Milwaukee Brewers: Double-A April Review

Sep 29, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jorge Lopez (28) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jorge Lopez (28) pitches during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

The Biloxi Shuckers, the Milwaukee Brewers Double-A affiliate, had an interesting April, with excellent pitching and a horrible month at the plate. Let’s take a look at who excelled and who stumbled.

The Biloxi Shuckers pitching staff is excelling, ranking third in the Southern League in ERA in April. They were also easily in first in team strikeouts last month, striking out over 10 batters per game.

Unfortunately, the offense has struggled. The Milwaukee Brewer Double-A squad was easily in last place in April for AVG (.205), SLG (.277), and OPS (.556) in the Southern League.

Who’s Hot For The Biloxi Shuckers?

Michael Reed is the team’s top hitter. To be fair, only three Shuckers posted an OPS north of .700 in April, but that’s not Reed’s fault.

The outfielder slashed .231/.388/.397 with four homers in April for the Biloxi Shuckers. He was originally thought to be destined for Triple-A after spending time there last year. A crowded Sky Sox outfield bumped Reed down to Double-A, where he also spent 2015.

His strikeout rate was a disappointing 31.6%, but his walk rate was even better than usual at 20.4%, and his power has been good so far.

Reed is an interesting prospect who can handle center field and take walks, but his batting average has been worryingly low over the last two seasons.

This is his second stint with the Shuckers, and he’s now in his age 24 season, so it’s reasonable to expect him to be performing better than he has so far.

Still, his whole team is really struggling at the plate, so it’s not a huge surprise that he isn’t thriving.

Nearly the entire pitching staff is off to a hot start this season. The top six pitchers by innings pitched all had over a strikeout per inning pitched in April.

Those six pitchers are Jorge Lopez, Jon Perrin, Luis Ortiz, Aaron Wilkerson, Forrest Snow, and Bubba Derby. In April, they combined for 122 1/3 innings pitched, with 157 strikeouts and just 37 walks.

Lopez, Wilkerson, and Snow all have Triple-A experience and are likely overpowering their opponents with better stuff, advanced command, or both. Lopez and Wilkerson are starters, while Snow is being used in a relief role.

Wilkerson and Snow are 27 and 28 years old, respectively, so it might be a bit unfair to have them bullying younger competition. And while Snow’s April ERA wasn’t that impressive at 5.00, his 4.07 FIP told a more optimistic story.

The only reason Lopez isn’t in Triple-A is that the altitude of Colorado Springs significantly affected his repertoire last season, especially his curveball, which he relies on to get batters out.

Unfortunately, that means the righty is stuck at a level he has already proved himself worthy of graduating from.  Lopez has 214.2 career Double-A innings under his belt with 214 strikeouts and a 2.56 ERA. He likely makes the jump straight from Double-A to the Majors when there’s a spot ready for him.

Wilkerson also belongs in Triple-A, where he’s already logged 102 2/3 innings, though his demotion appears to have been due to a crowded rotation in Colorado Springs.

Jon Perrin’s 27 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings are encouraging, as the biggest knock on him is his lack of pure stuff. Relying on command can be a tough sell as a pitcher advances through the Minor Leagues.

However, if Perrin continues to strike out hitters in the upper levels of the minors, his doubters will be forced to reassess. Perrin’s 5.16 ERA in April is a mirage, as the big righty owned an excellent 2.47 FIP.

Luis Ortiz is widely considered the organizations #2 pitching prospect after Josh Hader. He’s also having a solid start to the year.

He earned a 3.72 ERA in April in 19 1/3 innings, though he’s given up four home runs already.

Bubba Derby appears to be transitioning to the bullpen after a below-average year as a starter in High-A last year. Prior to a five inning relief appearance necessitated by a 15 inning game, Derby was averaging just two innings per appearance.

He’s performing well in his new role so far, holding batters to a .589 OPS and earning himself an outstanding 1.59 ERA with a 2.90 FIP.

Who’s Struggling for the Biloxi Shuckers?

The Biloxi Shuckers offense is in a bad way. And partially, the rut that they’re in is self-sustaining because players are having a rough time at the plate as the team around them struggles.

To go further into the effects of team-wide offensive troubles, let’s compare the numbers of a few players who were Shuckers in 2016 as well as this season.

For reference, the Shuckers’ team OPS last season was .642. Not great, but significantly better than their .566 mark in April this year.

Biloxi Shuckers 2016 OPS/2017 OPS:

Clint Coulter: .824/.594

Victor Roache: .749/.473

Johnny Davis: .642/.420

Javier Betancourt: .606/.446

Jacob Nottingham: .641/.505

One returning Shucker has improved over his 2016 showing thus far in 2017:

Dustin DeMuth: .675/.767

In an ideal world, each one of these players would be improved in their second year at the Double-A level. It’s only the first month of the season, but the fact that nearly all of these players are struggling makes it seem like the issues at the plate are cyclical.

The hitters at the top of the order didn’t get on base, so the lower half tries to do too much; the cycle repeats. And this only gets worse as a cold streak continues.

Next: What's Going On With The High-A Carolina Mudcats?

Other notes

Victor Roache was just traded to the Dodgers for a player to be named later or cash. It marks a disappointing result for the former first round pick on the Brewers’ end. Still, we at RtB wish him the best with his new organization.