful stint in Helena, when Gatewood slashed .274/.331/.476, he struck out 28.6% of the time. He has near-elite raw power, but last year around this time, former head scout at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel, suggested that Gatewood should retool his swing entirely, focus on making solid contact, then work back up to home run power.

Short Stop

Orlando Arcia

Arcia was already (almost) the unanimous #1 prospect for the Brewers at this time last year. Even then, he was probably Big League-ready defensively. But over the course of 2015, Arcia’s stock sky-rocketed. He improved his batting average and ISO, and is now widely projected to be above-average offensively in the Bigs. Arcia is a plus runner, and had his best stolen base success rate since his 2011 performance as a 16 year old in the Dominican Summer League.

Arcia’s prosperity continued into the Venezuelan Winter League, where he slashed .312/.395/.431 with 14 walks and 15 strikeouts in 130 plate appearances against opponents who were, on average, seven years older than him.

Left Field

Trent Clark (Previously Clint Coulter)

Clark is currently a center fielder, and actually has above-average to plus range there, but scouts are split on the possibility of a move left field as he ascends through the minors. He lacks the arm strength for right field, but should hit enough to justify a left field profile.

In 2015, Clark showed exceptional plate discipline to go along with his plus hit tool, slashing .309/.424/.430 with nearly as many walks (39) as strikeouts (44) between the Brewers rookie teams. Out of the hundreds of minor leaguers who racked up at least 250 plate appearances in 2015, Clark had the 30th best OBP. Clark is an above average runner who stole 25 bags in 2015, and projects to have more home run power as he matures.

Center Field

Brett Phillips (Previously Tyrone Taylor)

After a solid 2014, where Taylor posted a 107 wRC+ with High-A Brevard County Taylor suffered a small drop off in batting average, steal success, and power in 2015. Combined, it made for a major change in his offensive value. He’ll return to AA for 2016.

Phillips, however, succeeded throughout 2015, posting a .901 OPS between High-A and Double-A and two minor league systems. He hit 15 homers while in High-A, then suffered a power outage in Double-A, adding just one dinger in 54 games. Even if his power doesn’t return, Phillips looks to have a ton of value overall.

As an average or above-average defender in center, Phillips features a rocket arm, along with his above-average hit tool, speed, and a double-plus laugh.

Right Field

Clint Coulter (Previously Monte Harrison)

This position was easily the most difficult to choose. Coulter, Harrison, Demi Orimoloye, and Michael Reed all deserved consideration. Coulter is frequently the highest rated prospect of those four, which helped me make my decision.

Coulter was the Brewers Minor League Player of the Year in 2014, slashing .284/.410/.520 with 22 home runs with Low-A Wisconsin. His 2015 disappointed many, but it has to be viewed through the lens of the league he was playing in. He slashed just .246/.329/.397 (with an unlucky .275 BABIP) with 13 homers, but that was still good for 23 percent better than league average in the power-starved Florida State League.

Coulter is reportedly taking to right field pretty well, though there has been some speculation that the Brewers could try him out a first base. And if Jacob Nottingham can stick at catcher, moving Coulter to first could actually make sense organizationally, but learning the position isn’t as breezy as some fans think.

Corner Infielder

Gilbert Lara (Previously Taylor Smith-Brennan)

While he may not be ready to take over as a Brewers starter, he could very well be breaking into the league as a 22 year old in 2020, with the Crew potentially giving him some looks off of the bench.

Utility

Yadiel Rivera (Previously Rivera/Luis Sardinas)

I wrote last year that this was basically a coin-flip decision at the time. Neither is likely to hit enough to be more than a utility player, but both were (and are) solid defenders. With Sardinas shipped away, Rivera is the obvious choice. He’s taken nicely to third base, and can be expected to be an above-average player all around the horn.

Backup Catcher

Adam Weisenburger (Previously Parker Berberet)

Previously, Weisenburger had been the teams top option at catcher, and while he has some nice traits, he shouldn’t be your best player. Frequently deemed the best defensive catcher in the Brewers system by beat writer Tom Haudricourt, Weisenburger hits for a low average, hits for little power, but walks a ton. His ceiling is probably that of a defensive-minded backup catcher.

Fourth Outfielder

Michael Reed

Reed was also my fourth outfielder last year, and while his stock has risen, it wasn’t quite enough to crack right field. He has outstanding plate discipline (73 walks in 525 PA), solid speed, and he should be good enough in center field for emergencies. Much of Reed’s improved stock came from his budding gap power in 2015, when he hit 33 doubles.

Super Utility

Nathan Orf (Previously fifth outfielder, Kyle Wren)

Originally, the final spot I filled was fifth outfielder, but teams are increasingly moving away from that idea, though a defensive talent like Wren would be a better fit filling in at CF than Reed. Players like Elian Herrera, who play both infield and outfield, appear to be organizational favorites with the Brewers. Herrera, however, is not good at really any of those positions.

Orf has played in over 60 games in the outfield corners, as well as 70 games at third base, and 138 at second, his most natural position. While I haven’t found any real scouting information on Orf, his fielding percentages at both second (.989) and third base (.980) in 2015 were exceptional for a minor leaguer.

Orf will be 30 by the 2020 season, but his brand of defensive utility has a good chance of keeping him relevant until then. Add to that his excellent plate discipline (career .392 OBP) and you have a solid bench player.

Lineup (2015 lineup):

  1. Trent Clark– (Nick Shaw)
  2. Brett Phillips– (Tyrone Taylor)
  3. Isan Diaz– (Jason Rogers)
  4. Jacob Nottingham– (Clint Coulter)
  5. Clint Coulter– (Monte Harrison)
  6. Garrett Cooper– (Orlando Arcia)
  7. Orlando Arcia– (Gilber Lara)
  8. Jake Gatewood– (Adam Weisenburger)
  9. Pitcher
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