The 10-13 High-A Carolina Mudcats had the Carolina League’s youngest team on Opening Day. Let’s review who’s off to a hot start and who’s struggling so far.
The Carolina Mudcats had an average April which was impressive considering the youth of the team. Both the team’s collective OPS (.720) and ERA (4.39) are hovering around Carolina League-average (.721 and 4.09).
Who’s Hot For The Mudcats?
In 2016 with the Low-A Timber Rattlers, Jake Gatewood didn’t draw a walk until May 9th, his 29th game of the season. The 2014 first-round pick ended 2016 with just 18 walks in 524 plate appearances (3.4% BB%). Now, after a promotion to High-A, Gatewood has tallied 15 walks in just 97 plate appearances (15.5% BB%).
This change is remarkable, and it goes along with a completely retooled approach at the plate, with a significantly less violent swing and consistent opposite field ability.
As a result, the first baseman is slashing .329/.433/.573 with four homers, including one in each game of a doubleheader on Saturday, and another on Sunday. He owns a .760 slugging percentage over his last seven games.
As you can imagine, he’s one of the top hitters in the Carolina League. He’s also neck-and-neck with Low-A outfielder Monte Harrison for the top OPS in the Milwaukee Brewers’ system, owning a 1.006 OPS as of today (Harrison is at 1.005).
Unfortunately, first base appears to be his defensive home, but if he keeps hitting like he has in April, that limitation won’t hurt him too badly.
The 21-year old has solid base-stealing ability, swiping 29 bags and being caught just five times in his last 109 games. He also has a penchant for getting on base with a .369 career OBP. Those two skills combine for a promising prospect for the top of the order.
The biggest knock on Stokes is that he hasn’t displayed the requisite power numbers for a left fielder. This year, however, Stokes already has three home runs, approaching his season high, five, from 2015. Overall, he slashed .296/.383/.469 in April.
Stokes hasn’t played a 100+ game season of pro ball yet, missing significant time last year in his first stint on a full-season team. The hope is that he plays a full year with the Mudcats, and the Brewers get a better look at his intriguing profile.
Even if Stokes never hits for power, he could still break into the league as a Nori Aoki-style player, who brings value at an outfield corner without hitting many home runs.
Similar to Aoki, Stokes is walking at an 11.6% rate, nearly as often as he strikes out (14.7% K%). Having that level of plate discipline at age 21 is impressive.
Corbin Burnes was one of the Milwaukee Brewers’ best minor league pitchers in April, tossing 27 1/3 innings in five starts, the highest inning total in the Brewers’ system. And he wasn’t just eating innings, earning a sterling 1.65 ERA over that time. The righty has allowed just a .587 OPS from opposing hitters.
He also owns a solid 27:9 K:BB ratio and a 3.28 FIP. Burnes was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and reportedly has four different pitches.
He’s considered raw for a college arm, but could still move more quickly through the system given his experience.
Freddy Peralta continues to bring big strikeout numbers despite consistently being very young for the level of competition.
The 5’11” righty is just 20 years old, but possesses a great arm. In 18 innings this year, he’s struck out 26 batters, at a rate of 13 per 9 innings. At the same time, his walk rates are better than in 2016 at only 3 per 9 innings.
His control, size, and delivery are the biggest knocks on his potential future as a starter, but even as a reliever, Peralta’s future is bright.
Over his last 157 innings, spanning three seasons and four leagues, the youngster has struck out a ridiculous 190 batters. In that same period, he has walked 50.
Who’s Struggling With the Mudcats?
A pair of top Brewers position player prospects are scuffling in Carolina to start the year.
Trent Clark is still showing off his on base abilities with a .369 OBP, but his troubles hitting for average seem to have carried over from 2016, as he’s only posting a .239 batting average.
Last year with the Timber Rattlers, Clark slashed .231/.346/.344, while striking out 26% of the time.
This year, his strike out rate sits at 29.4%, but adjusting to a new level will do that to many hitters. Still, Clark was the organization’s top pick in 2015, and the early numbers (and scouting reports) have been disappointing.
It should be noted that Clark dealt with nagging injuries last year. He suffered through hamstring issues and a concussion.
Lucas Erceg lit the Minor Leagues on fire last year after being drafted in the second round. The third baseman hit .400 in 115 plate appearances with the Helena Brewers, and was promptly promoted.
Jumping to Low-A Wisconsin, Erceg continued to succeed, posting a .825 OPS in 180 plate appearances. Cruising through the minors meant Erceg got another advanced placement in 2017, joining the Carolina Mudcats to start the year.
No one can stay that hot forever, though, and Erceg is slashing just .220/.256/.305 so far this season. Erceg remains the Brewers’ top prospect at third, with a rocket arm that should help him stick at the position.
In his minor league career, Luis Aviles has started games at every position other than pitcher and catcher. The 22 year old has never hit much (career .637 OPS), which certainly contributes to his need for versatility.
He’s off to a nice start this year, however, slashing .263/.344/.375. His 11.1% walk rate in 2017 is considerably higher than his career average of 5.7%. If he can continue to get on base more consistently, his super utility qualities will become all the more attractive.
Who do you want to learn more about at the Brewers’ High-A affiliate? Let the team at Reviewing the Brew know in the comments section below!