On Thurday, the Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers officially began their 2016 season. That same day, I released a preview of the team’s pitchers. Today, I will be covering the team’s position players.
Mitch Ghelfi | Age: 23
Drafted out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2015, Ghelfi reportedly has power upside and plays solid defense.
He didn’t show much of that power between the Brewers rookie leagues in 2015, hitting no homers, but he demonstrated great plate discipline, slashing .266/.350/.330 overall.
After really struggling in Arizona, Ghelfi hit .306 in Helena with 11 walks in 83 plate appearances for a .398 OBP. If his power does come around, he could be a steal as a 28th round pick.
Max McDowell | Age: 22
Taken in the 2015 draft out of UConn, one source called McDowell “one of the nation’s most underappreciated catching prospects.”
As with Ghelfi, McDowell is reportedly an asset on defense and has power potential, as well as better base-running and athleticism than the average catcher.
McDowell slashed .228/.340/.354 in 95 PA with the Arizona Brewers in 2015.
SS Luis Aviles | Age: 21
Aviles got off to a hot start in Helena in 2015, slashing .356/.377/.475 in 15 games, but after his subsequent promotion to Wisconsin, he posted a .505 OPS in 57 games.
Aviles owns a career minor league OPS around .600, and is already being groomed as a utility player. He has seen time at shortstop, second base, third base, and left field, with the majority of his time coming between short and third.
SS Isan Diaz | Age: 19
Likely the most highly-touted prospect on the Rattler’s Opening Day roster, Diaz came to the team in the Jean Segura trade.
He immediately became the team’s best second base prospect, as many scouts feel he will shift to the keystone as he progresses.
The young Puerto Rican slashed .360/.436/.640 with 13 home runs in 312 PA in the Pioneer League in 2015. His power looks to be above-average for a middle infielder.
If he pans out as planned, he’ll be sharing the middle infield with Orlando Arcia in Milwaukee for years to come.
SS Jake Gatewood | Age: 20
This will be Gatewood’s second stint in Appleton after a brutal start to the 2015 season and his subsequent demotion to the Pioneer League.
Gatewood played better against the less advanced pitching (.807 OPS), but still struck out over 28% of the time. A first round pick in 2014, Gatewood is an ultimate example of a high-risk, high-reward player. He has the build of a third baseman (6’5″), and has a good chance to end up there in time.
3B Sthervin Matos | Age: 22
Matos is in a tough spot. He’s 22, and retrying the Low-A level. He posted a sub-.900 fielding percentage at third (72 errors in 179 career games there), and saw time at first and in the outfield as a result.
He also posted just a .640 OPS, which is a tough sell for a player without a natural position. If he can prove valuable in left field or at first, he will still have to come into more offensive value. Matos is a solid baserunner, stealing 55 bags (77% success rate) in his minor league career.
2B Tucker Neuhaus | Age: 20
Drafted as a shortstop, Neuhaus originally transitioned to third base, before appearing to find a more permanent home at second.
Given his experience around the infield, Neuhaus projects as a possible utility player going forward. The Florida native was a second round pick in 2013, and has obvious upside but inconsistent performance.
Neuhaus is worth keeping an eye on in 2016, because he had his best professional year in 2015, posting a 92 wRC+ (up from 64 in 2014) and noticeably cutting down on his strikeouts (18.6% vs. 29.6%).
1B Alan Sharkey | Age: 22
On first glance, Sharkey had a noticeably poorer year in 2015 than 2014, with his OPS dropping from .768 in the Pioneer League to .678 in the Midwest League.
However, Sharkey’s wRC+ dropped just one point, from 103 to 102. In reality, the lefty was just above average offensively each season, one in a hitter-friendly league, and one in a league that suppresses runs.
Sharkey’s walk rate did drop a tick in 2015, but not as far as he cut his strikeout rate, down to just 15%. Taking walks and striking out infrequently are huge for a young player, but as a first baseman, he’ll need to come into some pop (six HR in 212 games) if he wants to stay relevant in the Brewers’ competitive system.
RF Carlos Belonis | Age: 21
Belonis is a Dominican Summer League graduate, first appearing with the Brewers as a 17 year old. He quickly transitioned from shortstop to the outfield, where he has remained since 2013.
Belonis had really promising peripherals in 2015 in the Pioneer League, nearly doubling his walk rate (10.1%) from 2014, and cutting down on strikeouts. He hit .252/.335/.410 with seven homers in 238 plate appearances.
OF David Denson | Age: 20
Denson has been almost exclusively a first baseman over his minor league career, thought the Timber Rattler’s roster lists him as an outfielder.
Denson has excellent raw power, but it hasn’t come through as much in games (9 HR between rookie Helena and Low-A Wisconsin in 2015).
The lefty slugger has excellent walk rates, but has to curb his alarming strikeout rates (32% in Low-A last season). Consistently hitting for a low average has limited the value of his on-base abilities.
RF Monte Harrison | Age: 20
Like Gatewood, Harrison was given the advanced placement of Class-A Wisconsin to start last year, bypassing Helena. And as with Gatewood, that proved to be a mistake, as the then-teenager hit .148 in 184 plate appearances, striking out over 40% of the time.
He was then moved to Helena after all, where he truly excelled, slashing .299/.410/.474 with a strikeout rate under 20% before losing the rest of the season to injury. Given his progress in Helena, he should be ready for Wisconsin this time around.
Harrison currently has more defensive value than offensive, thanks to a cannon arm that fits in perfectly in right field, and average to above-average range for the position. He frequently sits in the top 20 in Brewers prospects lists. An avid base stealer, Harrison has swiped 52 bags in his career while being caught just eight times.
Some scouts feel he looks like a future 20/20 player, thanks to average or better future power.
LF Troy Stokes | Age: 20
Stokes is my ‘player to watch’ in Appleton in 2016. He has made no top prospect lists that I have seen, despite what seems like an ultimate lead-off player’s profile. This could be in part because of his small stature (5’8″).
Stokes has double-plus speed, swiping 46 bags in his career, and he slashed .270/.384/.407 with 5 homers in 271 PA in Helena in 2015.
Stokes is listed as a left fielder for the team this year, though in the past his speed had convinced some scouts he could remain in center. If not, he could become a Nori Aoki type (though likely with better defense), who plays in a corner but gets value from lead-off play rather than hitting dingers.